Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1180: Wild Bill Hickok's Smith & Wesson Model No. 2 Old Army Revolver

Auction Date: August 27, 2022

Wild Bill Hickok's Historic Smith & Wesson Model No. 2 Old Army Revolver with Documentation

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Estimated Price: $150,000 - $350,000

Wild Bill Hickok's Historic Smith & Wesson Model No. 2 Old Army Revolver with Documentation

Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson
Model: 2 Army
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 32 Long RF
Barrel: 6 inch solid rib
Finish: blue
Grip: rosewood
Item Views: 4755
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 136
Class: Antique

This historic Smith & Wesson Model No. 2 is solidly documented as owned and carried by the model's most famous user: Wild Bill Hickok, and listed by serial number in a sworn affidavit. It is also the opinion of many historians that this very gun was on Hickok’s person when he was killed in Deadwood, South Dakota. This model was reported to have been one of Hickok’s favorite side-arms at the time of his death, with many experts believing that Hickok’s failing eyesight and physical attributes prompted him to move to the slightly smaller, lighter and more accurate model vs. the Colt 1851 Navy that he used earlier in life. It was also easier to carry and conceal. Many publications note that Hickok was carrying a No. 2 when he was murdered while holding the famous "Dead Man's Hand" during a poker game in Mann & Nuttall’s Number 10 Saloon in the Dakota Territory on August 2,1876, and Ed McGivern's book, "Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting" provides the most significant details. On pages 302 and 303, McGivern provides significant provenance for this revolver. Writing in the 1930s and after actually visiting Deadwood personally, he states, Mrs. Emil Willoth "'has Wild Bill's gun sealed up in a case just as her husband left it when he died, and she won't allow it to be taken out.' The gun was given to Mr. Willoth by Seth Bullock, Lawrence County's first sheriff." He also writes, "The Willoth gun is quite generally established as being one of Wild Bill's guns, and all reports seem to support such a claim convincingly." Ed McGivern is renowned as one of the best hand-gunners that ever lived. His Guinness world record for "The greatest rapid-fire feat" (set on August 20, 1932 at the Lead Club Range, South Dakota) still stands. He and friend Elmer Keith, were the most famous promoters of Magnum Revolvers with McGivern so adept and accurate with their use, that he became an instructor to Police Agencies across the United States to include the FBI. His famous book is still in print today and his opinions, work ethic and integrity were of the highest caliber. Included with the revolver is a 2013 affidavit from Leona H. Arder of St. Charles, Illinois. In it, she states that she personally knew JoAnn Willoth of Deadwood, South Dakota, after the latter moved to Chicago and worked at the Merchandise Mart with Arder's father, Leo Zymetzke. In the spring of 1972, she personally witnessed Willoth present the revolver to Zymetzke and witnessed Willoth's explanation of the revolver's history and that it "belonged to Wild Bill Hickok” JoAnn further explained that she was giving the gun to the undersigned's father because she was an only child who never married and had no children and therefore she had no immediate family to make a bequest of the gun." Arder then states that her father in turn left the gun to her for the benefit of her sons and that the gun was kept in her personal possession. Additional, included documentation confirms that Leo Zymetzke worked at The Merchandise Mart from 1930 to 1990, that Hazel Willoth (1888-1957) of Deadwood, South Dakota, died after living in Chicago for 17 years, and that JoAnn Willoth (1918-1996) was the daughter of Emil (1876-1930) and Hazel Willoth, never married, and died while living in Chicago. A photograph of Leo Zymetzke with the revolver framed on the wall behind him exists. The likely scenario indicates through reports that Hickok's effects were auctioned/raffled/sold off to pay for his funeral. Bullock may have either purchased the revolver or had it in his custody following Hickok's murder, having retained it initially as evidence from the murder given the case was not fully resolved until the hanging of McCall on March 1, 1877. (Bullock was made the de-facto Sheriff of Deadwood August 21, 1876 after Hickok’s murder and was officially appointed Sheriff of the entire county by then Governor Pennington of the Dakota Territory in March of 1877). Bullock remained in Deadwood until his death on September 23, 1919, and thus his life overlapped with Emil Willoth's and his in-laws. Bullock therefore could have given the gun to Willoth at any time, possibly befriending Willoth as a small boy who later became a business associate and prominent citizen in Deadwood, dying there in 1930. His obituary notes that he married Hazel Fishel, daughter of Adolph Fishel, in 1910. She received the revolver after his death, and, as McGivern noted, kept it carefully. Information on the Fishels is as follows; Per A.T. Andreas' "Historical Atlas of Dakota" (1884), Max Fishel & Bro. was established in Deadwood in 1876, the year of Hickok's murder, as "dealers in stationery, fancy goods, cigars and tobaccos." Max Fishel (1853-1907) arrived first, and Adolph Fishel (1857-1940) arrived in 1879, and joined by their younger brother Louis Fishel (1859-1941). The two younger brothers later opened a separate business. Max Fishels estate was administered by Adolph Fishel since he died without a wife or children. Regardless of the exact details of the early provenance, the revolver was clearly documented in Deadwood in the possession of Hazel Willoth in the 1930’s with provenance at that time as having been Hickok's revolver. Included documentation includes articles and page entries from several publications that mention Hickok and reports that he died carrying a Number 2 Smith and Wesson Revolver .32 caliber to include; “The Fireside Book of Guns” by Larry Koller, “The Peoples Almanac” article “Gunslingers-Good Guys and Bad Guys of the Wild West” by Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky, “Guns of The New West”, by David R. Chicoine, “They Called Him Wild Bill”, by Joseph G. Rosa, “Guns of the Old West” by Dean K. Boorman and others. The included factory letter indicates this revolver as shipped on November 15, 1864, to J.W. Storrs in New York City (S&W's sole agent in 1856-1869) and is listed with the standard 6 inch barrel, blue finish, and rosewood grips. The top of the barrel rib is marked "SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD, MASS." The serial number is marked on the butt and on the inside of the right grip panel. The rear of the barrel lug, face of the cylinder, and left side of the grip frame at the toe have the assembly number "19." It is equipped with a German silver blade fixed front sight, integral notch rear sight and a smooth, six-shot cylinder marked with the S&W 1855, 1859 and 1860 patent dates around the center. The frame has a spur trigger and three-pin top strap and is fitted with smooth two-piece rosewood grips. Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876), born James Butler Hickok, was a real life legend of the American West who was a real gunfighter in addition to being a hunter, teamster, stage driver, army scout, spy, Wild West show performer, officer of the law, and gambler. Color tales of his adventurous life were told in his own time, and his life story has since been told in many books about the Old West, including in "Encyclopedia of Western Gun-Fighter" by O'Neal which provides many of the details that follow. As a young man he earned a reputation as the best shot in northern Illinois and as a talented fighter. He left Illinois for St. Louis after thinking he had beaten a man to death in a fight and worked on the famous and dangerous Sante Fe Trail and worked for Russell, Majors & Waddell (the creators of the famous Pony Express). He served the Union during the Civil War and served as a wagon master, spy, and guide and earned his nickname after standing up to a lynch mob. After the war, he gambled in Springfield, Missouri, and killed Dave Tutt in a fight. He ran for but lost the election for chief of police and left for Fort Riley, Kansas, where he again worked as a wagon-master as well as a scout and herder. He was one of Custer's scouts staring in 1867 after being defeated in another election, this time running for county sheriff in Ellsworth County, Kansas. He was also employed as a deputy U.S. marshal. In April 1868, Buffalo Bill Cody helped him bring in eleven men to Topeka. He got into a scrape with the Cheyenne late that summer and famously rode through the surrounding warriors to get help. In August 1869, he finally won an election and became the sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas, and killed two men within three months and lost his bid for reelection and moved to Topeka, got in a brawl, moved back to Ellis County, shot two soldiers, and left again. At Niagara Falls, he established his own Wild West show: "The Daring Buffalo Chase of the Plains." After returning West, he again found work as a lawman, this time as city marshal of Abilene, Kansas, and was again involved in a shootout after ordering Phil Coe to alter the sign of the Bull's Head Saloon which included an unsavory symbol of masculinity. Coe opened firing during the dispute, and Hickok shot him fatally in the stomach. His deputy, rushed to the scene, and Hickok mistook him for another hostile cowboy and turned and fired hitting him in the head and killing him instantly. This was reportedly the last shot Wild Bill ever fired at another man. He was part of the famous 1872 buffalo hunt with Buffalo Bill Cody, Phillip Sheridan, Custer, and Russian Duke Alexei and worked for Buffalo Bill's famous Wild West show for a while before returning to the West in 1874. After marrying in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Hickok went to the famous gold fields near Deadwood in the Dakota Territory where he reportedly gambled more than he searched for gold. His Smith & Wesson was his chosen sidearm at the time. It would have certainly been more comfortable to carry than a larger Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 or Colt Single Action. Deadwood, like many of the 19th century gold rush towns of the West, was a dangerous place, and, as was the case seemingly everywhere he went, Hickok had plenty of enemies. Gamblers tended to anger a lot of people, especially those they beat, even in if they played a fair game, and shootouts were not uncommon. On August 2, 1876, Hickok was playing cards in Nuttal & Mann's No. 10 Saloon. He was not having a good day, and had to borrow $50 from the house just to remain in the game. The previous day he had reportedly won $110 from Jack "Crooked Nose" McCall (aka Bill Sutherland), but that money was long gone. McCall's anger over his loss, however, was not. Hickok had tried to change seats so his back was to the door, but his fellow gamblers were no more interested in being shot in the back than he was. In his hand, he had a pair of black aces over black eights, the "Dead Man's Hand," when he was shot in the back of the head by McCall. The shot also hit Frank Massie in the forearm. McCall tried to shoot the bartender in his attempt to flee, but his gun misfired, and he was captured outside. Massie, not knowing what had happened, thought that it was Hickok that had shot him, and reportedly burst out of the saloon yelling "Wild Bill shot me!" There were rumors that McCall had actually been hired to kill Hickok by other enemies, perhaps that combined with his own animosity led to the brazen murder, but newspapers following the murder indicate that McCall claimed another reason: he claimed Hickok had killed his brother in Kansas back in 1869. McCall was found not guilty in an unofficial miners' trial, but he was later arrested for the crime, tried to escape from jail and was then found guilty in a proper court and hung for the murder in Yankton. Since he was fresh out of money, Hickok's personal effects, possibly including this revolver, were reportedly raffled off to pay for his funeral, which was arranged by Charles "Colorado Charley" Utter, one of Hickok's close friends. At Utter's camp, he was presented in a tepee dressed in fresh clothes with a silver ornamented black cloth over the coffin and his rifle by his side, the latter his express wish.

Rating Definition:

Fine for a frontier carried revolver with 50% plus of the bright original blue finish on the cylinder and frame, strong original case colors on the hammer, and a smooth gray-brown patina on the balance, particularly on the barrel which has wear consistent with being carried as a personal sidearm. The barrel also has a faint bulge and thin stress fractures in the breech section from an unknown incident. The grips are very fine and have mild wear at the lower edges, minor scratches and dings, attractive grain, and most of the glossy original varnish. The revolver remains mechanically fine. This is perhaps the best documented Wild Bill Hickok firearm extant, having been held privately with full chain of ownership. Its connection to Hickok’s murder in Deadwood certainly adds some eerie mystique and historical significance to the revolver. How long Hickok might have owned the revolver is not clear, but it was manufactured early enough to have been carried by him for several years, and small enough to have been concealed in many of his photos where he appears to be unarmed, possibly being used in one or more of his gunfights in the Old West and is an outstanding artifact from one the era's most legendary gunfighters.

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