Doc Holliday gun faces doubts over authenticity
A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
The Post Independent, believing the Glenwood Springs Historical Society to have verified the gun’s authenticity, urged local leaders and the public at large to donate to the historical society to help repay its loan for the derringer it believed was Doc Holliday’s.
In light of old information recently forwarded to the society, that solicitation was misguided. We apologize.
If you donated and would like a refund, society Executive Director Bill Kight said to contact him at 970-945-4448.
— Randy Essex, publisher and editor
Doc Holliday died in Glenwood Springs, and it’s been said that he did so with an 1866 Remington derringer in his room at the Hotel Glenwood.
But what’s said about the Old West often isn’t true, and sometimes even sincere historians can get fooled. There’s a good chance that’s what happened to the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, to the tune of $84,000 in borrowed money.
Lore supposedly was that the gun, inscribed “To Doc from Kate” on the handle, was taken as partial payment for the gambler and gunfighter’s funeral. The story was that it belonged to the family of hotel bartender William G. Wells until Utah gun dealer E. Dixon Larson purchased it in 1968.
But it now seems very possible that the whole story, from madam and Holliday companion Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings giving it to Holliday to its 80 years in a Glenwood family to the 1968 sale, was made up by Larson.
Since the Glenwood Historical Society’s purchase of the gun earlier this month, new information has cast doubt on the story and the weapon’s origins.
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“We all love a good story. Weave a tale of Big Nose Kate gifting a Remington derringer to Doc Holliday that’s next to impossible to prove or disprove,” society Executive Director Bill Kight wrote in a document he shared Wednesday with the Post Independent. “A man’s reputation is judged by one’s words and actions. The historical society tried hard to do just that, to peer into Dixon Larson’s past.”
That search didn’t turn up much information. The affidavit from the 1968 sale was the first documentation of the derringer and, it turns out, the first reference to it.
Since buying the gun with money from an anonymous lender, Historical Society members learned that Larson wrote the books “Remington Tips” and “Colt Tips.” He is deceased, and so the group reached out to his daughter without success. Holliday historian R.W. “Doc” Boyle examined the gun and the affidavit, which lined up with knowledge of the gambler’s history.
Boyle declared the gun authentic, but Kight said Wednesday that Boyle isn’t a weapons expert and that the society did not have the gun examined by one.
After the society purchased the derringer, another museum curator contacted Kight. One of that museum’s volunteers was a gun collector who recalled seeing Larson at gun shows in his youth. The conversation reminded the curator of a Wild West Historical Association Journal article by Daniel Buck: “Butch Cassidy Sought Amnesty, Fact or Folklore?” The curator shared that story with Kight.
The article traces Cassidy’s so-called amnesty gun, a Colt .45, to Larson. The document authenticating the gun was suspected to be a forgery because of a number of inconsistencies.
“Larson had an uncanny ability to locate Wild Bunch arms, a hyperactive imagination, or both,” Buck wrote of the dealer, who also claimed to own guns that belonged to C.L. “Gunplay” Maxwell and Harvey Logan. “Larson was a celebrity-outlaw gun magnet.”
Buck questioned the authenticity of Larson’s claims, citing Wyatt Earp historian Jeff Morey. Larson “flourished at a time when gun magazines didn’t fret much over historical truth,” Morey said in an email to Buck.
Buck also interviewed via email the now-deceased Lee Silva, a Wild West gun columnist. “When I was horsetrading guns with Dix, he had a lot of guns with questionable provenance. So I was always doubtful about most of the guns that he credited with having outlaw and Old West history,” Silva wrote.
Several others Buck spoke to questioned Larson’s authority. Buck noted that fraud is common in antique gun circles, and alterations can include replaced parts, engravings and altered serial numbers. Forged documents can also increase the value of an antique.
The 1968 affidavit signed by Larson and an unknown notary public appears to be the source of the story about the derringer being in Holliday’s hotel room when he died Nov. 8, 1887, and bits of supposed lore from the family of the bartender who supposedly took the gun.
As a result, the historical society now questions the origins of Holliday’s derringer. Is the gun real? Is the affidavit doctored? Did Larson make up the entire story?
The society discussed a couple of questions before moving forward with the purchase. Wells, who the affidavit indicated was the gun’s original owner, didn’t show up on any Census records. However, Wells was also believed to be transient and therefore could have been missed as the U.S. Census Bureau gathered data.
A past society archivist also expressed concern that there was no signature beneath the notary public’s stamp on the affidavit. The society reached out to the Utah notary board, but the organization did not have any records to help verify the stamp.
Kight said the society contacted both Remington and a gun expert in Cody, Wyoming, prior to the purchase. However, Remington’s expert was unavailable and the man in Cody couldn’t evaluate the weapon without an examination. Jason Brierley, the Canadian from whom the society purchased the gun, had set a two-month deadline for the purchase because of an impending move. With that deadline approaching, the board moved ahead.
“We’re still digging as much as we can,” Kight said.
The society’s board met Tuesday night to discuss its next steps. The organization seeks more information about Larson and will also enlist a gun expert to examine the derringer.
Since the gun’s purchase, the society received $600 toward the loan’s repayment via the Colorado Gives site. Kight invites those with questions regarding such donations to call 970-945-4448.
The society will repay its lender regardless of the gun’s provenance, said Kight, who will also make good on his personal pledge of $5,000 toward that debt. “I can’t tell you how I feel about this.”