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Old 10th July 2019, 03:59 AM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Billy the Kid and the Colt Thunderer pistol

Traveling westward in Texas, became fascinated with the legend and lore of the famed Billy the kid, who was shot and killed by Pat Garrett near Fort Sumner, New Mexico on July 14,1881.
There are many controversies about 'Billy'; his name usually William Bonney or Henry Antrim but unclear; his part in the 'Lincoln County War' 1878-1881 which branded him 'outlaw'; claims it was not him killed that night, but lived to old age in Hico, Texas until his death in 1950 as "Brushy Bill' Roberts.

The only truly accepted image of Billy is the one known as the Dedrick tintype (illustrated here). Apparently in 1880 a traveling photographer was in Fort Sumner, and made a tintype of him (in four images in a sheet). These were cut into 4, and Billy gave one to his friend Dan Dedrick. This was in that family until sold in 2011. The disposition of the other three has joined the rest of the 'Blly' mysteries.

The most perplexing of these is, what became of his guns....especially his favorite, a Colt M1877, .41 cal. 'Thunderer' revolver. Clearly in the photo Billy is shown with M1873 Winchester rifle and M1873 Colt .45 Army revolver. The rifle may be accounted for, the revolver uncertain.

These were weapons he used on the range, but not about town, and the 'Thunderer' was a double action six chamber revolver. The one he is thought to have had was with a short 2.5" barrel (termed sheriffs or shopkeeper version) and in .41 cal. The grips were black rubber.

In about 1983, a New Mexico man, Pulitzer Price winning author N.Scott Momaday bought a .41 cal M1877 Thunderer at auction, with provenance to a Mexican family where it had been since getting it from Billy in 1881, after his April escape from Lincoln County courthouse.

The gun was serial #26048, and according to Colt authorities was shipped to San Francisco May 11, 1881 to N.Curry & Brother Co. From here it appears to have been acquired by John Chisum, a key figure whom Billy worked for. Apparantly Chisum gave the gun to his cook on July 4th. Billy days after was a Chisum's Pecos cattle camp and traded this gun from the cook.

He was of course killed July 14,1881.

This seems a tight course timewise for this gun to have made it from San Francisco to traders in New Mexico, then to Chisum, and to Billy, all in two months. If this model gun was Billy's 'favorite' , he must have had time to develop that affinity with another one? as he hardly had time to 'get acquainted' with this one in ten days in July before his death.

While some 'gunfighters' such as John Wesley Hardin (in El Paso areas) used these M1877 (the .38 was called lightning; the .41 cal. Thunderer), these were actually troublesome as their double action feature often failed in the trigger action.....rendering it single action after all.

So is this gun (photo att.) possibly authentic? even with the most tenuous trail of provenance? or is there another M1877 out there, which prompted the notion that this gun was Billy's favorite?

We should be in Fort Sumner in two days, hoping possibly the museum there might have some ideas, and maybe even a 'thunderer'
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