Museum Minute: Buffalo Bill's Winchester Carbine

Jun 14, 2018

There are stories, which pass through hearsay but one can never be sure if the story is completely true. The Buffalo Bill Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West was aware of a story behind a certain Winchester Carbine but not until recently were they able to prove it.

The Winchester Carbine originally belonged to William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody but somehow ended up in the hands of George Beck, one of the founders of the town Cody.

The Story:

Cody, George Beck and Hank Fulton headed to the Black Hills to quell a Ute Indian uprising. But when they got there it turned out the uprising didn’t really need their help, so the three men decided they would go down to Deadwood and spend a few days there.

Cody and Beck were known to play many practical jokes on each other.  In fact, during the Deadwood trip, Beck played a practical joke on Cody. Beck asked a woman from a traveling troupe to join in. Beck and the woman got a wagon and drove up and down Main Street in Deadwood as Cody sat in a saloon. Cody kept waving and trying to say hi to Beck and his friend but they just ignored him. Supposedly, Cody thought this was a marvelous joke, so much so that he decided he wanted to give his friend his Winchester Rifle.

The rifle was made specifically for Cody and officially given to him by Jack Crawford, an old Western poet. Cody used the rifle a lot for hunting. At the end of the Deadwood trip, Cody presented the rifle to Beck. He had changed the plate’s inscription on the stock. It had formerly read: “presented by the Winchester Company to Colonel W.F. Cody”, and had changed to, “presented by W.F. Cody to his friend George T. Beck”.  

True or False?

The story was confirmed recently when the museum acquired a portion of Beck’s manuscript from his family. The manuscript outlines the full story. Now, the museum can confidently tell the story of how Beck received Cody’s Winchester Carbine.

The following are excerpts of the manuscript:

Chapter 19 (page numbers are not provided)

“. . .Hank Fulton and I were standing at the Irma Bar with Cody when the telegram was handed to him. He read it and then turned and asked me to go along inasmuch as I was so thoroughly familiar with the part of the state . . . I said I’d go if Hank would come along for company. When he agreed the three of us took the next train out, the Colonel carrying a .30-.40 carbine whereas Hank and I went unarmed.”

“. . .Hank and the Colonel had disappeared and, I noticed, so had the gun.  . . .

“. . . I found out why the gun had been missing from our room. Cody made a presentation of it to me and I observed that he must have taken it bright and early that morning to a jeweler’s because the plate on the stock had been changed. It had formerly read: PRESENTED BY THE WINCHESTER COMPANY TO COLONEL W.F. CODY, but now it reads: PRESENTED BY WM. F. CODY TO HIS FRIEND GEORGE T. BECK.”