Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 268: Navajo Chief Henry Chee Dodge's Engraved Colt Single Action Army

Auction Date: December 3, 2021

Extraordinary Factory Engraved, Silver Plated First Generation Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Ram’s Head Carved Pearl Grips and Historically Documented to the Last Navajo Chief Henry Chee Dodge with Extensive Documentation

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $90,000 - $160,000

Extraordinary Factory Engraved, Silver Plated First Generation Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Ram’s Head Carved Pearl Grips and Historically Documented to the Last Navajo Chief Henry Chee Dodge with Extensive Documentation

Manufacturer: Colt
Model: Single Action Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 44-40 WCF
Barrel: 4 3/4 inch round
Finish: silver
Grip: pearl
Item Views: 2035
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 138
Class: Curio & Relic Handgun

The Colt Single Action Army Revolver is one of the most iconic historical firearms and is forever connected to the American West. Its legacy as a working man's gun in rough circumstances has made high condition examples particularly desirable for collectors, and the limited factory engraved guns especially so, especially if they feature other rare and distinctive features. Those with historical connections to known figures of the American West are consistently among the most collectible and valuable firearms. This beautiful revolver checks off all the boxes: it is in incredibly high condition, it features beautiful factory engraving, it has a special order factory silver plated finish, it features special ordered pearl grips carved with a special long horned ram's head on the right panel, and it has documented provenance linking it to a historically significant Navajo leader, the last Navajo Chief, who helped his people transition from the difficult and painful years of the 19th century following their persecution, forced displacement, and internment by the U.S. government and into an independent nation in the late 19th century and early 20th century. It has been estimated that only around 4,500 or .012% of the total First Generation Colt Single Action Army Revolvers manufactured were engraved. Factory silver-plating and engraving is without a doubt an extremely rare combination, and the addition of the special ram's head carving on the right grip makes this an exceptionally rare piece. The carving was special ordered and particularly relevant to the last Navajo chief that owned this beautiful Colt. This beautiful First Generation Colt Single Action Army has high coverage scroll, wavy line, and floral engraving, a "Nimschke star" on top ahead of the two-line address, "COLT FRONTIER SIX SHOOTER" on the left side of the barrel, the two-line patent marking in a banner followed by the encircled Rampant Colt trademark on the left side of the frame, the matching full serial number on the frame and grip frame, the number in a banner on the trigger guard, "4456" on the rear face of the cylinder and back of the grips, "U" on the right side rear of the frame and both sides at the heel, silver plated primary finish and nicely contrasting niter blue screws, and beautiful pearl grip with a very distinctive ram's head design carved on the right panel. The latter is almost certainly one of a kind, and the factory engraving would have been executed by Colt Master Engraver Cuno Helfricht. The factory letter lists this revolver in .44-40, with a 4 3/4 inch barrel, silver finish, pearl grips with a ram's head carved with "extra long horns," and factory engraving. It was sold to Edward Hart of Gallup, Territory of New Mexico, and shipped to Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Company in Chicago on December 12, 1907. In the included document file, Edward Hart is identified as a hardware merchant in Gallup. Thus he was likely ordering the revolver for his client. The included October 8, 1990, letter from Jon B. Bonnell of Scottsdale, Arizona, states that he was given the revolver by Thomas H. Dodge (1899-1988) who was the eldest son of Henry Chee Dodge. He states, "This revolver was originally given to Tom's mother by Chee sometime around 1910-1912, Tom said he could remember the occasion, Chee was away from home a lot then and he thought she needed some 'moral' support. After Tom's wife, Vivian died in 1977, Tom gave the revolver to me." The document file includes multiple secondary sources discussing the life of Henry Chee Dodge (b. 1857 or 1860 and d. 1947), often known as Chee Dodge or "Mister Interpreter" (Hastlin Adilts'a'ii). Chee Dodge was one of the most influential Navajo leaders of the late 19th and early 20th century as a U.S. government appointed head chief of the Navajo and the first chairman of the Navajo Nation tribal council. His linguistic abilities helped him bridge the gap between the Navajo and the U.S. government, and he is credited with helping guide the Navajo Nation back to a path of self-determination and cooperation with the federal government. His specific ancestry has been a subject of debate over the years. His father is said to have either been Mexican silversmith Juan Anaya/Cocinas (particularly fitting given the silver plating on the revolver) or Henry L. Dodge. Anaya is said to have been captured by the Navajo when he was ten and was later killed while trying to recover stolen horses c. 1861. Henry L. Dodge was the Indian agent for the Navajo who Anaya respected, and he worked for him as an interpreter. Dodge was the son of Governor Henry Dodge of Wisconsin and was a veteran of the Black Hawk War with a checkered past and served in the military in 1847-1849, then as quarter master and commissary agent until 1853, and then as agent for the Navajo until he was captured and killed by the Apaches in 1856. Some sources claim that he was told Anaya was his father by his mother and his aunt, while other sources note that Henry L. Dodge's brother considered Chee Dodge to be his nephew and claim that Chee Dodge's aunt said that his father was Henry L. Dodge. If his father was Dodge, he is believed to have been born in 1857 having been conceived before his Dodge's death. Sources saying Anaya was his father place his birth in 1860. His mother was Bisnayanchi of the Coyote Pass clan. She too died when he was a young child. She left to try to find them food and disappeared during Colonel Kit Carson's scorched earth campaign against the Navajo and the subsequent "Long Walk of the Navajo" as the Navajo were tracked down by Colonel Kit Carson and his men and force marched from the Texas panhandle to Bosque Redondo. Over 200 women, children, and elders died from starvation and exposure during the forced marches, and another 3,500+ died in the camp. Bisnayanchi may have starved or have been captured or killed by Ute or New Mexican raiders who took advantage of the situation to enslave Navajo women and children. With the loss of both of his parents at a young age, Dodge never knew even knew what year he was born and was raised by multiple Navajo families. At Bosque Redondo, he served as an interpreter when he was still a boy which set him on a path to be appointed by the U.S. government as a "Head Chief of the Navajo." The Navajo were finally allowed to march home again in June of 1868 and began to rebuild the lives and herds. He worked as a translator for his uncle's trading post and then as an official Navajo interpreter for the government. He is said to have helped smooth over multiple conflicts that could have led to bloodshed. In 1883, Dodge became the chief of the Navajo police. In 1884, he was appointed the head chief of the Navajo by the U.S. government and also photographed by Benjamin Wittick with another pearl handled Colt on his hip. By the 1890s, he had his own trading post and sheep ranch. The latter likely explains the specific design chosen to be carved on this revolver's grip in 1907. The Navajo-Churro sheep had long been a major component of Navajo life. They fit Dodge's Mexican-Spanish and Navajo ancestry as well given the breed originated with the Spanish Churra sheep imported to Mexico centuries earlier. Dodge is said to have traveled frequently in relation to his various business ventures. Later, he was the chairman of the Navajo Business Council from 1922-1928 and the first chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council in 1923 to 1928. In these roles, he helped created some unity among the otherwise scattered Navajo and represented the tribe in negotiations relating to the oil found on Navajo lands resulting in the Indian Oil Act of 1927. He continued ranching and but lost 3/4 of his herd and thus much of his wealth when Commissioner John Collier of the Bureau of Indian Affairs forced the Navajo to reduce their sheep herds in the 1930s during the Great Depression due to erosion concerns. His wife Nanabah died in 1939. Dodge was re-elected as chairman in 1942 and vice-chairman in 1946 but died from pneumonia on January 7, 1947, in Ganado, Arizona, before acting in the latter role. His obituaries noted him as "the last chief of the Navajo." He left behind an estate valued at $175,000. Over the years, Dodge had eight wives and six children. His son Thomas Henry Dodge was the 3rd Chairman of the Navajo Council serving 1932-1936 and also had a long career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Chee Dodge's son Ben and daughter Annie both also served on the tribal council. Provenance: Henry Chee Dodge; Nanabah Dodge; Thomas H. Dodge; Jon B. Bonnell; Stanley Shapiro; Jim Fuguay; Mike Salisbury; Brad Witherell; Dick Burdick; The Doug Ellison Collection

Rating Definition:

Excellent with 98% plus of the original silver plating remaining and exhibiting a mellow aged patina, crisp engraving throughout, light marks and scratches, strong original niter blue on the screws, and minimal overall wear. The grips are also excellent and have beautiful iridescent colors, minimal handling wear, and crisp carving. Mechanically excellent.

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