Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 47: Stuart Brothers Used Engraved Sharps Model 1853 Sporting Rifle

Auction Date: December 4, 2020

Historic Documented James and Granville Stuart Exhibition Quality Factory Game Panel Scene Engraved Sharps Model 1853 "Slant Breech" Breech Loading Percussion Sporting Rifle with Documentation Attributed to the 1863 Yellowstone Expedition

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $65,000 - $110,000

Historic Documented James and Granville Stuart Exhibition Quality Factory Game Panel Scene Engraved Sharps Model 1853 "Slant Breech" Breech Loading Percussion Sporting Rifle with Documentation Attributed to the 1863 Yellowstone Expedition

Manufacturer: Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company
Model: 1853-Rifle
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 30 inch part octagon
Finish: blue/casehardened
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 2058
Item Interest: Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 58
Class: Antique

This rifle is pictured alone on page 246 of "Sharps Firearms: The Percussion Era" and listed as "Exhibition Engraved" and from the John Fox collection. It is also pictured part of a selection of items from John Fox's Granville Stuart collection shown on page 37 of "The Story of the Winchester 1 of 1000 and 1 of 100 Rifles" by E.E. Lewis, and page 224 of "The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West" by R. L. Wilson. In Lewis' book, it is identified as having "belonged to [Granville Stuart's] brother James who led the Yellowstone Expedition of 1863. It was subsequently acquired by Granville and latter given to the artist E.S. Paxson by Stuart's widow." In Wilson's book, it is similarly identified but also noted as the rifle "used by James on the Yellowstone Expedition of 1863." Copies of documents from Edgar S. Paxson, his daughter-in-law Evelyn M. Paxson, and his grandson William Edgar Paxson are included and indicate this rifle was given to western artist Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852-1919) in 1919 by Stuart's second wife after his death in 1918. Unfortunately, Paxson passed away only a few months later, but the rifle was passed down to his son Robert Paxson until his death in 1956 and then to William Edgar Paxson, the artist's grandson. Paxson lived in Deer Lodge which was founded by the Stuarts and was Granville Stuart's personal friend. They were also mutual friends of artist Charles M. Russell. Paxson is known for his impressive western themed paintings including of Custer's Last Stand and Lewis and Clark. This rifle was listed as catalog item 470A along with the Sharps Model 1874 Creedmoor No. 1 in lot 51 with the title "THE PERSONAL RIFLES OF ONE OF THE WEST'S MOST FAMOUS PIONEERS, CATTLEMEN & VIGILANTES." in Norm Flayderman's catalog no. 75 from 1966 and described as: "Fully engraved specially constructed superb sloping breech percussion Sharps sporting rifle. The finest specimen we have encountered. . .An outstanding example & extreme rarity as a weapon. Most historical with its important record of ownership. Completely documented & verified." Only 2,970 Model 1853 Sporting Rifles are estimated to have been manufactured in July 8, 1854, to December 1859 per Frank Sellers in "Sharps Firearms." In his break down of major variations, he lists only 6 "60 bore" rifles with "carved" grade engraving and half octagon barrels. Sellers notes that the "Carved" grade was the "highest grade of engraving" and "usually included several animal scenes not only on both sides of the receiver and the lock plate, but on the patch box and sometimes the barrel." The engraving can be attributed to Master Engraver Gustave Young who is known to have engraved rifles for Sharps. Note the similarity of the engraving style and scenes to those found on the unusual left handed Sharps Model 1853 identified as engraved by Young for exhibition in Paris in 1856. The Stuart rifle actually has more engraved scenes than the exhibition rifle and features a running stag on the right side of the frame, a reposed doe on the lock, a wolf on the patch box lid, and a second wolf on the left side of the frame. Each of these animals is pictured in a relevant scene. The barrel features bands of engraving at the muzzle and extensive, deeper "carved" scroll engraving on the upper flats along the length of the octagon section, and the same style of scroll engraving extends to the action components and the German silver stock furniture including the toe plate. The barrel has a dovetailed blade front sight, "SHARPS RIFLE/MANUFG CO/HARTFORD CONN" on top at the front of the octagonal section, a Lawrence patent semi-buckhorn and folding ladder rear sight, and the matching serial number on the bottom. The action has the serial number on the upper tang along with a peep sight and the patent marking (tap through the patent marking for a second position for the peep sight), "SHARP'S/PATENT/1852" on the lock, and adjustable double set triggers. The forearm has a pewter end cap. The stock has a shallow cheek rest on the left, and the German silver buttplate has the partial matching serial number "5038" on the point of the heel. This rifle is certainly in keeping with Granville Stuart's known love of fine rifles with peep sights, double set triggers, and fine engraving, and his elder brother James no doubt shared the family interest in fine arms. James (1832-1873) and Granville Stuart (1834-1918) left their childhood home in Eastern Iowa in 1851 to prospect for gold in California. Their father had been among the early '49ers during the California Gold Rush, but the brothers worked separate from their father when they arrived in the gold fields. Ultimately, none of the Stuart’s found great wealth in California. Their father returned to Iowa, but when the brothers attempted to return home to Iowa in 1857, they were blocked by a severe bout of illness that left Granville bedridden and the violence of the Mormon War sent them on a different path that forever changed their lives and led to their enshrinement in the history of the West. They ended up in Montana, then still part of the Oregon Territory. In 1858, they found gold on Gold Creek following up on previous discoveries by French-Canadian miner six years earlier. As more prospectors moved in, the Stuarts founded the town of Deer Lodge and were part of multiple businesses in the region with connections to the gold fields. In 1862, James was elected 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 the men hanged under Sheriff Stuart’s oversight was strung up hundreds of miles outside of his jurisdiction, but the Stuart brothers weren’t to be messed with and had no patience for horse thieves. In 1863, James led an expedition to Yellowstone River Valley in search of gold during which James is believed to have carried this Sharps Model 1853 rifle. Their friend Samuel Hauser was also part of the expedition of fifteen men. During the expedition they made a sport of shooting buffalo, and the men came under attack from the warriors of the Crow Tribe who attacked them under the cover of darkness first using firearms and then switching to arrows to keep themselves concealed in the darkness. One of Stuart's men was shot through the head, and another was hit five times and ultimately took his own life to end his agony. Two other members of the party were seriously wounded, and three others had minor injuries. Another was mortally wounded by a negligent discharge when he pulled out a loaded rifle muzzle first and also put himself out of his misery. Thus, twelve of the fifteen men survived the expedition, but only seven returned unscathed, and they returned with no news of easy gold. Stuart wrote: "Our hair and beards had grown so, and we were so dilapidated generally, that scarcely any one knew us at first." Despite the disaster, Stuart received praise from the men he led for getting them out of the scrape with their lives, and this helped propel him into other offices in the territory. He and Granville opened the retail store Dance & Stuart in partnership with Walter B. Dance as the region's population swelled due to the discovery of more gold closer to home. The area was plagued by outlaws that were secretly led by one of the local sheriffs: Henry Plummer, a convicted murderer. One of the employee's at Stuart's store was one of the gang's informants. Dance & Stuart provided assistance to the Vigilance Committee who eventually lynched the sheriff and several of his associates. In one instance, five men were hung at the same time, and Granville wrote about the vigilante activities and counted "23 hung in all" and may have participated himself. That wasn't the end of the lynchings either and Granville later led his own group, "Stuart's Stranglers," in another round of violence in the mid-1880s. James organized another Yellowstone expedition in 1864, this time with a larger party of seventy-five men and managed to search for gold without significant trouble from the Crow. However, one member of the party was captured after the group split up and was released, but his partner, who had become separated in the snow, was shot, and his death attributed to them. They did not find enough gold to warrant further searches. After returning, James expanded his business connections and also represented the area in the new Montana House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Granville held local offices. James turned to trading with the Indians at Fort Browning in the early 1870s and returned to Deer Lodge in June of 1873 and died of a gastrointestinal disease on September 30 of that year. At that time, this rifle was almost certainly passed on to Granville if he did not already have the rifle in his possession, and Granville continued to take care of James' children for many years. As discussed above, the rifle was passed on to Granville's friend in 1919 and then passed down through that family until the 1960s.

Rating Definition:

Fine. The rifle bears historic scars from real frontier use that add to its character, but overall it has been very well-maintained. The engraving remains deep and distinct. The barrel retains 30% original blue which is faded to a smooth brown on most of the round section and has particularly strong original blue under the forearm. The German silver has attractive mild aged patina. The action components retain vibrant patches of original case colors in some of the protected areas and otherwise have mainly a silver-gray patina. The hammer and patch box lid have traces of blue mixed with gray patina. The wood is also fine and has strong original finish, some attractive figure, mild scrapes and dings for a frontier rifle, and a faint tension crack at the rear forearm screw. Mechanically excellent. Even without its historic provenance and publication history tying it to the famous Stuart brothers of Montana, this rifle would be a tremendous addition to any antique arms collection thanks to its significant rarity and overall quality. Given its ties to the Stuarts, it is all the more desirable and certainly deserving of placement within any notable private or public collection of western history. Provenance: The John Fox Collection.

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