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Pat Garrett’s Pistol Sells for Highest Price in History

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On Aug. 27, the Colt Single Action Army revolver that Pat Garrett used in 1881 to put an end to Billy the Kid in the desert Southwest sold at auction for $6,030,313—the highest price paid for a civilian firearm at auction, perhaps any gun, in history. Bonhams, which was founded in 1793 and specializes in rare and highly collectible items, conducted the sale and handled the flood of bids received by phone, online and from those in the Los Angeles, Calif., sale room.

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Prior to the event, the gun was valued at between $2- and $3-million. It was previously owned by Jim and Theresa Earle, noted collectors of Old West memorabilia. Other firearms claimed from that lot included the double-barrel shotgun Billy the Kid used to make his escape from the Lincoln County, N.M., Courthouse in 1881 (which went for $978,313), John Wesley Hardin’s Smith & Wesson “Frontier” revolver ($625,313), Wild Bill Hickock’s Springfield Trapdoor rifle ($475,313) and many others.

Garrett’s Single Action Army revolver, however, stole the show. It’s chambered in .44-40 Win. and has a 7.5″ barrel. The walnut grips are well worn, and what’s left of bluing on the barrel and metalwork remains in protected areas and the cylinder’s flutes.

The new owners also received documentation that proves the revolver’s authenticity. Billy Wilson is the first-known owner of the gun, but surrendered it when he was arrested by Garrett. It subsequently gained notoriety after the deadly encounter with Kid, and later went on loan to Coney Island Saloon, where East Coast patrons were anxious to see the Wild West memorabilia.

It stayed there for years, but when the company went out of business, Garrett’s widow recovered the gun. She, in turn, sold it to a collector in Texas. It wasn’t until 1983 that it came into the possession of the Earles. Notarized statements verified each transfer and provenance.

Article by GUY J. SAGI


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