America and, indeed, much of Western Europe, has always had a fascination with the autograph signatures, signed letters, and signed documents relating to the American frontier, also referred to as the American West. This frontier, whether it was the Atlantic Coast faced by the earliest settlers, the Appalachian Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, or the Pacific coast, was unique – distinct from the frontiers of Europe, which were essentially boundaries separating densely populated countries. Not only is the American West the subject of cinema, television, and books, but also frontier architecture and decorative arts are found throughout the United States. The feelings of unlimited opportunities and expansiveness, with which many Americans are raised, can be directly related to the heritage of free land and the prospect of a new and better life on the frontier.
Figures from the American West
Daniel Boone represents this frontier sense in the popular imagination and in history. Fortunately, he was involved in many land transactions in his retired life and, although almost illiterate otherwise, was very capable of signing his autograph; while very rare, signed documents can be found by collectors. Anything with the autograph signature of Davy Crockett is very rare and hardly ever encountered. Also very rare is Kit Carson, who served as an Indian scout with the Army and signed documents in that capacity. The popular demand for Kit Carson’s autograph signature has always been high. The colonizer of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, would be in the same category if it were not for documents that he signed pertaining to an early Texas loan; these are not common, but they can be found. Sam Houston, whose name is virtually synonymous with Texas, had a long political life, during which he signed many letters; his name was so boldly and clearly written that everyone knew who signed the letters, which were always treasured and saved. The Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, whose life was cut short, is very rare, while Brigham Young, with a long life span and a highly recognized signature, can be found in autograph signatures and signed letters without difficulty. George A. Custer, who had a relatively long military career during which he signed many documents, is very scarce, mainly because there has been a significant collector interest in him for many decades. Autograph signatures of Sitting Bull, Custer’s adversary, are very rare, and autograph signatures of Geronimo, extremely rare.
The famous outlaws and gunslingers of the American West are generally unobtainable. Frank James, co-leader with his brother Jesse of the James Gang, wrote letters to his wife while awaiting trial in jail. At one time, these came onto the market and disappeared into private collections, but occasionally, one will be offered for sale. He signed these letters “Ben” so that, if intercepted, they would not be published. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who had a legitimate career in the American West, beginning as a Pony Express rider, created a “Wild West” show that brought the American West to the eastern United States, as well as to Europe. He signed autographs in person and wrote and signed many letters, so he is fairly available for collectors today. Autograph signatures of Annie Oakley, “Little Miss Sure Shot,” are much rarer than Cody’s, although she apparently would make herself available to sign autographs at the “Wild West” show.