A Smith & Wesson revolver belonging to former President Theodore Roosevelt fetched a handsome price when the brisk chant of the Rock Island Auction Company’s auctioneer finally came to an oxygen-saving conclusion.
The weapon, which netted a staggering $910,625 by the time the auctioneer’s gavel signaled the final bid, is a .38 Long Colt-chambered No. 3 single-action revolver that was presented to then-Col. Roosevelt on May 12, 1898, a day that coincides with his departure for San Antonio to train with the Rough Riders for eventual combat against Spanish forces in Cuba.
“Firearms with presidential ties are highly sought after and extremely difficult to find,” Kevin Hogan, Rock Island Auction Company president, said at the time of the sale. “Being tied to such an important office frequently places these arms at historic moments in American history. We’ve had the responsibility of offering three presidential arms in 2022, which is unheard of, but it never ceases to be something special.”
It’s likely Roosevelt intended for the weapon to be carried into war against Spain, according to documentation compiled by Rock Island. Instead, the Bull Moose carried a Colt Model 1892 double-action revolver that was recovered from the wreckage of the USS Maine, which, following an accidental explosion, sank in 1898 in the Havana Harbor. Despite the nature of the ship’s demise, national hysteria and calls for war with Spain ensued.
After the Spanish-American war, the eventual president held on to the Smith & Wesson revolver, later placing it each night on his bedside at the White House, according to paperwork kept by Roosevelt’s longtime bodyguard and family friend, James Amos.
The firearm’s history after Roosevelt’s death in 1919 remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. What seems to be the most likely scenario, according to paperwork and personal accounts, is that the Roosevelt family gifted the revolver to Amos, who then turned it over to his family before it eventually landed with Jim Supica, the museum director for the National Rifle Association.
Amos, who was Roosevelt’s valet for 12 years, was once referred to by the president as “the best shot that I have ever seen,” according to the Theodore Roosevelt Center. After the president’s death, Amos would go on to become a special agent with the FBI, joining in 1921 and becoming one of the first Black agents in the Bureau’s history.
In a book about his time with Roosevelt, Amos wrote, “While President he often went armed. I have in my home now a large revolver which 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.”
In addition to the revolver, Rock Island Auction Company also auctioned off an Ames-inscribed presentation sword and scabbard designed for Confederate Brigadier Gen. Paul J. Semmes, who was mortally wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg. The sword was sold for just over $175,000.
A separate Roosevelt-owned revolver, a Colt single-action variant that was special ordered around the president’s 54th birthday, sold in 2020 for a shade under $1.5 million.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.