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'Wild Bill' Hickok's revolver sold at California auction

A historic Smith & Wesson No. 2 Old Model Army revolver owned by “Wild Bill” Hickok is seen in an undated handout picture. (Reuters photo)

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO — A piece of Wild West history was due to go on sale Monday when the revolver gunfighter James “Wild Bill” Hickok carried on the day he was shot down at a Deadwood saloon, was scheduled to be auctioned off in San Francisco.

Bonhams Auctioneers put the Smith & Wesson No. 2 revolver, estimated at a value of between $300,000 and $500,000, on display for public viewing last week.

It was not known if a winning bid had been submitted when this edition of The Daily Republic went to press.

The piece has attracted special attention, compared to the other 500 items listed in the sale, likely because of its famed owner, Bonhams Arms and Armor specialist James Ferrell said.

“Wild Bill Hickok is as big an icon of the Old West as there is,” Ferrell said. “Anything in our field that’s associated with somebody who’s famous gives a whole new value to the item.”

Also contributing to the gun’s value is the fact that Hickok left behind very few belongings when he died in 1876, Ferrell said.

Despite an uptick in those wanting to catch a glimpse of the historic revolver before it finds a new home, the item’s steep price tag would probably shrink the number of actual bidders, Ferrell said.

Hickok, a lawman known for his shooting and gambling skills, was playing a game of poker at the Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, when he was shot from behind by Jack “Crooked Nose” McCall. McCall reportedly shouted “D--- you! Take that!” after pulling the trigger.

A fictionalized Hickok was a central character in the former Emmy-winning TV western series “Deadwood” from HBO, and his death was featured in the show.

Notarized letters that are included in the revolver purchase say that a Deadwood sheriff took possession of Hickok’s belongings after he was slain and shortly after gave them to the Willoth family to settle a tab Hickok ran up at the family’s stationary and tobacco store.

A member of that family gave the piece to Leo Zymetzke and his family, the current owners, in 1972 for unknown reasons.

The 6-inch (15 cm) barrel pistol, with blued finished steel and rosewood grips, is considered to be in very good condition despite its cracks and slight bulges on both sides in front of its breech.