On the last Saturday of April, the Rock Island Auction Company (RIAC) broke the world record for the most expensive single gun ever sold at auction as bids for a Winchester Model 1886 concluded at a $1.265 million. Initially estimated to bring in only half that price, the rifle is considered among the rarest ever auctioned by RIAC due to it being the first of its kind ever produced (serial number 1) and because of its connection to famed Apache warrior Geronimo. According to documents that provided the gun with its provenance, the rifle was gifted to US Army Captain Henry W. Lawton following the raid that led to Geronimo’s capture. The Winchester 1886, which was fresh off the production line, was gifted the Lawton by Lieutenant George E. Albee.
“It is an honor to be entrusted with an American treasure,” RIAC President Kevin Hogan said in a press release. “Being serial number one and possessing such outstanding condition would alone be enough to draw six figures at auction. When you add one of the most famous names in the history of the Old West you have a huge crossover appeal and set the stage for something special to happen.”
The capture of Geronimo was the highlight of Lawton’s military career. Indeed, it was an honor much desired by any US Army officer at the time. Even today, Geronimo is something of a controversial figure, described variously as both an outlaw and as a hero. In September of 1886, Geronimo and his band was being fiercely pursued across 1,300 miles from Mexico to Arizona. Lawton, who commanded B Troop, 4th Cavalry, constantly harassed Geronimo and eventually wore the legendary raider down. Exhausted, hungry, and cornered, Geronimo finally surrendered on September 9, ending 25 years of revenge and bloodshed.
Among Geronimo’s possessions at the time was his prized Winchester Model 1876, which currently is on display at West Point Military Academy. That Winchester is priceless, but as for the one that was gifted to Lawton at the end of the campaign, that one had a very real—and very large—price tag.
“The rifle’s story begins with two brothers-in-arms during the Civil War who went their different ways after that conflict, one electing to continue a lifelong military career while the other pursued firearms and their development,” stated RIAC. “When the former, Captain Henry Ware Lawton, captured Geronimo in 1886 the latter, Lieutenant George E. Albee, was working for Winchester and able to secure serial number one of their newest rifle design. He presented it to his old war buddy and lifelong friend to commemorate Lawton’s remarkable achievement.”
Lawton later served with distinction and was promoted to General. He died while leading troops in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War.
Now he will also be known as the original owner of the world’s most expensive gun—at least, one that isn’t locked up in a museum somewhere.
You can learn more about the history of this record-setting Winchester and its owners in the video below: