Collecting American History

Story and photos by Ashley Wirtzfeld
MSUM mass communications major


Every past has a story.


The history of the American frontier started with the Old West, full of rich stories about cowboys and more importantly how the Old West was tamed. The taming was carried out with the barrel of a gun. Walking into Frontier Americana located in the Black Building at 114 Broadway N Suite G6 in downtown Fargo brings one back to those times. The smell of old earthy leather and antiques adds to the ambiance. The walls lined with old guns and other collectibles show only a small history of the American West. Owner, Pete Erickson says, “this is my life.”


Frontier Americana owner Pete Erickson.


Even though this is his life now, Erickson did not always work in the firearms business. “I used to work for AT&T, but working with collectibles was a second calling,” he said.

Starting Out

In 1971, Erickson was introduced to a gentleman who was involved with European sporting arms of the 1500s-1900s. According to Erickson, that is what began his interest in antique firearms. “My first gun was a percussion double-barrel shotgun made by Mortimer in London,” he said.  “I grew up with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and a genuine interest in the American cowboy.”

“It wasn’t hard to get into,” he said. “However, now the cost of getting into this business would prohibit many people from doing it.”

Erickson’s second calling started out small with a personal collection. Once that began to grow, he started a catalog, just “working out of the house.”


A Mauser Zig Zag 9mm from 1878.


Needing a Store

“I had always thought of opening a store,” Erickson said. “Finally in 1997 getting a store was a reality.”

Frontier Americana has always been in the Black Building on the 200 block of Broadway. “I started out in the lower level and was there for 11 years,” he said. “Then I moved into this location on the main level because it is three times bigger than my old location.”


The front of Frontier Americana seen from the lobby in the Black Building.


Even though he now has a store, Erickson said, “most people shop my Web site and catalogs.”

Frontier Americana is open Monday-Thursday. Erickson spends much of his time  attending national auctions and shows. “It isn’t odd for me to be in hotels 100 nights a year,” he said. “We are more known nationally than locally.”

Besides running his store, Erickson also works for two national auction companies, High Noon in Los Angeles and Cody Old West in Scottsdale, Ariz.


Frontier Americana not only displays firearms.


Cody Old West Auction Company


 Brian Lebel, director of Cody Old West met Erickson in Cody, Wyo.

 “I met Pete at a show when I noticed the quality of goods he carried,” said Lebel.

 Lebel is not a newcomer to collecting. “I started dealing with antique firearms after attending gun shows when I was 14 years old, which was 41 years ago,” he said.

 “Antique firearms collecting is big not only nationally but internationally and people have been collecting firearms for hundreds of years all over the world,” Lebel said.

 Erickson is a big part of the auctions held by the Cody Old West company.

 “Pete Erickson is one of the most informed people I know when it comes to firearms and American history overall,” said Lebel. “Pete helps write descriptions for the catalog, does the technical descriptions of firearms, decides authenticity and originality and researches the history of the particular firearm as well as the gun companies.”


From top left going clockwise: Colt #2 Deringer, Colt Open Top 22rf from 1873, Colt Open Top 22rf from 1871, Colt 3rd (Thuer Model) 41rf Deringer from the 1870’s.


Expertise Comes from Years of Collecting

Erickson’s experience with antique firearms is an integral asset for Cody Old West and for his own store. He also does appraisals for people who inquire. However, appraisals can be tricky, especially if the item in question is going to be sold.

 “There is always an ethical question when you are appraising for purchase,” said Erickson. “I always encourage people to take weapons to other places to get a second appraisal to be fair.

Besides appraising  weapons, Erickson is federally licensed to transport guns. When it comes to North Dakota or Dakota cowboy collectibles, Erickson isn’t too likely to sell and would rather keep items for his personal collection. 

 “I also actively look for Native American stuff,” he said.


A collection of Native American garb including moccasins, a child’s bandoleer bag and a beaded belt.


Erickson’s store also carries antique saddles, swords and paintings.

 Stepping into Frontier Americana is like entering someone’s personal museum.

 “I consider myself awful lucky to be able to do something I love and to be able to own all this stuff,” said Erickson.


A collection of American Civil War and Pre-Civil War Swords.


Back: One of a kind Colt 2nd-3rd Gen SAA "The Flaxmon", Front Left: Colt SAA 3rd Gen 45 cal from 1982, front right: Colt SAA

For more information about Frontier Americana visit


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