November 19, 2014
By Joel R Kolander
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Few names conjure up images of the Wild West quicker than that of Buffalo Bill Cody. Born less than 30 miles from where I sit, Buffalo Bill needs no introduction to those familiar with the history of the Old West. The Union scout, Pony Express rider, Civil War soldier, Medal of Honor recipient, and buffalo hunter, turned showman in 1883, founding his “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show
and taking it on tour across the country and Old West and even into Britain and Europe on several occasions. It is speculated by several historians that he was one of, if not the most, recognizable celebrity at the end of very end of the 1800s.
At his shows he brought all the romance and violence of the Old West to life. There were horsemen from numerous cultures, shooters of incomparable skill such as Annie Oakley, riding roping, races, and reenactments of scenesdepicting the Pony Express, stagecoach robberies, and Indian attacks on a pioneer’s cabin. Other big names helped draw the crowds too, such as Sitting Bull and around 20 of his braves. All of these activities were performed by people with real skills and to audiences in urban environments, it must have seemed as if the West had come to life right before their eyes. When it was all said and done, Buffalo Bill owned a massive ranch in Nebraska with an 18-room mansion, had performed for royalty of several nations and in the Roman amphitheater, helped found the city of Cody, Wyoming, supported the rights of women and Native Americans, and eventually had a football team named after him. Not too shabby.
With a man so associated with hunting, scouting, the plains, the Old West, Native Americans, sharp shots, and the Civil War, it should come as no surprise that there were more than few guns in the man’s life and in the lives of those around him. In fact, the book “The Peacemakers” by R.L. Wilson is dedicated to detailing Cody’s collection. Guns of Buffalo Bill and one of his performers are coming up for auction in Rock Island Auction Company’s December 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction. Here’s a look at what will be crossing the auction block.
Given to Cody in 1911, this Special Grade M1907 Savage in .32 caliber is certainly a switch from the high-use, rough and tumble revolver one may have pictured Buffalo Bill using. However, much publicity was gained by Savage thanks to Cody’s endorsement and praise of the little shooter. In fact, Cody went on to purchase several more of the pistols engraved and gave them as gifts. The pistol’s provenance is well-known and can be impeccably traced all the way back to its 1911 Savage factory ledger. It has been featured in numerous publications and was once on loan to the Buffalo Bill Museum inside the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Given Buffalo Bill’s place in American Old West history, one would expect to find any old gun with his association to be on exhibit. Finding one available for public sale, just may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The pistol, like most of Buffalo Bill’s guns, shows some signs of wear and use, but they are minuscule compared to some of his other firearms which saw hard use. It still wears 95% of its original factory blue finish and still shows signs of bright casehardening on the trigger. The engraving, which Wilson calls, “superbly done,” is crisp and sharp, as is the ever important inscription on the backstrap that reads, “COL. W.F. CODY.” Setting this gun even further apart are the mother-of-pearl grips that still glimmer with iridescence.
The historical significance of this pistol is difficult to overestimate. First of all, Buffalo Bill Cody is a staple of Old West American history and folk lore. He introduced literally millions of Americans and Europeans to the adventure and hardships of the West through his showmanship, talent, and hard work. Also, as mentioned earlier, most firearms owned by Buffalo Bill have found their way into museums and are not available on the private market. Furthermore, even those pistols that are in museums, R.L. Wilson in his post-examination letter writes, “…Cody owned very few automatic pistols, and Savage no. 33177 is the only one known to the writer in any collection or museum.” Add to those rarities, its excellent condition, and you have a combination of traits that sends Old West memorabilia collectors scrambling: rarity, originality, historical significance, and high condition.
One man that was featured in “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show was Ken Maynard. His Old West career started as a young man working in circuses and carnivals training to become a horseman. It wouldn’t take long for his skill to receive notice. Soon he was working in rodeos, becoming a rodeo champion, and eventually earning a spot performing horse riding tricks and feats that were a staple of the Buffalo Bill shows. Horse riders from a vast array of cultures would often parade to start each show showing their uniforms and weapons, and giving audiences a taste of some “exotic” customs. Trick riding and racing were also important parts of the show, so a man of Maynard’s talents would have been a valuable addition. Look at the following posters for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West to whether or not horsemanship would have been critical to the show and to audiences.
Maynard’s career would then take him to Hollywood to be a “singing cowboy,” earn him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and return to him work at circuses, state fairs, and rodeos before alcoholism shortened his career and ruined his finances.
The revolvers are a pair of consecutively numbered Smith & Wesson Victory Model DA revolvers. The Victory models are the 5-screw variety and they have been highly customized. Perhaps most noticeably are the jeweled polish applied to the hammer and trigger. Also distinct are the added raised ribs with their checkerboard engraving and blade front sights, the smooth grips, a small “P” stamped into the left side of the frame between the cylinder and the hammer, and of course the inscriptions of “KEN – MAYNARD” on each butt.
The pair of revolvers also come with an exceptional holster rig made by G.S. Garcia Company, one of most notable leather shops in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Guadalupe S. Garcia was a master saddler, leather carver, silversmith, and engraver. His vision of quality involved him at all stages of the business and creative processes. Even as a burgeoning business man at the age of 19, he quickly gained a reputation as a master craftsman, in part thanks to his previous apprenticeships.
Business would grow and expand as demand for his beautiful and quality products increased. Eventually Garcia would hire on only the most talented of craftsmen to help make his saddles, spurs, bridles, bits and mouthpieces, chaps, rope, and other assorted leather and horse hair goods. In 1904 Garcia made a masterpiece saddle for the World’s Fair in St. Louis. It was unimaginable and hands down took the gold medal. That same year, it was placed in the Lewis & Clark Exposition in Portland, OR, where it won its second gold medal – a feat never before accomplished or matched since. It is best described in the words of Howard Hickson,
“He decided to craft a saddle to take to the World’s Fair. He and his workers assembled the finest saddle ever made. Using flawless leather, they dyed it black, carved in American Beauty roses, and then adorned it with gold, silver, and diamonds. It was truly a leather throne. Across the rear of the fork were several $20 gold pieces with likenesses of President Theodore Roosevelt and two governors of Nevada, John Sparks and William Nye. Other gold pieces were carved with the famous three fairy horses with diamonds set in their eyes. An engraved eagle was set into the back of the cantle. It was a leather masterpiece and it lived up to its creator’s expectation by winning two gold medals. It was the best in world.”
Does his quality, craftsmanship, skill, and artistic touch need any further endorsement? The man was a master and this holster rig is no exception to his work.
The rig has space for twelve cartridges and carries two highly decorated “Mexican loop” holsters. Also bearing Maynard’s name, “KEN” has been tooled into the leather on the belt above each of one of the holsters. This is some beautiful leatherwork that is just begging to be worn again.
There you have it friends. Each item is an exciting Old West collectible in its own right and associated to someone considered “the best of the best” at what they do. Both also have ties to William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, one of the most recognizable figures of the Old West and a international symbol of the era. If items like this get your heart pumping be sure to search the rest of our catalog for all sorts of fascinating, historic, beautiful, and expertly created firearms, bladed weapons, and much more. It can be found at www.rockislandauction.com.
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