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Historic rifles donated to Hotchkiss museum

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Photo by Kami Collins Showing off the donated rifles are curator of the museum Kathy McKee, John Hotchkiss and Mary Farmer, a member of the historical society and the great-granddaughter of Enos Hotchkiss, whose photograph hangs in the museum behind the t

The Hotchkiss Crawford Historical Museum was recently gifted with three antique rifles that once belonged to Hotchkiss town founder, Enos T. Hotchkiss. The rifles were a gift to the collection by Enos's great-grandson, John Hotchkiss.

"It's pretty exciting," said Chuck Farmer, who serves as the president of the historical society. "This is a unique donation. There is a lot of history here." More than just antique weapons, these rifles help tell the story of a friendship and long-standing business relationship between Enos and Otto Mears, who is credited with developing the transportation network in southern Colorado.

Mears, a Russian emigrant, was a merchant in Conejos, before settling in Saguache in 1866. There, he served as the county treasurer in addition to farming, real estate and mining. What Mears is most known for, however, is his creation of roads; during his time in Colorado, he built over 450 miles of roads. He also operated his own string of three railroads. These works helped the area become economically viable, according to historical documents.

Enos, before founding Hotchkiss, spent time in Saguache as well, where he worked with Otto. The two became good friends, explained Mary Farmer, who is a member of the Hotchkiss Crawford Historical Museum and Enos's great-granddaughter. "Gun aficionados will be so interested to see these," she said.

The first is a .45-70 rifle that was manufactured by the Neyville Armory of Connecticut. The patent date on the rifle is 1865. Enos gifted Otto with this rifle after his tenure as Saguache County treasurer. The engraved inscription reads "To Otto Mears, Saguache County Treasurer, 1872, Enos Hotchkiss." Eventually, Otto gave this gun back to Enos, but John is not sure when or why.

John lent the rifle to a museum in New York City for a short period several years ago, when that museum was showcasing Jewish history (Otto was Jewish).

The second piece is a rifle that Otto gave to Enos. It is also a .45-70, called "Old Reliable," and was manufactured by the Sharps Rifle Company in Bridgeport, Conn., with a patent date of 1880. Chuck explained that this gun is an improved model by Frank W. Freund, who was a noted gunsmith in the western U.S. in the late 1800s. Behind the hammer, "E T Hotchkiss" is engraved.

For a while, the gun left the possession of the Hotchkiss Family, and was even on display at the Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton for a while. John isn't sure how this rifle came to be returned to the family, either.

The third gun is a double barreled cap and ball muzzle loader. In his research, Chuck found that this gun was manufactured in at least 1870, if not earlier; break-open shotguns were first manufactured in 1870, making it unlikely a large number of the older style of cap and ball would be manufactured after that. There is an inscription on this gun that says "W. Richards," who was a gunsmith who manufactured weapons in Liverpool, England.

This gun actually belonged to William Feely, who was Mattie Hotchkiss's father; Mattie was Enos's daughter-in-law. The gun eventually came into the hands of North Fork gun collector Wilford "Poof" Allen, who returned the gun to John's father.

"It's amazing they all ended up together," Mary said. "It's wonderful to have them here. It was generous of John to share them, and the museum is a good place for them."

"I want them to be some place where people can come see them," John said about the donation. "It's a nice collection for the museum to have." He said he also feared someone would steal the rifles, and the museum is the safest place for them.

"These are very valuable pieces, even without the history," Chuck said. He asked Casey Stengel to examine the rifles, and they were found to be in excellent condition, considering their age. Only one, the muzzle loader, has damage, with a broken hammer. The others are in good shape, though Farmer said you can tell the guns were heavily used, not just show pieces.

The rifles are now on display during regular museum hours, on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. On March 18, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. with a showcase of antique quilts, to coincide with the S&B Quilt show at Heritage Hall the same day. Admission to the museum will be free on this day.

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North Fork
history, Hotchkiss, Museum
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