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SPENCER BUFFALO RIFLE – FRONTIER GUNSMITH REBARRELED WITH AN EARLY HAND RIFLED HEAVY BARREL:  A classic example of the post-Civil War use of surplus military firearms on the Western Frontier, this Spencer “Buffalo” or Plains Rifle is a one of a kind, frontier gunsmith shop conversion offering all the unique features and flavor of a gun right out of the old west.   

These gunsmith modified Spencer Rifles leave little doubt that they “were there”, on the fringes of the frontier and carried far beyond the eastern settlements.  Not only was the Spencer a mechanically sound and durable firearm which had proven itself on the battlefields of the recently ended Civil War, they were economically competitive with the other repeating rifles available on the market.  Henry Rifles, which fired a relatively anemic cartridge delivering a 255 grain bullet propelled by only 23 grains of powder, were being offered from $50 to $100 depending on where you made your purchase.  Conversely, these Spencer Rifles delivered a much more robust 330 grain bullet over 45 grains of powder and period advertisements offered them in the range of $2 to $30.   

Well known gunsmiths, as well as many lesser known or unknown smiths, throughout the west produced these guns.  J.P. Gemmer of St. Louis and Carlos Gove of Denver are both believed to have made these Spencer Plains Rifles using J & S Hawken marked barrels purchased from the famous gunmakers’ estate.  A. J. Plate of San Francisco also made Spencer “Hawken” style rifles, one known example in .50 caliber with an impressive 32” long barrel.  A number of luminaries on the frontier favored these dependable rifles, not the least of whom was Geronimo who surrendered a .44 caliber Spencer Plains Rifle  with a 30” barrel.     

Weighing in at just over 12 pounds, this Model 1860 Spencer receiver is mounted with a .56-46 (.45) caliber, 22 ½” octagon barrel that measures 1” from flat to flat.  The barrel appears to have been salvaged from a half stock percussion plains rifle, as evidenced by the staple mounting points which held a barrel key that are still present on the bottom barrel flat under the forearm.  There is a name applied to the bottom flat of the barrel, again under the forearm, applied with a series of awl or punch strikes which reads “J. WARNER” or “WARREN”.  This may well be the name of the gunsmith who performed the conversion.  The bore is excellent with only very minor wear, showing evidence of extremely good care by the original owner, with strong, definitive rifling throughout.   

The metal surfaces all have a smooth, even patina, with no pitting or damage.   

The butt and fore stocks have a nice patina and show the marks and wear one expects to see in a frontier used rifle.  Both pieces are solidly mounted with no play.  The one point of wear that is present on the stocks is located on the left side of the wrist, and it attests to this rifle’s use on the frontier and having been carried many, many miles balanced across the pommel of a saddle or across the horse’s neck.  Immediately above the trigger guard/loading lever the wood is worn away where it was abraded by the movement of the horse and rider.  The surface of the wood is polished smooth as each successive layer of grain was worn away, eventually exposing a short band of the magazine tube inside the butt stock.  The wood has been reduced below the height of the trailing edge of the receiver and the washer of the rear lock screw, again evidence of prolonged and steady wear in this one area.  As a result of the loss of wood over the magazine tube, an age check runs from the exposed tube forward to the edge of the receiver, however the surrounding wood is stable, there is no play in this area, and the check shows no sign of expanding – certainly it has long since stabilized.  This sort of saddle or pommel wear is considered by many collectors to be a desirable feature as definite evidence of a rifle’s use on the frontier.  Other than this area of wear, there are no other cracks, splits, or loss of wood.  The fore stock is attached with the original screw through the bottom of the fore stock into a tenon mounted in the bottom of the barrel.  

The rear sight is the original Model 1860 Spencer rear sight which was correct for both the Model 1860 Rifles and Carbines.  It is complete with the tension leaf spring, sliding sight bar, and screw stop.  The front sight blade is fashioned from a slice of a silver 1869 dated US Half Dollar mounted in an iron base dovetailed into the top flat of the barrel.  The coin blade still retains much of its detail and the date is fully legible.   

The breech block functions very well with no play due to wear, with smooth metal surfaces.  The lock and trigger assembly functions as crisp as a clock.   

The butt plate shows no more age than one would expect on one of these rifles and the magazine is complete, intact and fully functional.   

Handling this Frontier Spencer evokes all of the color and the mystique of the early American West, modified immediately after the Civil War before the Sharps and Remington rifles became a commercial success on the buffalo ranges.  Far less commonly encountered today than the Sporting Rifles made by Spencer at his factory after the Civil War, these modified Spencers provided an attractive combination of a dependable repeating rifle, a sturdy, proven design, and a heavy projectile all in one package at a price considerably less than the Henry, Winchester Model 1866 and even the factory made Spencer Sporting Rifles cost.   Well regarded on the plains and carried by such notables as Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnson, these Frontier Spencers are in a class all their own and deserve a place in any Western gun collection.  (0109)  $3250



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