Doc Holliday’s derringer may be coming home to Glenwood Springs
March 8, 2017
You never know who — or what — is going to walk through the door.
One August day, Bill Kight was going about his business in the basement of the Frontier Museum. The space is stuffed with Glenwood Springs Historical Society's archives: microfiche, bound newspapers and other artifacts from the city's history. A staff member called Kight upstairs to the museum. There, he encountered a man who had what he claimed was Doc Holliday's 1866 Remington derringer.
"I don't want to appear too excited because I'm not sure this is the real thing," said Kight, the organization's executive director.
The society has worked in the months since to verify the gun's origin. Several members, including board members, met with the owner Wednesday night and will decide today whether the society will purchase the gun.
Holliday expert and historian R.W. "Doc" Boyle met with the current owner, Jason Brierley, and examined the documentation Tuesday.
"The gun is real. There's no doubt the gun is real," Boyle said. "There's this whole bunch of casual evidence that flows from that affidavit that says to my mind, 'Whoa, this is hard to fake.'"
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Holliday, the famed gambler and gunfighter, died at the Hotel Glenwood in 1887. The gun is believed to have been one of few possessions in the room when he died. Holliday's common-law wife, Hungarian-born prostitute Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, gave him the gun, which is inscribed "To Doc from Kate."
Hotel bartender William G. Wells received the gun as partial payment for Holliday's funeral, and it remained in the family until Utah gun dealer E. Dixon Larson purchased it in 1968. Larson wrote about the derringer and other Holliday guns in a 1972 article in Guns magazine. The early '80s saw another individual purchase the gun, and the current owner bought it in July.
Brierley, who traveled here from Vancouver at his own expense, said that when he bought the gun, he just wanted to take a picture of it at Doc Holliday's grave in Glenwood Springs. Now, he believes it belongs here.
The asking price is $84,000, a number Brierley set based on the amount paid for other items believed to be Holliday's, including a $130,000 flask and a $220,000 shotgun. Brierley also took into account other comparable items, including a gun that belonged to Bonnie and Clyde that sold for a half million and one that belonged to Annie Oakley, which sold for $140,000.
Kight said a museum supporter had agreed to lend the Historical Society the money needed.
If the society chooses not to purchase the gun, Brierley will explore an auction. There, he estimated, the sky's the limit for the sale price, and bidding would likely start at $100,000.
The immediate past owner attempted to sell the gun at several small auctions and declined offers up to $90,000. Boyle and Brierley said that tactic devalued the gun; it would have drawn larger offers if sold by an auction house in a major city.
The society members gathered Wednesday discussed the gun's authenticity and how to move forward.
"I think as the Old West travels from history into mythology, I think the provenance on this gun is as good as it's going to get," Mike Miller said.
"Man, this is solid, this provenance," Boyle responded.
If the museum is able to purchase the derringer, Kight believes other Holliday items will follow — not necessarily to purchase but to display. That will help tell this and other stories of the city's past and draw more people, both locals and visitors, to the museum.
"The current cramped, deteriorating building and its location present numerous problems," Boyle wrote in a February letter to the Post Independent. He, too, pointed to the derringer as a significant opportunity for the museum.
"The current museum sees about 3,200 visitors a year at $5 a head. What could help us draw 50,000 people a year at $10 a head? … I think this tiny firearm is part of a set of unique stepping stones to an incredible, long lasting, history-based, across-the-board economic contribution to Glenwood Springs that has been coalescing over the past some years."
Several of those gathered Wednesday committed orally to contributing to the loan's repayment, with Kight promising $5,000.
"It gets down to a leap of faith. It's guaranteed that the gun would draw folks," said Sharon Haller, the secretary/treasurer of the society. "It would also give the community an opportunity to get together to pay back the lender."
The remainder of the board will discuss the possible purchase and make a decision by 3 p.m. today. If it approves the purchase, Holliday's gun would return to the city where he last held it.
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