32 – A Very Significant Firearm

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

The museum has had what is known as a Custer Colt in our collection for years. While it was already a significant firearm in our collection, new information has made it possibly one of the more historically significant Colt’s in any collection anywhere. A “Custer Colt” is a well-known term for historians and collectors. It’s a Colt revolver within a serial number range that gives it an increased possibility of having been issued to Custer’s Seventh Cavalry and possibly used on the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. However, while there are roughly 8,000 Colts that fit within the Custer serial number range, there were only about 700 Seventh Cavalrymen engaged in Little Bighorn. So the chances of a Custer Colt having any relation to one of Custer’s men is pretty low. Also take into account that about 250 of the Seventh Cavalry died during the battle. Most of their firearms would have ultimately been acquired by the victorious Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapahos. So, just 700 Colts that have 142 years’ worth of mostly unknown fates. The museum recently decided to revisit our Custer Colt to see if any new information had surfaced over the years to help tell its story. Imagine our excitement when it had! An auction back in 2014 saw the sale of a Custer Colt with serial #4815 which had an interesting story attached. The auction provenance mentioned a document found in the walls of Ft. Abraham Lincoln during its demolition. The document outlined the proceedings of an inquiry held on April 24, 1876, just two months before Little Bighorn, against Lt. William Van Wyck Reily of the Seventh Cavalry. At issue was Reily allowing his service issued Colt revolver to be stolen – possibly by one of the other cavalrymen. Lt. Reily was required to repay the U.S. for the loss and was issued revolver serial #4815 as a replacement. Reily’s stolen revolver, the document stated, was none other than the museum’s #5126! Though we are still authenticating this document, this new information possibly gives our firearm not only a direct link to Custer’s Seventh Calvary, but to an exact individual. We can’t fully express how EXTREMELY RARE this is. The news of this discovery has already attracted visits from a few of the most knowledgeable firearm experts in the field. They have all stated that the gun appears to be an absolutely authentic Custer Colt. We will keep our audience posted with any updates to this story. Lt. Reily died on Little Bighorn just two months after losing his Colt #5126. It is currently on display here at the museum .