Gun that killed outlaw Jesse James to be auctioned


November 10, 2003, 06:38 AM

Gun that killed outlaw Jesse James to be auctioned

The Orange County Register

ORANGE, Calif. - (KRT) - The Smith & Wesson is well used, banged up - kind of ugly, actually.

The nickel finish on the single-action revolver, made around 1875, is pitted and eroded, the hard-rubber grip badly chipped from being dropped.

But as Newport Beach, Calif., gun collector Ron Herrick put it, "It's how a gun was used that makes it desirable."

And this particular .44-caliber pistol purportedly was used to kill none other than the outlaw Jesse James.

When the gun is auctioned off this weekend in Anaheim, it could set a record for a Western historic firearm, experts say.

"The James gun is really something," said Anaheim's John Robinson, one of Orange County's top collectors of guns from the Old West. "It will set a standard."

The Jesse James gun could fetch $300,000 - smashing a record $240,000 paid in 1998 for a pistol used by outlaw "Blackjack" Ketchum, said John R. Gangel, president of auction organizer Little John's Antique Arms Inc. in Orange, Calif.

"All of the big-money collectors would love to have it," said Sybil Montana, a Springfield, Mo., author who wrote about James' death.

Gangel acquired the gun about six months ago from a collector who bought it for $160,000 at an auction in England in 1993.

The revolver is one of many prized possessions inside Gangel's offices, which contain between $10 million and $20 million in inventory.

"I collect not because these are guns, but because they are history," Gangel said.

Bob Ford, a recent recruit to James' gang of bank, train and stagecoach robbers, killed Jesse James on April 3, 1882, in St. Joseph, Mo.

Ford fired once into the back of James' head as James straightened a picture while standing on a chair in his living room.

The outlaw, 35, had just finished breakfast with his wife and two children. His guns were on his bed. His 7-year-old son found the body.

James spent 16 of his years as an outlaw, gaining a romanticized reputation as a revenge-minded family man who took on railroads for the benefit of the common folk.

Although some scholars have since come to dismiss James as a ruthless, pro-slavery killer who kept all of his ill-gotten gains for himself, his name remains as instantly recognizable today as the etching on the pistol that killed him.

That etching reads, "Bob Ford killed Jesse James with this revolver at St. Joseph, Mo., 1882."

Ford conspired with his brother, Charlie, a fellow gang member, to kill James. Railroads and politicians put up $10,000 for the hit, although the Ford brothers ended up with only part of the money.

Bob Ford said in the months after the killing that he used a .45-caliber Colt revolver to kill Jesse James - not a .44-caliber Smith & Wesson, according to Montana, author of "Bob Ford Was His Name - Jesse James Was His Game."

"No one knows for sure," Montana said. "But Bob just might have been lying."

Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James R. Ross, 77, the purported great-grandson of Jesse James who wrote the 1989 book "I, Jesse James," believes the gun being auctioned may not be genuine.

Ross thinks Ford used the Colt.

The former jurist has made waves before for Little John's. At last year's auction, he questioned whether a gun used by James to kill a lawman was the real deal.

Gangel, who is a respected figure in the gun-collecting universe, had Ross escorted out of the room.

Gangel said the items he sells come with extensive documentation about their origins, or "provenance." And the Jesse James gun comes with an unbroken provenance.

Documentation includes a sworn affidavit dated February 1904 that says James gave the gun to Ford days before the shooting, he said. For a while in the 1960s, the gun's whereabouts were unknown after it was stolen from a museum.

A tall, burly man with an encyclopedic knowledge of antique weapons, Gangel uses a poker table from the early 1900s for business meetings. He keeps items he never will sell in two safes, including guns used by former Texas Rangers.

Gangel leans forward and speaks eagerly when asked about the history of his guns.

"I suppose people think the same thing about paintings as I do about guns," said Gangel, wearing a shirt with a pistol pattern. "It's all in the eye of the beholder."

Enduring interest in Jesse James does not surprise Ross.

"People hate to give up a hero," he said.


The gun auction will be held Sunday and Monday in Anaheim, Calif. Roughly 2,000 people are expected to be bidding in person and by phone.

Total auction sales could reach a record $10 million. This year's auction includes the collections of publishing magnate Robert Petersen, actor Robert Stack, Barry Goldwater Sr. and Michael Wayne, son of John Wayne.

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November 10, 2003, 07:46 AM
Hi, Yet the Bullet pulled from the coffin when they dug Jesse James' grave to confirm or deny identity thru DNA testing was a .38 . I believe the faked death, laid low theory myself ..............WVleo

Old Fuff
November 10, 2003, 08:03 AM
Ah sure would hate to spend ten million or so for a new toy and then find out that whan't the "real thing."

Judge James Ross's "provenance" to a connection with the James family is a lot better then this particular S&W revolver's to the shooting.

November 10, 2003, 08:30 AM
Little John's Antique Arms Inc. in Orange, Calif

acquired the gun about six months ago from a collector who bought it for $160,000 at an auction in England

Gee, bought in socialist anti-gun UK by someone in socialist anti-gun **********. Hmmmmmmm.........:neener:

Andrew Rothman
November 10, 2003, 10:02 AM
The GUN didn't kill James, a PERSON did! The gun is just a tool!!!


November 10, 2003, 10:23 AM
Jesse James is a legend that will not die. There have been more guns that killed Jesse James or guns owned by Wild Bill Hickok offered for sale than there were western cowtowns in 1880. Mrs. James (the mother) was reported to sell quite a few guns that "belonged to Jesse" herself, IIRC. I would be careful. Also, 1904 is a damn long way from 1882. Why did it take so long to discover that that was the gun that killed Jesse?

4v50 Gary
November 10, 2003, 12:20 PM
Provenance that proves it was indeed the gun that was used to gun down Jesse James. While no museum has the $, I would love to see it displayed to the public at either the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum or the Smithsonian. OK, the Gene Autry would be another good one and it's closer to home.

Old Fuff
November 10, 2003, 12:53 PM

If this is the gun I think it is, the story goes this way.

Following the shooting, Bob Ford and his brother were locked up in the St. Joe jail for a short while. During this time the young son of the sheriff, jailer or whatever was especially kind to Ford. So as an act of gratitude he gave the young man the gun he’d used too do Jesse in. However this particular gun isn’t mentioned in any contemporary newspaper reports that have come to light, nor is it cited in any official records, or court transcripts that are known. Its authenticity is based on an affidavit made around the turn-of-the-20th-century by the original recipient, along with later newspaper stories, magazine articles, "old timer" yarns, etc.

I could write a book about western outlaw guns that weren’t, and a few that were …

November 10, 2003, 01:13 PM
I saw a show awhile back on DNA testing and exhuming parts but never saw the end. What was the conclusion is the grave in Kearney and the body in it actaully him or was it inconclusive?

Mike Irwin
November 10, 2003, 01:51 PM
James' death was a governmental conspiracy, pure and simple.

November 10, 2003, 02:02 PM
I saw that too...

Seem's that Jesse's mom made quite a cottage industry of selling off 'Jesse's the point where she likely sold far in excess of how ever many he really owned.

Still, a bill of sale from Jesse's mom is pretty good provenance.

But even the guys at Butterfield and Butterfield know that story.

November 10, 2003, 03:55 PM
I believe the "faked his death and lied low" theory myself.

Mike Irwin
November 10, 2003, 04:01 PM
Well, I believe that he laid low after his brains were splattered all over a wall in the house where he lived...

Sergeant Bob
November 10, 2003, 04:54 PM
A bit off topic but, have any of you seen a movie called The Long Riders? It's about the James gang and the parts of all the brothers in the movie are played by actual brothers. The James' played by Stacy & James Keach. Youngers by David, Keith, and Robert Carradine (although John is played by Kevin Brophy, killed off early). The Millers by Dennis & Randy Quaid. The Fords by Nicholas & Christopher Guest.
It includes the Northfield, Mn raid and the picture hanging.
Excellent movie! It's said to be pretty historically accurate.

November 11, 2003, 03:26 AM
This auction has been advertised for some time in Shotgun News.

John Wayne's son Michael is also having a large portion of his collection auctioned off at the same time. The large Peterson Collection is going as well.

To bad Peterson, who founded Guns & Ammo and Hunting magazines never got his museum built.

November 11, 2003, 04:03 AM
Because nobody has suggested this yet, let me be the first.

JJ's death was brought about by a Bush conspiracy. :neener:

November 11, 2003, 05:25 PM
hum, for years, i've been assuming the jesse's death was the result of a vast right wing conspiracy. mcole

November 12, 2003, 07:09 PM
SOLD! for $350k:)

November 12, 2003, 11:14 PM
I saw "Young Guns 2" and they said for a fact that Jesse James survived... He was the narrator!

:D :D :D


November 13, 2003, 12:48 AM
Well, I believe that he laid low after his brains were splattered all over a wall in the house where he lived...

hehe...that got a good chuckle.

November 13, 2003, 12:42 PM
I saw "Young Guns 2" and they said for a fact that Jesse James survived... He was the narrator!

Wrong outlaw - that was William Bonning, aka - Billy the Kid.

American Outlaws was about the Jessie James, but it didn't go into his death. Maybe American Outlaws 2 will be made and cover that topic

rock jock
November 13, 2003, 02:26 PM
"People hate to give up a hero," he said.
What idiot considers this thief and murderer to be a hero?

November 13, 2003, 08:16 PM
Jessie James became a hero to some people when he burned mortgages and deed during some of his early bank robberies.

IIRC he wasn't as bloodthirsty in his early days as he became later.

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