132-Year-Old Model 1873 Found Against a Tree In National Park

What’s the story behind the Winchester Model 1873 found leaning against a tree in Great Basin National Park?


The iconic Model 1873 is known for its use during 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?

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

Many of us harbour 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 colours 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.

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?

“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.

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 centrepiece of a main display on the rifle.

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.




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