Sterling Price was an interesting figure in U.S. military history. Born in Virginia in 1809, he studied law before moving to the Missouri Territory at age 22. Soon becoming a prominent man there, he led militia during that territory’s Mormon War in 1838, was thrice elected to the state legislature and finally, to Congress in 1845.
When the war with Mexico kicked off the next year, he resigned his seat on Capitol Hill to take command of a volunteer Missouri cavalry regiment he raised and headed to what is now New Mexico where he fought in a series of small actions that cumulated with the skirmish at Cruz de Rosales, Chihuahua, in 1848– which was technically after the war had concluded, a fact he was informed of by the local Mexican commander prior to the battle.
Nonetheless, Price finished his campaigning as a Brevet Maj. Gen. (of Volunteers) with the laurels of a hero, which led to his easy win in a later gubernatorial race to head the Show-Me State.
Fast forward to early 1861 and, although he never led a force larger than 400 men during the previous conflict, Price was made a Maj. Gen. (of Missouri state volunteers) and given command of the nominally Corps-sized Missouri State Guard.
Although he gave a good account of himself in early scrapes against bluecoats at Carthage and Wilson’s Creek, he later suffered a string of often humiliating defeats such as at Pea Ridge (although Van Dorn was in overall command there) and in his pretty ineffective 1,400-mile 1864 raid across Missouri and Kansas.
Price ended the war by skipping over the southern border and offering his services to Maximillian, which were declined. He died in 1867.
Perhaps the general’s greatest claim to fame in modern times is the fact his name was reused for the fictional one-eyed lawman Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn’s alcoholic cat. As Cogburn had ridden as a kid with Missouri
bushwacker partisan ranger leader William Quantrill during Price’s Raid– during which he lost his eye– the choice makes sense.
Which brings us to a revolver in the news this week.
In 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, Sterling “Ol Pap” Price bought a fine Model 1849 .31 caliber Colt pocket model, and it, along with a lap desk and accessories, are up for grabs at an upcoming auction conducted by Milestone Auctions in Ohio this month. It is engraved on the backstrap “Gen. Sterling Price C.S.”