Rock Island Auction Company is hosting a Premiere Auction April 29-May 1, with rare and unique firearms spread across 2,600 lots. One of the most interesting pieces is the Winchester 1886 lever action, Serial No. 1, set to hit the auction block during the event. Its intrigue comes not from an ornate design or even its low serial number, but rather its first owner and the manner in which he acquired it.
Capt. H.W. Lawton was part of the U.S. military force sent into Arizona to hunt down the renegade Apache Geronimo in 1885 and ’86. Geronimo and several dozen of his followers had been stealing and killing on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border for years. The U.S. Army — initially 3,500 men, later 5,000 — was sent to track him down and bring an end to the raider’s atrocities.
Leading by the principle of “Never ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself,” Lawton remained popular with his men as they marched across the searing desert. The year 1886 was a particularly hot one, with Lawton himself losing 40 pounds from the march. Try as they might, the troops could never catch and capture the Apaches during the long, hot summer.
In July of that year, Lawton and his men surrounded one of Geronimo’s camps, but found only supplies where the raiding party had been. Eventually the Indians moved into the Mexican Sierre Madres; the military later followed an Apache woman back to the Indian hideout as she returned from buying food in a nearby Mexican village. On Sept. 4, the infamous leader surrendered to Lawton, his fellow soldier 1st Lt. Charles B. Gatewood, and the United States.
Upon the completion of his mission, Lawton received the Winchester 1886 as a gift from his friend Lt. George E. Albee — both men Medal of Honor recipients. The words “Albee to Lawton” appear on the barrel just behind the rear sight.
The rifle will be auctioned in the same lot as a gold pocket watch Lawton received from “The Cattlemen of Central New Mexico” for his successful capture of Geronimo. Its chain includes the names of the men who accompanied Lawton on its individual links.
A separate lot will contain Lawton’s Damascus steel sword, highly decorated and given to him by his regiment at the close of the Civil War in 1865.
The Winchester 1886 was a John Browning design originally chambered in .45-70, .45-90, and .40-82. A nine-pound lever action, the rifle was initially built to handle black-powder rounds. Its strong action allowed it to successfully make the transition to smokeless powder, albeit with minor alterations. The design remained in production until 1935.
Lawton’s rifle features a 26-inch octagon barrel and a full-length magazine. It is chambered in .45-70, with the barrel and magazine retaining 95 percent of their original bluing — as do the hammer, trigger, lever, and butt plate. The bolt’s original finish is nearly 100 percent intact, while the receiver retains 90 percent of its bluing.
The rifle and watch are part of Lot #1025, along with numerous documents pertaining to Lawton’s military service, including his service records. The lot’s total value is estimated at $500,000-$750,000.
For more information on the sale and other upcoming auctions, visit Rock Island Auction Company today.