Due to the considerable amount of retrospectives in books, television and film production paying attention on World War II, the Spanish-American War (SAW) has all but faded from historical discussion. As aged WWII veterans rapidly pass from society, their children and grandchildren (like me) are seeking to capture their personal and historical narratives pertaining to service during the war. In doing so, a vacuum is left when it comes to relatively minor conflicts such as the War of 1812 and the SAW.
However, in context such as discussions about specific events or personalities within one of these wars or milestone anniversaries (Admiral Dewey, the USS Maine or the bicentennial of the War of 1812), some discussion does percolate regarding these other historical occurrences.
In keeping with my previous string of topics regarding collecting military weapons, I couldn’t help but set my sights upon another collectible that piqued my interest on several levels.
While conducting research for my USS Maine article, I was fascinated to learn about a revolver that had been removed from the wreckage of the ship within 24 hours of her sinking. In order to make a quick, preliminary determination source of the explosion, divers discovered a Model 1895 Colt double-action Army-Navy revolver. The weapon was brought back to the Navy Department in Washington D.C. along with the findings and found its way into the hands of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt. When “Teddy” vacated his position to fight in the ensuing war, he carried with him the Colt revolver that was recovered from the Maine. Roosevelt would use the pistol in combat, telling a story of how he killed a Spanish enemy soldier after firing two shots. For this action, Colonel Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor a century later.
“Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt distinguished himself by acts of bravery on 1 July, 1898, near Santiago de Cuba, Republic of Cuba, while leading a daring charge up San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, in total disregard for his personal safety, and accompanied by only four or five men, led a desperate and gallant charge up San Juan Hill, encouraging his troops to continue the assault through withering enemy fire over open countryside. Facing the enemy’s heavy fire, he displayed extraordinary bravery throughout the charge, and was the first to reach the enemy trenches, where he quickly killed one of the enemy with his pistol, allowing his men to continue the assault. His leadership and valor turned the tide in the Battle for San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Aside from the combat use, what is most intriguing about this pistol is what happened in the years after Roosevelt passed away. The pistol was stolen from Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, the former home of Theodore Roosevelt, on two separate occasions. The first theft resulted in the weapon being dumped on the grounds only to be found, heavily corroded, months later. When the weapon was taken a second time in the 1980s, it would be missing for significantly longer (sixteen years) and again, it was returned to Sagamore where it sits today.
For more on Roosevelt’s stolen revolver, see: NRA’s Curator’s Corner
Needless to say, a weapon of this caliber (pun very much intended) shows up in a pawn shop (such as happened on Pawn Stars season 3, episode 10: Rough Riders) that is purported to originate from the Rough Riders and, more importantly, Theodore Roosevelt, heads are bound to turn.
The story, as told by the current owner of the gun, who claimed to be the step great-grandson of the original owner, was that the Remington Model 1895 .44 caliber (rimfire) revolver was presented by Teddy Roosevelt since he had “ridden with the Colonel in the Rough Riders.” The man’s name, “General E. Kraft” was inscribed into the mother-of-pearl handle grip. Apparently, Senior Kraft had risen to the rank of General and served in the Honduran army.
Rick Harrison, owner of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop (and star of the Pawn Stars television show), seeking to qualify the man’s story and learn more about the revolver, called in Sean Rich of Tortuga Trading Inc. for authentication and an appraisal. At first glance, I had my doubts as to the validity of the Rough Rider story, but something about the heavily engraved revolver was still intriguing enough to keep me watching. Sean’s assessment of the weapon was that it was a very rare and highly collectible revolver yet without any sort of provenance, the monetary value resided only with the weapon (remember, buy the item, not the story?).
I did some checking on the alleged Rough Rider connection, seeking to confirm or disprove E. Kraft’s connection to the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, Roosevelt’s regiment. Due to the obvious popularity of the unit and their leader, there are many research resources available (including rosters) online. Not surprisingly, there were no matches to the name inscribed on the revolver. Sadly, many family stories are altered and perhaps embellished, as they are handed down through the generations. By the time they reach present day, the tales are quite grand, which could be the case with General Kraft and his pearl-handled pistol (anyone recall George C. Scott’s famous line in Patton?).
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