"My friend found a revolver after plowing a field in Saskatchewan, Canada near the border with Alberta. It was badly rusted and the wood
grip was completely gone. The gun was found in the area of an Indian uprising put down by the North West Mounted Police. Any help in
identifying the gun will be appreciated."
A number of years ago, I started this cowboy website for my own enjoyment in writing about my involvement in SASS and the history of
the old west and its guns. Like the email I received that starts this article, sometimes I receive requests from readers who find my website and
ask me to help identify or tell them about a gun they have that used to belong to a father or other relative. I usually respond by saying that I
consider my interest in old west guns to be a hobby and that I am not an expert in identifying guns. I add that if they are willing to send me a
photo of their gun (with a ruler next to the gun) and tell me markings they can read on the gun that I will try to help them start the
identification. If I'm told that the gun was made by Pedersoli, Uberti, or Pietta with proofmarks verifying the manufacturer, I can tell
the reader that the gun is a modern replica and give them some background on the original gun on which the replica is based. If not
clearly a replica, I usually try to end my identification with general information and encourage the reader to take the gun to a gun dealer
for more information.
However, the photos I received from the reader that are included at the top of this article intrigued me for a number of reasons. The
rusty condition and absence of legible manufacturing markings on the gun would be a challenge. I also have to admit that my love of history and the
romantic idea that the gun was found in the area of an Indian uprising put down by the North West Mounted Police added to my intrigue and was
too tempting to ignore, so I decided to see how far I could go with the gunís identification.
The reader's photos showed me that the gun was a top-break revolver with an overall length of nine inches. I found out in subsequent emails
with the reader that it was a five-shot model. The reader also confirmed that the number 7384 was stamped at the bottom left-hand
side of the gun grip frame, a number that would have ordinarily been covered by the wood on the gun grip (the number is not clear in the
above photos). So, I started thumbing through my well-used Flayderman (see reference at the end of the story). I had also begun to
research Indian uprisings that involved the North West Mounted Police and came upon references to the North West Rebellion in the Canadian
provinces and, specifically, the Battle of Batoche in 1885 in Saskatchewan. Another possibility suggested by the reader was the 1885 incident
known as the Frog Lake Massacre at Duck Lake in present-day Saskatchewan.
With the history information, I first limited my search in Flayderman to top-break revolvers that were in production in 1885. The reader
had indicated that his friend thought the gun may have been made by Remington. Unfortunately, I could find no reference in Flayderman
to any Remington top-break revolvers nor in fact to any top-break revolvers made by others that were in production in 1885 that matched the
shape of the gun handle, hammer placement, and trigger guard in the photos sent me. I had to reluctantly conclude that the gun was unlikely
to have been used in either the Battle of Bartoche or the Frog Lake Massacre and reported that to my reader. I then expanded my search for
top-break revolvers manufactured
Expanding my research, I did find that Harrington & Richardson (H&R) first made a top-break revolver called the H&R shell extracting
revolver. The Flayderman reference indicated that only about 6,000 were made between 1886 and 1888 but did not include a photo I could match
to the photos I had received. The next top-break model that H&R produced was described by Flayderman as the Model 1 automatic ejection,
double-action revolver made between 1887 and 1889 in a quantity estimated to be about 5,000 Ė still no photo. The H&R Model 2, however,
did have a photo of a variant of the Model 2 that did in fact match the shape of the gun grip, hammer placement, and trigger guard of my
readerís gun and included a comment by Flayderman that the Model 2 had a re-designed Model 1 frame. Flayderman indicated the Model 2 was
produced by H&R between 1889 and 1940 in a quantity estimated to be 1.3 million with the five-shot model using a 38 S&W round. The serial
number on my readerís gun most likely indicated an earlier rather than later production in the 1889 to 1940 range.
I had gone as far as I could and indicated to the reader that my research suggested that his gun was most likely to have been the
H&R Model 2, especially considering the large number produced of that model. I hoped he could find a gun dealer in his area that could
substantiate that opinion. I thanked him for involving me in the research in identifying his gun and obtained his permission to use our
email correspondence in writing this article.
How the gun ended up in a plowed field in a province in Canada will likely remain a mystery. My reader and I, however, will welcome any
additional information about the gun or corrections about the gunís identity from my website readers.
Note: This story was published in The Cowboy Chronicle, August 2013, page 25.
June 2014 Update (also sent to the Cowboy Chronicle as a Letter to the Editor) Following publication of this article in The Cowboy Chronicle, a number of readers and SASS
members emailed me with their suggestions for the identity of the gun. Because of the poor condition of the gun with no legible manufacturing
markings, I had only the reader's photo of the metal skeleton of the gun plus a few identifying features to use in evaluating the
suggestions I received. Those features included the fact that the gun was a top-break model with a five-shot cylinder and 3 to 3 1/2 inch
barrel, the flutes on the cylinder were 2/3 to 3/4 the length of the cylinder, and the gun had a specific location of the trigger mechanism
in relation to the shape of the trigger guard that produced an almost pointed dome-shaped area behind the trigger. Most of the suggestions
I received were that the gun was either a Webley Mark IV or a top-break Smith & Wesson, 4th model. Another suggestion was that it was
an 1872 Webley Royal Irish Constabulatory model. Examining both photos and information in the 9th edition of Flayderman and the 2014
edition of the Standard Catalog of Firearms, plus photos of auction sales on the internet, I was unable to verify that those guns met the
Two others suggested that the gun was manufactured by the Meridian Fire Arms Co, and one of those SASS members attached a photo of a
top-break Meridian gun that he owned that indeed looked close to but did not meet all of the requirements for which I was looking. In my
research, I found that Meridian, as well as Hopkins and Allen and others, all produced guns for sale by some of the big retailers, e.g.,
Sears, Roebuck & Co, who would then put their own model name on the gun before selling them. It may well be that these manufacturers made slight
modifications in their guns at the request of the retailer but, again, I was not able to locate any photos that matched the gun I was trying
to identify. I am also aware that 19th century gun manufacturers sometimes changed features of their guns and did not give them a new "model"
designation but, as a hobbyist and not an identification expert, I could not find any photos to match my reader's gun.
From Flayderman and auction photos, I remain convinced that my reader's gun was a Harrington & Richardson, most likely their top-break Model 2, of which they sold 1.3 million between 1889 and 1940. I will add that I have added this follow-up note information to a Letter to the Editor of the Cowboy Chronicle.
References used in this story and the follow-up notes: