A gun belt belonging to legendary outlaw Jesse James one of just two the gunslinger was known to have had at the time of his death at the hands of Robert Ford is expected to bring more than $10,000 as the centerpiece of Heritage Auctions
' June 22 Legends of the Wild West event.
The auction will feature more than 140 "Outlaw" artifacts from the collection to the late Wilbur Zink, a resident of Springfield, MO ideally situated not too far from the James Farm, the homestead of Frank and Jesse and one of the most renowned collectors of such material. The Wilbur Zink Collection will be presented as a separate catalog within the auction.
"Authentic outlaw material is genuinely rare," said Tom Slater, Director of Historical and Americana Auctions at Heritage. "We've always considered ourselves fortunate to offer even a few items at auction. A grouping like this, with material that has never been offered, is a very special thing we hope people can appreciate the magnitude of its being presented all at once. This is a once-in-a-generation auction."
One of the most fascinating and interesting pieces in the Zink Collection stems from one of the most notorious episodes of the James and Younger Gang's duration: the failed 1876 bank robbery in Northfield, MN, where a member of the gang famously shot bank employee Joseph Lee Heywood for refusing to open the bank's safe.
"Heywood was shot and killed by the frustrated would-be robbers," said Slater. "For years it was held that Jesse had pulled the trigger, but, at the end of his life, Cole Younger admitted that it had, in fact, been Frank who shot Heywood."
The James brothers escaped, but Cole, Jim and Bob Younger were shot up by a posse, arrested and sentenced to long terms in the state penitentiary at Stillwater, MN, where they were afforded celebrity status. In 1898 the warden at Stillwater allowed the men to throw a Christmas bash at his own home, with Cole Younger playing Santa Claus. Among those in attendance was Cora McNeill, the brothers' unofficial corresponding secretary while they were in prison, and her nine year old daughter Edwynne. At the party "Uncle Jim" Younger presented the young girl with his prized violin, artfully and charmingly painted with a red bird, which she treasured for more than 70 years before entrusting it to Zink for his collection. It is expected to bring $10,000+.
"A romantic attachment between Jim Younger and Cora McNeill has long been rumored," said Slater. "It's a marvelous artifact made even more evocative by the circumstances in which it was given."
Wilbur Zink lived in Springfield, MO, and frequently interacted with the descendants of the James and Younger families, who all played prominent roles in polishing the legend of their famous forebears. This made him into not only a discerning collector of James and Younger Gang artifacts, but also a true scholar with a deep understanding of the historical context for the objects he accumulated.
"One of Zink's great coups was the purchase in the early 1980s of more than a third of the famed Harry Hoffman Collection," said Slater. "Hoffman was a neighbor and friend of the James family, and grew up with Jesse, Jr., who remained a lifelong friend. As an adult he also became a close friend of Cole Younger and, along with Jesse, Jr., attended Cole at his deathbed."
Among the Hoffman items which later found their way into the Zink collection and which feature prominently in the Heritage event are:
A large Cole Younger autographed photo, given to Hoffman by Younger himself: Estimate $5,000+.
Important James and Younger photos which came from the family: Estimate $2,000+.
A rare cabinet-sized photo of Jesse James: Estimate $2,500+.
The June 22 Heritage Legends of the Wild West auction will also feature such diverse items as important George Armstrong Custer relics with family provenance, a superb engraved model 1895 Winchester rifle presented by Theodore Roosevelt, important artifacts of Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill's Wild West, a rare twice-signed document by Alamo hero William Barret Travis and a large selection of early Western and Native American photographs from the estate of late noted Las Vegas collector Al Mueller.