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Kelly Landis of Mobridge, right, shows one of his 1864 Henry .44 cal rifles to Brad Kern of Isabel, South Dakota, on Sunday at the Dakota Territory Gun Collectors Association show at the Ramkota in Pierre. Landis has two nearly matching 1864 Henry rifles that he thinks might have been used in the Civil War and ended up in Idaho decades ago. (Stephen Lee/Capital Journal)

 

The annual Dakota Territory Gun Collectors Association brought dozens of vendors and a few hundred interested people to the Ramkota in Pierre on Saturday and Sunday, with historic weapons the stars of the show while modern weapons changed hands, participants said.

While many of the 80 vendors were selling contemporary handguns and rifles and ammunition and other items, many brought their collections of prized antique and collectible guns to show, not sell. 

Kelly Landis of Mobridge brought his for the first time, with a small but clear sign: “Display only. NOT for sale.”

“I worked too long and too hard to buy them,” he said of his modest-sized but valuable collection.

The heart of his maybe comprises five lever-action rifles as old as the Civil War. Two matching 1864  Henry .44 caliber rifles, their serial numbers only about 200 digits apart and similar in serial number to such rifles known to have been used by Union forces in the Civil War, are rare, Landis said. 

They were seen back in the day as far superior as “repeaters” holding 15 or 16 rounds compared with the standard single-shot muskets and breech-loading rifles used by most soldiers at the time.

“These are the ones they said a Yankee could load on Sunday and shoot all week,” Brad Kern said. Kern, of Isabel, South Dakota, was admiring Landis’ collection.

“One of these could pay for a brand-new pickup,” Kern said. 

They are rare enough that nobody makes ammunition for the Henry’s anymore, Kern said. And If you could find a box of 50 rounds, “It would cost you $2,200.” And the rifles are so valuable they are seen only as collectible antiques that no one would fire, anyway, so the  market for ammo is pretty weak.   

Landis said he bought them five years ago in Idaho and that they apparently came west with pioneers more than a century ago. He doesn’t know much more about their provenance; one has the initials J K carved on the wooden butt stock and the other has the initials “LML” engraved in flowing script into the yellow brass receiver. Landis doesn’t know whose initials they were.

The Henry was one of the first “repeating” rifles that set the pattern for the more famous Winchester rifles.

Landis has three of those Winchesters, too, that he was showing Sunday, too: an 1866, an 1873 and an 1876. 

The Dakota Territory Gun Collectors Association was formed in 1962 in Jamestown, North Dakota. The nonprofit holds several shows in cities across South Dakota and North Dakota both states each year. Its membership donates thousands of dollars, mostly to youth groups, such as the junior shooter clubs in Pierre and Fort Pierre that are tied to 4-H clubs, said Steve Livermore of Fort Pierre. 

He’s a longtime member and former board members of the DTGCA and manages the show in Pierre. 

“We donated to the Izaak Walton League when they built the BB gun shooting range,” he said. “We also donate to the NRA.” 

Rick Olesen of Dakota Plains Auctions in Deadwood had some singularly historic guns at the show.. They included a Sharp’s carbine used by an Indian at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and a Smith & Wesson revolver owned by Mexican Revolutionary General Pancho Villa, he said. 

But he had to pull out of the show early Sunday morning to try to beat the winter storm to get home to Deadwood, Olesen said. “It was bad,” he said of the heavy snow and high winds and frigid cold he encountered. .

The expectation of bad weather cut attendance at the show, said Steve Livermore of Fort Pierre, who manages the DTGCA show each year.  The Association also puts on shows in other cities in South Dakota and North Dakota. 

 Olesen also holds three auctions each year in Deadwood, including one on April 28 that will include the Winchester rifle that killed Bill Dalton, of the legendary Western outlaw family, he said.

  It’s inevitable that the school shooting in Florida last week in which an expelled student reportedly has admitted killing 17 students and teachers is a backdrop for any gun show as the country’s debate over gun violence heats up.

 “I would crush every single gun I own if it would save one person,” Olesen said. “The problem is not antique collectible guns. It’s the way kids are raised today.” 

  He is a federally licensed gun dealer who can do a background check on any potential buyer within minutes, Olesen said. 

  Antique weapons - made before 1899 - don’t require such background checks.

   “Does everyone need to own an AR-15, high-capacity-clip gun? Probably not. Something has to change. But the root cause is not the gun.” 

The suspected killer in Florida had passed a background check and was a legal buyer of guns, but was deeply troubled and the FBI has admitted it failed to take precautions in his case, Olesen said. “How do you justify that as a gun problem?” The reported rash of mass shootings the past year is troubling, Olesen said. “What is the common denominator? Cheaper guns? No, it’s the same ammo, the same guns. (The common denominator) is angry youth. It’s kids that are mad. It’s this idea that it’s OK to do this. You’ve got to fix the real problem: What makes kids so angry?”

 

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