A Collection of Criminals An official Wells Fargo highwaymen album, Civil War memorabilia and militaria were among the collectibles once owned by an astute historian of American firearms.

Norman Flayderman true west
Norman Flayderman, who died May 23, 2013, a couple months shy of his 85th birthday, served his nation in three branches of the military: U.S. Navy, Air Force and the Army of Connecticut. He founded his antique weapons firm in 1952; two years later, he began publishing his annual guide to antique firearms. Flayderman owned the largest private collection of Kentucky rifles, including this flintlock Kentucky rifle by Nicholas Beyer, which sold as the top firearms lot for a $24,000 bid. – All images courtesy Cowan’s Auctions –

Collectors knew Norman Flayderman as the man behind the bible of American firearms, Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms…and Their Values. That a Kentucky rifle sold as the top firearm of the day at Cowan’s Auctions on February 21 was no shocker, seeing that Flayderman had the largest privately owned collection of Kentucky rifles. But many were surprised by his extensive collection of rare Civil War broadsides, which he had gathered for a Civil War book he was working on.

john brown jr. true west
An 1861 letter by John Brown Jr., the eldest son of the abolitionist, plus a presentation knife inscribed to Capt. John Brown Jr. of the 1st Kansas Brigade hammered down at $10,500.

“Norm’s collection of broadsides covers everything from the seeds of rebellion through the end of the Civil War,” says Katie Horstman, Cowan’s director of American History. “Whether rallying Northern and Southern troops, proclaiming Union occupation of Confederate cities such as New Orleans, or calling on soldiers to cast their votes, this fine selection of broadsides documents the events of the Civil War as they unfolded.”

bowie knife true west
Numerous Bowie knives owned by Norman Flayderman sold at the auction, and the top Bowie sold was this large Bowie by Schmid of Providence, Rhode Island, pictured in Flayderman’s The Bowie Knife; $8,500.

More history passed hands in the forms of historical manuscripts that ranged from a diary owned by a Medal of Honor recipient from the Indian Wars to a log book kept by a pioneer Alaskan seaman.

collecting the west true west
The highest-selling lot from Flayderman’s collection was not one of his firearms, but an album containing carte de visites and cabinet cards of Wells Fargo highwaymen, train robbers and other criminals; $39,000. (Shown from left) Bill Cook, Crawford “Cherokee Bill” Goldsby and Thurman “Skeeter” Baldwin of the Cook Gang that ravaged Indian Territory during the 1890s.

A collection of criminals, however hammered down as the top lot. The faces of Bill Cook and Crawford “Cherokee Bill” Goldsby who terrorized Indian Territory in the 1890s, among other frontier outlaws, are forever preserved in 71 photographs included in an album that the Railway Express Agency attested was the “official office copy kept by Wells Fargo in New York….”

Men of color to arms cowans auction true west magazine
The top-selling Civil War lot sold at the Flayderman auction was this “Men of Color, To Arms! To Arms!” recruitment broadside; $29,000. A rare colored troops broadside, imploring, “Come and Join Us Brothers,” sold for a $15,500 bid.

Like many Old West history collectors, Flayderman got bit by the outlaw bug, and he thankfully preserved this album of thugs for the next generation. The Flayderman estate earned nearly $850,000 at the auction.

Michael A. Healy true west
Flayderman researched seafaring pioneers as well, telling their tales in his 1972 book, Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders: Whales and Whaleman. The log book owned by black Capt. Michael A. Healy, of the U.S. Coast Guard ship Bear, documents an important 1892 season in Alaska; $7,000.

 

george e. albee true west
Captain George E. Albee’s archive features his 1869 Indian Wars journal, including entries from the 1869 Battle at Brazos River in Texas, which earned Albee a Medal of Honor; $9,000.

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Meghan Saar

Meghan Saar is the editor of True West, the world’s oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. She has worked in niche publication content development since 2002, and she has a B.S. in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona—Tucson.