Rock Island gavels off high profits from historic firearms.

Rock Island Auction Company’s final sale of 2023 was exceptional, grossing $26.7 million. One of their Premier Auctions, it was promoted by three catalogs filled with firearms used in the West. Many were accompanied by stories of their owners and the part they played in history.


In 1834, gunsmith Jonathan Browning built a “harmonica” rifle. It had a loading device with multiple chambers, resembling a harmonica, that slid through the breech and loaded the gun. He was the father of John Moses Browning, who designed many iconic firearms.

In 1853, Jonathan Browning joined the Mormon migration from Illinois to Utah, settling in Ogden. There he opened a gunsmithing shop. His sons continued their father’s work, opening the Browning Company in 1878. Jonathan’s “harmonica” rifle, created before he made the trek, sold for $49,938. Professor William Henry Brewer moved west to California in 1860 to take part in its first geological survey. He also took part in later exploratory expeditions to the Rocky Mountains, Greenland and Alaska. His engraved Colt 1851 Navy revolver sold for $25,438.

In 1875, Montana pioneer Thomas Stuart received a gift of a Model 1873 rifle from his brother. Made by Winchester, it was part of a rare series referred to as “One of One Thousand.” Inscribed to Thomas, the rifle went for $528,750. Arthur William Merrifield was Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting guide on his first hunts in the West in the 1880s. Roosevelt gave Merrifield an engraved Merwin, Hulbert and Company 3rd Model Army revolver, together with a cartridge belt and pocket watch. The set fetched $164,500.


This engraved Colt 1851 Navy revolver belonged to Professor William Henry Brewer. Brewer was a botanist, geologist and explorer; he may have carried the revolver on some of his expeditions.


By the time he purchased his 1881 Deluxe Model Marlin, Clinton L. White was well-established in California law and politics. Years later, the Marlin was acquired by another Californian and avid hunter, actor Tom Selleck. It sold for $99,875 at the Premier Auction. Selleck’s collection also included a Shiloh-Sharps rifle made for use by him in the title role for the movie Quigley Down Under. It sold for $105,750.


Francis Wisebart Jacobs owned this nicely embellished Colt pocket revolver inscribed to “F.W. Jacobs” on its backstrap. Mrs. Jacobs became very involved in charitable causes after moving to Denver and until her death in 1892.


Some of the firearms at the auction had been favored by women, because they were small and light. One was a nicely embellished Colt pocket revolver inscribed to “F.W. Jacobs” on its backstrap. Francis Wisebart Jacobs and her husband moved to Denver in the 1860s, traveling in a wagon train from Ohio. Made in 1877 the Colt was probably acquired after the two opened Denver’s OK Clothing Store. Her revolver sold for $32,313. Another Colt, a Lightning “Baby” Carbine, was shorter and lighter than most shoulder arms. Journalist Robert E. Strahorn presented one as a Christmas gift to his wife, Carrie, in 1888. Strahorn traveled around the West with his wife, who may have taken some comfort from having the carbine. Her “baby” sold for $21,150.

The lavishly illustrated catalogs for the December 2023 Rock Island Premier Auction can be visited online. The images of the firearms are outstanding, and the stories associated with them make interesting reading.

All Images Courtesy Rock Island Auction Company

This Lightning Baby Carbine by Colt would have had a lot of appeal for someone desiring a light, short rifle. It was given by journalist Robert Strahorn to his wife, Carrie, as a Christmas gift in 1888. She traveled the West with him and published their experiences in a two-volume memoir titled Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage.


One of three Shiloh-Sharps rifles created for use by Tom Selleck in the movie Quigley Down Under, features the initials “MQ,” for the fictional character Matthew Quigley, inlaid onto the side of its receiver.


This 1881 lever-action Marlin belonged to Clinton L. White, an early settler of California and one-time mayor of Sacramento. It had a scope mounted on the side of the barrel, which allowed either it or the barrel sights to be used. It was popular with hunters and marksmen.


This Model 1873 Winchester, marked “One of One Thousand” is a rarity and commanded top dollar at the Rock Island auction. It belonged to Thomas Stuart, a miner, rancher, marksman and early settler in Montana.


Arthur William Merrifield became a friend of Theodore Roosevelt while guiding him on his early hunting trips to the West. They even purchased a ranch together in Dakota Territory. Roosevelt gave this Merwin, Hulbert and Company 3rd Model Army revolver to Merrifield.



August 23-25, 2024

Premier Firearms Auction #4092

Rock Island Auction Co. (Rock Island, IL)

(800) 238-8022 •

September 10-12, 2024

Firearms & Militaria

Morphy Auctions (Denver, PA)

(717) 335-3435 •

September 16-21, 2024

Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale

Rendezvous Royale (Cody, WY)

(307) 587-5002 •

Related Articles

  • A Hollywood Invention?

    A popular misconception among some Old West re-enactors and wardrobe experts is that everyone wore…

  • best-western-firearms-2014

    Westward expansion took place during the Industrial Revolution, which was also a time of great…

  • Guns-of-Outlaws-Weapons-of-the-American-Bad-Man

    Famous outlaw and lawman firearms have always been captivating. Gerry and Janet Souter’s Guns of…