Jesse James’ Colt Revolver leads Heritage Legends of the West sale
The historic gun, offered with remarkable provenance, is expected to sell for upwards of $400,000.
A gun owned by the famous Old West outlaw Jesse James will lead the upcoming Heritage Legends of the West Signature Auction later this month.
Along with his brother Frank, Jesse James robbed banks, stagecoaches and trains from the 1860s until 1882, when he was shot and killed by fellow gang member Robert Ford. His exploits brought him fame throughout the U.S during his lifetime, and have since passed into legend.
The gun, a Colt Single Action .45 Caliber Revolver, is described as “the most thoroughly documented Jesse James gun ever to appear at auction”. It comes to auction with exceptional provenance, having been identified by three generations of the James family and numerous experts in the field.
It was first recorded in the 1920s, as part of a display of his father’s weapons put together by Jesse James Jr. A photograph of the display appeared in the ‘The Crittenden Memoirs’, a 1936 book by H.H. Crittenden – the son of Missouri governor Thomas T. Crittenden, who had originally conspired with Robert Ford to have James killed.
In 1924 the two guns from this collection passed into the ownership of a Dr Lowery, who claimed the weapons in lieu of an unpaid medical bill. The James family disputed the claim, stating they had been loaned to the doctor for display in a local exhibition, and began a 10-year struggle to retrieve the guns.
The pair of pistols resurfaced in 1935 in the collection of U.S. Senator Harry B. Hawes of Missouri, and both were exhibited at the Missouri State Pavilion of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Despite further attempts and legal challenges by the James family, they were unable to take back ownership and they later passed into the hands of Congressman Frank W. Boykin in the 1940s.
Boykin’s son Richard A. Boykin, Sr. sold the two guns to William Mitchell in the mid-1970s, for a figure believed to be in the region of $100,000. Letters between the pair identify the Revolver by its serial number ‘70579’, adding further confirmation to the provenance.
In 1994 Boykin, Sr. received correspondence from Judge James Ross, Jesse James' great-grandson, who verified the authenticity of the guns. In his letter he confirmed the guns had belonged to his great grandfather, and commented that "hopefully, at some date [they may] reposit in a museum for all to see as they are definitely a part of Americana."
The market for Old West memorabilia such as this is a minefield for authenticators, and numerous items belonging to iconic figures from the period have been sold with far less documentation than the Revolver offered at Heritage. It will cross the block on November 24, with an estimated price of $400,000+.