Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 43: Granville Stuart's Engraved Winchester Model 1876 Express Rifle

Auction Date: December 4, 2020

"One of the Most Historic & Deluxe 19th Century Winchesters Known": Legendary Montana Pioneer Granville Stuart’s John Ulrich Master Panel Scene Engraved, Signed, and Inscribed Winchester Model 1876 Lever Action Express Rifle: "The Boss Game Gun of All Creation" with Factory Letter

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $200,000 - $350,000

"One of the Most Historic & Deluxe 19th Century Winchesters Known": Legendary Montana Pioneer Granville Stuart’s John Ulrich Master Panel Scene Engraved, Signed, and Inscribed Winchester Model 1876 Lever Action Express Rifle: "The Boss Game Gun of All Creation" with Factory Letter

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1876
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 50-95 Winchester Express
Barrel: 26 inch octagon
Finish: blue
Stock: deluxe highly figured che
Item Views: 6450
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 44
Class: Antique

This extraordinary rifle was special ordered by "Mr. Montana" himself: Granville Stuart, one of the most iconic Montana pioneers recognized for his influence in his own time by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and other national figures, a gold rusher, a leading stockman, a frontier politician and international diplomat, and the head of the vigilante group Stuart’s Stranglers. The bottom of the elevator is engraved with "GRANVILLE STUART/1880" in Gothic script and accented by scrolls and crosshatch patterns, and the tall, thin, bearded man shooting the grizzly on the left side plate is almost certainly meant to represent Granville Stuart himself. An 1877 portrait of Stuart taken by L.A. Huffman shows him in similar attire. The scene has a man shooting an intimidating grizzly standing on its hind legs at close range with a Winchester '76 with detailed trees and bluffs in the background, nicely textured substrate, and a group of armed men approaching from the lower right. The main buffalo in the left side vignette has distinct similarities to the painting “Buffalo Bull Grazing on the Prairie” by George Catlin but also features additional running buffalo in the background, and the foreground has very detailed foliage. The dust cover is engraved with a doe in a forest scene, scrolls, and "WINCHESTER/EXPRESS" and “50 CAL./95 GRS." The right side plate has another bear scene with a very highly detailed forest background, and the right front of the frame has a vignette of a stag in shallow water with foliage and trees. The latter scene is highly reminiscent of the famous 1851 painting "Monarch of the Glen" by English artist Sir Edwin Landseer that served as the inspiration for other Ulrich engraved rifles, especially Marlins. The bear scenes and doe on the dust cover were likely also based on paintings or more likely lithographs or illustrations from publications that Stuart had seen. The engraving also includes intertwining scroll patterns with shell and floral accents with textured backgrounds. These patterns are very highly detailed and among the best of John Ulrich’s work. The barrel has border and scroll engraving near the muzzle, a dovetailed beaded blade front sight, an adjustable sporting rear sight, the standard two-line address and patent marking on top, scroll engraving on the visible flats at the breech along with a coordinating border design and “50. CAL EXPRESS” on top. The engraving around the caliber marking is similar to the engraving on 1 of 1,000 rifles. The forend cap is also heavily engraved with scroll and border designs, and the scroll engraving extends to the hammer and lever which is very rare and on the shotgun buttplate. The upper tang has “Model 1876.” The lower tang has “J. ULRICH” in tiny letters behind the trigger, the serial number at the rear, and "XXX 874" on the left side covered by the stock. The forearm is nicely figured walnut and is checkered. The XXX grade walnut pistol grip buttstock has a checkered wrist, beautiful figure, and a contrasting grip insert and is marked "P 874" inside the upper tang mortise. Sling swivels are fitted to the forend cap and bottom of the stock, and it is equipped with a brown leather sling. Unlike many historic firearms, this rifle is extensively documented back to even before it was manufactured. In fact, we have documentation going back even prior to Stuart's original order for the rifle on March 8, 1880, and then through to the present day as part of the collection of the late John Fox of Montana. Stuart was incredibly detailed in his orders for firearms which makes proper identification of this rifle in his correspondence possible. Stuart's son-in-law "Teddy Blue" Abbott held the rifle until 1942 on behalf of Charley "Patch Eye" Stuart, Granville Stuart's son, until he retrieved it. A letter from Stuart to his son in 1911 reportedly told him to "use solid ball cartridges for bear and elk, hollow point C's for deer and antelope, mountain sheep, and white rocky mountain goats." This is perfectly in keeping with Stuart's particular nature when it came to firearms. Charley Stuart left the gun to John Wright when he died in 1952 who in turn left it to his wife, Lorraine, upon his own death in August of 1983. She sold it to John Fox in April of 1984 where the rifle was paired up with other Granville Stuart firearms and artifacts including the famous 1 of 1,000. Thus, this rifle has spent nearly its entire existence in Montana, much of its life in the hands of Granville Stuart and his descendants. A letter from Norm Flayderman to John Fox discussing the rifle is also included and notes "It sure is one helluva piece and now that it is mated with his 1873 1 of 1,000, it certainly can be rated among the most outstanding Winchester groups in the country." The rifle has also been pictured and discussed in multiple books. On pages 152-153 of "Winchester Engraving" by Wilson, this rifle is illustrated and captioned as: "Serial number 10001 Model 1876, one of the most historic and deluxe nineteenth century Winchesters known, was custom made for Granville Stuart and is well documented. Among other adventures, the rifle accompanied Stuart across the equator to South America and back when the owner was U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay and Paraguay (c. 1894- c. 1898). Barrel coverage includes seven flat at the muzzle and five at the breech." This rifle and Granville Stuart's 1 of 1,000 Model 1873 from lot 42 are discussed on pages 36-40 of "The Story of the Winchester 1 of 1000 and 1 of 100 Rifles" by Lewis where it is noted as "a treasure." Lewis notes that given Granville Stuart had previously returned two 1 of 1,000s because Winchester did not follow the terms of his order, the factory wanted to avoid any future problems with orders from Stuart and ensured both Stuart's replacement 1 of 1,000 and this 1876 were beautiful engraved and notes the '76 has similarities to 1 of 1,000 engraving in the way the caliber marking on the barrel is accented by scroll engraving. The factory also took special care with rifles ordered by others through Stuart and included extra engraving and features beyond what was ordered to ensure happy clients out on the Montana frontier. This rifle is also pictured and discussed as part of the Granville Stuart collection within a much larger western collection brought together over a lifetime by John Fox on page 224 of "Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West" by Wilson. The most recent of the included factory letters is from July 30, 2020, and confirms the rifle had a 26 inch octagon barrel, plain trigger, "Pin Ball" front sight "as per record," blue finish, engraving, and checkered pistol grip stock with shotgun butt. It was received in the warehouse on May 11, 1880, and shipped on May 15th. The ledge shows "Pin Ball" under the sights column. The documentation also demonstrates that Stuart was directly involved in ordering engraved and inscribed Model 1876s for other notable Montanans in the 1880s, and the engraving influenced a whole group of John Ulrich engraved Model 1876s owned by other notable late 19th century Americans in the West. A somewhat similar scene to Stuart's bear scene but with two bears is on the right side plate of Lt. General Philip H. Sheridan's John Ulrich engraved Model 1876 shown on page 155 of "Winchester Engraving" and page 260 of "Peacemakers" by Wilson. Note that Sheridan's rifle is a year later than this rifle indicating its engraving would have been influenced by this rifle and not the other way around. Also note that some of the borders and shell patterns are very similar on these two rifles. There are of course earlier Winchester rifles with somewhat similar game scenes such as the famous "On the Rocky Mountains" Model 1866, but the figures and scenes are distinctly different whereas the rifles owned by Sheridan and Stuart show obvious similarities while still remaining distinct. Sheridan was one of Stuart's contemporaries in the West and was one of the leading figures in forcing the various Native American tribes to cede their lands opening the way for further settlement and leading to less problems for ranchers like Stuart who were frustrated by rustling and horse theft by members of various tribes. A comparison should also certainly be made between this rifle and Theodore Roosevelt's Model 1876. Both Stuart and Roosevelt were ranchers. Roosevelt was a member of the Montana Stock Growers Association that Stuart led, tried to join Stuart's Stranglers in the mid-1880s, wrote about the group, and was certainly familiar with "Mr. Montana." In fact, in "Roosevelt in the Bad Lands" by Hagedorn, often considered the definitive source on his Montana years, H.H. Robson of Great Falls stated: "Roosevelt was of a restless, nervous, but aggressive disposition, and took a keen interest in the proceedings. He was a great admirer of Granville Stuart, and was always on his side of every question." This was in regards to a Stock Growers Association meeting that Robson, Stuart, and Roosevelt attended. Roosevelt first visited Montana in 1883, and Roosevelt's rifle, serial number 38647, was ordered that year from Montana and is pictured on page 160 of "Winchester Engraving." Stuart is documented as recommending Winchester rifles to his friends in Montana in various calibers and also influenced other firearms orders from the territory and may have influenced Roosevelt's choice directly or indirectly. His friends are known to have been influenced by his special order Winchester and Sharps firearms. Like Stuart's rifle, Roosevelt's 1876 has a buffalo as one of the game scenes as well as a stag. His rifle is not as extensively engraved as Stuart's but is still one of the most profusely engraved 1876s and was signed by John Ulrich. It is especially well-known thanks in part to being in Roosevelt's hands in his famous frontier portrait and is said to have been his favorite rifle. It started a series of rifles ordered by Roosevelt straight from Winchester. Comparison should also be made between this rifle and Col. Archibald Roger's 1876. Stuart's rifle also predates this rifle, serial number 14416 from 1881, and is more extensively engraved. Like Stuart's and Sheridan's 1876s, Roger's rifle also features a buffalo and bear. Rogers lived primarily in the East but was a sportsman involved in various activities including hunting expeditions in the West and was one of Roosevelt's friends and hunting companions, and Roosevelt talks about hunting with his friend in his writings, including in "The Wilderness Hunter." Stuart's rifle clearly influenced this incredible line of extraordinary western themed 1876s owned by some of the 19th century's most famous and influential Americans based on the discussion below. He sent in references for the details of the engraving on his rifle, and the engraving patterns on his rifle influenced the patterns on the rifles above. The most important document within the entire file is certainly Stuart's original order for this rifle. Such documentation is very rarely available and provides valuable insight into the origins of this rifle and its distinctive engraving, but the documentation with this rifle extends back even before he actually placed the order for the rifle. In one document, he had written about bears and noted that a local man had to shoot one seven times with a .45-75 Winchester rifle to finally kill it. This may have influenced his orders for the .50-95 Express. In a letter to a friend on February 3, 1880, he noted, "You ask if I have found any gun that beats the Winchester 44/100yes, for game I have, it’s a new Winchester just out, 26 inch 50/100 Cal. 95grs powder, with hollow pointed 'Express' bullet of 300 grs. Velocity 1641 ft per second, ('76' model only goes 1460 ft per second) & they will put shot gun buts on them with Army length * drop of stock required, all for $56, 10% off for 3 guns or over." He appears to have been canvasing his friends to see who else might order at the same time to get the three required guns to get the discount. Three days later, he wrote to Winchester telling them that G.H. Oldham was pleased with two rifles he had ordered and that "I will shortly order several of your Express Rifles for myself & friends." That order came on March 8, 1880, from Helena, Montana. Stuart wrote to Winchester indicating he was sending them a draft for $200 for three Model 1876 rifles. For his rifle, Stuart wanted "1 Express 50 Cal 26 in. Oct barrel. Casehardened finish, fancy checkered stock, shot gun butt & butt plate, length of stock 14 1/4 inches, drop of stock 3 inches, front sight long globe or pin ball, similar to English Express sights, & also like Sharps express sight. (not covered, holes drilled & shrouds cut in grip for peep sight base. 1000 50/100 Cal 95 grs cartridges (loaded), 1 set reloading tools for above, 1000 No 2 1/2 Primers for above, Swivels & sling on gun, 1 wiping rod. Engrave a Grizzly Bear on one side of receiver and a buffalo on the other, & an elk where he will fit best. Will send copies for engraver, & name Granville Stuart in fanciest text on bottom of carrier block. . . Estimated coast except engraving $77." The second rifle was the same caliber and barrel length but was only requested to be engraved "W.S. Negus" on the side plate. William S. Negus was a Marysville, Montana, merchant and rancher who was one of the wealthiest men in the region at the time of his death in 1888. The third rifle was for "D. W. Curtiss" and was also requested to be engraved with that name on the side plate but also had more specifications such as a casehardened finish, fancy checkered stock with 3 inch drop, and 100-1,000 yard sights. Daniel W. Curtiss was another Montana pioneer and also owned a highly successful fruit farm. The following day, Stuart sent another letter with further instructions detailing exactly how he wanted the scenes on his rifle to appear stating: "Enclosed find four pictures which I wish you to engrave in the highest style of art on my Express Rifle ordered yesterday, and marked No. 1 & which please put where designated on each picture.-Also engrave a doe (female of common deer) in the attitude of looking on the sliding cover of the mortice, & put a band of tasty engraving around the muzzle, & finest wood in stock, Respectfully yours, Granville Stuart." The following day, he updated the order for the third rifle further and specified that he wanted a full length magazine on each of the three rifles, and again on the 15th he requested peep and Beach sights on the third rifle. On July 7, 1880, he wrote to Winchester about his satisfaction with his new rifle stating: "It arrived while I was gone & is a beauty - I am satisfied with its looks. If it proves to be as good as it is beautiful (women seldom do) it is a world beater. . .With thanks for the fine workmanship & courtesy." After the arrival of the other two rifles, he sent the remaining balance due on August 21 and noted "I have been so extremely busy that I have not as yet found time to fire a shot with the beautiful express but hope soon to do so." The following year, he ordered another engraved express rifle for H. T. Lowery, partner in the firm Flowree & Lowery, listed as "one of the cattle kings of Montana" by the Bozeman Weekly Chronicle in 1883. On August 28, 1881, Stuart wrote to Winchester about concerns with ammunition for his express rifle. Christmas Eve of that year, he was writing to the editor of "Field" magazine about a variety of Winchester related topics. Near the end, he writes that the "Express 50-95" is "the boss game gun of all creation." Per Granville Stuart Abbott, his grandson, Granville Stuart is known to have used a Model 1876 rifle in addition to his 1 of 1,000 Model 1873 in the mid-1880s when he was leading the vigilante group “Stuart’s Stranglers” during their crusade to rid the region of horse thieves and cattle rustlers. The vigilantes have been linked to up to 63 extrajudicial killings, and Stuart and others wrote about some of the key raids during which an estimated 18-24 men were killed by the Stranglers during a brief period of time in the summer of 1884. “Stuart’s Stranglers” were formed in after discussions by the Montana Stock Growers Association about going to war with the outlaws to secure the range. Roosevelt was among those calling for aggressive action. Stuart publicly opposed such a move, but this was likely an effort to provide cover for the actions that followed. Had the planned raids been public knowledge, the already fairly well-armed and well-fortified rustlers would have had time to prepare. 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.” 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. Instead, their raids further solidified Stuart as a regional leader and led to him becoming president of the Stock Growers Association. Around the Fourth of July 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, Stuart led six or seven Stranglers on an expedition from the DHS ranch guided by the son of a Quantrill Raider, a suspected thief himself, who led them to the hideout of a gang of horse thieves. They were joined by Fergus’ group along the Musselshell River on July 16. Stuart may have carried this rifle if he wasn’t using his 1 of 1,000 during the raid. This rifle could have also been in the hands of one of his men given he is known to have gathered available Winchesters to arm his men. By the 19th, the Stranglers were ready to make 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.” When James came out of the cabin in the morning, he was ordered to release the horses. After complying, he returned to the cabin and he and his men opened fire on the Stranglers through gun ports in the cabin walls. During the fight, two of the vigilantes were killed, but two more managed to get to the roof of the cabin and set it on fire, and Jack Stringer was shot and killed at the tent. Stuart’s nephew was also wounded in the arm. Some of the gang, including James, managed to flee the battlefield. Stuart informed the authorities, including U.S. Deputy Marshall Sam Fischel of the shootout and the escaped suspects. Some of the soldiers at Poplar Creek Agency captured five of the survivors from 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. However, before he could bring in the fugitives, Fischel’s own life was threatened by Stuart’s Stranglers. Fifteen men in masks and armed with Winchesters arrived and escorted Fischel and Reece Anderson out of the camp and told them “not to glance back under penalty of death.” They then hung four of the suspected rustlers from a beam between two cabins before lighting the buildings on fire. The fifth man’s demise is unclear, but Granville’s nephew was among the dead. The news of the Stranglers’ summer activities quickly made the papers, and Stuart’s reputation was further enhanced. Though their actions were at best extralegal if not entirely illegal, their actions were validated by Territorial Governor John Schuyler Crosby and then the election of Stuart’s business partner Samuel T. Hauser as governor. Crosby informed the federal government that the actions of the outlaws and lack of government protection for the stockmen required “some application of hemp and lead during the year by the ‘cowboys,’ as our stock-herders are called.” Governor Hauser placed Stuart as president of a new board of livestock commissioners, and some of that board’s first moves were the hiring of former Stranglers as inspectors and detectives giving them some of the legal authority they had lacked during their prior raids. Thomas Stuart was also installed as the territorial veterinarian surgeon. Granville Stuart reported the vigilante activities cost $2,137.

Rating Definition:

Extremely fine with crisp engraving and markings throughout and an attractive look overall that is fitting for a rifle shipped to the frontier and used for many years. The barrel retains 50% plus original blue finish, and strong original blue remains in the protected areas of the magazine tube. 60% original blue on the loading gate and forend cap, and the frame retains 25% of the original blue mainly to the lower tang and top of the frame as well as the recesses on the sides that are protected by raised edges. Case colors remain visible on the hammer, lever, and lever latch. The elevator has an attractive aged patina. The buttplate has numerous dings and retains traces of original blue. The faded areas of the metal are mostly a smoky gray patina, and there are some areas of plum brown patina where the blue is fading. The engraving remains outstanding and highly distinct, and the overall wear is mild and consistent with use and cleaning. The sights have been changed out, most likely by Stuart himself given his known interest in various sight options. The wood is also fine and has distinct but mildly hand worn checkering from multiple generations of use by the Stuart family in Montana, beautiful figure, strong finish, a notch in the comb, minor edge wear, and general mild dings and scratches consistent with actual field use. Mechanically excellent. The sling is fine and has moderate wear including flaking of the surfaces. This is an incredible frontier firearm. When you think of the American West, you think Winchester lever actions and Colt Single Action Army revolvers, but we generally associate finely engraved Winchesters that are as much works of art as they are firearms as something more associated with urban exhibitions, high level politicians and big business leaders, and the wealthy elite than we do frontier vigilante leaders fighting for their livelihoods on the range against a cast of outlaws. This rifle certainly breaks that mold. The fact that this rifle pre-dates Theodore Roosevelt's famous Model 1876 and that Granville Stuart and this rifle may have influenced it are especially exciting as is the fact that this rifle's engraving clearly influenced the pattern seen on General Philip Sheridan's rifle. Without the history, without the influence on other historic Model 1876s, this rifle would still be one of the best engraved Model 1876s to come to market in a generation. It is absolutely stunning. The fact that it was owned and used by Stuart and possibly carried by him as he dished out some frontier justice makes it all the more exciting. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own "the Boss Game Gun of All Creation!" Provenance: The John Fox Collection.

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