LONDON -- The Colt .45 revolver that killed Wild Bill Hickok as he pondered a poker hand in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1876 will be sold at auction this week along with two other guns that helped the American frontier earn its reputation as the Wild West.
The other two guns to be sold by Wallis and Wallis auctioneers of Lewes, Sussex, are a .36 Colt revolver that belonged to train and bank robber Jesse James and a Winchester rifle that was owned in turn by outlaws Bill Doolin, Frank James and Cole Younger.
All three guns are currently owned by Carl Breihan, a former lawman and writer who authored 30 books on the Old West, including one entitled 'The Man Who Shot Jesse James.' Breihan, of St. Louis, Missouri, is a former deputy sheriff, deputy marshal and St. Louis county police commissioner.
The weapons go under the gavel at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday. The reserve price for the two six shooters -- the lowest at which the owner will sell -- is 50,000 pounds ($75,000) apiece and for the rifle is 25,000 pounds ($37,500).
A similar auction at Wallis and Wallis in April sold the pistol used to kill Jesse James, who was shot in the back by Robert and Charles Ford, two of his gang, in his home in St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1882. That gun had a 50,000-pound ($75,000) reserve price and sold for 105,000 pounds ($157,500).
'We have the murder weapon of Wild Bill Hickok and the personal Colt of Jesse James and also we have a Winchester that was owned in turn by Bill Doolin, Frank James and Cole Younger,' said Roy Butler, an expert on antique weapons who is handling the sale at Wallis and Wallis.
'We have very good provenance on all these items,' he said. 'It's not like: 'Could it be?' or 'Is it?' We have very good paper and documentary evidence these guns are genuine.'
James Butler 'Wild Bill' Hickok was the Old West's most famous gun- slinging lawman, working in the early 1870s as a U.S. marshal in the railroad towns of Abilene and Hays City, Kansas, when they marked the end of the trail for cowboys driving cattle north from Texas.
He later worked as a scout for the army during its wars with various tribes of Plains Indians.
In 1876, the 39-year-old Hickok found himself in the gold-mining town of Deadwood in the Black Hills, whose settlement by whites had led two months earlier to Custer's Last Stand, the battle in which Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his army were wiped out by the Sioux and their allies.
On Aug. 2, Hickok was playing poker in the Mann Saloon, his back to the door despite his better judgment. He was mulling over his poker hand -- a pair of aces and a pair of eights, later known as the 'Dead Man's Hand' -- when 'Cross Eyed' Jack McCall slipped up and shot him in the back.
The bullet went through the back of Hickok's head, out his right cheek and into the wrist of a Mississippi riverboat captain who was playing cards with him, Butler said.
The riverboat captain, who never had the slug removed, noted down the serial number of the gun used by McCall and mentioned it in later letters. The gun is a single-action Colt .45 army revolver with a 7 - inch barrel. Its serial number is 2079.
Breihan bought the revolver and has paperwork dating its ownership back to 1891 as well as correspondence mentioning the serial number, Butler said.
The owner obtained the Jesse James revolver from the outlaw's daughter. She gave it to him for helping her debunk people who claimed they were Jesse James or that he never died.
The outlaw's personal .36 caliber Colt revolver was obtained by his daughter from her mother. Breihan has a letter with a posted envelope in which James' wife mentions the gun.
Breihan purchased the Winchester from a nephew of Cole Younger, who inherited the rifle, Butler said. Letters indicate the gun was owned by Bill Doolin, who gave it to Frank James, Jesse's brother, for letting him stay at his farm when Doolin had no money.
James gave the weapon to Cole Younger in 1914. The James and Younger brothers robbed banks and trains in the troubled period following the Civil War. Frank James and Cole Younger survived their outlaw period and died of old age, both 72.