Firearms at the Rock Island Auction tell stories of violent days of frontier law and order.

Rock Island Auctions presents firearms collectors with thousands of choices each year. Some of those firearms may not be inherently unique, but they receive their value from the stories associated with their users. In December 2022, firearms linked to both the lawful and the lawless were among the standouts at the Rock Island Company’s Premier Firearms Auction.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Smith and Wesson New Model Number 3 was shipped to him on May 12, 1898, perhaps arriving in time for him to use it in the Spanish-American War. By that time, he had served as New York City Police commissioner, and not too many years later, he would become vice president and then president of the United States. The provenance of this revolver was enough to gather $910,625, the highest price at the auction.


Theodore Roosevelt’s newly ordered Smith and Wesson New Model Number 3 may have arrived in time for him to use it when the Rough Riders shipped off to Cuba. Eventually given to his butler, the revolver sold for $910,625 at auction.
All Images Courtesy Rock Island Auctions


A Smith and Wesson revolver associated with the Sioux War also was sold at the auction. The story accompanying that firearm stated it was used to kill Sitting Bull when he resisted arrest by tribal police during the Ghost Dance. More provenance was needed to definitively prove it, so it sold for just $26,438.

On the losing side of an earlier conflict, the Civil War, Jesse James became one of America’s most notorious outlaws. A Smith and Wesson First Model Schofield revolver reported to have belonged to him, with holster, factory letter and other documents, brought $152,750. The Civil War figured prominently in other offerings at the auction. A Burnside Carbine presented by President Abraham Lincoln to Kentucky Congressman John J. Crittenden went for $105,750. The Crittenden story is just one of many poignant stories of families split by the conflict; Crittenden supported the Union while his eldest son fought for the Confederacy. 


Smith and Wesson shipped this First Model Schofield revolver to the Springfield Armory in 1875. It may have fallen into Jesse James’s hands after it was sold off as surplus. It sold at auction for $152,750.


Cowboy D.B. Gardner founded the Pitchfork Ranch in Texas. With an eye to enforcing the law, he also started the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association to fight cattle rustlers. His Colt Model 1862 Pocket Navy Conversion Revolver sold for $5,288. Cattlemen, lawmen and outlaws alike used the Colt 45, nicknamed the Peacemaker. The Colt Single Action Army Sheriff’s Model revolver was a variation on it. An 1889 model sold for $64,625 at the auction. 

From Theodore Roosevelt to Jesse James, Rock Island’s Premier Firearms Auction offered plenty of tantalizing tales of the lawful and the lawless for collectors of the West.

Upcoming Auctions

April 14-15, 2023

Scottsdale Art Auction (Scottsdale, AZ) • 480-945-0225

May 19-21, 2023

Premier Firearms Auction #88

Rock Island Auctions (Rock Island, IL) • 800-238-8022

June 19, 2023

Arms & Armor, Civil War & Militaria 

Heritage Auctions (Dallas, TX) • 214-528-3500


This Second Model Burnside carbine bears the inscription “Presented to the Hon. J.J. Crittenden by A. Lincoln President of the United States as testimony of affectionate regard for his long and patriotic Services to what a grateful people bear willing testimony Feby 1st 1862.” It sold for $105,750.


This Smith and Wesson Model Number 3 may have been the revolver that killed Sitting Bull. Since the provenance was not definitive, it fetched a lower price than hoped at the Rock Island Auction.


This Colt Pocket Navy Conversion revolver was a relatively small but handy firearm for nearly every situation its owner, rancher D.B. Gardner, would have encountered in West Texas. It sold for $5,288.


General Leonard Wood commanded his friend Col. Theodore Roosevelt while the Rough Riders were in Cuba. This Smith and Wesson .44 double action revolver was shipped to Woods in 1905, while he was serving in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.


The Colt Single Action Army Sheriff’s Model was a rare variation on the famous Peacemaker revolver with only 1,000 made. This example sold at the Rock Island auction for $64,625.


The wild, unlawful years of the West had waned by the time this Smith and Wesson New Model Number 3 revolver was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. When the exhibition closed, it was shipped to a champion target shooter
rather than a lawman. This beautiful piece sold for $94,000.

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