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THE HOLY GRAIL OF SHARPS BUFFALO GUNS! Early Hartford 1874 Sporting Rifle with 30″ octagon barrel in .44-77 caliber with factory letter showing shipment to F. C. ZIMMERMAN, DODGE CITY, KANSAS IN 1874! – Image Gallery at page end.
If you are a Sharps or buffalo gun afficiando nothing more really needs to be said about this gun’s provenance. Frederick Zimmerman immigrated to the United States in 1863 during the height of the Civil War. He used his experience in Prussia as a gunsmith and military arms inspector to gain employment as an armorer for the Union Army. After the war he moved his family to a small prairie tent camp near Ft Dodge, Kansas where he would construct the first wooden building to support the growing legions of buffalo hunters. Eventually Dodge City sprang from the camp and became the center of the western buffalo hunt of the 1870s. As the Kansas herds thinned, Dodge City hunters began venturing south of the Republican River and hunting the Texas buffalo. Until Ft Griffin was established in Texas, Dodge City and its merchants continued to be the primary source of guns, lead, powder and other essentials for the trade. Zimmerman, like Conrad Rath and Lee & Reynolds was one of the Sharp’s Rifle Company’s offical agents in Dodge City. Rifles shipped to him and verified by serial number/factory letter taken from the old Sharps records are few and highly sought after. Any rifle sent to Zimmerman, Dodge City, Kansas is a true buffalo gun.
This Hartford Sharps is the classic, heavy barreled rifle used in the buffalo hunt of the 1870s. Weighing in at 12 lbs this rifle is chambered in the Sharps 44/77 cartridge. According to Frank Sellers’ research on Sharps company records, the 44/77 was the most common cartridge ordered by the buffalo hunters. With a 365 grain bullet the 44/77 exited the barrel at 1470 FPS compared to 1350 FPS for the 405 grain Govt 45/70. The smaller bullet also had 140 foot pounds greater energy at the muzzle. Flatter trajectory, more energy and a lot less lead!
Most of the buffalo rifles were used very hard, often abused and frequently altered (re-barreled or cut-down etc.). This example shows the hard wear one would expect from such a rifle, overall the metal is a gray-brown patina with good markings. The barrel, receiver, lock, buttplate and forearm numbers all match. The buttstock is an original 1874 sporting rifle stock and matches the gun in wear and patina however I did not find a serial number in the wood beneath the buttplate. I did not remove the stock from the tang and it is possible the number is beneath the tang. The front of the stock on Sharps has many thin pieces and I will not pull it due to the possiblilty of damaging the wood. In my opinion, the buttstock is either original to the gun or an original Sharps replacement stock contemporary to its use in the 1870s.
The tang has the usual crack across the thin area on each side of the forward screw (minor and common), the factory tang sight screw holes were filled during its period of use to reinforce the tang. The butt stock and forearm show considerable wear, but are solid. The forearm shows additional saddle wear and cross-stick shooting rest wear to the sides and bottom as would be expected of a hide hunters gun. The left side of the forearm is especially worn where a right handed shooter would lay the gun, left side down, across the saddle while riding. The correct Hartford pewter tip shows wear, double set triggers function fine, tight action, original rear sight, large blade front sight. The bore is clean but heavily worn from shooting paper patched bullets however it still retains visble rifling. The firearm is accompanied by a detailed letter from Richard Labowskie, M.D., owner of the original Sharps Company records.
In 1874, Dodge City was the home of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Doc Holidayand, scores of buffalo hunters and skinners, gamblers and “soiled doves”. One of the most infamous and deadly towns of the time, it boasted “a dead man by breakfast every day.” Eventually, when the hide market dried up, Dodge City became a cow town, shipping more beef east than any other western town of its day. In 1874 though, a Sharps buffalo rifle once sat, new and shiny, on a rack in Zimmerman’s store as the boots of Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp thudded by on the boardwalk outside.
if you like guns from the old west, it doesn’t get better than this! Sharps made only 6000 Sporting Rifles. A small percentage of these were actually used during the great buffalo hunt. Only a fraction of those have survived. Even fewer can be actually documented to a western supplier. These rifles are seldom found and seldom offered for sale.
One of the last Dodge City guns that I have seen offered was a Bridgeport Sharps shipped in 1876 to Lee & Reynolds. It sold at auction in 2014 for over $32,000. https://www.morphyauctions.com/jamesdjulia/item/2181-369/
Frederick C. Zimmermann
Dodge City Gunsmith
Frederick Carl Zimmermann was born in Saxony, Prussia, December 29, 1833 and died in Dodge City on January 20, 1888. He arrived in the USA in 1863, after learning and practicing his trade of gunsmithing in Germany, Paris and London. He married Matilda Messinger of New Britain, Connecticut in 1865. He arrived in Dodge City in July 1872. Matilda arrived in September 1872, with their first two babies. When they arrived, there was only a sod house and two canvas buildings, and the Santa Fe tracks had not yet reached Dodge City, the rails ending in Spearville. They use a wagon for the last 16 miles to Dodge City.
An experienced gunsmith was a valuable addition to the new town and over the years, starting on Front Street in a building next to George Hoover’s store, he built a hardware, general merchandise and lumber business out of his gunsmith store. The F.C. Zimmermann Hardware store was one of the most profitable Dodge City businesses well into the 20th century.
Frederick Zimmermann’s obituary in the Ford County Republican, January 25,1888, seems to state his history the clearest.
Frederick attended the common schools of Saxony until fourteen years of age, when he was apprenticed to learn the business of gunsmith. He followed this avocation as apprentice and journey man until he attained the age of twenty, when…he entered the military service, in which he remained three years; a part of the time on detail as inspector of arms at Cologne on the Rhine. His term having expired, he was employed at his trade for several years in his native country, when he went to Paris, France, where he remained until 1861. He then crossed into England and plied his calling in London for two years. In 1863 he immigrated to America, and landed in New York, where he first found employment at his trade; and afterward at Trenton, New Jersey, Springfield , Massachusetts, and New Britain, Connecticut. At new Britain, June 14, 1865, he was united in marriage to Miss Matilda Messinger…formerly of … Germany.
In 1868 he started for the west, and engaged in selling guns on commission and repairing fire-arms at Laramie City, Wyoming Territory. In the fall of 1869 he located at Sheridan, Kansas, with a store of guns, ammunition and sporting goods, where he remained five months. At the end of that time, he transferred his business to Kit Carson, Colorado Territory, and remained there about two years. In July, 1872, he purchased lumber at Russell, on the Kansas Pacific railroad, and, crossing the country, located at Dodge City, where there were but two canvas-houses in the place, and erected a building, in which he began the business of gunsmithing and the sale of hardware and trimmings. In 1874 he added to his other business that of general merchandising, and in 1875 that of lumber, in which he was still engaged at the time of his death.
Frederick Zimmermann was a leader among the German population and served as founding president of the German Immigration Society. He was also elected county commissioner several times, and was one of the first three commissioners when Ford County was established in 1873. He was on the first school board. He served two terms as county treasurer in the late 1870’s.
According to Kansas and Kansans (1919), it was while rerunning for treasurer that “he was set upon by a band of ‘bad men’ believed to have been inspired by Bat Masterson for the sole purpose of harming Mr. Zimmermann. They laid for him at a lonely spot, and as the county treasurer and his wife approached in a buggy fired a shot in their direction. Mr. Zimmermann at once handed the lines to his wife, jumped from the vehicle with his old bright barreled shotgun and started after his assailants. The glistening of the gun barrel in the bright moonlight revealed the determined character the outlaws had to deal with and they quickly disappeared. He was frequently ordered to leave town by members of this outfit [Zimmermann was against gambling and the saloon gang of Dodge City], and on one occasion they sent him a valentine indicating in cartoon how he would be disposed of if he did not go. Mr. Zimmermann labeled the valentine ‘Bat Masterson’ and stuck it up in his window and forgot the threat. He was absolutely without fear, and no threats coming from any man would deter him from his straight and narrow path of duty.”
Zimmermann was also a ‘gentleman farmer,’ and established the first homestead claim proved-up in the county. The Zimmermann home was on a large acreage on the west edge of Dodge City, where the Santa Fe railroad tracks cross 14th Street. On his farm, he experimented with fruit trees, vines and windmill irrigation. He was the first to produce alfalfa successfully in Ford County. In 1885, his vines produced over a ton of grapes. He had numerous fountains on his farm, giving the name “Fountain Grove” to his beautifully landscaped estate.
The Zimmermanns had five children, three of whom died in infancy. Son Arthur was killed in a horse accident in 1887, when he was 16. The surviving daughter, Clarrisa, was married to John H. Churchill and, after John’s death, to banker George B. Rose. When Clarrisa died in 1954, she had lived the longest in Dodge City of any resident.
William E. Connelley, in his Standard History of Kansas and Kansans wrote: Frederick C. Zimmermann was one of the stalwart, courageous and upright men of the real pioneer era in Southwestern Kansas. Of the personalities that figured largely in the early life of Dodge City, his was one around which center many grateful and interesting memories.
F.C. Zimmermann died January 20, 1888, just months after the death of his son. His wife, Matilda, moved to Los Angeles, California, where she lived until returning to Dodge City in 1928 to live with her daughter, Clarrisa. She died in September 1929.
(© 2003-2007, George Laughead Jr, author.)