Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 49: J.B. Stuart Inscribed & Engraved Henry Lever Action Rifle

Auction Date: December 4, 2020

Historic Documented "J.B. Stuart" Inscribed and Deluxe Factory Engraved New Haven Arms Co. Henry Lever Action Rifle Attributed to Montana Pioneer and Vigilante James B. Stuart

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $40,000 - $60,000

Historic Documented "J.B. Stuart" Inscribed and Deluxe Factory Engraved New Haven Arms Co. Henry Lever Action Rifle Attributed to Montana Pioneer and Vigilante James B. Stuart

Manufacturer: New Haven Arms Co.
Model: Henry Rifle
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44 Henry
Barrel: 24 1/4 inch octagon
Finish: blue/silver
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 3516
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 64
Class: Antique

This fascinating factory engraved Henry rifle from the Montana frontier has remained a bit of a mystery for decades and has been previously theorized to have been owned by Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart or Montana pioneer James Stuart and his younger brother Granville Stuart. We believe the true original owner to have been one of the Stuart brothers' counterparts on the Montana frontier, a fellow vigilante and pioneer. In an included document, John Fox notes this classic inscribed and factory engraved Henry rifle is "from the Stuart family - but still shrouded in mystery. The exact origin is unknown - could be James Stuart or could be J.E.B. Stuart, the Confederate General. (first cousins.) The rifle has not been outside of Montana since period of use." Fox notes that it was owned by a collector named Jennings from Anaconda, Montana, until his death around 1956 when it was sold to George O'Conner. Mrs. Jennings told O'Conner that the rifle was from "James Stuart." O'Conner could not confirm that Granville Stuart's elder brother's middle initial was "B." It was then sold to Warren Webster in 1990 and then acquired from him by John Fox and is pictured as part of John Fox's western arms collection on page 224 of "The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West" by R.L. Wilson and page 37 of "The Story of the Winchester 1 of 1000 and 1 of 100 Rifles by Edmund E. Lewis. The first text states that the rifle was "possibly" owned by Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart "who was a first cousin of Granville and James" Stuart, and the second states it belonged to Granville Stuart. The rifle is also pictured on page 155 of the Les Quick's book "The Henry Rifle: the Story of Benjamin Tyler and His Famed Repeating Rifle" where similar comments are made about the rifle possible being linked to Granville Stuart's family and J.E.B. Stuart and Quick notes the rifle "deserves further research." J.E.B. Stuart was killed on May 12, 1864, and Wiley Sword in "The Historic Henry Rifle" places this rifle as manufactured in February or March of 1865, so the rifle was not owned by J.E.B. Stuart. Granville Stuart's elder brother James' middle name or initial, if he had one, has not been uncovered. There was, however, another Stuart who was also one of the early Montana pioneers, gold miners, and frontier vigilantes but was not one of James and Granville Stuart's blood relations: James B. Stuart (1837-1934) of Missouri. Like the other Stuart brothers, he came to Montana in search of gold. He fled impressment into the Confederate Army by joining a cattle drive to the gold fields and arrived in Virginia City in 1863. Like Granville Stuart, he moved from livestock to gold prospecting and back to livestock. He was among the early pioneers of Alder Gulch and the Bitterroot Valley and spent much of his life in Stevensville, Montana. He is identified as one of the members of the Montana Vigilantes who lynched the suspected outlaw "Whiskey Bill" Graves on January 26, 1864, near Fort Owen during a spree of vigilante justice in the territory in an effort to crack down on the numerous road agents and criminals plaguing the region. Many of the criminals, including "Whiskey Bill," were tied to a group led by the infamous Sheriff John Plummer of Bannack. Plummer was already a convicted murderer before becoming sheriff and has been the subject or inspiration for outlaw leaders in multiple novels, films, and television series. "Whiskey Bill" was one of three suspects in the robbing of a stagecoach on its way to Bannack from Virginia City. The wave of frontier justice is well covered in "As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart" by Milner and O'Connor as well as several books specifically about Plummer's gang, The Innocents, and the Montana Vigilantes such as "A Decent, Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes" by Allen. The latter indicates "Old Man" Clark and two vigilantes, one of them apparently J.B. Stuart, found "Whiskey Bill" snowblind near Fort Owen. They took him away from the fort out of respect for the local Indians who abhorred hanging and strung him up from a tree on January 26, 1864. The robberies and lynchings did not end with the spree of at least twenty-one hangings related to Plummer and his suspected road agents in 1864. For example, in July 1865, vigilantes strung up Jack Silvie at Helena's famous "Hangman's Tree". He had confessed to having been a part of Plummer's gang and to have committed at least a dozen murders. Over a dozen other executions took place in Helena alone before 1870. In addition to his mining, vigilante, and stock connections, J.B. Stuart also volunteered during the Indian Wars. Many of the details of his life have been pulled from his various obituaries from 1934. His life story is told in historical novel form in "Another Man's Gold" written by his great-grandson Rod Johnson, and promotional materials for the book also discuss many of the true details of Stuart's colorful life on the Montana frontier. The same engraving patterns are pictured on multiple Henry rifles featured in books. For example see Henry #1888 on page 23 of "Winchester Engraving" by R.L. Wilson and Henry #7169 which was presented to Captain Edward Merrill in 1865 on page 32. In November 1862, the retail price for a Henry rifle was $42.00 and silver-plating and engraving were an additional $10.00. As sales increased toward the end of 1862, the New Haven Arms Co. produced fewer deluxe engraved rifles and concentrated on the production of standard Henry rifles for private sale to Union soldiers which makes later factory engraved Henry rifles particularly rare. The brass receiver and crescent buttplate were silver-plated, and the barrel and integral 15-shot magazine were blued. The stock is nicely figured walnut with a high polish finish. It is equipped with a blade front sight and a folding leaf rear sight with rounded top with 900 yard center notch on the ladder. The receiver does not have a second rear sight dovetail. The serial number is stamped on the top barrel flat, left side of the lower tang beneath the stock, in the upper receiver tang inlet of the stock, and on the inside of the buttplate at the toe. The left side of the upper tang has an "E," and the lower tang has "W" behind the lever thumb screw. The top barrel flat is roll-stamped with the legend: "HENRY'S PATENT. OCT. 16. 1860/MANUFACT'D BY THE NEWHAVEN. ARMS. CO. NEWHAVEN. CT." in two-lines. The rifle is fitted with a sling swivel and loop and is equipped with a brown leather sling. The stock compartment is empty.

Rating Definition:

Very good "frontier used" condition overall with strong patches of original silver plating in the protected areas. The silver plating is especially strong on the lower tang, and there are also traces on the top of the frame just behind the bolt, around hammer well, and in additional frame recesses. The balance of the rifle has highly attractive deep aged patina, and the engraving, inscription, and markings remain crisp. The exposed brass has beautiful natural aged patina and exhibits the expected minor dings and scratches along with some relatively minor wear at the edges of the frame and side plates. There is a minor hairline crack in the upper tang at the front screw. The barrel, magazine tube, hammer, and lever have gray and brown patina along with some isolated minor pitting mainly at the muzzle, and there are sections of edge wear to the right and left of the rear sight. The stock has some attractive figure and smooth oiled finish, and there is a 4 3/4 inch long section neatly spliced in the lower right of the wrist, a few thin cracks, small chips, and the expected general dings and scratches associated with a western frontier used rifle. Mechanically fine. The sling is good and has moderate overall wear from age and use. This is an extraordinary, documented, historic Henry rifle straight out of the highly respected arms collection of the late John Fox of Montana who indicated the rifle had been in Montana since the original period of use when roving bands of road agents and well-armed vigilantes rode the trails of "Big Sky Country." Provenance: The John Fox Collection.

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