Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 3154: Buffalo Bill Presentation Remington New Model Navy Revolver

Auction Date: August 28, 2022

Historic Buffalo Bill Presentation Inscribed, Silver Plated, and Factory Engraved Remington "Improved New Model Navy" Cartridge Revolver with Holster and Documentation Identified as Owned by Pawnee Scouts Leader and Buffalo Bill Wild West Showman Frank J. North

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $40,000 - $60,000

Historic Buffalo Bill Presentation Inscribed, Silver Plated, and Factory Engraved Remington "Improved New Model Navy" Cartridge Revolver with Holster and Documentation Identified as Owned by Pawnee Scouts Leader and Buffalo Bill Wild West Showman Frank J. North

Manufacturer: E. Remington & Sons
Model: Navy
Type: Revolver
Gauge: 38 RF
Barrel: 7 1/2 inch octagon
Finish: silver/gold
Grip: antique ivory
Item Views: 945
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 130
Class: Antique

This stunning Remington "Improved New Model Navy" revolver is inscribed "F. North, from Buffalo Bill" on the back strap and is accompanied by documentation from the descendants of Frank North (1840-1885). North became famous as the commander of the Pawnee Scouts during the Indian Wars and the building of the Union Pacific. Luther, his younger brother, also served as a captain of Company D in the scouts. During the Republican River Expedition, they served with the 5th U.S. Cavalry and William F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill," and became his friends and later business partners. North's life and association with Buffalo Bill have been discussed in many publications, including "Two Great Scouts and Their Pawnee Battalion: The Experiences of Frank J. North and Luther H. North" by George Bird Grinnell (copy included), "Luther North: Frontier Scout" by Jeff O'Donnell (copy included), "A Quarter of a Century on the Frontier, or The Adventures of Major Frank North, the 'White Chief of the Pawnees'" written by Alfred Sorenson based on North's own words (copies of pages from the Nebraska State Historical Society included), "Buffalo Bill Gets on Track" by Mark Boardman in "True West" magazine in August 2012, and "Frank J. North: Pawnee Scout, Commander and Pioneer" by Ruby E. Wilson. On page 53 of "Luther North: Frontier Scout," the revolver is stated as having been taken from Buffalo Bill's holster by a Pawnee scout named Traveling Bear during the Battle of Summit Springs and then returned to him with Luther North's assistance. "The pistol was an ivory handled Remington that Cody gave to Frank North several years later." This battle was one of the events later reenacted in Buffalo Bill's Wild West. In the early days of the show, both North and the Pawnee Scouts were key parts. The included documentation from North's descendants indicates this revolver was passed down through their family. It was given to Charles Jefferson Morse (1889-1946) whose mother was Alphonsine Morse (1851-1924), North's youngest sister. It was then passed on to his son Charles E. Morse (1924-2019) and then to his wife, Charlotte Painter Morse (1925-2021). Remington New Model Army and Navy revolvers were among the first service-size cartridge revolvers to use metallic cartridges thanks to Benjamin Kittredge and Smith & Wesson striking a deal in 1868 allowing Remington to produce rimfire conversions of the New Model Army prior to the expiration of the Rollin White patent. Once White's patent expired in April of 1869, they were then free to introduce their own cartridge revolvers, including the "Navy Belt" revolvers in .38 rimfire with loading gates and ejector housings fitted to the right side of the frames like this one. Given that production of these revolvers began in 1869 or 1870, this revolver was unlikely actually with Buffalo Bill at the Battle of Summit Springs, instead he may have had his blued Remington New Model Army percussion revolver which also featured ivory grips, and the two may have been confused in later reminiscence. This revolver was made as a cartridge revolver rather than as a percussion revolver and then converted, and this version is dated to 1870-1875 in "The Guns of Remington: Historic Firearms Spanning Two Centuries." Instead, Buffalo Bill was likely carrying his blued percussion New Model Army revolver with ivory grips, and this revolver was likely misremembered as that one. Instead, Buffalo Bill may have purchased this revolver for as a gift for his friend. The family clearly indicates it was presented by Buffalo Bill in the 1870s or 1880s while Buffalo Bill and Frank North were friends and business associates, and the inscription is of the style from the period. It would have been a flashy sidearm perfect for a Wild West showman, and certainly shows signs of period use that you'd expect from a showman's gun. The revolver features extensive scroll, floral, geometric, and dot and line engraving patterns, including distinctive floral blooms around the cylinder and on the top of the frame at the breech. It is finished mainly in silver, and some of the smaller components such as the loading lever appear to have been finished in gilt-silver. The underside of the butt and left side of the butt have the matching serial number. The trigger guard was not removed but is clearly original given the engraving. The inside of the grips have "R./43841." The barrel has a threaded "pinched" blade front sight and the usual address and patent marking. It comes with a brown leather, closed toe, open top holster with no markings. Frank North's family moved to Columbus in the Nebraska Territory in 1860, and he learned the Pawnee language while working transporting goods to Fort Kearny. In 1860, he became a clerk and interpreter at the Pawnee Agency in Genoa, west of Columbus. Due to his knowledge of their language and connections with the Pawnee, North was tasked with raising a company of Pawnee scouts in 1864. This became the first company of the Pawnee Scouts. Due to his leadership of the Pawnee Scouts in the 1860s and 1870s, North was nicknamed the "white chief of the Pawnee." The Pawnee living in Nebraska had suffered serious demographic declines from disease along with warfare with the Dakota, Lakota, Cheyenne, and the Arapaho and allied themselves with the U.S. government against their historic foes. North led the Pawnee Scouts as a captain during the Powder River Expedition against the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho and destroyed an entire encampment of Arapaho, killing 23 men and one woman in a surprise attack at dawn. At the Battle of the Tongue River, they were part of a forces of 270 that destroyed an Arapaho village in another surprise attack. The expedition did not have enough men to truly defeat and oust the "hostile" Indians, and the scouts were mustered out in the Spring of 1866. North became a post trader for the Pawnee. North and the Pawnee were part of an event organized by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1866 to celebrate crossing the 100th Meridian nearly 250 miles west of Omaha. The meridian was a key milestone. Under the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, the Union Pacific passing the 100th Meridian gave them the right to continue building westward as part of the Transcontinental Railroad. During the celebrations, the Pawnee delighted visitors with dances and mock battles. North rejoined the Army in 1867 as a major and was again asked to raise Pawnee. This time, the Pawnee Battalion was tasked with protecting the construction of the Union Pacific lines from the Ogalala and Cheyenne warriors that had been conducting raids, fought in the Comanche War, and occasionally continued to put on shows for entertainment. They fought Chief Turkey Leg and the Northern Cheyenne near Plum Creek Station, Nebraska, on August 22, where they emerged victorious despite being out numbered by more than three to one. Lakota and Cheyenne raiders had destroyed and plundered a train earlier in the month. North and the Pawnee captured Turkey Leg's wife and child during the battle, and they were subsequently exchanged in return for five American children. The Pawnee would return home in the spring and be mused back in the spring to continue protecting the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1869, the Pawnee Scouts were assigned to the 5th U.S. Cavalry and participated in the Republican River Expedition against the Cheyenne. Buffalo Bill was assigned as the chief of the scouts for the 5th Cavalry. In "Adventures of Buffalo Bill" by William F. Cody, Buffalo Bill writes. "Shortly after we reached Fort McPherson, which continued to be the headquarters of the Fifth Cavalry for some time, we fitted out for a new expedition to the Republican River country, and were re-enforced by three companies of the celebrated Pawnee Indian scouts, commanded by Major Frank North. General Carr recommended at this time to General Augur, who was in command of the department, that I be made chief of scouts in the Department of the Platte, and informed me that in this position I would receive higher wages than I had been getting in the Department of the Missouri. This appointment I had not asked for. I made the acquaintance of Major Frank North, and I found him and his officers perfect gentlemen, and we were all good friends from the very start." Their friendship would indeed endure until North's death. He went on writing, "The Pawnee scouts had made quite a reputation for themselves, as they had performed brave and valuable services in fighting against the Sioux, whose bitter enemies they were; being thoroughly acquainted with the Republican and Beaver country, I was glad that they were to be with the expedition, and my expectation of the aid they would render was not disappointed." In "A Quarter of a Century on the Frontier," North indicates he first met Buffalo Bill on October 22, 1868, at Buffalo Station in Kansas. North and the Pawnee fought the Cheyenne under Tall Bull at the Battle of Summit Spring where the Pawnee Scouts were responsible for the deaths of 31 of the 35 Cheyenne killed in the fight. The U.S. cavalry suffered only one wounded. In the battle, Tall Bull was killed, and North received the credit and also captured his wife and daughter. In "A Quarter of a Century on the Frontier," an account of Tall Bull's death is given stating that after Tall Bull shot and missed, North took careful aim where his adversary had last showed his head and then fired when he reappeared killing him before he could get off another shot. Once the fighting ended, they discovered he had killed the chief. The following day, Buffalo Bill shot a Cheyenne warrior who had escaped on Tall Bull's white horse during the battle. This led him to believe that he had killed Tall Bull himself. Buffalo Bill was later awarded a Medal of Honor in 1872 for his role as the leader of the scouts in 1869. Following this battle, author Ned Buntline reportedly approached North for a story, but North instead turned Buntline's attention to Buffalo Bill. The subsequent publicity helped create Buffalo Bill's reputation as a folk hero and led in part to his career as a showman. North remained the commander of the Pawnee Scouts until 1871 and then became a post guide and interpreter at Camp Munson before transferring to the Sidney Barracks in 1872. Most of the remaining Pawnee relocated to Indian Territory by the mid-1870s. North remained at the Sidney Barracks in Nebraska until August 5, 1876, when he reported to General Sheridan in Chicago. He was once again ordered to enlist the Pawnee as scouts. He and the scouts returned to the Sidney Barracks and then served under General Crook in 1876 and 1877 following the disaster at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Following the disbanding of the scouts, North and his brothers Luther and James partnered with Buffalo Bill and ran the cattle company Cody & North and had thousands of head of cattle spread across five ranches in the Dismal River region in the western part of the state. They sold the business in 1882 as the ranching industry declined and Buffalo Bill's attention turned increasingly to show business. He had begun touring as part of Buntline's "The Scouts of the Prairie" in December of 1872 before starting his own frontier dramas. Buffalo Bill reportedly organized local shows with North and other friend in North Platte, Nebraska which evolved into his world-famous Wild West show that toured the U.S. and Europe. "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" officially opened on May 19, 1883, in Omaha, Nebraska, and ran until July 1913. North briefly served in the state legislature but then worked as the manager for the Native Americans in the shows, including many Pawnee scouts, and also was directly involved in the action. He may have remained a key part of the shows for many years if he had not been injured during one of their early shows in Hartford, Connecticut, in July of 1884. While performing with the Pawnee, he was thrown from his horse and trampled by one of the horses leading to seven broken ribs and internal injuries that were expected to shortly lead to his demise, but he made a recovery enough to keep working as a manager behind the scenes. However, he then became severely ill the following March in St. Louis, Missouri, and returned home to Nebraska. He had suffered from asthma since he was a child and died from "sever asthma attacks" just days shy of his 45th birthday.

Rating Definition:

Fine with more than half of the original silver plating displaying mainly dark aged patina, traces of original gold in the protected areas, crisp engraving and markings, fairly heavy wear on the back of the cylinder, absent ejector rod, and some minor pitting. The inscription on the back is distinct. The cylinder stop is not working, but the revolver is otherwise mechanically fine. The grips are also fine and have attractive natural tones and grain, some minor age cracks, a few tiny flakes, and minor age and handling related wear. The holster is very good and has moderate surface flaking concentrated at the top. This is a stunning Remington New Model Navy inscribed "F. North, from Buffalo Bill" and documented as past down through the family of frontier scout leader and Buffalo Bill showman Frank North.

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