"A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity." ---- Sigmund Freud
"A man's rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box." ---- Frederick Douglass
This Colt Lightning Model 1877 revolver is mine now. I sort of stumbled across it for sale in New Mexico and have brought it home to Minnesota. It is in remarkably good condition for its age. To review the beginning of its journey, this then-new revolver was shipped from the Colt factory in Hartford, Connecticut, to the William R. Burkhard Sportsman's Headquarters at 23 East Third Street in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on June 28, 1888. From there, it was sold to an unknown person.
So, where has it been, what has it done, who has held it during its more than a century and a quarter absence from its original "home" in Saint Paul? I would give a few years of my life to know the answers to those questions. In a few days, I will shoot it. I will wonder how many hands have held it and pulled the trigger over the years. I will wonder what or who it may have been aimed at when it was fired.
It probably would be literally impossible to track the Lightning after it was sold from the Sportsman's Headquarters. Records from that business might exist with a historical society or in a Burkhard descendant's attic, but, probably not. And, not until 1968 were merchants required to have sales of firearms registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; private sales still often are not recorded; and this revolver is so old it is exempt from rules regarding registration of current sales of guns. Even the recent history of this revolver is vague. All the individual I purchased it from recalls is buying it at an estate sale a few years ago.
For anyone interested, here is a bit more history. The Colt Model 1877 came in three calibers: The "Rainmaker" in .32 Colt; the "Lightning" in .38 Long Colt; and the "Thunderer" in .41 Long Colt. It was among the first double action revolvers in existence and the very first made by Colt.
In "Old West" lore, John Wesley Hardin carried a Lightning and it was named by John Henry "Doc" Holliday as one of his favorite sidearms; Billy the Kid carried a Thunderer. I wish I knew who has carried this particular piece, but, because of the fine condition it is in, I would speculate that it has led a sheltered life. It shows no sign of being carried in a holster and little sign of being fired to any extent. The original blue finish is largely gone, but that would happen to any firearm simply from being left unattended for years at a time and only brought out for a periodic cleaning. Dust, natural air pollution, not to mention smoke and humidity, have their own way of affecting steel and wood.
One hundred twenty-seven years might not seem to be a very long period of time by some measures, but considering Minnesota was just emerging from frontier existence when this Lightning was "born," it is amazing it not only survived, but did in a condition near-new in all ways other than superficial cosmetic.
Think of it. This revolver might have gone west and been used at Wounded Knee or by an Arizona Ranger in gunfights along the Mexican border. It could have been tucked in the belt of a Rough Rider during the Spanish-American War or carried by a reporter accompanying General John "Black Jack" Pershing's expedition into Mexico pursuing Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Or, it might have found its way into the hands of John Dillinger or Lester "Baby Face" Nelson or George "Machine Gun Kelly" Barnes when they and other notorious gangsters roamed (and owned) the streets of Saint Paul (You did not know that, did you?) and other Midwestern cities in the 1920s and 1930s.
The list of ways this revolver could have been lost, broken or simply worn out during its one hundred twenty-seven-year history is endless, but, instead of vanishing, it found its way intact and functional and beautiful back to the point where it first was purchased.
Everything about this revolver makes me wonder. I wonder sometimes about the concept of being in the right place at the right time or in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Do not worry. I will keep this sort of brief.) I am not going to go off on a tangent into predestination or into the teachings of John Calvin and Calvinism or even into my own conservative Lutheran childhood. But, sometimes I do wonder.
Usually it is a more significant event about which I wonder in this context than it is about my encounter with a particular gun. Usually it is in the framework of having met a particular person at a particular time -- of friends, of lovers, of wives and the children who were the product of these encounters at a particular point in space and time. But, this "Lightning" strikes me as something special because I am a man who sees a life force of sorts within firearms -- and, this is a revolver "who" has been many places and done many things and yet "found its way back home" after an absence of one hundred twenty-seven years.
There are too many times when things happen because it seems like they are supposed to happen, meant to happen -- rather than merely take place because of coincidence or accident or random occurrence -- to walk away without reaching beyond the curtain of logic and ordinary dimensions. There has been another recent event remarkable in terms of "too strange to be coincidental" regarding guns in my life, as well as this one. Perhaps, I will write about it another day.
So, whether by design or the result of random chance, here I am in a geographic location where, only a few years ago, I did not expect to be and encountering a revolver more than one thousand miles distance from this geographic location and which had been "a resident" here and which had left from here one hundred and twenty-seven years ago almost to the day to lead its own abstract, unrecorded existence. Even the name of my blog, "Sort of San Francisco Fan Club," is linked in a sense to William Golcher, who originally owned the gun shop to which the Lightning was sent and who eventually moved from Saint Paul to San Francisco.
Silly as it might sound, in a cavern deep within the recesses of my mind I cannot help but think there is a nexus drifting in time and space centering upon the connections of Saint Paul and San Francisco and William Golcher and William Burkhard and the Sportsman's Headquarters and this particular Colt Lightning, No. 65911, and me -- me being here, in a place I never expected to have set up camp. (Camp = my residence, for those unfamiliar with my ways of talking/writing.) There are actual numbers forming part of my "equation," too, but I will forgo mentioning them or drifting any further into this quagmire before it begins to have the ring of mysticism.
And, yes, I often admit it: I am superstitious.
There are people, places and things I feel I have known in other places and, mostly, in other times. I mention it with some frequency and I feel compelled to paraphrase it again: "There are more things in heaven and earth, you who read here, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
All I need now are a cigar and a fruit jar filled with rye whiskey ....