Monday, March 30, 2020

Was Supposed Wyatt Earp Shotgun A Fake

I Don't Believe This Was A Wells Fargo Shotgun Supposedly Used By Wyatt Earp

The below has been copied exactly as it appeared at the Heritage Auctions website:

J. Stevens & Co. Double Barrel Percussion Shotgun.

Wyatt Earp: An Amazingly Documented 10-Gauge Shotgun Used by Him to Kill "Curly Bill" Brocius. 

Even most well-provenanced guns attributed to famous western figures require some leap of faith. Not so with this museum piece, possibly the most important Earp gun extant.

The story begins with the turmoil in Tombstone following the OK Corral shoot out. Wyatt's brother Morgan was brutally assassinated, and "Curly Bill" Brocius was identified as one of the perpetrators. There had been bad blood between Brocius and the Earps since 1880, when a drunken "Curly Bill" shot and killed popular Tombstone town marshal Fred White. 

Brocius and his friends had been shooting off their guns indiscriminately, and White attempted to disarm him. The gun went off, mortally wounding the lawman. Wyatt Earp then borrowed Fred Dodge's revolver and savagely pistol-whipped Brocius, who would later maintain that his gun had discharged accidentally. He was ultimately acquitted of murder, but enmity with the Earps was firmly established.

Brocius was widely recognized as an active outlaw, with cattle rustling, stagecoach robberies and killings attributed to him. When his role in Morgan Earp's killing was revealed, Wyatt formed a posse later dubbed the "Earp Vendetta Ride", and went on the hunt. For the manhunt Earp borrowed a 10-gauge shotgun from his friend Dodge, who was an under-cover Wells Fargo agent and member of the posse. They accidentally came across "Curly Bill" and some associates at Iron Springs (present day Mescal) on March 24, 1882, and in the ensuing shootout, according to Dodge, Wyatt killed the outlaw with this very shotgun.

While romanticized Hollywood gunfights often feature gunslingers trying to out draw each other with their six guns, savvy gunfighters like Earp often preferred to employ a shotgun, which gave the shooter much better odds of hitting his target in chaotic situations. Doc Holiday famously used a shotgun at the OK Corral shootout.

After the expedition Earp returned the shotgun to Dodge, who continued to use it over the course of his 40-year career with Wells Fargo. Dodge often came in contact with lawmen, and in an interesting sidelight would later lend this gun to famed U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas, who used it to kill notorious outlaw Bill Doolin!

In the early 1930s Fred Dodge loaned the shotgun to the Wells Fargo Museum where it was displayed along with other of his mementos. Seminal Wyatt Earp biographer Stuart Lake wrote in a 1932 letter to Dodge (included with the lot) that "I wish to report that your guns are carefully looked after (at the Wells Fargo Museum), are in good shape, and are attracting much attention. They will be in the bank windows around here for another month or six weeks and then will be shipped back to you at Boerne."

Lake, whose biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, is credited with launching Wyatt Earp to legendary status, had begun an extensive correspondence with Dodge in 1928. As one of the last living witnesses to events in Tombstone he was an invaluable source of anecdotes and information and Lake systematically mined this unique resource. Much, if not all, of the original correspondence between Stuart Lake and Fred Dodge is included with the lot.

After Dodge's death in 1938 his guns and other artifacts passed to his son, Fred, Jr., who in 1963 sold them to Jack Dutton of San Antonio, Texas (see notarized bill of sale on our website) The gun found its way to Wells Fargo collector Gerald G. Fox, whose collection was sold by Sotheby Park Bernet in 1973. Jim Earle of College Station, Texas who would amass the most important collection of western association guns every assembled (including the gun used by Pat Garrett to kill Billy the Kid) purchased it at the 1973 Sotheby Park Bernet auction for what was then a very substantial price of $10,000. Jim was a very astute collector, but in what was perhaps one of his few missteps, sold it in 1984 to dealer Greg Martin. 

Martin then sold the gun to our late consignor. He would write of the gun "The Stevens double-barreled shotgun serial number 927 you recently obtained from me represents one of the most important historical treasures I have ever owned...In my opinion the great historical associations, the first-hand accounts, and the impeccable documentation of ownership through the Dodge family make your Stevens shotgun one of the great treasures of the Old West. It is a direct link between Wyatt Earp and an era of American lore that is of incalculable importance."

The shotgun is described by Martin as having a "three figure trigger configuration and special short barrel a very rare type and the state of preservation is superlative." The varnished stock is excellent, the action crisp, and the metal surfaces retain 60/70% of their original finish.

It is accompanied by a photostat of the 1963 notarized bill of sale from Fred Dodge, Jr., the Greg Martin letter, and a letter to Martin about the gun from James Earle. Also included is a remarkable and important archive of over 25 original documents, mostly detailed correspondence between Stuart Lake and Fred Dodge dating from 1928 through 1932. Included are marvelous first-hand accounts by Dodge as well as many letters dealing with the aforementioned loan of the shotgun for a Wells Fargo display (a representative sampling pictured with our web site presentation of this lot).

Heritage Auctions has been privileged over the years to offer some marvelous and important relics and artifacts of the Old West, but surely this Wyatt Earp gun stands head and shoulders above them all.

Serial no. 927 [barrels, fore-end, triggerguard and receiver], 10 gauge, 22 1/4-inch barrels with fixed front bead sight. Blued and case-hardened finish. Top of barrels marked: J. STEVENS & CO. CHICOPEE FALLS MASS. Trigger release for loading. Dual triggers. Smooth walnut pistolgrip stock and splinter fore-end. Metal buttplate.

Condition: Very good. Finish primarily a smooth grey age patina with noticeable signs of handling wear and patches of pitting. Scattered scuffs and dings present to wood. Action good. Strong bores.

-- end of published information at Heritage Auctions website. 

OK, so now let's talk about why I think this shotgun's background may be fake and it was not used by Wyatt Earp. 

First, let's talk about that shotgun. The Heritage Auctions website listed the item as a J. Stevens & Co. Double Barrel Percussion Shotgun. But was it a "Percussion Shotgun," or was it being listed as such simply a mistake made by the auction house? Was the shotgun above really a "percussion" shotgun as it was listed to be, or was it a break open shotgun that took shot shells?

In 1807, a Scottish Presbyterian clergyman, Alexander John Forsyth, invented the percussion ignition system to replace the flintlock ignition system used at the time. But it wasn't until 1822 that the percussion cap was actually invented. 

Because the auction house listed it as a "percussion shotgun," that would mean the shotgun was a muzzle loader. Percussion shotguns were loaded from the muzzle with powder, patch, shot, used a ramrod and percussion caps. The use of percussion caps is why they were called "percussion" shotguns. The percussion cap contains a small charge of chemical in a small copper cup-like holder which can be quickly . After the barrel is loaded from the muzzle, the hammer is cocked and a percussion cap is pressed onto to a nipple mounted in the rear of a gun barrel.

When the trigger is pulled, the hammer strikes the cap, igniting the chemical in the percussion cap which sends sparks through a hole in the nipple and into the main charge in the barrel. That fires the gun. The percussion cap system offered advantages over flintlocks, but would be fairly obsolete by the 1870s. In fact, by the mid-1860's, they were already on the way out with the developement of shotgun cartridges -- shot shells.

While muzzle loading percussion shotguns remained popular into the 1870's for hunting purposes, they were not used by law enforcement, guards of any sort, or anyone needing to reload in a hurry. Loading them was time consuming to say the least. Muzzle loaders did not break open like more modern side-by-side shotguns that take shotgun shells. If the gun reported to have been lent to Wyatt Earp took shells, it was not a percussion shotgun as listed. 

For the record, J. Stevens & Co. produced three trigger break open shotguns from the mid-1870's to the early 1880's. To my knowledge, they were not muzzle loaders. As for the J. Stevens & Co. shotgun listed at the auction, the front trigger is the release to break open the barrels to load shot shells.  Since it takes shot shells, it's not a "percussion" shotgun. Because of that, I believe calling it a "Percussion Shotgun" was simply a mistake on their part the auction house ? Of course, that will lead some into asking what else they got wrong -- or simply left out a lot of details.

For example, while Curly Bill Brocius did shot and subsequently kill Tombstone town marshal Fred White, it was Fred White himself who said the shooting was in reality an accident. He said that on his deathbed before he passed away. That's really how Brocius was cleared and wasn't lynched by the townsfolk who were pretty upset about the death of their beloved young marshal. That's one of those sticky little details that change the whole story and stops it from sounding so conspiratorial when it's not.

The same goes for "Curly Bill" Brocius being identified as the perpetrator in the killing of Morgan Earp. The fact that the description says that is very misleading. I find it interesting that they auction house listed Brocius as Morgan's killer since no one was ever identified as his killer. It's true, no one was ever identified as Morgan's killer.

There were speculations but no one really knew who pulled the trigger on Morgan. The reason for that is simple. After the fatal shot was fired, no one inside the pool hall decided to go into the alley which was where the shot came from. It was only after a minute or two passed after already tending to Morgan that someone checked the alley . But by then his killer was gone. 

As for Wyatt Earp killing "Curly Bill" Brocius, I doubt that Wyatt Earp killed Brocius. That's my opinion because there isn't any evidence that Brocius was killed. Because people get upset and write to tell me otherwise, facts are facts and there has never been any evidence that Wyatt Earp killed Curly Bill in some sort of shotgun duel as Earp claimed took place. The only person who said it happened was Wyatt Earp.

As for Fred Dodge's claim that Earp killed Brocius, he wasn't there and only heard about it later from a third party. Dodge did work as a guard for Wells Fargo, but he was never part of the so-called "Earp Vendetta Posse" as stated above in the description. The posse was made up of Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, and Jack "Turkey Creek" Johnson. All of which would be indicted for murder.

Fred Dodge was contacted by Wyatt Earp's biographer Stuart Lake in 1928 when Lake was writing Earp's fictional life story. Dodge was asked what he knew about Wyatt killing Brocius. Dodge stated that he lent that shotgun to Wyatt Earp and then got it back from Earp. As for the killing of Brocius, in his correspondence with Lake, Dodge stated that he heard about what supposedly took place at Iron Springs from someone else who heard about it from Wyatt Earp. Of course, after Iron Springs, the whole Earp posse was by then on the run one step ahead of a murder indictment issued by the Territory of Arizona.

So really, all we have is Wyatt Earp's word that he killed Brocius with a shotgun. Fred Dodge is reported to have said that the shotgun used to kill Brocius is the shotgun above that went on auction in February of this year (2020).

According to Earp, he supposedly killed Curly Bill in a shotgun duel from a distance of well over a hundred yards. Yes, with shotguns at over a hundred yards away from each other. Earp said his posse stumbled on the cowboy gang and they surprised each other. Earp said his men turned and ran off. He was supposedly left on his own to take on the whole cowboy gang single handedly. That's when he had his supposed "shotgun duel" where he said he "cut Brocius in half" with a blast from his shotgun.

Let's keep in mind that Wyatt Earp also claimed that he killed Johnny Ringo and other things that have been found out to be untrue. So while there were no witnesses on either side who witnessed Earp actually killing Brocius, even after a large amount of money was put up and never claimed in an attempt to get information regarding the supposed killing, I sincerely doubt that it happened the way Earp claimed it did.

As for Fred Dodge supposedly lending that particular 10 gauge shotgun to famed Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas which he used to kill famed outlaw Bill Doolin, all we have is Dodge's word that that's the case. Frankly, other than taking Fred Dodge's word for it, I don't know if it can be proven that it was the actual shotgun used to kill Doolin or Brocius. Of course the opposite is also true and there's really no way to disprove that it wasn't used in the killing of Doolin and the supposed killing of Brocius.

Bill Doolin was shot and killed by a shotgun blast by Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas after Doolin refused to surrender on August 24th, 1896. Here's a few things on that. Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas was not known to carry a shotgun but was known by all to carry a rifle as his preferred long gun. On that day, there's a story that says Thomas handed his rifle over to Bill Dun who he just deputized. Thomas was armed with a shotgun. Some say that shotgun was a 10 gauge, but there are also sources that swear Marshal Thomas was carrying an 8 gauge shotgun when he and Dunn and two other deputies met up with Bill Doolin that day. Yes, some say it was an 8 gauge which would make it a different shotgun than the one at the auction. As for Doolin, it's said he was shot once with both barrels and hit with 20 shots of buckshot. He was probably dead before he hit the ground.

I doubt the firearm serial numbers of the rifles and shotguns carried by Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas and those deputized that day were ever written down. That being the case, I don't know how anyone can prove that the shotgun used to kill Doolin actually made its way from a Wells Fargo office in Tombstone and into the hands of Deputy U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas in Lawson, Oklahoma -- after supposedly being used in the unproven killing of Curly Bill Brocius in Arizona more than 14 years earlier.

As for the J. Stevens & Co. shotgun listed at the auction being connected to Wells Fargo? That too doesn't sound right considering what we know about Wells Fargo bought for their guards. To my knowledge, all of their guards by the early 1870's were armed with up-to-date Ithaca and Colt side-by-side break open shotguns that took 12 gauge shot shells.

This was a company that helped start the Overland Mail Company in 1858 with the famed "Butterfield Line."  By 1861, Wells Fargo also took over operations of the Western leg of the short-lived Pony Express. By 1866, Wells Fargo combined all the major Western stage lines. They were huge even then just in the West. By 1870, stagecoaches bearing the name Wells, Fargo & Co. were traveling over 3,000 miles of territory. About that same time, Wells Fargo started shipping and guarding rail shipments of gold and cash, payrolls, and bank money. By 1880, Wells Fargo extended from what it called "Ocean to Ocean" serving from California to New York as America's first nationwide express company. This was not a small company to say the least.

Wells Fargo & Co., which was headquartered in San Francisco, California, at the time, only ordered Ithaca and Colt 12 gauge shotguns and not 10 gauge shotguns from a local gun dealer there.
From what I can tell, there were a few reasons why Wells Fargo preferred the 12 gauge over the 10 gauge. Among their reasons were cost of shotguns and ammunition, shootability and comfort over a 10 gauge for average size guards.

The Wells Fargo shotgun messenger sat next to the driver. He kept an eye out for bandits and protected the Wells Fargo treasure box stored in the front boot. He would have to be able to be versatile enough to shot comfortably to be accurate from that seated position. With a 12 gauge, shooting from such a position is tolerable while positioning one's self. On the other hand, the recoil associated with 10 gauge shotguns many doing that sort of shooting uncomfortable. And since the 10 gauge has a massive recoil, shooting it, especially from the seated position is potentially painful. All aspects of a service weapon that was not needed to get the job done.  

Of course, this is all just food for thought when thinking about how some people hype the supposed backgrounds of items on auction just to pump up their value. After all, the price brought in by items goes up substantially if it were actually used in a murder -- or in this case, a supposed shotgun duel.

Tom Correa

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