Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1004: Cherokee Bill Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle

Auction Date: December 4, 2021

Well-Documented and Incredibly Historic Western Outlaw Cherokee Bill Attributed Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle

Estimated Price: $60,000 - $90,000

Well-Documented and Incredibly Historic Western Outlaw Cherokee Bill Attributed Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle

Manufacturer: Winchester
Model: 1886
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 38-56 WCF
Barrel: 26 inch octagon
Finish: blue/casehardened
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 991
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 6
Class: Antique

This rifle was manufactured in 1888 and has a German silver blade front sight, adjustable sporting rear sight, standard markings, plain stock and forearm, and "CHEROKEE/BILL" and "R" in white paint on the right side of the stock. Crawford Goldsby (1876-1896), born at Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas, was best known by his alias Cherokee Bill, was one of the most notorious outlaws of the late 19th century in Indian Territory. Though his life on the run was short lived, his actions were reported around the country. He was part Cherokee, part white, part Mexican, and part African-American. His father was one of the Buffalo soldiers. Cherokee Bill is known to have been involved in several gunfights and robberies in the mid 1890s as a member of the Cook gang when he was just 18 years old. He killed lawman Sequoyah Houston when Houston and a posse tried to arrest Bill and Jim Cook (also part Cherokee). He also killed his brother-in-law after the finding out he had beaten his sister and shot and killed Ernest Melton during the robbery of the Shufeldt & Son General Store in Lenapah. When the gang robbed the Lincoln County Bank in Chandler on July 31, 1894, Cherokee Bill was on the look out at the front and reportedly shot barber J.B. Mitchell with his Winchester after Mitchell ignored his command to sit down and shut up. Others were killed in some of the gang's robberies, possibly by Cherokee Bill. He was captured on Ike Roger's farm at the end of January in 1895 and was sentenced to hang for Melton's murder in April. His lawyers managed to delay the execution. After a revolver and ammunition were smuggled into the jail, Cherokee Bill shot and killed guard Lawrence Keating in a botched escape attempt on July 26, 1895. In late July 1895, at the same time Cherokee Bill's killing of the guard was reported, a dispute over a .40-82 Winchester owned by Cherokee Bill is also recorded. The various newspapers indicate that rifle was ordered by Judge Parker to be turned over to Eagan Bros. of Salpulpa. Cherokee Bill had apparently purchased that rifle at midnight at their shop on account. He was convicted for murder a second time by Judge Parker and executed by hanging on March 17, 1896. Asked if he had any final words he is said to have replied, "No. I came here to die, not to make a speech." He was only 20 years old when he was executed. His brother Clarence Goldsby shot and killed Ike Rogers on April 20, 1897, in revenge. Rogers had apparently befriended Cherokee Bill in order to betray and capture him and had also threatened his life. Goldsby reportedly disappeared after the shooting and joined the U.S. Army under an alias. He was rumored to have been the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1914, but others noted that Goldsby had already died in 1911 and was buried beside his notorious brother in Cherokee National Cemetery in Fort Gibson. The included factory letter indicates this rifle was in .38-56 and had an octagon barrel, and plain trigger when it was received in the warehouse on March 22, 1888, and shipped on April 23, 1888, in order number 7108. The included research and provenance file contains a July 29, 1998, dated notarized letter from Preston Rose in which he states: "The story always was that when Cherokee Bill was incarcerated, the jailer made an agreement to provide Cherokee Bill a weekly allotment of whiskey in exchange for this Winchester. Mr. Will Wirsing, a local gunsmith, traded the jailer a double barrel shotgun for this rifle. Mr. Will Wirsing had the gun on display in his store window for many years and he painted Cherokee Bill's name on the rifle as can be seen in some old photographs dating back to the turn of the century. The rifle appears to have never been touched since the photos were published. When Mr. Will Wirsing died, he left the gun to his son, Chris Wirsing. I don't remember the year but it was quite sometime after the Wirsing Gun Shop liquidation auction in 1972 that I purchased the gun from Mrs. Chris Wirsing." Will Wirsing had a shop at Fort Smith and also operated in Indian Territory. In 1904 and 1905, Wirsing listed himself as "The Gun Man" in his advertisements. In 1937, Wirsing was featured in "The American Rifleman" and "The Sporting Goods Dealer" magazines which noted that he had contacts with Indian Territory outlaws and owned Cherokee Bill's .38-56 Winchester. They are astonishing primary source interviews with Wirsing who would pass away less then a year after the interviews were given. In "The Sporting Goods Dealer" article, Wirsing notes that he first moved to Indian Territory in 1894 while Cherokee Bill and the Cook gang were active and relates some of the activities of the outlaws and notes that he repaired the lock on Cherokee Bill's cell in the Spring of 1895. He also did repair and maintenance work for Judge Parker, the famous "Hanging Judge" of Fort Smith. He claimed to have warned Deputy U.S. Marshall Frank Dalton that his revolver needed work shortly before Dalton was killed, and noted that he owned Bob Dalton's revolver and Cherokee Bill's .38-56 Winchester. The rifle was then passed it on to his son Chris. Their gun-shop was robbed in 1938, but the newspaper indicated this rifle was not stolen though it was on display twelve feet away. In 1949, "The Sporting Goods Dealer" magazine had an article about Chris Wirsing noting he had been left Cherokee Bill's rifle by his father. A 1967 "Southwest Times Record" newspaper article shows Wirsing holding the rifle and his sister Myrtle holding Bob Dalton's revolver and includes a statement from him saying his father had added the Cherokee Bill name on the stock "shortly after" he came into possession of the rifle. The same basic information was also shared in the "Sequoyah County Times" in 1971. A 1973 letter from Preston Rose to Myrtle Wirsing indicates he wanted to purchase the rifle at that time to go with the Bob Dalton revolver he purchased from the Wirsing Repair Shop auction.

Rating Definition:

Fair with a very attractive Wild West appearance overall with mottled brown and gray patina, spots of minor oxidation/pitting, and general mild overall wear. The wood is good and has some minor flakes at the edges, general dings and scratches, and some age evident in the paint. Mechanically fine. Documented Winchester rifles and other firearms from the West are always desirable, but those owned and used by the lawmen and outlaws of the late 19th century are definitely especially desirable. This historic Winchester certainly has a lot of character and a storied past with the provenance to back it up!

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