A Winchester rifle known as the Gun that Won the West was discovered leaning up against a tree in a rocky outcrop in a remote area of the Great Basin National Park in Nevada near the Utah border.
Park archeologists were surveying in the park last November when they stumbled upon a weathered Winchester blending in with the habitat. Park officials revealed the find via Facebook.
The serial number on the Winchester Model 1873 corresponds to a manufacturing and shipping date of 1882 in the records kept by the Center for the West, Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming.
The Winchester was exposed to sun, wind, snow, and rain, and was presumably left abandoned by the tree by the original owner based on its condition. The wood stock was cracked and weathered to gray and the brown barrel was rusted.
"It probably has a very good and interesting story," Nichole Andler, the park's chief of interpretation, told the Washington Post. "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."
The Great Basin cultural resource staff continues reaching the gun's history through old newspapers and family histories, hoping to resolve some of the mystery.
Who left the rifle? When and why was it leaned against the tree? Why was it never retrieved? These questions most likely will never get answered, leaving the history of the gun open to speculation.
"Great Basin was primarily a mining site at the time, but could have also been home to grazing cattle and sheep," the Washington Post wrote. "The gun may have also been the relic of game hunting in the area."
What is known is that Winchester Model 1873 rifles were a big part of Western history and lore as an "everyman's" rifle. Between 1873 and 1916 when production ended, 720,610 were manufactured, including over 25,000 in 1882 when this rifle was made.
They sold for $50 at first but were reduced to $25 by 1882.
The park said the community will get the opportunity to view the Winchester before it's sent to conservators "to stabilize the wood and apply museum conservation techniques."
The rifle will be returned to the park and be on display by 2016, when the park celebrates its 30th birthday and the National Park Service celebrates its Centennial.
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