At a James D. Julia firearms auction in 2010, what is widely agreed to be the most historic American shotgun in existence went on the block. The gun belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt, and the buyer was one Jason Roselius, a Texas-born attorney and lifelong history buff, whose winning $862,500 bid made it the most expensive gun ever sold at auction—by a long shot.
The 12-gauge double was custom-made for Roosevelt, complete with an inscription on the right barrel, by the A.H. Fox Gun Company in 1908. In a letter to founder Ansley Fox shortly after receiving the gift, Roosevelt wrote, “I really think it is the most beautiful gun I have ever seen.” The President looked after the Fox with meticulous care, cleaning it with a pair of his old pajamas (these too were included in the sale). Perhaps most significant are the gun’s travels, including Roosevelt’s famous 1909 African safari, a number of birds from which are on display at the Smithsonian. And now, the gun itself has a new home at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) in Canyon, Texas.
“Among hunters, Roosevelt has always been greatly beloved,” says Carol Lovelady, the museum’s executive director. “He himself was a hunter and had a deep appreciation for things like ranching, roping, and riding. At the same time, he was a conservationist through and through, and very much responsible for our national park system.”
An alum of West Texas A&M University, Roselius had always wanted the gun to find a home at the university-affiliated PPHM, which holds the largest public firearms collection in the state (more than six hundred are currently on exhibit). But the loaning process took time, and until it could be moved, the gun remained at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Then in January 2018, tragedy struck. Roselius, just forty-eight years old, died while trying to rescue his dogs from an icy pond, having never laid a hand on the prized artifact. “It just goes to show the tremendous respect he had for it,” says Lovelady, who worked with the Roselius family to fulfill the buyer’s wishes and secure a place for the Roosevelt gun in the museum.
On May 28, Roselius’s vision will finally come to fruition as the gun makes its long-awaited debut in the museum’s Pioneer Hall, an addition already generating buzz among scholars, collectors, and Roosevelt fans alike. “Jason Roselius bought it as a gift, which it truly is,” Lovelady says. “It’s a gift to people who love history, to the students at West Texas A&M, and most of all, to the people of the Texas panhandle.”