Exceptionally Rare Indian Used Custer Battlefield 1874 Sharps Rifle

The First Firearm Forensically Proven to have been used at Custer’s Last Stand


In 1883, seven years after the resounding defeat of Custer and his 7th Cavalry near the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory, a rancher by the name of Willis Spear collected a number of artifacts while passing through the battlefield site with his family; a visit he recorded in his diary. This Sharps rifle, serial number C54586, was among the items he removed. It would remain in the Spear family for over a century.

In August 1983, more than 100 years after what is among the most famous battles fought on American soil, a grassfire raged across the plains of the Custer Battlefield National Monument. This fire, having denuded the land of its thick grassy vegetation, paved the way for an archaeological study that would exponentially further our knowledge of that fateful battle. 

In the Spring of 1984, with funding from the Custer Battlefield Museum and Historical Association, and support from the National Park Service, an intensive archaeological survey and excavation was conducted, in which thousands of artifacts were recovered and recorded, over 2,000 of which were battle-related ammunition artifacts such as cartridges, casings and the like. Using modern day archaeological, forensic and ballistic techniques, the investigators were able to determine hundreds of individual weapons of differing makes and models used at the battle, the locations of their use, and even track the movement of individual weapons across the battlefield. 

The ability to use forensics and ballistics to identify cartridges and casings was so compelling, the next logical step was to see if the casings themselves could be specifically matched to any of the “known” Custer Battlefield firearms. Harmon and Scott write in their 1988 “Man at Arms” article, “The comparison process was very slow since it literally required us to look at hundreds of cases, and compare each against the evidence case. Incredible as it may seem, we did find a match between a .50-70 evidence case and an archaeological specimen .50-70 case.” 

The article goes on to state, “The archaeological specimen was found southeast of Lt. James Calhoun’s position… There is no doubt this location is an Indian position… The archaeological specimen also matched another archaeological specimen found on Greasy Grass Ridge, southwest of the Calhoun position… This archaeological evidence indicates this particular .50-70 firearm was used in two different Indian positions during the fighting around Calhoun Hill.”

The .50-70 in question is Sharps serial number C54586, the Spear family’s rifle. Shipped new from the Sharps factory in 1875, it still exists today as a genuine, Indian-used artifact from the most infamous battle of the American West. 

Lot 269, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $258,750

S/N C54586, .50-70 caliber, 1874 military model Sharps, 30 inch round barrel, full military style stock and forearm, standard Lawrence barrel sight, manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut in 1874.

Condition:  Consistent with a rifle that was exposed to the dry, arid weather of the Montana prairie.  Some legible markings, wood is dry with a few cracks, tang is cracked at top screw, metal shows surface oxidation overall but no deep pitting, action still operates.

Literature:
“Sharps Rifles at the Little Big Horn: Part Two” by Dave Thorn, pp. 18-20, pictured p. 20, in “The Sharps Collector Report” Volume 18, Number 2.

“Archaeological Insights into the Custer Battle: An assessment of the 1984 Field Season” by Douglas D. Scott and Richard A. Fox, Jr., 1987, page 62.

“A Sharps Rifle From the Battle of The Little Bighorn”, by Dick Harmon and Douglas D. Scott, pp. 12-15, pictured p. 13, in “Guns at the Little Bighorn: The Weapons of Custer’s Last Stand”, Man at Arms, 1988.

“The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West”, by R. L. Wilson, 1992, page 24, pictured pp. 24-25.

“G.A. Custer: His Life and Times” by Glenwood Swanson, 2004, page 295, pictured pp. 294-295.

The following items are all included in the lot:
Binder: Includes: computer CDs and DVDs of scans, photos and images of the forensic evidence collected on the Battlefield, including scans from the National Park Archives and the Nebraska Highway Patrol Forensics Lab; a rare Martin primed shell in .50-70 caliber for illustrative purposes; Letter to Glen Swanson from Douglas Scott and Dick Harmon; Affidavit from Torrey Johnson, descendant of the Spear family, attesting to the chain of ownership through the family; Sharps Rifle Company gun letter; and other related ephemera.

Book: “Archaeological Insights into the Custer Battle: An assessment of the 1984 Field Season” by Douglas D. Scott and Richard A. Fox, Jr., 1987. Complete with pull-out, double-sided, 31” x 42” survey map of the archeological identification points of artifacts.

Book: “The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West”, by R. L. Wilson, 1992.

Book: “G.A. Custer: His Life and Times” by Glenwood Swanson, 2004. Signed by the author.

Original Publication: “The Sharps Collector Report”, Volume 18, Number 2.

Original Publication:  “Guns at the Little Bighorn: The Weapons of Custer’s Last Stand”, Man at Arms, 1988.

Edward Borein (1872 - 1945)

Mustang Round-Up
Watercolor
9" x 13" 
Signed lower right: EDWARD BOREIN
Framed to 18" x 22"
Accompanied by Harold Davidson letter.

Provenance: To current owner from Steven Rose and Biltmore Galleries; From Mr Lee Dohaniuk of Anchorage, Alaska; From Mr. Dohaniuk's parents; From Edward Borein. Letter from Steven Rose included.

Exhibitions: "Ed Borein: The Real Thing", Bradford Brinton Memorial, May 15 - September 7 1992, pictured on front cover of exhibition catalog (copy included); "Coloring the West: Watercolor and Oils by Edward Borein", Santa Barbara Historical Museum, October 24, 2007 - February 17, 2008; Desert Caballeros Museum, Collectors of the West Celebrate 50 years, January 23 - March 14 2010.

Lot 217, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $51,750

Keyston Bros San Francisco, Exhibition Saddle

265_01.jpg

Exquisite and historically significant, fully floral-carved pictorial saddle made by the renowned Keyston Bros of San Francisco. An elaborate, one-of-a-kind creation for exhibition in Keyston’s booth at the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939, a World’s Fair held on San Francisco’s Treasure Island to commemorate the city’s two new bridges and its Western legacy. 

The stunning, intricately carved, sterling silver-mounted saddle with gold horse heads, was crafted to celebrate and illustrate the history of the new frontier and particularly, California. Stories are told through exquisitely tooled two-tone raised pictorial scenes that adorn the entirety of the saddle. These include scenes of the Golden Gate Bridge, the California Missions & Father Junipero Serra, gold miners, Indians, the Pony Express, early pioneers and settlers who made the arduous trek west in their Conestoga wagons (prairie schooners), Buffalo Bill, Indians hunting buffalo on the prairie, sail boats on San Francisco Bay, drivers and passengers who traveled West by stagecoach, and the historic discovery of gold at Sutter Creek in 1848.

The saddle is truly a singular work of art that needs to be seen to truly be appreciated, which is only appropriate given that it was crafted specifically for exhibition.  It has resided in a private Southern California collection for many years. 

Accompanying the lot is the “Official Guide Book” from the Golden Gate International Exposition 1939. It lists the famous saddle maker on page 48 under the “EXHIBITS / VACATIONLAND” as “KEYSTON BROTHERS: A real ‘Trading Post’ with saddles and equipment.”   

Lot 265, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $115,000

1906 Floor Model National Cash Register

Massive and impressive floor model, turn-of-the-century cash register by National, Dayton, Ohio. Model 500 series, brass and oak commercial register mounted atop the original 6 drawer storage cabinet. Made for the Price Shoe and Clothing Co. Raton, New Mexico. Stands 65 1/2" tall overall, register is 30" with the handle, and 21" deep. Serial #505732, 5/18/06.

Lot 430, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $4,720

Sioux Pictorial Pipe Bag

A bold and wide Sioux tobacco bag with Native Warriors in full headdress on horseback, on light blue beaded background. Beaded panels are 9" x 7 1/2" with 5" long red quilled section containing turquoise and orange rectangles. The 14" fringe completes the bag making it 37" overall.

Lot 180, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $8,850

Luis B. Ortega Collection

Luis B. Ortega braided rawhide, five-piece collection, custom made for Lillian E. Goedert (1929-2013) of Hesperia, California.  Lillian ordered this set directly from Luis at the Southern California horseshow. The fine set is comprised of: 
a) Ortega Headstall: Double headband with gaucho stitch, five buttons on each cheek, red accents, fine condition and patina; 
b) Ortega Show Reins: 3/8” reins with ½” romal. Reins measure 43” and romal measures 30”. Adored with natural, tea-stained and red knots in varying dimensions. Inside popper carved with the initials “LEG” for Lillian E. Goedert.  Fine condition;
c) Eduardo Grijalva (EG*) silver mounted bit;
d) Ortega Show Hobbles:  Braided natural rawhide with center red stitching and red interweaves on the buttons. Excellent condition;
e) Ortega Signed Reata: All natural rawhide 3/8” in diameter measuring 26’ overall with red interweaves. Signed on the hondo L B ORTEGA on one side and LILLIAN G on the other. Excellent condition.

Lot 136, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $5,605

Crow Elk Tooth Dress

Impressive Crow elk tooth woman’s dress on blue trade cloth. Red cloth yoke or collar decorated with a row of elk teeth above a row of light blue beadwork at the collar binding. Top half of the body and three-quarters down the sleeves, is decorated with elk teeth front and back. The bottom of the dress in trimmed in bands of ribbon work and various beads. Circa 1890s, 46" long.

From a Distinguished Private Colorado Collection

Lot 229, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $17,700

Uptown Furniture, Vintage Western, Chimayo Settee

Thomas Molesworth style settee or love seat, most likely by early maker, Uptown Furniture. Chimayo cushions, burl sides, leather fringed arms are all reminiscent of Molesworth's own personal pieces. Bold bright red with green leather and brass studs. The massive burls on the front are about 14" wide at the base. The Chimayo cushions have a spread wing thunderbird design in black and cream. The seat itself is 57" across, 38" deep and 35" tall. Some wear and tear to the fringe but overall a very intact, sturdy and undamaged piece. A nice and very comfortable addition to any western motif home.

Provenance: From the Estate of Thomas W. Lorimer.

Lot 425, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $8,050

Marjorie Reed (1915 - 1996)

Creek Crossing
Oil on canvas
24" x 36"
Signed lower right: MARJORIE REED
Framed to 30 1/2" x 42 1/2" 

Lot 90, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $3,450

Untitled: Stagecoach
Oil on board
11" x 14"
Signed lower right: MARJORIE REED
Framed to 14 3/4" x 17 1/2"

Provenance: From the Estate of Tommy “Snuff” Garrett.

Lot 91, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $1,298

Bill Heisman (Tucson, AZ) Dandy Pattern Spurs

Maker-marked, "Bill Heisman / Tucson, Az / USA” and partially inspired by the iconic G.S. Garcia (Elko) “Dandy” pattern No 75 spurs. Bill has fully mounted both sides extensively, including multiple inlays on the top and bottom of the 1 1/16" bands and 2 3/4" shanks, which support 13-point, 2 3/8" spoked rowels. The artisan’s exquisite obsession with detail is evident in Heisman’s engraved heel chain hangers and distinctive silver buttons on the ends of the chap guards, spur straps and rowel pin covers. Includes “Heisman-made” floral carved two-tone leathers with engraved silver buckles. Unused condition, circa 1990s. 

Lot 363, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $5,310

Teec Nos Pos Weaving

Room-size, Navajo rug. Finely woven, all natural hand-spun wool. A classic Teec Nos Pos geometric pattern consisting of a wide tuning-fork border and a colorful central design filled with geometric components including sixteen arrows. Circa 1915-1925, 113" x 59". Apparent fading on one side.

Lot 345, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $6,050

Impressive California Eagle Bit on Bridle with Matching Breast Collar

Iconic silver overlaid unmarked American Eagle California half-breed bit with large floral pattern domed cheek conchos engraved in the Garcia/Figueroa tradition. Bit affixed to a leather headstall mounted with Mexican peso coins alternating with dainty engraved silver hearts. Includes matching Martingale with identical ornamentation.

Lot 332, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $3,450

Dale Ford (b. 1934) Miniature Chuck Wagon

Large scale miniature chuck wagon by the acclaimed Dale Ford. Impressive 47" long with tongue, 28" long body, and 19" tall to the top of the bows. Bright yellow on red with accessories attached: water barrels, rope, and full kitchen in the operating chuck box. Signed on the carriage "Dale Ford - Scottsdale, Az." 
EX: Durrell U. "Dee" Howard, San Antonio, TX. Collection

Lot 31, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $1,840

Decorated Winchester 1873 Rifle

S/N 474080, 3rd Model, .44wcf caliber, 24 inch octagon barrels, original barrel sight with no elevator, original front sight, original dust cover, 1894. Stock is incised with standing buffalo and arrows on one side and stylized man in the sun on the other. The carved in line designs along the length of the forearm and butt stock are accented or decorated with spent percussion caps.
CONDITION: Bore has strong rifling with black powder oxidation the length of the bore, metal surfaces are dark brown with areas of surface oxidation, wood is solid and tight.

Lot 111, Brian Lebel's Mesa Auction - January 21, 2017
Sold $3,328