Big Irons on the Block

Rock Island and Morphy firearms auctions ring up big profits.

Marty Robbins famously sang about a stranger who came out of the West wearing a “big iron on his hip.” This spring the “big irons” weren’t on hips, but they were certainly on the block at two of America’s better-known firearms auction companies. The Rock Island Premier Firearms Auction, held May 13-15, featured more than 756 handguns; the Morphy Extraordinary Firearms Auction on May 18 had 125. But more important than sheer numbers was the significance of some of these firearms in the history of the American West. 

 

These Remington revolvers, with accessories and rosewood case, were presented to Ulysses S. Grant and sold for more than $5 million. The revolvers were engraved by master craftsman L.D. Nimschke and each has a grip decorated with an eagle and Grant’s portrait. Courtesy Rock Island Auction

 

Like the Arizona ranger in Robbins’ song, Wild Bill Hickok wore big irons on his hips. One of those sold for $626,875 at the Rock Island Auction. The thorough documentation of an engraved Colt 1851 Navy revolver no doubt helped drive the final price to more than twice the high estimate of $225,000.

Hickok was a lawman but lost his life while gambling. One of the most famous gamblers in the West was neither a lawman nor, for that matter, a man. Poker Alice was an English immigrant who took up the gambling profession in Colorado after her husband died. She eventually moved to Creede, where she gambled in a a saloon owned by Jesse James’s killer, Robert Ford. A Hopkins and Allen #4 revolver with holster, given to her by Ford, and her gambling set, gathered in $12,300 at the Morphy Auction.

 

The hero of Marty Robbins’ song “Big Iron” could just as easily have been a Texas Ranger as an Arizona ranger. This Smith and Wesson No. 3 revolver, made in 1896, belonged to Texas Ranger Jeff Vaughan. It sold for $3,936 in May. Courtesy Morphy Auctions

 

One of the largest and most studied defeats of the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars was at the Battle of Little Bighorn. A well-documented Colt Single Action Army revolver and holster, carried by a member of Custer’s com-mand and retrieved at the Little Bighorn not long after the battle, sold for $763,750 at the Rock Island Auction.

As president from 1869 to 1877, Ulysses S. Grant oversaw the handling of the Indian War on the Great Plains, including the defeat at Little Bighorn and its consequences. Before that he was commander of the Union Armies during the Civil War, which also had an impact on the American West. A pair of Remington New Model Army revolvers, presented to General Grant after he took Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, captured $5,170,000 at the Rock Island Auction.

The big irons worn by lawmen, gamblers and even presidents during the country’s move westward continue to attract collectors, as proven by the Rock Island and Morphy auctions.

 

Upcoming Auctions

August 26, 2022

Premier Firearms Auction #86

Rock Island Auction Co. (Rock Island, IL)

(800) 238-8022 • RockIslandAuction.com

September 16-17, 2022

16th Annual Jackson Hole Art Auction

Masterworks of the American West
(Jackson Hole, WY)

(866) 549-9278 • JacksonHoleArtAuction.com

September 19-24, 2022

Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale

Rendezvous Royale (Cody, WY)

(307) 587-5002 • RendezvousRoyale.org

 

 

Wild Bill Hickok always packed “Colt Navies,” according to an 1876 newspaper article about him. This engraved Colt 1851 Navy
revolver that belonged to Hickok sold for $626,875. Courtesy Rock Island Auction

 

Savvy auction-goers look for bargains in unexpected places. The buyer of this Tim McCoy’s Real Wild West poster at Morphy’s Extraordinary Firearms Auction paid only $861. That was considerably less than the lowest sale estimate of $1,400. Courtesy Morphy Auctions

 

Carried by a member of Custer’s command and left at the Battle of Little Bighorn, this Colt Single Action Army revolver and holster sold for $763,750. Courtesy Rock Island Auction.

 

This 3rd Model Colt Dragoon, inscribed “Capt. W.W. Blackford, November 5, 1861” on its backstrap, sold for $32,980. Blackford was aide-de-camp to Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. His Civil War memoir War Years with Jeb Stuart was published in 1945. Courtesy Morphy Auctions

 

Poker Alice Tubbs made a career as a gambler, saloon owner and brothel keeper. She was rarely to be seen without a cigar clamped between her teeth, and a revolver hidden on her person. True West Archives

 

Poker Alice Tubbs’ gambling set, including cards, chips, dice and personal items, and a pistol given to her by Robert Ford, killer of Jesse James, went for $12,300. Courtesy Morphy Auctions

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