Historic Indian Rifle from the Custer Battlefield for Sale at Mesa Auction

The first firearm forensically proven to have been used at the Battle of The Little Bighorn will be auctioned at Brian Lebel’s Old West Auction in Mesa, Arizona, January 21, 2017.


Mesa, AZ - December 2016:
439 lots will cross the block on Saturday night, January 21st, at Brian Lebel’s Old West Events’ annual live auction of authentic western art and artifacts, with pre-auction estimates totaling over $2 million. The top estimated lot of the evening is an 1874 Sharps rifle, forensically proven to have been used by Native American warriors at Custer’s Last Stand. The lot includes copies of provenance and forensics. The gun, which has been featured in numerous books and publications, is estimated to sell for between $300,000 – 500,000.

The auction is held in conjunction with a weekend western antique show, and an auction preview is held during show hours. Auction bidding may be done live, online, by telephone or absentee. The auction and preview are both free and open to the public. A full-color, auction catalog is available for purchase, or lots may be viewed online. Details, auction highlights, catalog sales and much more is available at: www.oldwestevents.com or by calling 480-779-9378.

View additional photos of this lot at our online auction catalog by clicking here. View the entire online catalog here.

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 archeological 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 archeological 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 archeological, forensic and ballistic techniques, the investigators were able to determine hundreds of individual gun 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 any 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 archeological specimen .50-70 case.”

The article goes on to state, “The archeological specimen was found southeast of Lt. James Calhoun’s position… There is no doubt this location is an Indian position… The archeological specimen also matched another archeological specimen found on Greasy Grass Ridge, southwest of the Calhoun position… This archeological 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 of the most infamous battle of the American West.