Original 1873 Winchester Found In Great Basin National Park

A one hundred and thirty-two year old Winchester lever-action rifle was recently found in Great Basin National Park, near the border of Utah in Nevada. WinchesterGuns.com has a good summary of the find:

Many of us harbor pipe dreams of running across an original Winchester Model 1873 rifle in the rafters of a dusty attic or tucked in the dark corner of old barn.

Recently employees of the National Park Service found an original Winchester Model 1873 rifle leaning against a gnarled juniper tree in a remote part of the sprawling Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

According to Nichole Andler, Chief of Interpretation at Great Basin National Park, “The rifle, exposed for all those years to sun, wind, snow and rain, was found leaning against a tree in the park. The cracked wood stock, weathered to grey, and the brown rusted barrel blended into the colors of the old juniper tree in a remote rocky outcrop, keeping the rifle hidden for many years.”

“Engraved on the rifle is “Model 1873,” identifying it distinctly as a Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle,” continued Andler. “The serial number on the lower tang corresponds in Winchester records held at the Center for the West at the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming, with a manufacture and shipping date of 1882. But the detailed history of this rifle is as yet unknown.”

While the specific history of the aged Winchester rifle is as yet unknown, the opportunities for speculation are rich. Perhaps it belonged to a lone cowboy riding the high range. Perhaps it was set aside by a sourdough prospector in his search for a vein of rich ore. Whatever the actual story, it has the makings of a great campfire tale.

After museum conservation to prevent further deterioration, the rifle will be returned to the park and displayed as part of the park’s 30th birthday and the NPS centennial celebration.

The American West is a treasure trove of archaeologically significant artifacts, but a find such as this one is decidedly unusual. It’s not at all clear why the rifle was left in the crook of a tree one hundred years ago, nor who owned it. The rifle’s serial number (still readable after over a century exposed to the elements) dates it to 1882, which puts it in the right time and place to possibly have been involved in the Ute Wars, which lasted until the 1920s. Interestingly, one year after this rifle was made, Utahn Mormon John M. Browning would begin working with Winchester, where he would eventually perfect the lever-action repeater, a design that went back to the Hunt “Volition Rifle” of 1848.

Below are some pictures of the unique archaeological find:

1875-5 1873-3 1873-2 1873-1

More information on the rifle’s discovery can be found at KSL.com Utah’s website, as well as on the Great Basin National Park’s Facebook page.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • Scott Tuttle

    I’d check the area for a dead body too.

    • SP mclaughlin

      By body you mean skeleton?

      • Scott Tuttle

        whatever the bears left I reckon.

      • Grindstone50k

        There’s a difference?

        • gunslinger

          body implies flesh? what do they say when a grave is found and it is just bones? do they call it a body or skeleton?

          more encompassing would be human remains i guess.

    • Mark N.

      True, an old prospector who died there or a burial site, with this as the grave marker. First thin that came to mind, especially since it is on a rocky outcropping.

  • Smiddywesson

    That’s mine. I’m really old and might have forgotten to unload it, please be careful.

  • Smiddywesson

    One of the first signs of dehydration is short term memory loss, fatigue, and confusion. Absent a body, that’s my guess. These physical conditions are not good for remembering your gear, or finding where you last stopped when you discover it missing. I’m sure one juniper tree looks like the next out there.
    Interestingly enough, a new Winchester rifle went for around $17-$30 back in the day. Using the silver standard as a measure, that’d be anywhere between $300-$500 today. That makes for one very unhappy cowboy who put it down to deal with an emergency and couldn’t later locate it.

    • pegpin

      What oil was used on the gun ?

      • Grindstone50k


        • Bill Brandon

          No, really, they squeezed real frogs back then….

  • Sam Schifo

    I know it’s valuable and everything, but I probably would’ve just left it there. It’s cooler to think that it’s been left there (probably) untouched for 132 years.

    • Jonathan Ferguson

      20 – 50 years max is more like it. There’d be nothing left after 130.

      • rooftopvoter

        I have been left out in the weather for that long and you should see the shape I am in.

      • phuzz

        I’m not sure how quickly juniper trees grow, but it would have been a much smaller tree one hundred years ago, I’d have expected the tree to start to grow round it after that amount of time.

        • Knox_Palmer

          Note sure of the veracity of my source, but it states the Utah Juniper rarely grows above 15 ft. After 250 years, the diameter growth rate slows to 0.25″ per decade. They can live more than 600 year.
          So, the story I’m telling myself is this is from the late 1930’s.

          • the ammo addict

            If the gun was still loaded, the ammo could provide some really good information to narrow down the time period that the rifle could have been left there. Headstamp details change every few decades regardless of brand, some quite a bit more often now.

  • Don Ward

    A handful of my friends have forwarded me this story with the prerequisite lever-action themed ribbing. As far as I know, none of my relatives made it down Nevada ways in that time period.

  • sianmink

    That belongs in a museum!

    • Yellow Devil

      “So do you!”
      “Throw him overboard!”

      • Guest


  • mosinman

    it’s amazing to think of all the history that rifle could have

  • OldNorthState

    Forensically speaking, I’m not sure of the typical growth rate of this species of tree, but that would be a real factor in considering if the ol’ piece had indeed been leaning against the tree for that many decades. Obviously, the rifle could have been left there many decades less than the mfr. date would indicate. And, it could have been found by someone else even decades ago, in an entirely different position/situation, and then leaned up against the tree by them, if they were thinking “This isn’t mine… I’ll leave it here in such a way that someone who owns it might find it a bit more easily.” (I’m spinning a tale of honest decency w/that theory, that might not be probable…lol…). Candidly, my gut instinct tells me the owner succumbed to some mishap or violence, right at or near the spot the rifle was found. Bear, injun or bad guy? We’ll probably never know, though I believe that area is mostly inhabited by black bears, which typically aren’t as aggressive as the big browns and grizz, etc., found elsewhere. Hmmmmm…..

    Oh, the speculation we can conjure could fill a book… and what an entertaining

  • Adam aka eddie d.

    Man, what a find!
    This is a real treasure hunting prize.
    Such a shame there are no better photos of it.

    I’d love to have been the person to find this relic.

  • highhammer

    poor guy. he probably set it down to take a dump at night. finished up and said, “damn coulda swarn i set it here on this bush”