Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1052: Liver Eating Johnson's Winchester Deluxe Model 1876 Rifle

Auction Date: September 12, 2020

Fresh and Incredible, Documented, Winchester Deluxe Model 1876 Lever Action Rifle Attributed to Mountain Man John "Liver Eating" Johnson with Factory Letter

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $25,000 - $50,000

Fresh and Incredible, Documented, Winchester Deluxe Model 1876 Lever Action Rifle Attributed to Mountain Man John "Liver Eating" Johnson with Factory Letter

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1876
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 45-75
Barrel: 28 inch octagon
Finish: blue
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 4254
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 62
Class: Antique

The boundaries of fact and fiction regarding the life and times of John “Liver Eating” Johnson have blurred, creating the ultimate mountain man legend immortalized in pulp fiction and the character of “Jeremiah Johnson” in the 1972 film starring Robert Redford. He was born John Garrison but changed his name to John Johnston after deserting from the U.S. Navy around the time of the Mexican-American War. When spelling his name period newspapers often dropped the T, so he became John Johnson. Much of his life was spent in Montana and Wyoming. His final days, however, were in a veteran’s home in a small California town. A campaign led by twenty-five 7th graders in the 1970s resulted in his remains at a California cemetery to be relocated to a gravesite in Cody, Wyoming. The story behind the nickname “Liver Eating” is perhaps best summarized by a contemporary writer: “They killed his wife and burned down his house; then Liver Eating Johnson hunted them down and ate them.” In 1847, his pregnant wife, a member of the Flathead American Indian tribe, was brutally murdered by a raiding party of Crow Indians. The death of his wife set Johnson on a vengeance campaign against the Crow. By some accounts Johnson killed 300 Crow Indians. From those he killed he devoured their livers. The eating of the liver was an insult to the Crow who believed the liver as vital for the deceased to make it to the afterlife. By removing and eating the liver, Johnson was denying his Crow victims peace in death. Included is a 1988 dated handwritten letter of provenance from previous owner George D. Smith of Hamilton, Montana. Smith purchased the rifle from Bill Marshall in 1949/50 as a family heirloom. According to Smith, a photograph of "Liver Eating" Johnson showed him posing with this Model 1876 as identified by the unmistakable period in the field modified stock toe. The letter identifies the rifle by the serial number. This rifle is pictured and described in R.L. Wilson's "The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West" on pages 72 and 73. In the book, the rifle is identified to "Liver Eating" Johnson and the extra wood fitted to the stock toe is cited as a means "to facilitate quick removal from saddle scabbard." The accompanying factory letter lists this rifle with an octagon barrel, plain trigger, pistol grip stock and casehardened receiver when received in the warehouse on April 7, 1880 and shipped the next day. The top barrel flat is stamped with the two-line address/patent dates legend ahead of the period modified Freund style rear sight. The rifle correctly lacks caliber markings. The upper tang is marked "MODEL 1876." The second model receiver has a thumb print dust cover and screw-attached guide rail. Dovetail Lyman blade (bead absent) front sight and elevation adjustable block type rear sight with inlaid platinum sight lines. The forearm and pistol grip stock are checkered deluxe walnut. The stock has a grip insert, a period customized toe, and a trapdoor crescent buttplate (cleaning rod not included).

Rating Definition:

Very good as "frontier issued" retaining strong amounts of original blue finish and traces of silvered out original case colors, all in the protected areas, otherwise the rifle has a mottled as found gray patina. The rifle exhibits tremendous character from one end to other with uncanny frontier style wear, better put, as rifle that "was there". The wood is good as period modified (see above) with smooth checkering, a couple small smudges of white paint on the forearm, dings and scratches associated with a working gun that saw hard use on the frontier. Mechanically excellent. An interesting frontier Model 1876 attributed to "Crow Killer" and iconic frontiersman John "Liver Eating" Johnson.

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