Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt’s Famed Revolver Was Stolen and Returned – Twice!

Photo Credit: 1. Topical Press Agency / Getty Images 2. Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

There has never been a US President quite like Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, and there’s unlikely to be another ever again. Born frail and weak, Roosevelt became a politician, statesman and soldier. In the museum dedicated to him sits a famed Colt M1892 revolver, which was at his side during many important moments. It was also stolen and returned – twice!

The Colt M1892 revolver was once onboard the USS Maine

Drawing of the USS Maine (1889)
Theodore Roosevelt’s Colt M1892 revolver was taken off the wreck of the USS Maine (1889). (Photo Credit: Murat Halstead / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

In February 1898, the USS Maine (1889) was sent to Havana Harbor. At the time, Cuba was fighting for its independence from Spain, and the ship was there to protect US interests. On February 15, the vessel exploded and sank, resulting in the deaths of 268 sailors. To this day, it is unknown if Maine was sunk by enemy fire or if there’d been some sort of malfunction within.

The sinking of Maine led the US into war with Spain. The rallying cry was, “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”

A Colt M1892 .38 caliber double-action revolver was recovered from the ship and soon came into the hands of Teddy Roosevelt. It was given to him by his brother-in-law, William S. Cowles. Roosevelt, then the Assistant Secretary to the Navy, carried the firearm with him throughout his meteoric political rise.

Theodore Roosevelt and San Juan  Hill

Theodore Roosevelt standing with American soldiers
Theodore Roosevelt used the Colt M1892 revolver when the Rough Riders fought on San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

When the Spanish-American War broke out, Teddy Roosevelt didn’t intend to spend it on the sidelines. The future president traveled to Cuba to fight, and became the leader of a rag-tag bunch known as the Rough Riders.

On July 1, 1898, the Rough Riders fiercely fought Spanish soldiers in the Battle of San Juan Hill. The Colt M1892 revolver was in Roosevelt’s hand during the battle, and he shot and killed at least one enemy soldier with the weapon. Following the battle, he became wildly popular in the US, and it was that popularity that propelled Roosevelt into the White House.

The Colt M1892 revolver was never too far from Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt pointing into the distance
Theodore Roosevelt brought his treasured Colt M1892 revolver to the White House with him. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

When Teddy Roosevelt became president, the Colt M1892 revolver remained in his possession. Following his time in the White House, he went on a multi-year safari in Africa and spent time in South America. Eventually, Roosevelt retired to Sagamore Hill, his estate in New York.

Roosevelt’s widow, Edith, lived on the estate until her death in 1948. In 1963, the house was donated to the National Parks Service and turned into a museum. There are a number of items on display there, among them Roosevelt’s revolver. A sign reads:

“William S. Cowles was the captain of the USS Fern, one of the first US naval ships to arrive in Havana after the sinking of the USS Maine. The ship salvaged usable supplies including this Colt ‘New Navy Model’ .38 caliber revolver. Cowles sent it to his brother-in-law Theodore Roosevelt, who carried it during his service with the First Volunteer Cavalry.

“On one side, the gun is inscribed, ‘From the sunken battleship Maine,’ on the other, ‘July 1st, 1898, San Juan, carried and used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt.'”

The famed weapon was stolen twice

Sign outside of Sagamore Hill
Theodore Roosevelt retired to Sagamore Hill. (Photo Credit: CaptJayRuffins / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

The famous Colt M1892 revolver is stored at a National Park Service historic site, not a museum with high-tech security. As a result, ambitious thieves can take a shot at stealing it. That happened two times, the first of which was in 1963. With no security system, someone simply walked in and took the weapon. It wasn’t gone for long, however, and was later found in the woods.

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The second theft occurred in 1990, when the revolver was on display at the Smithsonian Institute. Again, security was not all that great, allowing someone to walk in and grab it. This time, the search lasted a good bit longer. It took a few days for the theft to be discovered, and the museum didn’t get a lead for over a decade. In 2006, authorities learned the weapon was in DeLand, Florida, and it was recovered and returned to Sagamore Hill.