Mysterious 132-Year-Old Rifle Found in National Park

Who left the Winchester Model 1873 in Great Basin National Park?
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2015 7:24 AM CST
The 132-year-old Winchester rifle was found in November.   (Facebook / Great Basin National Park)

(Newser) – It was "the gun that won the West"—and it may have been leaning against a tree for more than a century. While surveying Nevada's Great Basin National Park in November, an archaeological crew spotted a Winchester Model 1873 in the woods. It was a lucky sighting: Writes the park on its Facebook page, "The cracked wood stock, weathered to grey, and the brown rusted barrel blended into the colors of the old juniper tree." KSL reports the serial number unraveled the smallest bit of the rifle's history: The firearm was made in New Haven, Conn., and shipped in 1882—132 years before its discovery. But those records have no information on where it was sent or who purchased it, leaving the park with a mystery on its hands.

Park Chief of Interpretation Nichole Andler tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal the staff is using "primary resource documents" (think newspaper clippings, old letters) in its search for more clues. Still, "I don't know how probable it is" that the mystery will be solved, says Andler; the rifle was one of more than 25,000 Model 1873 rifles manufactured that year. (Just how popular was it? The Review-Journal points out the model was featured in nearly every John Wayne Western.) Two other details: The rifle was not loaded and the location where it sat won't be fully revealed by the park as a means of safeguarding any other artifacts that might be there. The rifle will be put on display this Friday and Saturday before it's handed over to conservators who will "stabilize the wood and apply museum conservation techniques." (Read about another national park discovery.)

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