- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Archaeologists traversing the Great Basin National Park in Nevada came across an interesting find: a 132-year-old Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle.

The Facebook page for Great Basin National Park said in a post last week that researchers found the rifle, known as “the gun that won the West,” leaning up against a tree.

“The 132 year-old rifle, exposed 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,” Great Basin National Park said in a statement.

The website said that “Model 1873” was distinctively engraved on the weapon and that the serial number corresponds with Winchester records held at the Center for the West, Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming, with a manufacture and shipping date of 1882.

“Winchester Model 1873 rifles hold a prominent place in Western history and lore, commonly referred to as “the gun that won the West.” The first of Jimmy Stewart’s string of popular Westerns in the early 1950s with director Anthony Mann was simply named “Winchester ‘73” after the weapon.

Between 1873 and the end of production in 1916, 720,610 rifles were manufactured. In 1882 alone, over 25,000 were made. Selling for about $50 when they first came out, the rifles reduced in price to $25 in 1882 and were accessible and popular as “everyman’s” rifle,” Great Basin National Park’s statement added.

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Staffers for the national park are looking into old newspaper records in order to answer the questions: “Who left the rifle? When and why it was leaned against the tree? And, why was it never retrieved?”

Great Basin National Park said that it will provide a viewing opportunity for the community before sending the rifle to conservators “to stabilize the wood and apply museum conservation techniques.”

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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