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Wild West guns fail to sell at auction

By DAVID ALEXANDER

LONDON -- Three guns that helped the American frontier earn its reputation as the Wild West were offered for sale at auction Wednesday but bidding failed to reach their reserve price and the weapons were retained by their current owner.

The three guns being offered by Wallis and Wallis auctioneers of Lewes, Sussex, were the .45 Colt revolver that killed Wild Bill Hickok, a personal .36 Colt revolver that belonged to Jesse James and a Winchester rifle owned in turn by outlaws Bill Doolin, Frank James and Cole Younger.

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Carl Breihan, a former St. Louis lawman and writer who authored 30 books on the Old West, owns the weapons. He had set a reserve price, below which he would not sell, of 50,000 pounds apiece ($75,000) on the two revolvers and 25,000 pounds ($37,500) on the rifle.

'Neither of the three items from the Breihan collection sold,' said Edmund Greenwood, a spokesman for Wallis and Wallis. 'I think probably we didn't have sufficient time to give them the publicity that important pieces like that needed.'

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Greenwood said bidding on the Jesse James six-shooter reached 35,000 pounds ($52,500), while bidding on the Winchester went up to 14,000 pounds ($21,000). The auctioneer asked for a starting bid of 20,000 pounds ($30,000) on the Hickok murder weapon, but there were no takers, he said.

Greenwood said it would be up to Breihan whether to offer the guns for sale again at a later date. He said often after items fail to sell, individuals approach the owner privately with an offer.

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).

The Colt .45 was the gun 'Cross Eyed' Jack McCall wielded when he shot and killed James Butler 'Will Bill' Hickok, the most famous of the Old West's gun-slinging lawmen, in the gold-mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota, on Aug. 2, 1876.

Hickok was playing poker in the Mann Saloon, his back to the door, when McCall slipped up behind him and shot him in the back of the head. Hickok's poker hand, a pair of aces and a pair of eights, became known as the Dead Man's Hand.

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The .36 Colt was Jesse James' personal revolver. Breihan obtained the gun from the outlaw's daughter, who gave it to him for helping her over the years to debunk people who claimed they were Jesse James or that he never died.

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.

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