Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 3023: Jack Crawford & James Barton Adams Presentation Winchester 1873

Auction Date: September 12, 2021

Well-Documented, Historic, Factory Exhibition Engraved Winchester Deluxe Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle with Dual Presentation Plaques Presented by The Winchester Repeating Arms Company to Captain Jack Crawford and then Gifted to Fellow Western Scout, Friend, and Poet James Barton Adams

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $190,000 - $350,000

Well-Documented, Historic, Factory Exhibition Engraved Winchester Deluxe Model 1873 Lever Action Rifle with Dual Presentation Plaques Presented by The Winchester Repeating Arms Company to Captain Jack Crawford and then Gifted to Fellow Western Scout, Friend, and Poet James Barton Adams

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1873
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44-40 WCF
Barrel: 24 inch octagon
Finish: gold/nickel
Stock: checkered walnut
Item Views: 5618
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 17
Class: Antique

This rifle started life as a carbine, was factory converted into a rifle, embellished by Winchester in 1897 and used as a deluxe factory display piece. It was displayed at both the New York Exhibition of Industry and Science in 1898 and at the Pan-American International Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 and would have been seen by millions of visitors. In 1902, it was presented by Winchester (a monumentally rare occurrence at the time) to one of the true heroes of the American West: John Crawford, better known as Captain Jack or “The Poet Scout.” Crawford had the rifle fitted with a second presentation plaque by the factory in 1903 and gave it as a Christmas present to his close friend James Barton Adams. Recent research has revealed that this specific rifle was featured in a nearly full-page newspaper article (copy included in accompanying provenance file) in The Atlanta Constitution on January 3, 1904, regarding the reason for its presentation. Adams’ cherished collection of western memorabilia and artifacts had been destroyed when his new home in Denver had burned to the ground. The rifle presentation was Crawford’s attempt to help ease the pain of his friends’ loss, and help him start a new collection. This very rifle, in its original casing, is actually pictured in the newspaper! Crawford’s life was truly full of adventure, violence, daring feats and intrigue, and he was among the most famous frontier scouts. He later became one of the most popular western performers of the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was born John Wallace Crawford in Ireland to Scottish parents in 1847 and his family emigrated to the U.S. in search of better opportunities. He served in the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War and was wounded at both Spotsylvania and Petersburg. He headed to the West during the Black Hills Gold Rush and joined the Black Hills Rangers protecting the local populace from Indian attacks as their chief scout. He also worked as a journalist in the Gold Camps and then as a war correspondent during the Bighorn and Yellowstone Expeditions as a scout under Brigadier General George Crook. Crawford became friends with William “Buffalo Bill” Cody while serving under Crook and replaced Cody as head of scouts when Cody returned to the East. As a scout, he undertook many dangerous journeys to deliver dispatches and also took part in multiple battles. He rose to national fame after riding 350 miles in just six days in order to deliver news of Crook’s triumph over Chief American Horse after participating in the Battle of Slim Buttes in September 1876 during the Great Sioux War. News of the victory was much needed after Custer’s infamous defeat earlier that June. He then joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the East until he was shot in the groin during a reenactment of a running horse battle. He later claimed Cody accidentally shot him because he was drunk. He moved his family to New Mexico in 1879 and resumed work as a scout during the Apache War and Victorio’s War and participated in raids against the Apache and into Mexican territory. Crawford also served as a trader at Fort Craig and went into the ranching and mining business. His ranch in New Mexico was established in 1886. James Adams, the final recipient of this outstanding rifle, grew up in Iowa and Ohio, fought in the Civil War for the Union and was also a former scout and one of the few western poets. He lived and worked at Crawford’s ranch in New Mexico from 1890 to 1892 before moving to Colorado where he continued to write poetry, worked in publishing, and remained in close correspondence with Crawford. After the Apache conflict, Crawford resumed his position as a cultural icon in the 1890s and early 20th century by speaking and performing throughout the U.S. and was known to have continued his crusade against the use of alcohol. He had previously been appointed a special investigator and had looked into the illegal trafficking of alcohol in Indian Country. Like other performers, he wore flashy outfits and acted the part, but his charming nature and poetry contrasted with the popular image of unrefined western men and with “The Poet Scout’s” own tales of battles and adventure. He regularly appeared armed with a Winchester rifle and a Colt on his hip while he spoke for hours about life in the West and of his many adventures. His speeches and writings are known to have more closely related the very real dangers of frontier life than many other western icons but also reflected long standing popular beliefs in American exceptionalism, rugged individualism, and the pre-ordained victory of “civilization” over “savagery.” He wrote over one hundred stories, seven books of published poetry and untold unpublished poems, and four plays (in which he played the star roles). It was his friend Adams who wrote the foreword to Crawford's book “Whar' the Hand O' God is Seen” when it was published in 1913 and who helped edit and publish much of Crawford’s other works. Some poems by both men were widely performed as songs. When Crawford died in 1917, newspapers across the nation reported on the event, one writer paying tribute in these words: "[Crawford] was a real scout, and a real poet —a man with a warrior's soul.” The Winchester organization was obviously well aware of Crawford’s contributions to the U.S. Army, the opening of the American West and his national prominence as a writer and on the stage, thus their decision to present him with this impressive weapon, which was rarely done. Adams was laid to rest a year after Crawford, in Colorado. This wonderful rifle is accompanied by two factory letters (one original from 2020 and one copy from 1998) confirming the rifle’s configuration and complex history, including the many dates of shipment and return due to exhibition use and that it was “charged to factory presentation account” in 1902 and “returned and repaired” (representing the addition of the second plaque) on December 7, 1903. A copy of a letter from researcher Dena Hollowell at the Cody Firearms Museum to C.W. Slagle is included in which she explains that Herbert G. Houze helped the museum provide the interpretation of the records and illuminate the history of this incredible rifle, and a copy of a letter and detailed description from Houze to Slagle are also included. A scan of the ledger has also been provided. Also included is a copy of a notarized letter from Robert E. Evans on January 14, 1998, that indicates the history of the rifle as he was told by brothers Keith and Steven Adams who indicated the rifle was a gift from Capt. Jack Crawford to their ancestor James Barton Adams and was then passed down through their family to them. They decided to sell the rifle as they had no heirs to leave it to. In addition, a copy of a detailed description by Winchester expert R.L. Wilson discussing the rifle’s history and confirming its originality is also included. The 1902 presentation is commemorated by a silver oval plaque inlaid in the left side of the stock that reads “Presented to Capt. Jack Crawford/by W.R.A. Co./1902”. A silver inlay shaped like a heart is engraved with “Xmas 1903/To Jim from Jack/Go sweetheart mine/Look bright and shine/for naturs bard,/And take a sip/From bitter cup/Of my old/‘PARD’”. This rifle and a .22 rimfire Model 1873 also presented to “Capt. Jack” are the only two Winchester’s known with factory inscribed poetry. The rifle features factory scroll and panel scene engraving that includes a buck on the left side plate. The engraving patterns were likely executed by John Ulrich according to R. L. Wilson. The finely figured, XX fancy grade walnut stock and forearm have style H checkering and a high polish “piano” finish that contrasts beautifully with the gold and nickel plated finish on the metal. Aside from the exhibition engraving and finish, the plaques, and the deluxe wood, the rifle has the standard Model 1873 markings and features. The Wilson letter states that this rifle "represents one of the most impressive combinations of rare and desirable engraved features, finishes and historical details known on any gun of this model - or of any model Winchester ever made." Provenance: Formerly of the Robert M. Lee Collection, Michael Simens, Private Collection

Rating Definition:

Excellent, with factory exhibition finish and one-of-a-kind presentation plaques. Nearly all (99%) of the nickel finish remains with only several very insignificant age spots. 98% plus of the gold finish remains with minimal handling and storage wear including some slight finish loss on the edge of the butt-plate heel and toe. The flawlessly executed scroll engraving and highly detailed game scene are crisp. The inscriptions on both of the silver plates remain sharp, and the silver displays attractive aged patina. The highly figured walnut stock and forearm are in excellent condition and have only a few minor handling and storage marks. This is a one-of-a-kind combination of a Winchester factory display piece that was then presented to two western legends. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own an irreplaceable Winchester exhibition gun and piece of Wild West history in the form of an outstandingly, high condition Winchester Model 1873 lever action rifle.

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