On November 24, a revolver once owned by the infamous outlaw Jesse James will be put under the gavel in a Dallas auction. Experts expect the firearm to sell for more than $1.6 million by the time bidding is over. According to Heritage Auctions, the international auction house offering the revolver, the Colt Single Action Army .45 is considered the “most thoroughly documented” of all James’ guns.
“‘Outlaw guns’ are immediately objects of suspicion because so many fakes or examples with undocumented histories appear on the market. Only rarely does a gun with this sort of full and most interesting provenance come up for sale,” Heritage Auctions states on its website.
It has been more than 131 years since James’ death, yet there is still a demand for artifacts and memorabilia linked to the Wild West icon. James fought against Union forces during the American Civil War and later became known for his bold heists after the war ended. He met his demise in 1882 when he was shot and killed by Robert Ford, a new member of his gang who was in secret negotiations with Thomas T. Crittenden, the governor of Missouri at the time.
Some of James’ possessions were passed down to his son Jesse James, Jr., including the revolver. The first documentation of the James revolver was a photo in a 1938 volume titled The Crittenden Memoirs, which was written by H.H. Crittenden, the son of Governor Crittenden. In a strange twist, Jesse James, Jr. and H.H. Crittenden became fast friends after James was employed by the Crittenden family. However, the revolver soon parted with James and landed in the possession of a Dr. Lowery. Police documents speculate that the transfer was likely due to an unpaid medical bill in which the revolver was security. Jesse James, Jr.’s wife, Stella James, attempted to return the firearm to the family in 1932 but was unsuccessful. Following Lowery’s death, the gun briefly disappeared from record.
The revolver eventually surfaced in the hands of John Nance Garner, who later served as Vice President under Franklin Delanor Roosevelt. A widely-published photo shows Garner displaying the gun (on loan from Missouri Senator Harry Hawes) to Harry Truman.
After Hawes, the gun went through a series of owners until it ended up in the hands of longtime owner William Mitchell. After more than a hundred years, the gun is still in very good condition. However, signs of its great age show on the firearm’s worn finish and cracked grips. The ejector housing and rod has been replaced, and the sights appear to have been intentionally filed down in order to reduce snag when unholstering. It is not known if the revolver can still be fired.
Despite this, experts believe that the revolver did indeed belong to the famous outlaw. In preparation for fierce bidding, auctioneers have set the starting bid at $400,000.
“This sort of provenance with a gun like this is unheard of, and that makes it a very special gun indeed,” Heritage Auctions expert on Americana Tom Slater told the Daily Mail. “Put simply, it is one of the most important firearms ever to appear at auction.”
Unsurprisingly, Slater speculates that the gun did not originally belong to James, but likely came into his possession after a robbery.
Prospective buyers may place bids online until 10 p.m. (Central) on November 23. A combined online and live bidding session will follow on November 24.