The 26th President of the United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt, was quite fond of both Colt revolvers and Winchester lever-action rifles. However, during the summer of 1898, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy (under President William McKinley), resigned from his prestigious position to instead be part of the action in the upcoming Spanish-American war. Roosevelt was officially commissioned as a Lt. Colonel for the 1st U.S. Volunteer Calvary and eventually traveled to San Antonio, Texas to train the Rough Riders. It was during this time that factory records show that this Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 revolver was shipped to him with detailing and engraving purportedly done by Gustave Young. This historically significant wheelgun is now being offered up as part of Rock Island Auction Company’s Premier Firearms Auction #87.
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Wheelgun Wednesday: Theodore Roosevelt’s S&W Model No. 3 Revolver
The Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 revolver was first produced in 1868 and was originally chambered in .44 S&W American as well as the .44 Russian cartridges. Unlike what we are normally accustomed to, the Model 3 didn’t contain any cartridge information stamping on its frame or barrel and the 6-shot revolver would later go on to be chambered in a handful of other cartridges over its service life. However, in 1870, the United States Army would eventually adopt the Model No. 3 revolver in .44 S&W American as the Army’s first standard-issue cartridge-firing revolver in the service. This heavily streamlined both procurement and training and negated the effects that wet weather had on the sidearm in comparison to the black powder cap-and-ball revolvers that were in service up to that point.
The standard barrel length on the Model No. 3 revolver was 7 inches, and the revolver featured a fixed front post and rear notch sights. The revolver has a top break design complete with an automatic ejector that lifted spent casings out of the cylinder upon opening. During its time in the service with the U.S. Army, the revolver went through a few different iterations and would eventually find itself being a popular revolver to either modify or have special orders from the factory in several different chamberings like .44-40 (known as the Frontier model), .32-44, .38-44, and .38 Long Colt like Theodor Roosevelt’s Model No. 3. According to the listing description on the auction page, this revolver was likely intended to be Roosevelt’s personal sidearm for the upcoming campaign in Cuba, however, some logistical issues likely prevented that from happening.
Exactly where the revolver was being shipped to Roosevelt is not clear in the records. Given he was expected to be in Texas prior to May 12, it may have been sent to San Antonio. Alternatively, it may have been shipped to Roosevelt’s office in Washington, D.C., Sagamore Hill, or perhaps even Tampa in expectation of the Rough Riders’ departure for Cuba. At San Antonio, Roosevelt and the Rough Riders trained in cavalry tactics. The unit was led by Colonel Leonard Wood (1860-1927), a friend of Roosevelt’s with experience serving in the Indian Wars as an officer and surgeon and with political connections as the personal physician of Presidents Cleveland and McKinley.
After being in the possession of Roosevelt for some time, the President would eventually give the revolver as a present to the bodyguard or valet of the present, likely one James E. Amos. Amos was quite close with Roosevelt and his family and according to Amos, “While President he often went armed. I have in my home now a large revolver that Mr. Roosevelt placed at the side of his bed every night while in the White House. It was given me by Mrs. Roosevelt after his death.”
The use of this revolver as a “nightstand gun” provides us with a good explanation of how a 120-year-old firearm remained in such good condition. Back in the day, Presidents often had to be personally armed as organizations like the Secret Service weren’t quite as prepared and organized as they are today. Roosevelt was all too familiar with how dangerous the position of President could be after having watched President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession following his 1865 assassination and also having inherited the office of president after President McKinley’s assassination – he knew that as his life would constantly be at risk while in office.
Historic “National Treasure” Factory Documented Spanish-American War Rough Rider Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Shipped Factory Engraved Smith & Wesson New Model No. 3 Single Action Revolver with Factory Letter
Roosevelt’s Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolver is lot number 84 in the upcoming Premier Auction #87 and is expected to fetch an estimated price of between $800,000 and $1,400,000 although if past auctions are anything to go by, this piece of historical military and presidential hardware could likely go for much more as the listing indicates that there is “very active” interest in this particular item.
RIAC’s Premier Auction #87 is set to take place between December 9th and 11th of this year and will feature some of the finest historical pieces that are publically available. If you’re interested in checking out more of the pieces being offered in the upcoming auction, you can visit the RIAC website to check out their 16-page portfolio showcasing the lineup for this action.