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: