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132-Year-Old Winchester Rifle Found At Great Basin National Park

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This well-aged rifle, with its stock taped by park staff to hold it together, was found in the backcountry of Great Basin National Park/NPS

Usually you need to head into a museum to see what turned up in the backcountry of Great Basin National Park: A 132-year-old Winchester rifle.

The find left park staff wondering why someone would leave their rifle and not come back? Numerous questions such as that one surround the small piece of American heritage found and recovered by park archaeologists in November.  

According to Nichole Andler, chief of Interpretation at Great Basin:

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 'œModel 1873,' identifying it distinctly as a Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle. 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. Winchester records do not indicate who purchased the rifle from the warehouse or where it was shipped. 

Winchester Model 1873 rifles hold a prominent place in Western history and lore. The rifles are referred to as 'œthe gun that won the West."  A total of 720,610 were manufactured between 1873 and 1916, when production ended. In 1882 alone, more than 25,000 were made.

Selling for about $50 when they first came out, the rifles were reduced in price to $25 in 1882 and were accessible and popular as 'œeveryman'™s' rifle. The Winchester business plan included selling large lots of rifles to dealers or 'œjobbers' who would distribute the firearms to smaller sales outlets.

This rifle may provide its own bit of lore. Mysteries of the rifle'™s journey through time spur creative and lively discussion: Who left the rifle?  When and why it was leaned against the tree? And, why was it never retrieved? 

The Great Basin cultural resource staff is continuing research in old newspapers and family histories, hoping to resolve some of the mystery and fill in details about the story of this rifle.

The park will provide a viewing opportunity for the community before sending the rifle to conservators to stabilize the wood and apply museum conservation techniques. The treatment will keep the gun looking as it was found and prevent further deterioration.

When the rifle is returned to the park, it will be displayed as part of the park'™s 30th birthday and the NPS centennial celebration.


Sure wish they had taken a picture before they moved it. An in-situ picture would have been very cool.

sk and you shall receive... 


Ask and you shall receive... 


Thanks for the pic!! Wouldn't it be great to know the story behind it. I wonder if it was loaded?? I couldn't get the sound to come up so I don't know if the news guy said anything about that?

Dittos 1117, quite interesting. 

Maybe it was Jimmy Stewart's from the movie (Winchester '73)!


 Visit URL to see full photos showing rifle leaning in tree

The mystery of the 132-year-old Winchester rifle found propped against a national park tree

By Elahe Izadi January 14 at 6:59 PM  

The Winchester rifle was spotted leaning against a tree in Great Basin National Park. (Courtesy of National Park Service)

Archaeologists conducting surveys in Nevada’s Grand Basin National Park came upon a gun frozen in time:  a .44-40 Winchester rifle manufactured in 1882. It was propped up against a juniper tree.

“They just happened to notice the rifle under the tree,” said Nichole Andler, Basin National Park’s chief of interpretation. The public will get a chance to view the rifle over the weekend.

Although staff have no idea how the rifle ended up there, “it looked like someone propped it up there, sat down to have their lunch and got up to walk off without it,” Andler said.

It’s remarkable that anyone was able to spot the gun back in November, as it had blended in so well with its surroundings. The unloaded gun appears to have been left undisturbed for more than 100 years; its wooden base had turned gray and was partially buried, and the barrel had rusted.

Courtesy of National Park Service

Though not in very good shape, the rifle is certainly salvageable, Andler said, and it will be preserved so it remains in its current state.

While the rifle’s back story remains a mystery, the history of the place offers some clues: Great Basin was primarily a mining site at the time, but could have also been home to grazing cattle and sheep. The gun may have also been the relic of game hunting in the area.

This particular model of Winchester rifle was quite popular at the time, so it wasn’t necessarily a rare and precious item for a person to leave behind. The year this particular rifle was made, 25,000 others were also manufactured. In fact, the prevalence of the gun may have contributed to a massive price drop, from costing $50 in 1873 to $25 in 1882. Here is a close-up of the rifle:

Courtesy of National Park Service

“It was one of those things, sort of the everyman’s rifle,” Andler said. The gun is often referred to “as the gun that won the West,” she added.

Park staff are now combing through old newspaper articles and records to try and unearth any information as to how the rifle ended up against that tree.

“It probably has a very good and interesting story,” Andler said, “but it probably is a story that could have happened to almost anyone living this sort of extraordinary existence out here in the Great Basin Desert.”

That's awesome that something was left there for so long and wasn't knocked over by wind or an animal through all those years there. That rifle is definately museum quality. Too bad there is not a way to find out who the original owner was since hundreds of people probably left their guns behind on accident and no one would probably bother to report it and sound like they don't know what they are doing in the west. 

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