This incredible revolver is a rare Lot Six Colt Single Action Army revolver in original Cavalry Model configuration. It was manufactured under contract with the U.S. Ordnance Department in 1874 and sub-inspected by Orville W. Ainsworth. As such, it is from one of the prime lots issued to the famous 7th Cavalry led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana on June 25, 1876. In 1874, 921 Colts were shipped to the 7th Cavalry from the Rock Island Arsenal, of those, approximately 300 were from Lot Six. Specifically, the table on page 252 of "Colt Cavalry and Artillery Revolvers. . .a Continuing Study" by Kopec and Fenn indicates it is in the "Prime Serial Number Range" of 5505-6516 for the revolvers issued to Companies D and I. These companies received eighty-three revolvers each later than the rest of the 7th Cavalry as they were on detached service at Fort Totten under Major Reno's command with the Northern Boundary Survey. At the Battle of Little Bighorn, D Company was in Captain Benteen's command, and most of I Company was part of Custer's ill-fated command aside from seven men in the pack train detail. Serial numbers 5505, 5637, 5740, 5743, 6048, 6067, and 6269 from Lot Six all have documented or attributed 7th Cavalry history per Kopec and Fenn. Other revolvers from Lot Six were issued to the 2nd Cavalry that also fought in the Great Sioux War of 1876, including at the Battle of Powder River on March 17, 1876, and at the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17, 1876, a week before the Battle of Little Bighorn. Revolvers close to this one are also documented by Kopec and Fenn as issued to the state militia in New York. The documentation included with this revolver includes correspondence between collectors concerning this revolver's provenance and indicates that the revolver was purchased in the early 1960s by Lenard Cave of Jamestown, North Dakota, from a young man at a gun show in Bismark, North Dakota, who indicated his grandfather had found it hidden in a fort. As a local, Cave did not doubt the story given it was well-known that Fort Abraham Lincoln's buildings had been torn down and the lumber used to build ranches and homes in Mandan just to the north of the fort and across the Missouri River from Bismark. Cave subsequently sold the revolver to Richard Atkinson in 1969, and Tom Odom purchased the revolver from Atkinson in 2017. Fort Abraham Lincoln was where the 7th Cavalry was stationed from 1873 to 1882. If this revolver was issued to the 7th Cavalry and indeed discovered at the fort, then it was likely either with one of the troopers of Company D or one of the spare revolvers stored in the fort given that, with the exception of those issued to the seven men with the pack train, all of I Company's revolvers are presumed to have been captured by the Native Americans after Custer's command was annihilated by the combined Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho forces. Only around 330 of the over 600 revolvers used by the 7th Cavalry in the battle made it back to Fort Abraham Lincoln after the battle leaving over 600 of the original 921 revolvers issued to the 7th Cavalry remaining in service following the battle. Many of these revolvers saw extensive use in the West for many more years. In 1893, most of the U.S. Cavalry Model revolvers still in service, with the exception of militia revolvers, were recalled by the Ordnance Department and placed in storage with the adoption of the double action Colt Model 1892 revolvers. In 1898, over 16,000 of the former Cavalry revolvers from storage were refurbished at the Springfield Armory, including having their barrels shortened to 5 1/2 inches. These shorter "Artillery Models" saw use in the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection. Then, 5,294 of these revolvers were returned to Colt to be repaired and refinished in 1900-1903. The long service lives and multiple rounds of refurbishment have left few Lot Six revolvers in original Cavalry Model configuration, but this revolver escaped these modifications and remains in its desirable original configuration which is congruent with the tale from the provenance documents. It has matching serial numbers visible on the frame, trigger guard, back strap, and cylinder and also marked on the barrel hidden under the ejector housing and handwritten in the back strap mortise of the grip. The 7 1/2 inch long barrel has blade front sight with the original polishing lines visible to the sides, "+ COLT'S PT. F. A. MFG. Co. HARTFORD. CT. U.S.A.+" on top with the breaks in the die of the "o" in "Co." and right leg of the "A" of "HARTFORD," and "P" and "A" on the bottom at the breech. The frame has the two-line, two-date patent marking on the left followed by "U.S." along with assembly number "351" on the loading gate, and a top strap groove rear sight with notch at the rear. Additional "A" sub-inspection marks are found on the trigger guard just ahead of the bow and on the top of the back strap behind the hammer. The grip has a boxed "OWA" cartouche on the left. A connection to the fort and the revolver turning up in North Dakota certainly supports the possibility that this revolver was issued to the 7th Cavalry. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 7th Cavalry were stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln prior to their ill-fated attack on the Native American encampment at the Little Bighorn. Custer and his wife Libbie arrived in 1873. From Fort Abraham Lincoln, Custer struck out on his Black Hills Expedition that confirmed the presence of gold in the Black Hills, an area of immense cultural and spiritual value to the Lakota, and led to the Black Hills War (aka Great Sioux War of 1876) and ultimately to Custer's ill-fated attack on the massive Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho village on the Little Bighorn River on June 25 and 26 of 1876 that ended with the annihilation of Custer's entire command and over half of the entire 7th Cavalry force present injured or dead. It was at Fort Abraham Lincoln on July 6, 1876, that Mrs. Custer learned of the fate of her husband and his men. Thereafter, she worked to establish Custer as a national hero and martyr of American westward expansion. Without her, rather than being enshrined as a heroic last stand against overwhelming odds, the battle and Custer's demise would have been remembered as one of the worst tactical blunders in American military history. While Custer's command was wiped out, the other companies under Major Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen at Little Bighorn had fought on. While they too suffered losses, they successfully held out until the victorious Native Americans moved on. At the Battle of Little Bighorn, approximately 632 revolvers would have been present, and the others would have been left behind at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Of those that went into the battle, only around 330 returned. These plus the revolvers left behind at the fort comprise the vast majority of the known surviving 7th Cavalry revolvers. The others were lost, destroyed, or captured by the Native American warriors and rarely turn up at all. This revolver clearly survived and remains in fairly high condition for a U.S. Cavalry revolver. After the Battle of Little Bighorn, Fort Abraham Lincoln remained the headquarters for the 7th Cavalry until 1882 when they transferred to Fort Meade. As discussed in included newspaper articles, Fort Abraham Lincoln was abandoned by the military in 1891, and Major W.C. Gooding was the custodian for the fort which remained government property. He reported that in 1892 that settlers were "engaged in the practice of carrying off doors, windows, blinds, hinges, shelving, lumber, etc." and that he could not catch the thieves. He indicated, "Arrangements have now been made so that it will be extremely hazardous for settlers to plunder the old buildings at Fort Lincoln." Exactly what was done to make the place hazardous is not clear, perhaps it included turning a few revolvers into booby traps, but whatever he tried clearly did not work. In 1894, he indicated that his efforts were in vain and that settlers continued to steal, particularly noting, "The Russian settlers in that vicinity have been engaged in thieving the lumber and outbuildings for some time, making their visits mostly during the night, and all efforts to catch them have failed. During the past few weeks, however, they have grown bolder, and on Saturday night, a small army, numbering over 100, put in an appearance with teams, pick-axes, and all necessary appliances, read to clean every inch of lumber from the spot." The major attempted to stop them, but he was attacked with bricks and stones and chased off allowing the looters to continue destroying the buildings, including the house Lt. Col. Custer and his wife had called home. Little of the original fort remained. However, the land became Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in 1907 after Theodore Roosevelt deeded the land to North Dakota, and reconstructed buildings and markers built by the CCC during the Great Depression now stands in the original buildings' places. The included gold seal letter from noted Colt Single Action Army authority John A. Kopec indicates that, while no record was found for this revolver in the National Archives as is all too often the case, it falls between sn. 6028 and 6177 which were both issued to Company F of the 2nd Cavalry. Kopec indicates the "Activity dates" for 6028 and 6177 are from October 12, 1878, but Kopec indicates "Issues of these revolvers to the Second Cavalry were made on June 11, 1874. Most of the 2nd Cavalry were at that time stationed at Fort Laramie or other nearby outposts in the Wyoming Territory." This revolver also falls even closer between serial numbers 6135 and 6149 noted as New York Militia revolvers on page 28 of "Colt Cavalry and Artillery Revolvers...a Continuing Study" by Kopec and Fenn. It also falls fairly close to sn. 6038 noted as "Custer Agency" and 6048 listed as a "Custer Battle back strap" on page 25 of the same text. Returning to the letter, Kopec further notes, "This revolver's serial number also falls within Lot Six (#5505-#6516). Lot Six was one of the 'prime' lots from which many of the revolvers issued to the Seventh Cavalry originated. Although most of the 'Custer era' examples had been drawn from 'Lot Five' (#4500-#5504). We have evidence that Lot Six had also contributed a significant share of these revolvers. These issues were well mixed by serial number between the 7th and 2nd Cavalry regiments. Our subject revolver's serial number #6140 falls between #6067, a revolver listed in our book 'Colt Cavalry & Artillery Revolvers' as being a 'Presumptive, Fort Peck Sioux Agency, Alleged battle history' example, and #6269 a revolver which was found at Sitting Bull's camp, Saskatchewan, Canada, c. 1959. So it is plain to see that the serial number proximity of the subject revolver also supports its being issued to the Seventh Cavalry. The Seventh Cavalry received their initial quotas of these new 'Strap-Pistols' on July 2, 1874, just prior to their departure into the Black Hills." Later in the letter, Kopec notes that "Survival of these Cavalry revolvers in their original configuration is generally attributed to their having been lost, captured by the Hostiles, or 'liberated' by a deserter. The writer however believes that there may be other reasons for their survival which may be disclosed in future years. There just seems to be too many early Cavalry revolvers surviving today to attribute this fact only to these three scenarios." One such scenario could certainly be that it was still at Fort Abraham Lincoln, possibly being used by Major W.C. Gooding for security, and was stolen by looters in the 1890s. Provenance: The Lenard Cave Collection; The Richard Atkinson Collection; The Tom Odom Collection; Property of a Gentleman
Fine overall with 40% original blue finish on the barrel which exhibits holster wear and fading on the sides, traces of original finish elsewhere such as flashes of original case colors in the sight groove and other protected areas, mostly a very attractive mix of natural aged gray and brown patina on the balance, some filing on the front sight blade, a series of dings on the bottom of the barrel ahead of the cylinder pin, mild cylinder drag lines, some faint pitting, distinct markings, and a very attractive frontier issued look overall. The grip is also fine and has a faint but legible cartouche on the left, moderate lower edge wear, some light dings and scratches, and strong original finish. Mechanically excellent. This is an incredible opportunity to add a highly desirable Lot Six U.S. Colt Cavalry Model Single Action Army revolver to your collection with documented North Dakota provenance.
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