STORY UPDATE -- 132-year-old Model 1873 found against a tree at Great Basin National Park has a new home.

Photo courtesy National Park Service, 2019.

The "Forgotten Winchester" has a new home. The Winchester Model 1873 rifle found by National Park Service employees in 2014 has created a great deal of intrigue over the past few years. It was determined that the rifle itself had been purchased new in 1882. The original owner of the rifle or why it was left leaning against a tree in what is now the park, have never been determined. 

After a trip through the Cody Firearms Museum's restoration department -- where it was stabilized and inspected -- the rifle has finally returned to the park as the centerpiece of a main display on the rifle.

Now there is one more good reason to swing off the normal tourist paths in southern Utah or on your way to Yellowstone, to visit an amazing park and see the rifle that has been the focus of speculation for so many people since it was found. Perhaps the "why, who and when" will never be known, but just looking at this weathered Winchester sends one's thinking into the past, speculating on the adventure or tragedy that lead to its being leaned against a slow-growing juniper tree in the deserts of Eastern Nevada. 

Shown is the "Forgotten Winchester," a Model 1873 sold in 1882. The rifle is held by Eva Jensen, a wonderful friend of Winchester Repeating Arms and a National Park Service employee.

At the time this particular Winchester 1873 was made, it was the top choice for ranchers, farmers, settlers, pioneers, hunters, miners, and adventurers of the wild and largely untamed American West. It was only in 1869 that the transcontinental railroad was completed a few hundred miles north near Ogden, Utah. And at the time this rifle was sold and making it's way to Eastern Nevada in 1882, the area was virtually wilderness, populated only by scattered pioneer settlements and large, unfenced ranches. Utah, just to the East was still a territory, not a state. Some of Nevada's largest mining strikes had already occurred but scattered claims were still being made, even in the foothills of what is now Great Basin National Park. 

The rifle was found in the foothills of the southern portion of the Snake Range, in the shadow of Wheeler Peak (13,064 feet,  7,562 meters).  The range has four of the five highest mountains in Nevada, all over 12,000 feet. This is rough country and the rifle was likely owned by a seasoned outdoorsman. But why it was left is likely never to be known. 

Great Basin National Park. Image provided by and copyright NPS.

The basin and range mountains of Nevada and Utah have long been habitat for the native Mule Deer, which would have been a good reason for the owner of the rifle to venture into the foothills. Perhaps he was caught in an early snowstorm and leaned his gun against the tree to dress his kill and load it on his horse, and in the confusion of the storm forgot it. But now I am speculating and having some fun. Just like you should do on your way to Great Basin National Park. 


Original story of the "Forgotten Winchester."

132-year-old Model 1873 found against a tree at Great Basin National Park.

Who hasn't dreamed about finding an old, classic rifle leaning against a tree. Perhaps with a note attached to it telling the story. Well . . .

You have to wonder about the story behind the Winchester Model 1873 recently found leaning against a tree in Great Basin National Park. The Model 1873 is the iconic rifle in the great American westward expansion, and is referred to as "The Gun That Won the West."  Many people are trying to find the back story of this rifle. Was it just forgotten? Did something happen to its owner? Did a hunter leave it, intending to come back and find it, but never could?

Winchester staff writer, Scott Engen, gathered a few details provided by Nichole Andler, Chief of Interpretation at Great Basin National Park. 

(This article was originally published immediately after the announcement about the rifle by the Park Service.)

National Park Service finds an original Winchester Model 1873 in the wilds of Great Basin National Park

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 an 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.

It’s doubtful this unique Winchester Model 1873 will ever come up for sale. If you’d like to learn more about a real Winchester Model 1873, with the function, fit and finish equal to or even better than the original made more than a century ago you are at the right place.

You can learn more about the Model 1873 found in the Great Basin National Park at  https://www.facebook.com/GreatBasinNPS

This photo was taken at the Cody museum where the rifle was taken for examination. Note the inscription on the tang.

This photo -- also taken at the Cody Museum -- shows how much damage has actually been done to the rifle.