Winchester 1st Model 1876 Rifle #3536 Attributed to Having Been Taken from the Cabin of Sitting Bull on the Day of his Death

.45-75. 28" octagonal barrel with full magazine. SN: 3536. Manufactured circa 1877. Blued finish, color casehardened hammer and lever, smooth straight-gripped walnut stock with crescent buttplate and smooth forend. Barrel marked in two lines forward of the rear sight: "WINCHESTERS-REPEATING-ARMS NEW HAVEN, CT/KING'S-IMPROVEMENT-PATENTED-MARCH 29, 1866. OCTOBER 16, 1860". Upper receiver tang marked "MODEL 1876". Serial number on lower tang. Open top frame without dust cover or rail, with the serial number placing this gun at the very end of the 1st Model "open top" Model 1876 production. Barrel with folding leaf sight graduated to 1,000 yards is missing the elevator. Dovetailed front sight blade. Trapdoor in butt for cleaning rods, which are not present. Empty tack holes in the forend on both sides show where tacks were previously mounted, which are now missing.

This Winchester comes with extensive documentation supporting the attribution to Sitting Bull (ca. 1831-1890). The rifle was supposedly recovered from Sitting Bull's cabin on the day that he was killed (December 15, 1890) during a botched arrest attempt by US Indian Police. With other weapons recovered the same day it was turned in to Standing Rock Reservation Indian Agent Major James McLaughlin (1842-1923). Included with the rifle are original documents which trace the provenance of the gun and delineate research conducted to substantiate the Sitting Bull attribution.

Probable Line of Descent

Winchester Repeating Arms Co., New Haven, CT- Gun shipped May 1, 1878, to an unknown buyer.

Chief Sitting Bull – ? – Dec 1890.

Indian Agent James McLaughlin, Standing Rock, South Dakota – Dec 1890 - ?

William Parker Lyon, Pony Express Museum, San Marino, California – ca 1910-1920 to ca 1930.

Bank of West Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California  – ca 1930 -1932.

Walter H. Robinson, Beverly Hills, California – 1932-1955.

Mrs. Walter H. Robinson (Mrs. Edith Jones Robinson Roush) - 1955-1965.

Parker Whedon, Charlotte, North Carolina – 1965-2000

2000 - Christie's Fine Antique Firearms, Swords and Civil War Memorabilia, Lot 81.

2000 - Little John's Auction Service, Inc., November 2000 Rare, Important & Fine Firearms for Auction, Lot 112.

2015 - Acquired by the present owner from Julia’s Auctions, Extraordinary Firearms October 2015, Lot 3255.

Sitting Bull A Brief Historical Biography

When he was born, the future Native American leader was named "Jumping Badger," but as he grew acquired the nickname "Slow" referring to his somewhat cautious and deliberate personality that kept him from rushing into things. At approximately age 14 he participated in his first war party, where he counted his first coup and was subsequently bestowed with a new name by his father, "Thathanka Iyotake," literally meaning "Buffalo Who Sits Down" in Lakota. This name would be corrupted by the English language as "Sitting Bull." The future leader's first major combat action against the US military came in 1864, when an army retaliatory strike over the 1862 Dakota Uprising led to an attack on the village in which Sitting Bull lived. During that battle the defense of the camp was coordinated by Sitting Bull, Inkpaduta and Gall. Later that year Sitting Bull led a small band of about 100 warriors in a skirmish with US soldiers that resulted in the leader being shot through the hip, although the wound was not serious. Sitting Bull supported the Oglala leader Red Cloud during his war against the United States from 1866-1868, leading warriors and fighting in several engagements during that conflict. At the conclusion of the "war," Red Cloud and several other leaders signed the treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, but Sitting Bull refused to sign. This period began his adamant stand against the signing of treaties and the ceding of Native lands to the United States government. He was steadfastly opposed to the concept of reservation life and the reliance upon the government for the subsidies that would feed the Native people on the reservation. Sitting Bull soon became the titular leader of not only the Hunkpapa Lakota but of most of the Sioux and Cheyenne bands that refused to submit to life on the reservation, and essentially became the "poster child" for Native American resistance on the plains. His standing as a leader among the Native peoples of the plains, both politically and spiritually, continued to increase with rapidity during the first half of the 1870s. With the discovery of gold in the Black Hills and the subsequent US military expedition led by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer in 1874 to further assess the mineral values in that region, the pressure for the Sioux and Cheyenne to resist these new incursions into territory that had been guaranteed to them by the Fort Laramie Treaty mounted.

In 1875 many of these non-reservation bands gathered for a large Sun Dance at which Sitting Bull had his famous vision regarding a future major military victory over the US Army. This vision would come to fruition on June 25, 1876, when Sitting Bull's camp of combined Sioux and Cheyenne were attacked by Lt. Col. Custer's 7th Cavalry. The attack was authorized by a February 1, 1876, decree from the US Interior Department that classified all of the Natives Americans living off the various reservations on the plains as "hostiles" who were to be treated accordingly. Although Sitting Bull would not directly participate in the battle, leaving the leading of the men to younger war leaders like Crazy Horse, his overall leadership of the people prior to the event as well as his vision regarding the victory is often considered pivotal in the overall Native American success that day.

Sitting Bull in the Aftermath of the Little Bighorn

In the wake of Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull led a band of followers into Canada in an attempt to evade the onslaught of US retaliatory strikes that he knew would be coming. The situation in Canada was brutal for his people. In 1881, after many of his followers had already abandoned harsh conditions and near starvation, Sitting Bull led his remaining band of 186 family members and followers to surrender at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory. In 1883 Sitting Bull and his band were transferred to the Standing Rock Reservation and came under Federal supervision of James McLaughlin, Indian Agent. The following year western show promoter Alvarez Allen took Sitting Bull on a tour of some areas in Canada and the US, and during this time Sitting Bull met the famous trick shooter Annie Oakley. The two developed a friendship that was at least partially based on mutual respect. The following year, Sitting Bull joined "Buffalo Bill" Cody's Wild West Show and toured for several months, earning large sums of money which he primarily gave away to the poor.

As discontent with the corruption of the reservation system became more widespread among Native Americans, a new "religion" appeared that provided hope to the forlorn. The "Ghost Dance Movement" was steeped in the Christian concept of peace, universal love and the return of the Messiah, but more importantly preached the return of dead native ancestors, the return of the buffalo, and an end to the western push of the "white man." The tenants of the belief also stated that the donning of special ceremonial clothing, most notably the "Ghost Shirt" would make the wearer proof against bullets. While a purely peaceful movement, the dances and rituals associated with the ceremonial part of the religion scared many US leaders, who conflated the ceremonies with "war dances." 

At Standing Rock, Indian Agent McLaughlin was especially worried. Fearing a general uprising, he ordered the arrest of Sitting Bull who he felt was in some way involved or behind the new religion. On December 15, 1890, at 5:30AM Indian Police Lt. Bullhead led a group of Indian Police to arrest Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull refused to comply with the order to come with the police and a group of his supporters gathered to help protect him. When the supporters indicated that they were willing to use force to prevent the arrest, Bullhead shot Sitting Bull in the chest causing a wound that would eventually lead to his death later that day. Following the shooting of the Sioux leader, a general melee ensued leaving several dead and wounded on both sides, including Lt. Bullhead. It was after this tragic event that McLaughlin purportedly removed a number of items from the Sitting Bull cabin, no doubt understanding their future value as souvenirs of the great leader.

Firearms Removed From Sitting Bull’s Cabin at His Death

Historical records indicate several firearms were removed from Sitting Bull’s cabin at the time of his death and were turned in to, or later acquired by, Standing Rock Agent McLaughlin. One of McLaughlin’s personal notebooks identifies “Guns turned in and captured by Indian Police subsequent to Dec. 15th 1890” including three identified directly to Sitting Bull (Major James McLaughlin papers, Roll 16, Notebook 12).

Additional evidence corroborates the fact that after Sitting Bull’s death at least one gun, along with other items once belonging to him were sold or given by McLaughlin to individuals associated with collecting Native American ephemera and Western Americana. In a letter written by McLaughlin on April 30, 1891, to D.F. Barry, a 19-century photographer well known for his work with the Lakota people including portraits of Sitting Bull, McLaughlin indicates that he is presenting Barry a “Sharp’s” carbine for his collection of “Curios.” McLaughlin adds that the rifle “was one of five (5) Rifles found in Sitting Bulls house by the Police” on the morning of December 15, 1890.

A June 14, 1897, letter published in Rudolf Cronau’s article My Visit Among the Hostile Indians and How They Became My Friends (South Dakota Historical Collections, Vol. XXII, 1946, pp. 410-425) offers evidence that a Mr. W.D. Campbell, owner of Campbell’s Curio Store in Los Angeles, California, had also obtained articles once owned by Sitting Bull “from the Indian agent at Standing Rock and he [agent James McLaughlin] got them when [Sitting] Bull was killed.”

Parker Lyons and Sitting Bull’s Winchester

Accompanying this Winchester is a 2 ½ x 4 ½” typed and manuscript document, believed to be an original shipping note. Typescript on the front reads, “This gun was taken from Sitting Bull’s house upon the occasion of his arrest on Dec. 15/91 [sic]. / Jas. Mc Laughlin.” The back of the note has a penciled handwritten notation from an unknown hand, “Parker Lyon[‘]s / Pony Express.”

In the early 1900s few men in America were more recognized for their collections of Western Americana than W. Parker Lyon (1865-1949). A successful businessman with a larger-than-life persona, Lyon was a multi-millionaire who amassed one of the most significant collections of Western Americana in the country. Accounts vary, but Lyon likely started seriously collecting ca 1910-1915 after his move to San Marino, California. By the 1930s, his collection is believed to have consisted of more than a million Western artifacts including a railroad depot, a Wells Fargo office, a western saloon, a sheriff's office, stagecoaches, wagons, Pony Express ephemera, saddles, and an extensive firearms display. A December 1928 article from the Express Messenger detailing Lyon’s collection stated: “Then comes the collection of guns and rifles. It is almost impossible to do justice to them. There are all kinds and descriptions, and in great profusion….The exhibition of fire arms alone is worth making a pilgrimage to see.” Weapons included those once owned by "Billy the Kid," "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and “Black Bart.”

Considering that Lyon’s Pony Express Museum housed one of the most extensive collections of Western Americana in the country, it is highly conceivable that at some point Lyon would have sought to acquire one of Sitting Bull’s rifles. However, the exact scenario for Lyon’s association with the gun remains unclear. Potentially Lyon acquired the rifle directly from McLaughlin sometime ca 1910-1923 during which time Lyon was beginning to grow his collection and McLaughlin was still in the Indian service. Alternatively, the gun could have some connection with the Sitting Bull items that were originally part of W.D. Campbell’s collection. Campbell’s collection was in Southern California before he sold it in the late 1890s and, while portions of that collection including Sitting Bull relics are known to have gone to a San Francisco collector, it is possible that other parts remained in or near Los Angeles where they were acquired by Lyon.

Post Parker Lyon History of the Winchester

The history of the rifle from 1932 to the present is well-documented. The rifle was acquired by attorney Walter H. Robinson in 1932 at the liquidation of the Bank of West Hollywood. Robinson writes in an undated typewritten letter to noted antique firearms dealer Mr. Robert Abels, “This rifle had been left at one of the banks as security for a loan which was never paid, and was purchased by me on closing up the bank’s affairs. / The item was enclosed in a box showing that it had been expressed from Sitting Bull’s neighborhood in Dakota in which box it is still enclosed.”

Parker Whedon of Charlotte, North Carolina, purchased the rifle from Robinson’s widow, Mrs. Edith Jones [Robinson] Roush in 1965. In an affidavit of November 1965 provided by Robinson’s widow to Whedon, she testifies that the rifle was brought by her late husband to their home “packed in a wooden box [now lost] bearing the express marks and labels showing that it had been expressed from Dakota, and containing, in addition to the rifle itself, certain documentation identifying the rifle as having belonged to the Indian, Chief, Sitting Bull, including a small yellow piece of paper bearing the typewritten statement” from James McLaughlin. Whedon later conducted extensive research of his own into the provenance of the rifle, and portions of his correspondence are included with the documentation. Among those documents are a 1968 affidavit from Chief William Red Fox of the Oglala Tribe of the Sioux Nation who testifies that he was “well acquainted with Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Tribe of the Sioux Nation.” Chief Red Fox's affidavit further attested that after carefully examining the Model 1876 Winchester Serial Number 3536 it was in his opinion “an authentic ‘Indian’ rifle of the kind in general use[d] by the Sioux in the Dakotas during the 1880s and was owned and used by a master warrior or Chief of the Sioux Nation. I do not doubt that this was the rifle taken from Sitting Bull's cabin at the time of his death.” Parker Whedon owned the gun for several more decades until it was auctioned by Christie’s in July of 2000. The rifle was sold again in November of 2000 by Little John's Auction Services. The gun was sold to the present owner in 2015 by James D. Julia, Inc.

Other documentation accompanying the rifle bolsters the attribution to Sitting Bull and authenticity of the McLaughlin shipping note. These documents include the following: a December 1962 letter from the Winchester Gun Museum indicating that the “Winchester 1876 serial number records list number 3536 as a rifle…shipped from the factory on May 1, 1878,” thereby in proper chronological order for it to have belonged to Sitting Bull; fiber analysis conducted in 2012 on the shipping note accompanying the rifle indicating that “It is possible for the paper to be from 1890…but the type of mix was not typical”; and a 1969 letter from McLaughlin biographer Father Louis Pfaller who writes that the typewritten shipping note was “very likely [from] the same typewriter” as used for other typewritten material identified to McLaughlin from the year 1895.

Special thanks to the American Historic Ephemera and Photography department for conducting research to delineate as accurately as possible the provenance and chain of custody for this important historical item.

Provenance:The Collection of Larry Ness


Good. Metal with a moderately oxidized plum patina mixed with gray, showing some evenly scattered surface roughness and some pitting. Barrel markings with some wear, other markings stronger. Mechanically functional, poor bore is dark, dirty and heavily oxidized with weak rifling. Wood lightly sanded with moderate wear, forend with chips and loss along the upper edge, somewhat loose on the frame and with a diagonal crack on the obverse running from the nose cap. Otherwise with scattered bumps, dings and mars as would be expected.

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium

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