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Record-Setting Rifle Sells for $1.2 Million — ‘The Prize for Capturing Geronimo’

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Winchester Model 1886, Serial Number 1. (Photo: RIA)

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This historic rifle was presented to military legend Henry Ware Lawton. (Photo: RIA)

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The factory-custom engraving reads “Albee to Lawton .45-70.” (Photo: RIA)

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Henry Ware Lawton. (Photo: RIA)

The world’s most expensive rifle–setting the record at auction for $1.265 million–is a lever-action Winchester, with a blued and case-hardened finish, engraved only with “Albee to Lawton.” It’s an unadorned Model 1886, serial number 1, given to Captain Henry Ware Lawton to celebrate his successful campaign against Geronimo, the fierce leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, a key event leading to the end of the brutal Apache Wars.

The rifle was auctioned as part of a lot of Lawton’s belongings including an engraved gold-plated C. Howard & Co. pocket watch and matching engraved gold chain, also in recognition of his work hunting down Geronimo. Lawton received prominent awards and medals during his career, including the Medal of Honor, rising to the rank of Major General before dying in battle during the Philippine–American War. Lawton’s part in the search for Geronimo still stands out to this day as a cornerstone of American history.

A plain and undecorated Model 1886, the Winchester is in very good condition for a rifle of its vintage, and it speaks well to Lawton’s character. He was solder’s soldier, never willing to issue an order he himself wouldn’t take, who knew well how critical his mission was: present the terms of Geronimo’s surrender and deliver Geronimo and his men to General Nelson A. Miles. Anything less than success could lead to escalation and possibly total war in the Arizona and New Mexico territories.

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The finish on the rifle is in excellent condition, wood and metal. (Photo: RIA)

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Clearly prized by Lawton himself. (Photo: RIA)


The rifle was a gift from Lawton’s friend Lieut. George E. Albee, a friend, veteran and fellow Medal of Honor recipient. Albee served with Lawton in the American-Indian Wars and later worked with Winchester Repeating Arms. His close connection to the company is credited with him acquiring the first ever production Model 1886, with a 26-inch octagonal barrel and full-length magazine. One of John Browning’s most famous designs, this rifle is chambered for .45-70 and is still in 90 to 95 percent original condition.

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The watch is engraved with the following: “Presented to Capt. H.W. Lawton, 4th U.S. Cavalry by the Cattlemen of Central New Mexico as a token of their appreciation of his gallant service in the capture of the Apache Indian Chief Geronimo and his band.” (Photo: RIA)

It’s no wonder this collection sold for as much as it did. It’s got everything: a fantastic rifle that by itself is a part of the history of the West, given to a beloved military legend, celebrating his part in a turning point in the American story. And it came with a gold watch. The set is well-documented, with scores of records preserving the provenance, and in typical Rock Island Auction fashion, includes amazing photos of each piece in perfect detail.

The story of the hunt for Geronimo is both interesting and important. To understand it Rock Island Auction put together a short series titled “The Prize for Capturing Geronimo” (part II can be read here) chronicling the long and bloody offensive to capture or kill Geronimo and his band.

What began as a no-holds-barred mission to bring back Geronimo dead or alive over time developed into a larger campaign that would determine the stability of the American West, Mexico, and the state of American-Indian relations for the foreseeable future. Lawton was given the difficult — some thought impossible — task of trying to drag a peaceful solution out of the increasingly-desperate conflict.

It would take months of non-stop pursuit, an army 5,000 strong, lead by 500 Apache and 100 Navajo scouts, with the support of thousands of militia volunteers and a network of signaling towers built across the Southwest to eventually exhaust and negotiate the surrender of Geronimo and his estimated three dozen or so remaining warriors.

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Right to left: Geronimo, Yanozha, Geronimo’s brother-in-law, Chappo, Geronimo´s son, and Fun, Yanozha´s half brother in 1886. This is one of the few photos known to exist documenting Geronimo’s surrender. (Photo: C.S. Fly)

Geronimo lived out the rest of his life as a prisoner of war. He died of pneumonia in 1909, in Ft. Still, Okla. at the age of 79.

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Chris May 26, 2017, 3:32 pm

    Geronimo was a hero. If you want to learn a little more about the plight of Native Americans in a succinct way, listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast episode 19 – “Apache Tears”.
    It is worth the listen.

  • Gary H Anderson May 26, 2017, 8:30 am

    I have to agree with “Hero”, Geronimo really showed the U.S. military what fighting was all about. There have been other great leaders in the Native American nation. It should be a lesson to those that oppose controlled immigration. You allow everyone in and there will be problems.
    Gary

  • Joe November 18, 2016, 7:35 pm

    Lieutenant Gatewood was given little credit and sent in to obscurity by glory hound Gen. Miles. If anyone deserved the MOH
    it was Lt. Gatewood.

  • jim elting November 18, 2016, 8:41 am

    Greedy white men and glory hungry military personell was the end of a way of life for a great indian race they wasted nothing and if left alone and not butchered and their women and old men brutally murdered they would of remained peaceful.But the whiteman wanted their land and it’s values so he lied and cheated them out of it by worthless broken treaties.WHAT A VICTORY 5000 soldiers to round up 36 rag tag APACHES. No glory here.If the 36 had food and ammo they would of never caught them until air warfare came in.

  • Gil June 6, 2016, 1:03 pm

    Geronimo and what was left of his small band of “warriors”, most of them being women and children, SURRENDERED, after leading Lawton and 5000 U.S. troops all over the southwest and northern Mexico.
    He was only able to track him with the help of Apache and other Native Americans scouts, and even then he only surrendered on the advice of Lt. Charles Gatewood who was sympathetic to the plight of the Apache and
    admired their fighting skills. Lawton never even saw Geronimo until he surrendered. Of course the scouts were
    sent off to prison along with Geronimo and his people and Gatewood was given little credit, except by Geronimo.

    So, I guess if your going to give a rifle to someone for ESCORTING a handful of worn out and starving warriors, women and children to prison, then so be it. It’s some publicity for the company you work for.
    I guess he deserved it for having to eat Geronimo’s dust all over the southwest.

    As for the record setting $1.2 million rifle, I am never surprised by what people will pay for a famous trinket that had nothing to do with anything.

  • joe saunders May 13, 2016, 3:08 pm

    Kudos to Geronimo, an authentic American HERO ! not the plastic manufactured kind !!! this WAS his country !

  • Michael Eddings, Major USMC Ret. May 13, 2016, 1:31 pm

    In 1970 & 1971 I was Stationed at NAS Pensacola, Florida in Naval Flight Training. While there I was fortunate enough to visit Fort Pickens where Geronimo was held prisoner for many years. I actually got to see the cell in which Geronimo was incarcerated. I was totally struck by the fact that you could see the circular path that Geronimo had worn in the stone floor by walking incessantly in circles in this small cell during the time he was incarcerated therein. As a firm believer in the righteousness of his cause, I do not believe I have ever known of a more dedicated Warrior than was Geronimo. You must respect his resolve.

  • JS May 13, 2016, 11:17 am

    I believe he died in Ft. Sill, Ok (Still)., and he was held for a time in my home of Pensacola, Fl., at Fort Pickens.

  • Dick Biondi May 13, 2016, 10:22 am

    I believe the man Tom Horn was instrumental in locating the poor remnant of Geronimo’s band. I’ve always marveled at how 36 deprived Indians could present such a clear and present danger to the conquering Europeans. Also, Medals of Honor were not held to the same standards as they are today.

    • Robert May 13, 2016, 10:06 pm

      The Indians got royally screwed by the white Europeans. The military gives out medals on a political basis, and many given out today were not truly earned. General Miles ego couldn’t stand to be outdone by a small band of Indians. Had to get rid of the men that accomplished the task so he wouldn’t be embarrassed on a daily basis. He was a politician, not a soldier.

      • American May 14, 2016, 10:04 am

        The only group that could out wit..out fight,out last the Native Americans (Indians)where the White Americans. Good article

  • bthomas May 13, 2016, 9:20 am

    Excellent article. Great man is honored appropriately in his era and now years later as reflected in the price paid at this auction. As to Geronimo, no sympathy. Lucky he was allowed to live as a prisoner. The people he captured and their children did not get such generous treatment.

    • Ken May 13, 2016, 12:32 pm

      To the Indian’s it was the same as ISIS coming here and taking our land and homes.
      I can’t fault them for protecting their land , it’s not like Japan and what they did to prisoners.

    • jaxon May 13, 2016, 3:55 pm

      Do at least a tiny bit of unbiased research….you might change your mind. We were on HIS land.

  • Hero May 13, 2016, 8:56 am

    5,000 vs 36 … a hero! If only he’d had Apaches and drones to gun them down with from miles away …

    • DRW November 18, 2016, 2:06 pm

      What a brilliant comment!

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