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WONDERFUL MEXICAN REVOLUTION RELIC – 11MM MONTENEGRO REVOLVER WITH ORIGINAL HOLSTER –  DOCUMENTED AS A COLUMBUS, NEW MEXICO BATTLEFIELD PICKUP FROM THE PONCHO VILLA RAID:  Identified as having been recovered in1916 as a battlefield pickup in Columbus, New Mexico after Poncho Villa’s revolutionaries raided and burned the town, this pistol and holster were worn by one of the Villistas as they hit the town in the early morning hours of March 9TH.     

The prolonged revolution in Mexico which had been festering through the first years of the 20TH Century caused the US Army to station troops along the border from Texas through Arizona (…go figure…beginning to sound familiar?).  In 1916, the 13Th US Cavalry Regiment was garrisoned in southern Texas and New Mexico, with Troops A,B,C, and D stationed in Alpine, Marfa and Valentine, Texas, and the balance of the regiment was stationed in and around Columbus, New Mexico located three miles north of the border.  As with all the other units so deployed, the duties of the 13TH included patrolling the border and establishing a presence in order to protect United States citizens and discourage incursions across the border by the various groups of Mexican revolutionaries, and as it would unfold, with good reason.   

On March 9TH, Poncho Villa ordered some 500 revolutionaries to cross the border and  raid Columbus, resulting in part of the town being burned and in the deaths of some eight soldiers and ten civilians.  In response, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John “Black Jack” Pershing to mount the famous Punitive Mexican Expedition of 1916 – regarded by some as the initiating event which led to our eventual entry into World War One.   

A considerable number of the Villistas were killed during the assault on the town and the subsequent pursuit into Mexico as they fled back south.  The US soldiers who pursued the Villistas for approximately fifteen miles from the town, reported they counted some 100 bodies along the line of pursuit as they returned to Columbus.  The town doctor, Dr. Stivison later wrote, During the morning of the same day, we saw military wagons gathering up the bodies of the bandits.  These were taken to the edge of town, placed in a pile, saturated with kerosene, and burned.  It was a grisly sight but we were glad to know that these particular men would no longer be a menace to the peace of the border.” 

Another source claimed that it was estimated that between 175 and 200 bodies were in that grisly pile, not including the dead horses  

With such a heavy death toll among the raiders, it is no surprise that a significant number of the raiders’ rifles and pistols were recovered by the Columbus residents, but for the most part they have disappeared in the passage of the years.  Still, knowing that so many of the heavily armed Villistas were killed and their arms were gathered by the town folk, supports the identification that accompanies this pistol and holster.  The simplicity of the information written on the attached tag is so straightforward that the set presents as a genuine relic of the famous Columbus Raid, and those violent days along the border.    

The original collector who obtained the pistol from the Garcia family mistakenly assumed the pistol had been manufactured in Spain and that it was .44 caliber, but further research provided an accurate identification.  

Commonly known as a “Montenegro Pistol”, this large frame, double action revolver design was based on the Model 1870/74 Gasser Austro-Hungarian Cavalry Pistol, one of the most advanced military pistols at the time of its introduction in 1870, featuring both a double action and chambered for a center fire cartridge. 


The caliber of these pistols, nominally 11mm and often lumped under the one umbrella caliber of “11mm Gasser” or the “11mm Montenegrin”, appeared in several variations, including 11.2mm x 29.5mm, 11.3mm x 36Rmm, 11.3mm x 51Rmm, 11.75mm x 36mm "Short Montenegrin" and 11.75mm x 51mm "Long Montenegrin". For comparison purposes, the 11.3 x 36mm cartridge, considerably longer than a .44 Magnum, was loaded with black powder and propelled a 310-grain bullet at almost 900 fps – more powerful than contemporary loadings of the .45 Colt and .44 Russian.  This pistol appears to be chambered for the 11.75mm x 36mm, an impressive cartridge in a large frame revolver.   

Wedged between the 19th Century Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires on the west coast of the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro is a small mountainous country with a long history marked with threats of invasion, wars and revolutions.  The only nation to have its name become synonymous with a particular style of firearm, the association grew from a regal decree issued by King Nicolas, who ruled Montenegro from 1910-1918.  Perhaps the only case in history where a national leader ordered the general population to arm themselves with a specific firearm, King Nicolas ordered “Every male citizen of Montenegro is a member of the Militia, and therefore not only justified but also obliged to possess at least one Gasser Pattern revolver.”  The Gasser Revolver was the primary Austrian Army sidearm from 1870-1878, and as the earlier models were replaced by improved models, the older pistols had been sold to Montenegro and were well received.  In addition to this foundation of familiarity with the pistol, when Nicolas ascended to the throne and issued his requirement that the citizenry be armed with this very same pistol, it is believed he owned shares of stock in the Leopold Gasser Waffenfabrik in Vienna – patent holder and sole manufacturer of the pistol at that time.  As Mel Brooks was given to say, “Its good to be da king.” 

While this enforced demand for the Montenegrin revolvers bolstered the business of the Austrian arms maker through the end of World War One, their revolver was also in such demand by other nations that Gasser was unable to meet all the orders.  In response, he licensed arms makers in Belgium, France and Spain to produce the pistol, and eventually it was also being produced by makers who did not enjoy the same license agreement with Gasser but were beyond enforcement of such fussy little details such as patents.  The quality of the revolvers produced by these other makers varied greatly, from excellent to outright dangerous.  Deviations from the original Gasser design included the variations in caliber as noted above, solid and hinged frame designs, and longer and shorter barrels, however they all seem to retain the nominal 11mm caliber, very large cylinders, and the rounded grip reminiscent of the Mauser Model 1896 “Broom Handle” Pistol. 

Quickly becoming a status symbol among the Montenegrin men who were known to wear the pistols openly with their traditional garb - sometimes more than one - the wealthier classes continued to buy those produced by Leupold Gasser while the less costly guns made in Belgium and Spain found a market with the common man.  As with gun makers world wide, they offered such embellishments as ivory or bone grips, nickel plating, and engraving.  

Given the large number of Gasser Revolvers produced by the various manufacturers – some estimate total production was well over a quarter of a million - it is understandable how they came to be distributed around the world, especially to nations involved in regional wars and revolutions.  Several sources refer to a number of shipments of Gassers which were directed to Mexico during their Revolution, including a specific shipment of a significant number of pistols which were sold to Poncho Villa.  Another shipment of Gassers to Mexico is referenced – possibly as many as 5,000 pistols – where the barrels were exchanged for barrels bored for the .44-40 cartridge and were so marked.  A third shipment was intercepted by the U.S. government which was destined for “South America” and those pistols were chambered in .44 S&W Russian.  That these accounts lack specific details isn’t surprising considering they were very likely clandestine shipments - a common characteristic of arms sales to revolutionaries throughout history.  Certainly, the Gasser Pistols were present among the various factions during the Mexican Revolution, and very likely more than a few were carried into Columbus by the Villistas.  

Poncho Villa is shown here on the left.  The man in the center is armed with what could be a Montenegro Pistol.  His large pistol features white bone or ivory grips which can be seen above the holster and the cartridges in his pistol belt are quite large, consistent with the 11mm cartridges.  

After reviewing the proof marks and maker’s stamps on this pistol, it is fairly certain it was manufactured in Belgium.  The left side of the barrel boss is stamped “DASSER PATENT” – the “D” instead of a “G” being an intentional spelling variation from the original maker’s stamp “GASSER”, an effort to avoid a patent infringement claim.  Below the patent information is stamped “GUSS-STAHL”, German for cast steel, indicating the difference from the earlier Model 1870 Gassers which were made of cast iron.  “Guss-Stahl” was the specific German term referencing the Bessermer steel process developed in the second half of the 19TH Century.  The right side of the barrel boss is stamped with a crown surmounting a capital “R” over a capital “LG”, all Belgian proof marks.  The “R” was introduced in Belgium in 1894 to indicate the barrel is rifled, and the use of the same stamp was extended to rifles in 1897.    

The top of the frame is stamped with a crown surmounting the initials NI.  This stamp is believed by some to be a holdover tribute to King Nicolas, and it might well have been an overt and shameless marketing ploy to secure more sales in Montenegro.  It is also entirely possible that the initials may be the initials of a Belgian proof inspector.   

Given the hard use and exposure over time, this Gasser Pistol presents as one would expect.  Once nickel plated, the plating has worn from all the exposed surfaces and only traces remain in protected areas.  The level of wear to the finish of the pistol was likely well established and progressed to an advanced degree before it was recovered from the battlefield.  Conditions on the trail of the revolution were hard on men, horses, and firearms alike.  Mechanically, the pistol still functions in both single action and double action, and the cylinder turns as it should.  While the cylinder indexes well, the stop is worn so that after the trigger is pulled and the hammer falls, the cylinder is able to be turned.  All of the components are present and intact with the exception of the extractor rod.  The barrel measures 5” long with a dark bore which still retains some rifling.  If the new owner so desired, the bore would probably brighten with some cleaning, but as it presents, the bore is consistent with the condition of the balance of the pistol.  The two visible serial numbers – on the cylinder and on the frame – are matching.  Both original bone grip panels are present, showing a nice even aged patina.  Both panels have the same minor chipping at the top rear edge where they mate with the frame.  Otherwise they are full form and have a very nice finish.   

The identification tag, attached to the lanyard ring of the pistol when I purchased it, identifies this pistol and holster as being found on the Columbus, New Mexico battle site in 1916 by a Mr. Garcia, and that the set was purchased in the 1940’s from the Garcia family.  The opposite side of the tag bears the former owner’s assumptions of the caliber and country of origin of the pistol, and correctly describes it as being a nickel plated double action pistol with bone grips.  Simple and concise in content and format, this sort of brief and to the point provenance is typical of that recorded by collectors years ago, and frankly, on pieces such as this set, is far more compelling than the lengthy record of notary public statements one often sees.   

The holster is a perfect fit, the leather certainly stout enough to have carried this heavy pistol handily.  The pistol pocket is full form, the seam is fully intact, and there is a decorative border stamping around the edge of the pocket.  The leather is soft and supple, retaining a nice aged russet color and the surface is generally smooth with only minor crazing.  There is a brass finial on the face of the holster indicating there was a flap or securing strap of some kind.  The supporting skirt is only partially present, and from the way it is attached to the pocket it appears to me that when complete, this might well have been a shoulder holster.  Were that the case, it is possible that when this set was recovered from the battle field, in his hurry Garcia may well have cut the shoulder straps in order to remove it from the body of the Villista, leaving the straps behind.  From the fit of the pistol in the holster, from all appearances this is the holster original to the pistol.   

If I had any doubt that the tag accurately describes the provenance of this pistol and holster, I never would have acquired it.  While there is no way to independently confirm that this pistol and holster were recovered from the scene of the Columbus Raid, likely from the body of one of slain Villistas, the type of pistol, the overall condition, and the simplicity of the identification tag all lead me to accept this set just as it presents – a very interesting and relatively scarce relic of one of the smaller, yet key events in the history of the United States as it emerged into a world power from the isolation of the 19TH Century on to the world stage of the 20Th Century.  (0201) $1495 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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