Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 51: Granville Stuart's Sharps Model 1874 Creedmoor No. 1 Rifle

Auction Date: December 4, 2020

Granville Stuart's Favorite Rifle: A Historic, Well-Documented, and Exceptionally Fine Special Order Sharps Model 1874 Creedmoor No. 1 Rifle Won as a Prize in the 1875 Montana Territory Match with Factory Letters, Original Records, and Additional Documentation

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $30,000 - $50,000

Granville Stuart's Favorite Rifle: A Historic, Well-Documented, and Exceptionally Fine Special Order Sharps Model 1874 Creedmoor No. 1 Rifle Won as a Prize in the 1875 Montana Territory Match with Factory Letters, Original Records, and Additional Documentation

Manufacturer: Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company
Model: 1874-Rifle
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 34 inch octagon
Finish: blue/casehardened
Stock: checkered walnut
Item Views: 3678
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 71
Class: Antique

This rifle was identified by Granville Stuart's friend Edgar S. Paxson, the famous western artist based in Montana, as Stuart's favorite rifle. That is certainly an impressive statement given "Mr. Montana's" love of fine arms and target shooting. In fact, he acquired several of the fine antique arms in this auction in the mid-1870s, and each is an incredible artifact of the West and lasting testament to his incredible life on the frontier. Some of these firearms tie directly to his activities as the leader of "Stuart's Stranglers," but this rifle has more genteel connections to his status as a local civic leader and businessman. The rifle remains in exceptional condition, especially considering this gun was sent to the frontier and is known to have seen actual period use by Stuart who won this rifle at a shooting match at the Montana Territorial Fair in the summer of 1875. At that match, he almost certainly shot the rifle in lot 50 based on included documentation written by Stuart about the match and discussed below. The match and rifle are also covered on pages 152-153 of "As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart" by Clyde A. Milner II and Carol A. O'Connor which note that Stuart personally wrote up the match for Forest and Stream magazine, the National Rifle Association, and Sharps Rifle Co. By that time, Granville Stuart was already well-known in the region having been one of the key pioneers and early gold miners in Montana in the 1860s along with his older brother James who had died the previous year. In addition to his pioneer activities, by the mid-1870s, Stuart had also held several important local offices and was also tied to multiple towns and businesses. The factory letter lists this rifle as one of three shipped to "H. T. Hansen" on Sept. 8, 1875. This is either a misreading of the ledgers or recording error on Sharps' part. These three rifles were ordered by Montana pioneer, businessman, and later territorial governor: Samuel Thomas Hauser. Copies of correspondence with Sharps concerning the rifles from both Hauser and Stuart is included. Hauser was a personal friend of Granville Stuart and his business partner in multiple businesses including the famous DHS ranch (the "H"). The letter lists the rifles as "1874 Creedmoor Rifles #1 complete with target tang sights and spirit level front sights." The letter also notes that another one of these three rifles was damaged in a fire but had belonged to the territorial governor. Hauser became the territorial governor in 1885. An included original September 3, 1875, Western Union telegram from "S. L. Hauser Prest-First Natl Bank [sic]" states "Express immdy three Sharps Creedmoor rifle no one double set trigger globe & peep sights and spirit-level one is for prize offered by territorial fair other two go in match. . .ship in five days or not at all..." Note that the order above shipped five days later. A copy of a letter from sharps dated Sept. 6, 1875, to "S. T. Hauser" of Helena states "Message received. Will ship the rifles on Thursday next." Stuart and other residents of Deer Lodge, including his brother Thomas, shot in matches against Hauser and other residents of Helena to decide who were the champions of the territory. The matches are covered both in included newspaper copies and in correspondence from Stuart. 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 and this rifle to Stuart. In an included original letter to Sharps (appears to be Stuart's personal duplicate of the letter), he notes that the Deer Lodge team were using regular Sharps rifles whereas the Helena team had Creedmoor No. 1s, but the Deer Lodge team still won thanks to their superior marksmanship with a score of 209 out of 240 to the Helena team's 196. The prize was "a Creedmoor No. 1 rifle offered as a prize by the Terr. Fair Association. . .I am pleased with the appearance of your No. 1 Creedmoor rifle, but have not fired it yet. The 12 pounders I got last winter are good enough for common people as we proved by beating this Helena team notwithstanding their using the No. 1 style. Respectively Yours, Granville Stuart." The Montana Territorial Fair was held in Helena. Based on his description of the rifle he used and when he ordered it, it is clearly the Sharps Model 1874, serial number C,53112 in lot 50 given he received that rifle the previous winter, it is outfitted with target sights, and weighs 12 pounds. Stuart also wrote to Sharps about target sights, ammunition, and other rifles sent to the territory and was very particular. This Creedmoor rifle is documented in included documentation from Edgar S. Paxson, his daughter-in-law Evelyn M. Paxson, and his grandson William Edgar Paxson which indicates 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, his grandson. Edgar Paxson lived in Deer Lodge which was founded by Stuart and was his personal friend. He was also a mutual friend of artist Charles M. Russell. He 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 1853 in lot 47 with the title "THE PERSONAL RIFLES OF ONE OF THE WEST'S MOST FAMOUS PIONEERS, CATTLEMEN & VIGILANTES." in Norm Flayderman's catalog no. 75 (included) from 1966 and specifically called out as "Exc-mint condition Sharps 'New Model 1874' LONG RANGE CREEDMOOR RIFLE." Among the features Flayderman listed, he noted the original long range Vernier peep sight is very rare and the original double set triggers. The Paxson family documents list it as "#54980" (the visible number on the peep sight). William E. Paxson stated that it "always had affixed a tag of identification in the handwriting of my grandfather. On one side it read: 'Presented to E.S. Paxson by Mrs. G. Stuart 1919.' On the reverse side, also, in my grandfather's handwriting the following was written: 'Granville Starts favorite rifle. I shot this at target with him in Helena Oct. 1878.'" The tag remains with the rifle's documents, and Flayderman also confirms that tag. Edgar Paxson notes that this rifle and the Model 1853 also given to his grandfather remained in the family from 1919 to 1964. He also provided quotes from his grandfather's diary related to his friendship with Stuart and receiving this rifle along with a copy of the page from August 19, 1919 when his grandfather wrote about receiving the rifle along with the Model 1853 and other guns that previously belonged to Granville Stuart. This incredible rifle features a windgauge globe front sight with a spirit level, an interesting notch and ladder rear sight graduated out to 1,000 yards on the ladder (not standard on a No. 1, but Stuart was very particular about sights and wrote to Sharps about them), long range Vernier peep sight, double set triggers (also not standard but clearly mentioned in the documentation), "SHARPS RIFLE CO HARTFORD CONN" and "CALIBRE 44" marked on top of the barrel, "SHARPS RIFLE CO/PAT APR 6 1869" on the left side of the frame, "328" on the bottom of the action to the left of the trigger plate, a checkered forearm with Schnabel style tip, and a checkered pistol grip stock with a checkered steel buttplate. The rifle has the following all matching serial numbers: "154980" on the bottom of the barrel and inside of the forearm, "54980" on the left side of the frame, and "15980" on the upper tang (peep post blocking the "4"). Sharps only manufactured these rifles in Hartford between March 1874 and December 1875, and only 151 were produced. They were specifically designed for National Rifle Association long range competitions at the Creedmoor Range on Long Island, New York. The NRA rules for the Creedmoor matches required the rifles to weigh no more than ten pounds and have a single trigger, so the double set triggers on this rifle would make this rifle particularly rare, but they aren't particularly surprising on a rifle sent to Montana given the popularity of double set triggers on frontier rifles back to the original American long rifles. Stuart clearly had a preference for peep sights and double set triggers given they are features on all of his other Sharps rifles from the John Fox collection, and he wrote to Sharps to learn more about them.

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine with 90% plus original blue finish, 75% plus original case colors, fading mainly the edges and grasping areas, some very minor scratches and storage wear, and proper replacement parts on the front sight. The professionally refinished wood is very good and has crisp checkering, barely detectible filled holes on the heel where the peep sight had been fitted at times for back position shooting, two-piece pistol grip, a few minor nicks at the edges, attractive natural grain, and generally minor overall wear. Mechanically excellent. This is an outstanding piece of western history. Though we often associate the famous professional rifle matches with the more urban East thanks to the Creedmoor matches, the men of the West, including Granville Stuart, were some of the best marksman the world has ever seen. They had to be given their lives sometimes depended on their ability to shoot. This is an incredibly rare opportunity to get your hands on a genuine western shipped, special order Sharps Creedmoor No.1 rifle owned by "Mr. Montana" himself in a historic rifle match against a team led by his business partner. Provenance: The John Fox Collection.

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