Estimated at $2m-3m, the Colt single action revolver took $5m/ £3.65m (or $6.03m/£4.38m with premium) from a phone bidder on August 27, the top price in a single-owner sale titled The Early West: The Collection of Jim and Theresa Earle. The Bonhams auction, which brought a string of impressive results, achieved a total of $12,387,124, selling 92% by lot and 99% by value.
The Colt, serial number 55093 for 1880, had been taken by Sheriff Pat Garrett from Billy Wilson (alias of David L Anderson) when he arrested Wilson and the rest of the Billy the Kid gang at Stinking Springs, New Mexico.
Billy – born Henry McCarty, also known by the pseudonym William H Bonney – had then escaped from Lincoln County Courthouse on April 28, 1881. Another Earle auction highlight was the Kid’s Whitney double barrel hammer shotgun which was taken from Deputy Bob Olinger and used to kill him during that jailbreak. It sold for $790,000/£577,000 ($978,313/£714,200 with premium).
Garrett shot Billy, then aged 21, on July 14, 1881, at Pete Maxwell’s Ranch. Billy and Garrett had in fact been close friends at one time (although it is hard to distinguish fact from legend in the whole story).
The Earles bought the Colt in 1983. Jim Earle (1932-2019), who was a department head at Texas A&M University, married Theresa Gatlin in 1957. The couple began their collection in 1973, buying heavily throughout the 1970s-80s, and rarely selling. Many of these guns had been off the market for nearly 50 years, only seen in some cases on exhibition at the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, or other reputable institutions.
The previous record for a firearm was $1.98m, set by Christie’s in 2002 for a pair of flintlock saddle pistols carried by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.