Granville Stuart remains one of the most famous of Montana's early pioneers and has been affectionately dubbed "Mr. Montana" thanks to his contributions to the development of the territory and state, especially in relation to cattle ranching. His life journey aligns with the stories of the West that have fascinated so many Americans and others around the world for generations and is complete with the search for gold, desperate journeys into unknown territories, close encounters and battles with Native Americans and criminals, "frontier justice" meted out against thieves and even corrupt local lawmen, land speculation, booms and busts, rebirth, and eventually immortalization in the history books. During his adventures, Sharps rifles were among his main weapons of choice. His vigilante activities read like something out dime novels with bands of outlaws containing characters like "Stringer Jack" and " Rattlesnake Jack" chased down and executed by colorful members of "Stuart's Stranglers" like "Floppin Bill" under Stuart's leadership after ruses and shootouts. This rifle was used by Stuart in one of his favorite pastimes: shooting. The documentation with the various firearms owned by Stuart from the late well-known Montana collector John Fox makes it very clear that Stuart was an avid and talented shooter who read about the latest firearms contests, new arms, and improvements in periodicals of the day and wanted very particular features on his firearms. His love of guns is also particularly highlighted in the biography "As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart" by Milner and O'Connor who noted that while Stuart had no love of organized religion, he had a lifelong interest in firearms that started with hunting with flintlock and percussion muzzle loaders in Iowa during his youth and extended to some of the finest arms of the 19th century. This rifle is one of four confirmed to have been ordered by Stuart in his lifetime and is listed on page 173 of "Sharps Firearms: Early Metallic Cartridge Firearms and Model 1874 Sporting Rifles." As shown in the book, it is one of two identical rifles shipped to Stuart on December 14, 1874. His rifle was ordered on November 23, 1874, and a copy of his order is included. He wrote: "Please send me by Wells Fargo & Cos Express C.O.D. One of your Sporting Rifles. 32 inch octagon barrel, varnished stock, Double Triggers, with long range vernier orthoptic sights front & rear, as well as common hunting sights. The Vernier Orthoptic sights were used by our team at Creedmoor in the late international contest, & I take it for granted that you now put them on all your fine rifles, but if not I ask as a favor that you put them on this rifle, but if you do not, & will not, furnish them, then put on your best globe & peep sights, high enough to shoot 1000 yards or more, in the gun to weigh 12 #, caliber 44/100 if you do not make guns 32 inches send 30 inch. . ." He then lists other tools and accessories he would like and signs: "Respectfully Yours, Granville Stuart." By 44/100, he meant .44 caliber not the .44-100 cartridge. He wrote about other calibers the same way. The same day he sent another letter in which he notes: "I have been showing my order to some of the above mentioned 'shootists' & one of them at once concluded that he wanted such a gun himself & instructed me to order one for him. Therefore, just duplicate my order & send me two of your latest improved rifles, with vernier orthoptic sights & all the other appurtenances as per first order." This indicated the second rifle, listed as C,52692 in the book, was for a friend. The included factory letter indicates this gun was invoiced to Stuart on December 14, 1874, and noted as a "Model 1874 Sporting Octagon Rifle of .44 caliber using the 90 grain case. It had a full 30" octagon barrel and double set triggers with graduated sights." Additional writing by Stuart indicates at least one significant instance where these rifles were used: the long range rifle match between Granville Stuart and the residents of Deer Lodge and the team from Helena led by his business associate and friend Samuel T. Hauser, the future territorial governor. The match was shot in relation to the 1875 Montana Territorial Fair in Helena at the beginning of October. On August 29, 1875, he wrote to Hauser discussing the planned match and noting that he was still working on his team but that it would include himself and his brother Thomas and outlying his suggestions for how the match should be run, and in another letter from October 4th, he wrote to Sharps about an order and the results of the rifle match. He noted his team used "the 12# rifles that I bot from you last Dec. & Helena team your Creedmoors No 1." After discussing the match, he closed noting, "The 12 pounders bot last winter are good enough for common people as we proved by beating this Helena team notwithstanding their using the No 1 style." That description perfectly fits his order discussed above, the factory letter for this rifle, and this rifle's current weight of right around 12 pounds. The local papers on October 2, 1875, listed Granville Stuart's score at 1,000 yards as 24 which was bested only by his brother Thomas' score of 28 while the highest score on the opposing team was 22. It also noted, "The shooting match at 500 yards will take place to-day for the Creedmore [sic] rifle between the Deer Lodge and Helena teams." Hauser shot with the Helena team at 500 yards, but they lost that match as well and thus the Creedmoor rifle when home with Stuart. That rifle that had been purchased specifically for the occasion through the Territorial Fair Association by Hauser. That rifle is in lot 51 and thoroughly discussed there. Stuart proudly wrote to Sharps, the National Rifle Association, and Forest & Stream about his team's victory. It was also covered by the regional press which The rifle is equipped with a dovetailed globe front sight, a Lawrence patent rear sight with the ladder cut down and modified into a second sight leaf with a U-notch, long range Vernier "orthoptic" peep sight, adjustable double set triggers, a smooth forearm with the classic Hartford pattern pewter forend cap, and a plain buttstock with a steel buttplate. The barrel also has the Hartford barrel address and "CALIBRE 44" markings, and the frame has the standard patent marking on the left and "56" on the bottom left. Matching serial numbers are on the bottom of the barrel, side of the peep sight base (minus the "C,"), and under the peep sight base (first "1" obliterated by the front tap for the sight).
Very good. This rifle is an incredible artifact straight out of the West and remains in well above average "frontier used" condition with signs of extensive use but also care overall that you'd expect from a rifle that was actually used out in the Montana Territory in the late 19th century rather than sat in a case in some dandy's gun case. The barrel retains 25% of the fading original blue finish, and the balance of the metal surfaces display deep aged patina with some mottled textured oxidation and faint pitting. The upper tang has faint evidence of a stress fracture at one of the screws, and overall the metal shows clear signs of actual use. The wood is fine and has some chips absent from the right side of the forearm and otherwise generally moderate wear such as scrapes, nicks, and dings you'd expect from a rifle with its provenance. It remains mechanically excellent and serviceable. This is an incredible opportunity to get your hands on a true western used Sharps rifle directly connected to the winning team of a frontier shooting match and documented as owned and used by Granville Stuart, "Mr. Montana" himself, in the 1870s the year before Custer's famous last stand. When this rifle arrived in Deer Lodge and was first held in Stuart's hands, the territory and much of the West was far from "won," and Stuart's most famous vigilante activities still lay before him. Provenance: The John Fox Collection.
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