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The Colt SA Army pistol which American auction house James D Julia says has been proven as used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. It is estimated at $175,000-275,000 in the April 11 sale.

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Custer’s last stand is one of the most famous actions in military history even though the numbers involved were relatively small overall.

The story of his doomed attempt to capture Sitting Bull in 1876 has been told many times, leading to the massacre of the US Cavalry column under his command by a superior force of American Indians.

After the battle, as standard protocol, the Indians removed everything from the troopers and the battlefield that represented any value. This included boots, uniforms, and most particularly, guns.

On April 11 American auction house James D Julia, in Fairfield, Maine, will be offering a Colt SA Army (SAA) in original condition, which the saleroom says is “positively proven to have been used by Custer’s men at the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn”.

A James D Julia spokesman says: “In 1980, after a special archaeological dig at the battle site, excavated cartridge cases used during the battle underwent special forensic testing. This was done in an attempt to match up various guns currently held in museums and private hands to a casing from the battle site.

“Only a few guns in museums tested positive with five or six of them being in private hands. Since that time, a few others have been forensically matched. Because forensic science is not perfect, the results - in some cases - can be inconclusive.”

The spokesman adds that “the only complete and original Colt SA in private hands today, positively identified as having been at this historic fight” is the one James D Julia is offering at auction.

Grisly scene

Two days after Custer’s last stand, when Captain Benteen and his troops arrived at the scene to bury their comrades, they discovered a grisly scene.

Some months after the massacre, in December 1876, Benteen appeared at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory. There he presented the Military Board with a group of firearms, including some carbines and three Colt SA firearms (this one being one of them).

The guns were all “…rendered unserviceable in action against the hostile Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, N.T. on the 25th & 26th of June, 1876”, in the captain’s own words. Everything was returned to the armoury and it is known that two of the three Colts were stored in there until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Then, because of the desperate, immediate need for firearms, these guns were reconfigured, fitted with shorter barrels, refinished, upgraded, and dispersed to the troops fighting the Spanish-American War.

This James D Julia gun was never altered and never distributed. The saleroom spokesman says: “Obviously, it was either sold out of the armoury or perhaps stolen by an employee. In any case, because of its positive identification, and alteration-free status, it is the only complete and original Colt SAA positively used at the Little Bighorn.”

The gun is estimated at $175,000-275,000.