May 18, 2021 Early Arms & Militaria
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 5/18/2021
When one studies the early history of the United States and our struggle for freedom and independence during the American Revolution, there is no foreign-born participant more important to the outcome of that struggle than the Marquis de La Fayette. As a token of our honor and respect for his valor, sacrifice, and steadfast efforts towards upholding the freedom and equality of man, the name of Lafayette appears nearly 400 times in titling everything in this country from streets, towns and counties, to colleges and institutions, competing with the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. Woven into the fabric of some of Lafayette’s wartime exploits, and his subsequent triumphant tour of the 24 United States in 1824/25, is Chief Tunis. Although unknown to most, by some contemporary accounts he was a legendary figure in the history of the relationship between the Indian and the white settlers of the Beaverkill Valley area of New York. Due to the impact that he made on that area, the upper Beaverkill Valley, has on occasion, been historically referred to as “The Land of Tunis.” Present day maps of the area in which he lived still reference his namesake, Tunis Lake. We begin this short synopsis of these two individuals and their subsequent relationship as it applies to the rifle, with Tunis, who predates Lafayette in the area. By all accounts, he was a member of a group of Tuscarora Indians who had migrated from the Carolinas to eventually settle in the valley of the Beaverkill, in the State of New York. During the French and Indian War, a scout from Pepacton, N.Y. by the name of John Henry Osterhout, found the abandoned young Indian boy starving in the woods. He took pity on the child, brought him home, and raised him as a Christian. He was given Osterhout’s grandfather’s name of Teunis. Most other published references to his name utilize the spelling Tunis. The singularly significant heartache to befall Tunis, an Indian in a white man’s world, occurred when after falling in love with a local white girl named Ruth Yaple, his marriage proposal was racially spurned by her parents, and he left the white man’s world broken hearted, to live in the surrounding woods as a hermit. Published accounts involving his subsequent interaction with whites relate many examples of his continued selfless generosity and courageous actions toward a people, who, for the most part, did not consider him an equal. It is recorded that, at great risk, he saved the life of his adoptive father and his father’s partner, Silas Bowker. Both were scouts at the time for the Hudson Bay Trading Company, and were captured by the hostile Indians that they had been tracking. They were staked out for a torturous death, when Tunis crept into the Indian camp and cut their bonds under the cover of darkness. Tunis also reportedly found a fabulously productive lead mine while hunting, and over the years he supplied the much-needed lead required for the white man’s bullets. He was also known to share his talents with anyone that had an interest in learning Indian craft. It is interesting to note that historically, the Beaverkill Valley had been one of the last Indian strongholds in that mountainous area of New York. Again, published historical accounts document Tunis’ continued benevolence to the white man. Tunis, the Indian, who afterward lived in Bovina and on the Platt-Kill below Charles’ Factory, had always been particularly friendly with Mr. Yaple and his family. In 1778, Indians under the leadership of Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, a British sympathizer, along with some loyalist whites, planned to raid and pillage the homes of the Whig settlers along the East Branch between Pepacton and Pakatakan. (Pepacton was located below the dam and Pakatakan was between the present towns of Margaretville and Arkville) Four Dutch families had settled at Pakatakan in 1763 and others followed, the Philip Yaple family arriving in 1771. Tunis warned the settlers in that area of the impending attack, and they left with only what they could carry, knowing what disaster would befall their families when Brant and his fellow Indians and Tories where on the warpath. They fled from Pakatakan through the Beaverkill and Neversink eventually reaching Kingston. The following night, Brant, twenty Indians and a few Tories went as far as Shandaken but could not catch up with the settlers. They burned houses and killed livestock, but thanks to Tunis, the settlers were saved and eventually returned to restore their homes. Tunis would pay a price for his supposed disloyalty. He was suspected of warning the settlers, and, as a result, his sentence was that “No Indian could give him fire or water, and no Indian maiden could be his squaw.” Because of his steadfast loyalties to the white man, he was again rejected by his own race, and yet never enjoyed true acceptance by the whites. It will, I think, offer some comfort to the reader to relate that historical accounts as well as the provenance records of the rifle, reference Tunis at some later date living with his common-law wife, Ruth Yaple, along with their daughter on the Beaverkill. (Some accounts mention children as opposed to the singular) The Marquis de La Fayette was born Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette at Chavaniac, in Haute Lorie, France on September 6, 1757. In 1759, at the age of 2, he inherited a castle and the title Marquis after the death of his father, who, as a Colonel of Grenadiers was killed by the British in the battle of Minden during the 7 Years War. His mother died when he was 13 and left him a princely fortune. A descendant in a long line of soldiers, Lafayette took up studies at the Military Academy of Versailles. He was married at the age of 16, and promoted from Lieutenant to the rank of Captain in the King’s Musketeers. When the news of America’s Declaration of Independence reached the shores of France, he was 19 years old, and by some accounts anxious to pay back Britain for the death of his father. That surely played a role in his decision to solicit an appointment to fight on the American side. Securing a commission as a Major General from an American agent in France, he disobeyed his King and his father in-law, and purchased a ship for his conveyance to America in 1777. As a result, he was for a time, disowned by his own family as well as his country. The Continental Congress confirmed his rank upon his arrival here, and his subsequent valor and talents as a soldier under Washington became legendary, as did his monetary contributions to the American cause in its darkest hours of need. The relationship between Washington and Lafayette was so close, that Washington considered him his adopted son. His lobbying was responsible for the economic aid and troops sent by France during the war. After the war, Lafayette’s efforts in fighting for the rights and freedoms of all men continued with his actions and sacrifices in the revolutions of his own country, as well as in Poland and other areas of Europe. He would be imprisoned and vilified by some of his own countrymen, but was eventually hailed and revered as a hero. On his 1824/25 tour of this country, Lafayette removed several barrels of dirt from the battlefield of Bunker Hill while laying the cornerstone for a monument some 50 years after the battle, this for the expressed purpose of being buried in mixed American/French soil upon his eventual death in France. His son, George Washington Lafayette, would honor his father’s wishes and utilize this soil at his father’s burial in France in 1834. The first written reference regarding the relationship between Lafayette and Tunis describes Tunis’ service to Lafayette as a guide during the American Revolution. Lafayette needed to make contact with the French Canadians in his hope to enlist their help against the British. To reach them, he needed to be guided through the hostile country of the Iroquois, a service that Tunis provided to him admirably. Reports also exist referencing Tunis acting as a guide for him on his hunting excursions in the area, both during and after the Revolution, to include his 1824-25 swing tour of the United States. It was evidently for this combined service to him that history records Lafayette presenting Chief Tunis with his personal hunting rifle in 1824 in Kingston, N.Y. It is the opinion of this writer, and hopefully the reader will concur, that the significance of this rifle, and its presentation, goes well beyond the identities and notoriety of these two historic individuals. For, after we digest the above high points in the biographies of these two remarkable men, it becomes readily apparent that this rifle represents much more than a gift in recognition of Tunis’ services to Lafayette. As their relationship developed, the parallels of their prior life experiences, along with their continued selfless actions on behalf of their fellow man, caused them to fully appreciate their kindred spirit. Their bond of friendship had become forever solidified with their recognition of the manifestation of their own spirit in one another. Remember, Lafayette sought out Tunis some 40 years later, on his triumphant return to the United States. It then follows that just as this weapon can, in and of itself, be visualized as a thing of beauty as well as an instrument for gathering and protecting the most basic needs of man; so too can it be considered a touchstone, signifying through its inscription a benchmark, if you will, to forever gauge and celebrate the inherent goodness of mankind. This short overview, while telling, is only intended to be a catalyst to promote additional study of the relationship between these two historic figures. The amount of material available on Lafayette’s life is enormous. His contributions to America, to his own country of France, and to mankind in general, have been a neglected topic of present-day study. As we continue to uncover the story of his friend, Chief Tunis, and consider his station in life, we realize that he also left an indelible mark on all that came in contact with him. So much so, that as a model to emulate, he has few equals. As we reflect on his relationship with Lafayette, we find that his life, trials and accomplishments mirror the same values, character, fortitude and example shown by Lafayette himself, making it easy to see that they were truly, Kindred Spirits. Copyright © 2004, 2016, 2019, 2021 by Donald J. Jones Jr. All Rights Reserved both in the USA and abroad. DESCRIPTION: A fine and rare Pennsylvania Flintlock Kentucky Rifle, presented by the Marquis de Lafayette to Chief Tunis of the Tuscarora Iroquois at Kingston, New York in 1824. This rifle won a "Best of Show" award at the New England Antique Arms Society show in Hartford, Connecticut in 2004. Arguably, the rifle has similarities to John Rupp’s work, especially the checkered oval panel surrounded by relief carved floral scrolls described below; but it also shares attributes associated with Jacob Kuntz around the time of his move from Lehigh County to Philadelphia PA. The heavy octagonal sighted barrel, is rifled with eight grooves and struck on the underside of the breech with the barrel-smith’s name “Schoeb.” It has a reconverted engraved lock, a modified, curly maple half-stock of classic Lehigh County form, incised with scrolls about the ramrod entry ferrule and bears an engraved brass full-length wear-plate with the period inscription that reads “Presented to Chief Tunis by Lafayette at Kingston NY 1824.” It has a gracefully curved butt of characteristic Lehigh County form, with checkered grip, small raised cheek-piece inset with chased star-like flower-head, carved in relief at the rear with a checkered oval panel framed by in-facing C-scrolls, each with asymmetrical rococo-style flowers and scrolls outside. The underside of the stock forward of the toe-plate is incised “Bear” and punched with 26 kill marks and “Deer” punched with 40 kill marks. Inset behind the barrel tang is a silver oval-shaped escutcheon engraved “La Fayette” in script. The pewter forend cap is punched with the effigy of a bear head symbolizing the Bear Claw Clan on both sides. The rifle has full brass mounts, including a large engraved four-piece patch-box finely and profusely decorated with scrolls and flowers, buttplate, a shaped brass wear-plate extending over the length of the comb, an engraved toe-plate with pineapple finial, a molded faceted trigger-guard formed with a pronounced step at the front of the bow, and an engraved beveled side plate with arrowhead finial. There are three original ramrod-pipes, and its period-original wooden ramrod. This rifle is accompanied by an extensive amount of documentation and research. Included is an original Sotheby's catalog from the auction where this rifle was sold in 1995. Also included are copies of important source information, genealogy on Tunis' family, extensive documentation and research by renowned collector and researcher Don Jones, and copies of letters written by authorities regarding this rifle. Also included are copies of portraits of Tunis and Lafayette. A large custom-built oak display case with glass lid also accompanies the rifle. CONDITION: Showing wear and Indian modifications. Barrel retains a grey patina showing wear and scattered marks. Rifle was shortened and modified to half-stock during its period of use, which is not uncommon. Lock retains a grey patina and shows some wear and freckling. Lock is a good reconversion to flintlock configuration, front lock bolt is a replacement. Brass retains a pleasing mustard patina and shows some wear and scattered marks. A few pins on the wear plates and matchbox are absent. Stock shows some wear and some minor cracks and repairs around lock. There is a splinter of wood missing forward lock, lost during the period and now smooth. Clear inscriptions showing light wear. A very historic, well-documented and important Kentucky rifle presented by one of the most important figures involved in obtaining our freedom. PROVENANCE: Chief Tunis to Ruth Yaple, To Tunis’ Daughter, To David Smith and Elizabeth Anson, To John Smith and Nancy Akeley, To Walden Jackson Smith in 1912, To William George of Liberty NY, To Frank E. Low of Grahamville in 1959, To Glode Requa (renowned antique arms dealer and collector), To Raymond M. Sides in 1964, Sold as lot 1510 at Sotheby’s New York City, January 13, 1995, William E. Simon (Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Nixon and Ford) in 1995, Katie(Simon) and Michael Morris in 2000, Peter Simon in 2004 to current. Note that the first six owners are all direct descendants of Chief Tunis before the rifle was passed to William George after 1912, as noted in the Town of Rockland 1809-1959 Sesquicentennial History and Program booklet. DMG

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This is not a standard shippable item and will require 3rd party shipping or pickup arrangements to be made.

Item Dimensions: 60x23x23
Display case and stand
Barrel Length
35 - 3/4"
.48 Rifled
FFL Status
Kentucky Rifle
Serial Number
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $100,000.00
Final prices include buyers premium: $210,000.00
Estimate: $200,000 - $500,000
Number Bids: 11
Auction closed on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
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