Harolds Club Roaring Camp Gun Collection

Roaring Camp was a specific room in Harolds Club, but it was more than that: It was the name of general manager Raymond I. "Pappy" Smith's floating tribute to antique guns, a massive collection of weapons displayed throughout much of the casino. It was a museum of the highest order in a carnival atmosphere, and while it contained a few weapons from the early twentieth century, at heart it remained a hokey yet fervent memorial to the gunslingers, cowboys, explorers, soldiers, fortune seekers, and others who moved relentlessly westward across the United States in the nineteenth century.

Smith bought the original collection from Raymond Stagg, a Reno entrepreneur who in 1946 had opened the Roaring Camp Club and its gun collection a few blocks from Harolds. Because Stagg's operation was underfinanced, Smith was able to buy in as a partner, taking over management. Eventually Smith bought out Stagg, closed the business in 1949, and moved its antiques to the expanding Harolds Club.

At its height in the early 1960s, the collection included some 3,000 guns, of which about 2,000 were displayed in the Roaring Camp Room, the Silver Dollar Bar, and elsewhere. Harolds Club co-owner Harold Smith Sr. called it "one of the world's greatest gun collections," and probably it was.

The "museum" included shoulder arms carried by Western explorers John Fremont and Kit Carson, as well as Jedediah Smith, one of the legendary fur-trapping mountain men; a .44 Colt owned by silent film cowboy star William S. Hart; the pistols used in a Sept. 13, 1859 duel in which California Chief Justice David S. Terry fatally shot U.S. Sen. David C. Broderick; numerous Kentucky rifles, including a four-barreled flintlock; mid-nineteenth century percussion revolvers popular with cavalrymen; revolvers possibly used by outlaw Jesse James; a model of almost every Colt manufactured between 1836 and 1902; pistols carried by Napoleon when he invaded Russia; a .32 caliber Smith & Wesson owned by Emperor Maximilian of Mexico; and an 1850 combination rifle and shotgun made for King William of Holland. Among the oddities was an Apache knuckle duster, a pistol, which had a long blade on the end so it could also be used as a knife, while its handle was shaped like brass knuckles for bludgeoning people.

In 1993, after The Fitzgerald Group had bought Harolds Club from the Summa Corporation, the collection was sold to the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house of San Francisco, and on May 3, 1994, the guns were auctioned off. Reno had lost one of its premier historical attractions, much as it lost much but not all of William Harrah's world-class collection of antique cars after his corporation was purchased by Holiday Inns.

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