By Lynda Jensen
WAVERLY, MN More than 20 years ago, Clayton Barghusen, 59, of Minneapolis found himself in what he described as a dark auditorium at the school building in Waverly, picking through items at an auction. (To see the gun, click here.)
He checked out some guns that were being auctioned, but was surprised that the sellers did not allow prospective buyers to inspect them freely; rather they were kept locked in a gun case.
He had been to auctions before, and this one was different. “They were touchy,” he said.
Nevertheless, he bought the last item up for bid that day Feb. 6, 1988 which was a LC Smith 10-gauge shotgun made in 1900.
“I was worried it was illegal,” Barghusen said, since the shotgun was modified, being cut off on the end. It turned out that the gun was just within an inch or so of legal parameters. Whomever modified it had it professionally done, he added.
The gun sparked something of a mystery because it has an inscription on it that reads “You can’t live forever, but you’d be a damn fool not to try,” which is a famous quote attributed to John Dillinger, a bank robber who used St. Paul as a hideout in the early 1930s.
Dillinger robbed approximately two dozen banks across the Midwest from 1933 to 1934, killing police officers and attacking police arsenals in order to refill his cache.
A favorite hideout of Dillinger’s was St. Paul, since the police chief at the time, John O’Connor, offered safe haven to gangsters and felons, as long as they didn’t offend within his city limits, according to Minnesota crime historian Paul Maccabee.
Maccabee details the specifics of Dillinger’s exploits in his book, “John Dillinger slept here: A crooks’ tour of crime and corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936.”
In fact, there are a number of tours available for those interested in seeing the St. Paul apartment where Dillinger slept (and was nearly caught), the speakeasy at the Wabasha Caves that he frequented, along with other historical points of interest offered by the Minnesota Historical Society.
This leaves the mystery of the gun, although Barghusen admits, himself, that it’s unlikely the gun is directly associated with Dillinger. “Chances are slim,” he said.
But still . . . there is a chance. When he bought the gun at the auction so many years ago, he spent less than $100 on it, and the small Dillinger inscription, which he didn’t find until later, wasn’t mentioned.
The gun actually spent the past two decades hanging on a wall, until Barghusen’s good friend, Kim Johnson, 63, of Minneapolis urged him to start asking questions, tracking the gun’s history.
Both men are interested in talking with the seller of the gun, or anyone who knows anything about it. Those who have tips should call the newspaper at (320) 282-6558 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Both men speculate that the inscription was added around 1973, when a Dillinger movie came out starring Warren Oates, Cloris Leachman, and Richard Dreyfuss. This movie was superior to the 2009 film starting Johnny Depp, “Public Enemies,” Johnson commented.
Barghusen’s gun model was sold via different means up until 1932, according to the Hunter Arms Company of New York.
Dillinger, himself, was killed in a police stakeout in Chicago in 1934.
The manufacturer also confirmed that the gun has a legitimate serial number, and is a 10-gauge F grade hammer gun made that was shipped with 32-inch barrels. It was completed July 19, 1900.
The company noted in a letter that the F grade was the least expensive hammer gun by the Hunter Arms Company.
“This shotgun has the rotary locking bolt and bar action lock mechanism in which a V-shaped main spring is located in the bar of the frame forward of the action locks,” according to a letter from the company.
The original advertising copy read “The LC Smith double barrel hammer guns need no introduction. There are thousands and tens of thousands of them in use now they have been on the market for years and have always given satisfaction.”
The full- or half-pistol grip stocks were made from English walnut, and according to the catalog, “neatly checkered.”
New guns sold were not engraved, according to the manufacturer. The LC Smith bar action shoguns were made in 10- and 12-gauge until 1896 when 16-gauge shotguns were added. Production of the F grade hammer shotguns with a modified designed continued until 1932.
The guns sold for $55 each in 1900.
One last note about the Waverly auction: it was not advertised in the newspaper at that time.