Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 48: Stuart's Stranglers U.S. Colt Cavalry Model Single Action Army

Auction Date: December 4, 2020

Henry Nettleton Sub-Inspected U.S. Colt Cavalry Model Single Action Army Revolver Attributed to the Famous Stuart's Strangler Raids with Factory Letter and Documentation

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $7,500 - $15,000

Henry Nettleton Sub-Inspected U.S. Colt Cavalry Model Single Action Army Revolver Attributed to the Famous Stuart's Strangler Raids with Factory Letter and Documentation

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: Single Action Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 45 Long Colt
Barrel: 7 1/2 inch round
Finish: blue/casehardened
Grip: walnut
Item Views: 2406
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 62
Class: Antique

John Fox's collection tag and notes with the revolver states it was used on vigilante raid led by Granville Stuart. A copy of letter and inventory list from Lenard Brownwell (1922-1982), the well-known Wyoming custom gun maker, about the W.S. Murphy collection he inherited is included. His grandfather was Wendell Stewart Murphy (1878-1953) who spent his early days as a cowboy and wolfer in Montana and later became a police officer and then a Justice of the Peace in Livingston before his death in 1953 at the age of 75. Murphy helped raise Brownell after his father died and taught him about horses, cowboys, and guns. The letter discuss his grandfather's collection and his life and notes: "The guns, saddles, spurs and assorted other relics he collected through the years were accumulated only for the history or event that went with them." This revolver is listed as item 15 in the collection and noted as "purchased in Glendive, Montana in 1883 and used by former owner in the 'Granville-Stuart Raid Against Rustlers'-Musselshell River, 1885." The second date might be off by one year. "Stuart’s Stranglers" were formed in 1884 in coordination with other cattle ranchers in the region to combat horse thieves and cattle rustlers which plagued the area and put a dent in the profits of the large cattle companies. Granville Stuart was the president of the Montana Stock Growers Association and was the leader of the vigilantes. 26 year old Theodore Roosevelt, then a rancher in Montana, tried to join up, but Stuart turned him and another well-connected rancher down on account "of their youthful recklessness and obvious inexperience and because their prominent names might bring unwanted publicity to a secretive operation." This is discussed on page 239 of "As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart" by Milner and O'Connor. Much of the Stranglers’ activities are not well-documented, but Roosevelt and others attributed nearly 60 deaths to the vigilantes, and a 20th century study attributed 63 killings to Stuart’s men. At least 18-24 suspected horse thieves were killed by the vigilantes alone in the summer of 1884 along the Musselshell River in two raids during which this revolver appears to have been used. On July 7th, a group of the Stranglers rode out to take down a presumed horse thief at his cabin along 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 he had a $10,000 reward on his head. They left his body swinging from a tree as a graphic warning. The vigilantes then went to the trading post of William Downes. "California Ed," another suspect, along with stolen horses, meat, and cow hides with brands from the Fergus ranch on them were discovered, and the two were lynched. On July 15, Granville Stuart himself 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 and stolen livestock. They were joined by more Stranglers from the earlier raid along the Musselshell River on July 16. On the 19th, the men surrounded the woodyard of "Old Man James." 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. When James emerged from the cabin, the Stranglers ordered him to release the horses. He complied, but then returned to the cabin and opened fire with his rifle through a porthole. As both sides exchanged gunfire, two of the Stranglers set the cabin on fire with the suspects inside, and one of the men in the tent was also shot and killed. Some of the gang, including James and Stuart's now wounded nephew, managed to flee. Two of the vigilantes were also killed in the shootout. Stuart contacted U.S. Deputy Marshall Sam Fischel and the officers of Fort Maginnis and informed them of the battle and the escaped fugitives. Some soldiers rode out in search and captured five of them, including Stuart’s nephew. Marshall Fischel deputized some of the Stranglers and took them with him to bring the suspects back to Fort Benton for trial. Unfortunately for the suspects, the Stranglers had no interest in giving their adversaries the chance to escape with their lives, especially after losing two of their own men in the gunfight. Fifteen masked men rode into Fischel’s camp and sent him away with the warning that he would be killed if he so much as looked back. They then hung the four men from a log suspended between two cabins and lit the cabins on fire with the remains on August 28, 1884. Granville’s nephew is counted among the dead, but it is not clear if he was one of the five hung. The included factory letter identifies the revolver as part of a lot of 150 revolvers sold to the U.S. Government and delivered to the government inspector at the Colt plant on July 24, 1878. The revolver is essentially a standard U.S. contract "Cavalry Model" and has standard markings and features for the era, including all matching serial numbers other than the filed down back strap which has no visible serial number, faint cartouches on the sides of the grip, "HN" sub-inspection marks, and all matching serial numbers. In addition, the grip has an "M" or "W" lightly hand carved on the right. It may have been stolen government property when it was used in Montana.

Rating Definition:

About good with the authentic overall gray and brown patina you expect from a frontier used firearm, traces of strong original blue in the sheltered areas such as under the ejector housing, mild pitting, general moderate to heavy wear throughout, piece of the heel of the grip on the right as well as some small chips, and filing off of the number on the butt and partially on the trigger guard. Mechanically fine. This is a classic Colt Single Action Army Revolver from Montana and connected to Granville Stuart's Stranglers and the territory's violent frontier history. Provenance: The John Fox Collection.

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