Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 42: Granville Stuart's 1 of 1,000 Winchester Model 1873 Rifle

Auction Date: December 4, 2020

Historically Significant, "National Treasure," Factory Documented, and Iconic Factory Engraved "One of One Thousand" Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle Inscribed to Montana Pioneer and Frontier Vigilante Leader Granville Stuart with Extensive Documentation, Factory Letter, and Pack Saddle

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $250,000 - $425,000

Historically Significant, "National Treasure," Factory Documented, and Iconic Factory Engraved "One of One Thousand" Winchester Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle Inscribed to Montana Pioneer and Frontier Vigilante Leader Granville Stuart with Extensive Documentation, Factory Letter, and Pack Saddle

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1873
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44-40 WCF
Barrel: 24 inch octagon
Finish: blue/casehardened
Stock: deluxe factory walnut
Item Views: 8313
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 36
Class: Antique

This incredible Model 1873 is one of only two One of One Thousand rifles to have the “Style Three” barrel inscription and is arguably the most significant western frontier firearm Rock Island Auction Company has had the pleasure of bringing to public sale, a tremendous statement given the number of incredible guns from the West that pass through our doors each year. It has it all: immense rarity, exceptional quality, and an unquestionable pedigree starting with ownership by "Mr. Montana" himself, Granville Stuart, one of the most iconic Montana pioneers recognized for his influence in his own time, a gold rusher, a stockman alongside Theodore Roosevelt, a frontier politician and international diplomat, the leader of the vigilante group Stuart’s Stranglers, and an all-around tough guy. This historic rifle found its way to RIAC by way of the western historical arms collection of the late John E. Fox of Montana and includes documents dating back decades to when the rifle remained in the possession of Stuart’s grandson and copies of original documents reaching back to Stuart’s original order for the rifle in the 1870s. Mr. Fox truly treasured this rifle and noted: “The 1873 Winchester is said to be ‘The Gun that Won the West.’ This rifle is clearly ‘The Winchester that Won the West.’ Historically this rifle is one of ‘the Treasures of Montana.’” Not surprisingly given how well-known and well-documented this rifle is, it has been featured in several publications, including: "The Story of the Winchester 1 of 1000 and 1 of 100 Rifles" by Lewis on pages 36-39, "The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West" by Wilson on page 224, and "Winchester's New Model of 1873 A Tribute Volume II" by Gordon on 384-389. In the first book, Lewis writes, “The story of Granville Stuart is, in many ways, the story of the Montana Territory and the fledgling state of Montana.” “His elegant rifle, along with his brother Thomas’ rifle, are the only ones to have the Style Three barrel inscription. At the time the Stuart rifles were produced, the ‘standard’ type of barrel inscription was the Arabic 1 of 1000. Serial number 7282 [this rifle] [is] listed in the warehouse records as ‘Engraved Granville Stuart’ and as having XXXX checkered wood along with Vernier and wind gauge sights. This elegant and historic rifle was the tenth reported in the Winchester ’73 motion picture search and is illustrated in the Hannagan Report.” In “Peacemakers,” the rifle and the included western pack saddle are presented with a selection of other Stuart firearms from the western arms collection of the late John Fox that appear in this auction. In the last book, Model 1873 expert Gordon writes, “Few historic guns have as much interesting documentation as serial number 5611 and 7282, both 1 of 1000s.” 5611 was ordered for Granville’s brother Thomas and is also pictured and discussed in “The Story of the Winchester 1 of 1000 and 1 of 100 Rifles.” The included factory letters lists it as 1 of 1,000 rifle with an octagon barrel, set trigger, XXXX checkered stock, Vernier peep and windgauge sights, casehardened finish, and Granville Stuart engraving. It was received in the warehouse on August 13, 1875, and shipped on August 21, 1875, in order 3514. Only 132 One of One Thousands were ever manufactured making them among the rarest and certainly the most desirable of all Winchester firearms. Despite their special nature, relatively few One of One Thousands were engraved beyond the barrel inscriptions, adding even further to the unique nature of this rifle. Granville and Thomas Stuart’s One of One Thousands are the only two Model 1873s deemed by Gordon and Lewis in their respective books to have the “Third Style” barrel inscription that was based specifically on Granville Stuart’s own complaints about the earlier style and are distinct from later versions since their upper left and right barrel flats are not engraved. The rifle has “Granville Stuart/1875” on the left side plate accented by scroll and geometric line engraving, an inlaid silver band at the muzzle, a dovetailed globe front sight, an adjustable sporting rear sight, the “Third Style” “One of One Thousand” in script engraving in a decorative banner with floral finials on top of the barrel at the breech followed by another inlaid silver band, scroll engraving on the top of the receiver and around the checkered oval “thumbprint” on the late First Model style dust cover which rides in grooves mortised in the front section of the frame, more scroll around the screw in the top of the frame, a border around the hammer well terminating in a scroll accent ahead of the adjustable peep rear sight, “Model. 1873.” on the tang under the sight, wavy borders on the sides and bottom of the frame with slight scroll accents, three sets of scrolls on the right side of the frame, scrolls at the front and rear of the frame on the left, the serial number engraved on the lower tang, and, correctly, no caliber marking on the elevator. The stock and forearm are checkered, and the 4x deluxe walnut buttstock has absolutely exceptional figure. The buttplate is marked “452” inside at the toe, and the stock compartment contains two sections of a cleaning rod. Adding significantly to this rifle's already considerable historical interest and value is the fact that this One of One Thousand was ordered specifically because the advertised enhanced accuracy of these rifles over regular Model 1873s was specifically what Stuart was looking for because he intended his rifle to see actual use on the frontier for defense against Native American attacks, meting out "frontier justice" to rustlers and outlaws, hunting, and target shooting. Copies of Stuart’s correspondence included with the various firearms in the Fox collection clearly demonstrate his keen awareness and interest in the firearms advancements of the late 19th century. The One of One Thousand program was announced in 1873 and more fully explained in Winchester’s 1875 catalog under the headline “Variety of Arms.” The details of this section are covered in depth in Lewis’ book and the most relevant section is worth reporting here to show why a man like Granville Stuart would have been drawn to order these expensive rifles for use on the Montana frontier: “Every Sporting Rifle we make will be proved and shot at a target, and the target will be numbered to correspond with the barrel and be attached to it. When one hundred barrels are thus proved, the one making the best target will be selected and set aside, and another hundred proved in the same way, and so on until one thousand have been tested and ten targets selected with the barrels with which they were made. They will then be made up into Guns, in which each part is selected with the utmost care and finished in the finest manner. They will then be again subjected to trials for accuracy, and the best of the ten selected and marked ‘One of a thousand,’ the price of which will be $80.00 to $100.00. The other nine will be marked ‘one of a hundred,’ and the price will be from $60.00 to $75.00 each. Sportsmen will readily see that this severe process of gleaning will be a slow and expensive one, and the result be but a limited number of choice Guns, and that orders should be given in advance of their wants, or patience exercised with the necessary delay of filling them.” A regular Model 1873 for comparison cost $50 when the rifles were first debuted. The included period documentation on this rifle begins even before it left the factory and includes copies of letters from Granville Stuart to Winchester explicitly laying out what he wanted for his 1 of 1,000. In fact, he was so specific, that this rifle was actually the third 1 of 1,000 ordered by Granville Stuart, because he returned the first two (one for himself and one for his brother Thomas) because they did not meet his specifications and expectations based on Winchester’s advertisement. In addition to the included copies and transcriptions of Stuart’s letters, they are also in part transcribed in the pages in the books above. His original order from October 22, 1874, requests: “Two of your ‘One in a Thousand Rifles, 24 inch, Octagon barrels, set triggers, & finely engraved, in fact the finest guns made by you, but not plated, Model of 1873, (center fire) fitted with hunting sights, and also peep rear sight, with Beach front sight. Also wiping rod and all appurtenances & leather case for each, full length of the gun." He added, “If these guns are as accurate as they should be . . .and as well finished as described I think many can be sold in this territory.” On November 15, 1874, he noted that his goal was to get rifles “in superior finish” and desired the rifles be “as nearly absolutely accurate as you can make them” since they intended to use them in shooting matches. An included ledger copy from May 1875 lists “for ‘One of a thousand’ Winchester rifle 122.50.” among other expenditures including ammunition for the rifle, candy, castrating horses, and other regular expenditures. Upon receiving the first rifles, he wrote to Winchester on May 20th, 1875, stating “The two 1 of 1000 rifles order by me arrived in good order but I am disappointed in them because you did not send such as I ordered, nor do you give any explanation why you did not follow the terms of the order.” After repeating the above order, he notes that Winchester had initially said they could not send a One of One Thousand meeting his specification for some months but could send “a very fine gun, finished in accordance with my instructions.” He wrote back tell them he wanted nothing but One of One Thousand Rifles and repeated that he wanted “’two of your very finest finished (not plated) one of a thousand rifles.’ Now with the exception of the wood in the Model 1873, I do not see that the guns are any better finished you’re your common ones, there is not a single line of engraving on them, and you did not send a hunting front sight nor a Beach front sight, nor did you send the leather cases, and although you state the sights are adjusted to 1000 yards, yet I find upon [inspection] that their greatest range is only 850 yards.” He notes that he has “some cause to be dissatisfied with” Winchester’s handling of his order but did note that his rifle “shoots remarkably well.” He also noted in a letter on June 14, 1875, that the new rifles should come with both hunting sights and globe and peep sights and the latter graduated out to 1,000 yards and “on some appropriate place on this latter engrave in fancy text surrounded by a wreath of flowers my name and date this, ‘Granville Stuart 1875; and on the other ‘Thomas Stuart 1875’ in same styles. The guns of course to be ‘one of a thousand,’ engraved and finished in your best style. I also want the words ‘One of a Thousand in fancy letters and surrounded by a wreath or other appropriate border for the figures on those guns you sent before, ‘1 of 1000’ are neither neat nor of a handsome appearance.” In this statement, you can credit Granville Stuart with generating the distinctive Third Style inscription on this rifle and his brother Thomas’ and the Fourth Style that followed. He also specified a casehardened finish. He tried to sell the two original rifles at the reduced rate of $75 each while waiting for the new rifles to arrive but ultimately sent them back on February 17, 1876. The staff at the Winchester factory clearly took their time to this time around to ensure he was satisfied with this rifle by truly supplying some of the finest wood we've ever seen on a Model 1873 and tastefully embellishing and inscribing the rifles personally for Stuart and his brother, and they certainly succeeded in satisfying their customer. On September 6, 1875, he wrote that the rifles "which arrived yesterday are perfect in every particular, they are far superior to any rifle made, except for very long range shooting, and I am not sure that I will not make even that exception for today at my first trial of my gun I made 45 out of a possible 60 at 500 yards, and I expect to be able to reach 55 at my next trial. When I get it down to a scratch, I will send you some of my scores." One of his friends was so impressed by the Stuart brothers’ rifles that he had Stuart order him a One of One Thousand on May 23, 1876. Winchester surprised his friend by making it more deluxe than was ordered. On July 26, 1876, Stuart wrote to them with the $105.75 payment for that rifle stating the rifle “is a magnificent gun and exceeds any anticipations, as I had not expected any engraving or peep & combination front sights for which accept my thanks. It is indeed a beauty and the friend for whom I ordered it is in ecstasies over it and well he may be for if the Sioux should come a little further up this way it will be a mightily handy thing to have in the house. If poor Custer’s heroic band had been armed with these rifles they would have covered the earth with dead Indians for 500 yards around and it is probable a portion of them [meaning Custer’s men] would have been alive when Gibbon and Terrys forces reached the bloody field. Why the Government does not adopt your arms is beyond any comprehension.” Clearly Winchester had succeeded in pleasing Stuart and establishing themselves a healthy reputation on the Montana frontier. The rifle's provenance is outlined in included letters from Stuart’s grandson Granville Stuart Abbott (son of Mary Stuart Abbott and Edward C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott) from December 1960 and his great-grandson Dance E. Abbott from November 1986. Per the former, “From the time” Granville Stuart “acquired this rifle, he carried it constantly as he rode the Montana range.” The grandson received the rifle from Granville Stuart in 1912 when he was 11 years old and noted his grandfather “went at great lengths to properly inform me just what that magic lettering meant” referring to the “One of One Thousand” barrel inscription. “In short it was a barrel that was super accurate. Even today many years later, that barrel is just as accurate as the day Grandfather gave it to me.” Stuart’s great-grandson also used this rifle in 1958 when he was eleven years old to shoot his first deer, and confirms in an included letter that his father sold the rifle shortly thereafter. Also included are original documents sent to Granville Stuart Abbott by James C. Hartley of Winchester in 1950 in relation to the well-known nationwide search for One of One Thousand Winchester Model 1873s confirming that the rifle was genuine and shipped on August 21, 1875. Abbott received a free Winchester Model 94 for reporting the rifle. It appears that the rifle was acquired by Norm Flayderman in early 1961. He wrote the included copy of a letter to Curator Thomas Hall of the Winchester Gun Museum on February 3, 1961, seeking more information. The original reply from Hall three days later indicates the rifle was identified in the factory records as a 1 of 1,000 rifle with octagon barrel, casehardened receiver, “very good stock” (a tremendous understatement!), set trigger, and “Granville Stuart” inscription that was shipped on August 21, 1875. The rifle was featured on the cover of Flayderman’s 61st catalog and described within as: “Without question, one of the most historical & important Western American pieces ever offered for sale is this ‘ONE OF ONE THOUSAND’ marked early Winchester factory engraved 1873. . .bearing the name of Montana’s most famed early citizen and Vigilante Captain.” He also notes the rifle was “actually used in his Vigilante activities,” and “This gun has come directly through the Stuart family by direct descent. . .” John Fox had the rifle appraised in 1977 indicating he owned it by that time. Granville Stuart (1834-1918) led a remarkable life that parallels the history of the American West and was a gold miner, Montana pioneer, rancher, vigilante leader of “Stuart’s Stranglers,” author, and statesman among other vocations. He has been called the “Father of Montana” and “Mr. Montana” and was a nationally known figure in his own time and lived the most notable years of his life as a pioneer in Montana in the second half of the 19th century. His life story was a grand adventure with gold, shootouts, travels through dangerous conditions, conflicts with Native Americans, and even years spent in faraway lands that certainly feel like a story you might have heard or seen before in a Western but when you get into the details, his life was even more grisly and fascinating than anything you’ll see on the silver screen. Even more than his counterpart Theodore Roosevelt, Stuart represented the rugged individualism that the West was famous for. He certainly had his own complicated and controversial views on race, religion, alcohol, and justice that sometimes were reflective of the frontier community and other times much more advanced. He was well-read on a wide variety of subjects, spoke multiple languages, and even published the first Shoshone to English dictionary. His actions and those of the men he led, then as now, are understandably controversial, but you couldn't argue they aren't riveting. In 2008, he was a Legacy Inductee into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, and not surprisingly, he and the vigilantes he led have been the subject of popular and historical publications for generations. Some of these works, in addition to included documentation, have provided many of the following details of his life. Stuart was born in what is now West Virginia and spent the majority of his youth living in Eastern Iowa and learned to shoot and hunt not far from our facilities and gained a fond appreciation for firearms that lasted the rest of his life. His father Robert Stuart went to California as a ‘49er during the Gold Rush, and Stuart and his brother James (1832–1873) followed him out to the gold fields two years later in 1851. When the brothers attempted to return home to Iowa in 1857, they were blocked by a severe bout of illness that left Granville bedridden along with the violence of the Mormon War which sent them on a different path that forever changed their lives. They ended up in Montana, then still part of the Oregon Territory. In 1858, they found gold on the aptly named Gold Creek and founded the town of Deer Lodge. Over the following years they were owners or partners in several local businesses, among them a blacksmith and gunsmithing shop as well as multiple mercantile stores. In 1862, James became the local sheriff and the brothers got their first taste of vigilante justice. Though some of the suspects received semi-official “miners trials,” popular opinion rather than strict facts decided the cases which often ended in hasty hangings and at least one of the attempted arrests led a deadly shootout. One of those hanged under Sheriff Stuart’s oversight was hundreds of miles outside of his jurisdiction, but the Stuart brothers weren’t to be messed with and had no patience for horse thieves. The following year, James led an expedition to Yellowstone during which James is believed to have carried the Sharps Model 1853 rifle in lot 47. The expedition came under attack from the Crow who killed two of Stuart’s men, and another died in relation to a negligent discharge. In the Civil War years, the region was largely isolated from the war, but Granville Stuart recorded details of another round of violence in the territory centered on Sheriff Henry Plummer of Bannack and Virginia City. Plummer was a convicted murder linked to multiple killings even before he took office and led a gang of road agents plaguing the isolated trails between the frontier settlements. Sheriff Plummer and his associates were not voted out of office or arrested by superior authorities. They were publicly hanged by local or went down in hails of bullets or flames. The Stuart brothers continued to remain locally prominent and expanded their business holdings. Granville was a territorial legislator, town councilman, county commissioner, school board member, and prison commissioner and rose to have a Davy Crockett like reputation back in Iowa by the time he returned for a visit after the Civil War. Before this rifle was ordered, his beloved brother James died of a gastrointestinal disease. Perhaps this loss led him to be more actively connected to his own younger brother Thomas since he was now the patriarch of the family in Montana. The following year, as discussed in the letters above, he ordered the two of Winchester “One of One Thousand” Model 1873 rifles, and one of them was specifically for Thomas. He also ordered other rifles that year such as the Sharps Model 1874 Sporting Rifle in lot 50 which was invoiced on December 14, 1874, and was used in the territorial championship shooting match that he won the special ordered Sharps Model 1874 Creedmoor No. 1 Rifle from lot 51 the following year around a month after this “One of One Thousand” arrived. In addition to the included documentation, the purchases are noted on pages 152-153 of “As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart” by Milner and O’Connor. In 1879, Stuart partnered with Andy Davis and Samuel T. Hauser to establish the Davis, Hauser and Stuart cattle company and DHS Ranch and moved his family from the towns he helped form to the open range, and the following year, Stuart ordered the beautiful John Ulrich engraved Winchester Model 1876, serial number 10001, in lot 43 which is engraved “Granville Stuart/1880” on the elevator similar to this “One of One Thousand” and was no doubt ordered due in part to Winchester’s handling and correction of his Model 1873 order. As noted above, Abbott indicated this “One of One Thousand” was “carried constantly as he rode the Montana range.” It is easy to see why he would choose this rifle as his constant companion. In addition to its handsome construction and embellishment, it was certainly a trustworthy and accurate rifle capable of taking game for the table and defend the lives of himself and his family as well as his property from the various ruffians that for too long plagued Montana until Stuart and his fellow stockmen took matters into their own hands. “Stuart’s Stranglers” were formed in 1884 in coordination with other cattle ranchers in the region to combat horse thieves and cattle rustlers. Stuart became the president of the Montana Stock Growers Association the following year after leading the vigilantes. The Stranglers’ activities are covered in detail in several publications including “As Big as the West” and “The Central Montana Vigilante Raids of 1884” by Mueller in “The Montana Magazine of History.” Both this “One of One Thousand” Model 1873 and at least one of Granville’s two Winchester Model 1876s are documented by Granville Stuart Abbott, Stuart’s grandson, as used by Stuart while he was the leader of “Stuart’s Stranglers.” A young Theodore Roosevelt, a fellow rancher in the Dakotas near the Montana border at that time, was among the men who wanted to join in on the missions to take down the outlaws, but Stuart turned down the help of Roosevelt as well as the Marquis de Mores on account “of their youthful recklessness and obvious inexperience and because their prominent names might bring unwanted publicity to a secretive operation.” The actions of the Stranglers took place outside the law and certainly had the potential to lead to the deaths of those involved either at the hands of the outlaws themselves or from the government should they decide to punish the vigilantes for taking matters in their own hands and unfortunately likely killing at least some innocent men along with the known criminals. On July 3 or 4th of 1884, Sam MacKenzie was hung from a tree by Stuart’s men. Granville had written, “Unfortunately we have no proof that would convict” MacKenzie and his associates but “if we catch Mackenzie, we will try & arrange matters so that he will steal no more horses. We over here are certainly willing to stand in with anybody who catches any of this gang & make an example of them, that being the only way we will ever stop their stealing.” A few days later on July 7th, Stranglers paid by Stuart and led by Andrew Fergus, Stuart’s neighbor, rode out to take down a much more ambitious target: a cabin of a presumed horse thief with several armed men inside. The vigilantes captured the group’s lookout, entered the cabin and shot the four men inside, and then hung the lookout. Even though the latter had a $10,000 reward on his head, they left his body swaying in the wind as a graphic warning. The vigilantes then went to the trading post of William Downes who reportedly stole horses and killed cattle and also had connections to other thieves. “California Ed,” another suspected outlaw, was found at the post as were stolen horses, meat, and cow hides with brands from the Fergus ranch on them, and the two men were lynched as a result. On July 15, it was Granville Stuart himself that led six or seven additional Stranglers on an expedition from the DHS ranch. They were guided by the son of a Quantrill Raider, a suspected thief himself, who knew the location of a gang of suspected horse thieves. They were joined by Fergus’ group along the Musselshell River on July 16. The U.S. marked Single Action Army in lot 48 was noted as one of the guns used during this raid, and it was very likely this Winchester that was carried by Stuart. He and the Vigilantes are known to have been fond of Winchesters, and Stuart secured Winchesters owned by others in the area to ensure his men had enough repeaters. On the 19th, the Stranglers made their move on the James woodyard. The cabin contained an estimated five horse thieves and another six were in a tent on the property. One of the suspects was Stuart’s own nephew “Dixie Burr.” Exactly how they positioned themselves at the wood yard is somewhat unclear. In his book “Forty Years on the Frontier,” Stuart indicated they split into three parties with five men surrounding the cabin, another three kept an eye on the men in the tent, and another stayed with the horses. A note written by Stuart later in his life and discussed in “As Big as the West,” indicated two of the Stranglers stayed in camp, four were with the horses, three were at the “Ice house,” two were at the tent, and three were below the house for a total of fourteen men. He appeared to list himself as “G.S.” At daybreak, old man James came out of the cabin and was ordered to release the horses. After setting the horses free, he returned to the cabin where he and the other outlaws within opened fire on the vigilantes through portholes. During the following exchange of gunfire, Jack Stringer was shot and killed at the tent, Stuart’s nephew was wounded in the arm, and two of the Stranglers managed to get on top of the cabin and set it on fire. Two of the vigilantes were also killed in the crossfire. Some of the gang, including old man James, managed to flee alive, at least for the time being. Stuart informed U.S. Deputy Marshall Sam Fischel and the officers of Fort Maginnis of the shootout and told them of the escaped fugitives, and some of the soldiers at Poplar Creek Agency rode out in search in part because the government had also had horses stolen and payrolls threatened by outlaws in the region and were thus at least partially sympathetic to the problems of the region’s stockmen. They captured five of the survivors for the raid, including Stuart’s wounded nephew. Fischel deputized some of the Stranglers and took them with him to bring the suspects back to Fort Benton for trial. Before daybreak on August 28, 1884, Fischel’s own life was threatened by Stuart’s Stranglers. A group of fifteen masked men rode into camp, and they were “well primed with Winchesters” and weren’t interested in seeing the fugitives escape with their lives, especially after losing the Stranglers lost two of their own men in the gunfight. They escorted Fischel and Strangler Reece Anderson a couple miles from camp and warned them “not to glance back under penalty of instant death.” They then took the men to two cabins with a log suspended between them and hung four of them before lighting the cabins on fire. The fifth man’s demise is unclear, but Granville’s nephew was among the dead. Old man James had eluded capture. The news of the Stranglers’ summer activities quickly made the papers. The Stranglers’ other activities are not as well-recorded, but Theodore Roosevelt and others attributed nearly 60 deaths to the vigilantes, and a 20th century study attributed sixty-three killings to Stuart’s men. 18-24, possibly more, suspected outlaws were killed by the vigilantes in the two confirmed raids. Though their actions were at best extralegal if not entirely illegal, that fall Territorial Governor John Schuyler Crosby wrote that the situation and lack of government protection required “some application of hemp and lead during the year by the ‘cowboys,’ as our stock-herders are called.” Their activities were further supported by the election of Samuel T. Hauser, Stuart’s partner in the DHS ranch, as territorial governor and by Governor Hauser’s placement of Stuart as president of a new board of livestock commissioners. Some of the first men hired by the board as inspectors and detectives were members of the Stranglers, and Thomas Stuart was also installed as the territorial veterinarian surgeon. Stuart reported the vigilante activities cost $2,137. Though their violence had received a veneer of legal protection, Stuart and his vigilantes were still at risk of reprisals. Though successful in striking terror into the outlaws and cutting many of their careers short, Stuart and other ranchers in Montana faced heavy losses from a new threat a few years later: a severe drought and extreme heat followed by a savage winter with temperatures up to 40 below zero that decimated the cattle herds. Stuart’s friend and now famous western artist Charles Marion Russell painting based on a sketch of one of the dying cows was titled it “Waiting for a Chinook” and published in “Studies of Western Life with Descriptions by Granville Stuart.” Russell worked on Stuart’s ranch in 1883 and 1884. He suffered losses at home as well, his Shoshone wife Awbonnie died from a postpartum infection on October 17, 1888, his mother, who had since moved to Montana from Iowa, also perished the following month on November 30, and then his eldest daughter Katie, who he had hoped would step in to care for her younger siblings and cousins, died on May 27, 1889. Though sunk low, Stuart had the grit to set about rebuilding his life. He remarried on January 8, 1890, to Belle Brown (1863-1937) and became a state land agent in March 1891. In 1894, he received an even more prestigious government post: “Envoy Extraordinary & Minister Plenipotentiary to Paraguay and Uruguay.” The newspapers reported on his vigilante reputation with a distinct positive spin and suggested it demonstrated his resolve and ability to ensure the United States and the rights of its citizens were respected by their South American counterparts. He returned to Montana 1898 and worked as the head librarian of the Butte Public Library in 1905-1914 and died in 1918 while working on his book “Forty Years on the Frontier” which was published after his death.

Rating Definition:

Fine overall. This extraordinary historic rifle has the delicate balance of signs of genuine use on the American frontier while remaining in fine overall condition. 20% original bright blue finish remains on the barrel and magazine tube mainly in the protected areas on the lower barrel flats and upper areas of the magazine. The receiver, hammer, lever, and buttplate have traces of naturally subdued original case colors, especially on the hammer and tangs. There are areas of silvered out case color, and most of the remaining metal surfaces display that smooth blend of well-aged gray and brown patina you expect to find on firearms that were actually part of historic battles during the conquering of the West. The wood is also fine and has partially smoothed checkering from years of handling, smooth finish, exceptional figure on the butt, some mild dings and scrapes, a chip at the toe, and overall lighter wear than you'd likely expect from a genuine frontier used firearm. The set trigger need some work, but the rifle is otherwise mechanically excellent. The pack saddle has moderate overall wear including some cracking of the aged wood but is an attractive western artifact and retains some of the original fur on the straps. This rifle remained in Stuart's family and is documented as having been used extensively by Stuart, including during the famous vigilante raids of the Stuart's Stranglers and was then owned by a select few renowned American arm collectors, including the late Norm Flayderman and John E. Fox who have each left a lasting legacy in our hobby. This is the kind of chance that comes once in a lifetime. This is the kind of immensely rare and collection defining rifle that collectors treasure to their final days and that a family understandably holds onto for generations. It has been an absolutely pleasure to describe and research this rifle, and we are fortunate to offer it at auction. Provenance: The John Fox Collection.

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