One In A Million: Park Employee Finds Winchester ’73 Leaning Against A Juniper Tree In Nevada Park

imrs-1.phpThis story hit all of my buttons: national parks; vintage guns; history; hiking. Recently, a Parks employee was hiking in a remote part of the Great Basin National Park when they spotted something leaning against a juniper tree. It was a 132-year-old Winchester rifle and appeared to have not moved since it was leaned against an old tree — eventually weathered to the point that it virtually blended into the tree unless you were close by. For a rifle that produced the famous “One in One Thousand,” this is truly a one in a million.


winchesterpic1The rifle picture feels like a portal back in time. One can come up with any number of scenes from a lone cowboy riding the high range to a gold prospector looking for a motherload to dying mountain man to a careless hunter. The gun has a mark of a “Model 1873” and the serial number on the lower tang, or portion of the grip, matches records at the Center for the West at the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyo. with a manufacture and shipping date of 1882. According to Utah-based Winchester Repeating Arms, 720,610 of the rifles were manufactured between 1873 and 1916. This appears to be one of the more than 25,000 of the 1873 models were made in 1882.

220px-Winchester_73_-_1950-_PosterWhen the gun first came out, it was a game changer along the frontier. Hence the name: the “Gun That Won The West.” I have always been an admirer of the Winchester. It was remarkably well-suited for the frontier. It could use the same standard ammunition used in handguns — allowing men to carry just one type of ammunition. Originally configured for the .44-40 cartridge, the Model 1873 was later produced in .38-40 and .32-20. Every once in a while a gun would come off the line with a particularly keen line for accuracy: producing a tight group of rounds in test firing. Those were called “One of One Thousand” rifles and were given a special trigger and finish and markings. They were sold for $100 rather than $50. At the time, $50 was the equivalent to $1000 today. There were 136 One of One Thousand Model 1873 rifles. There were also “One in One Hundred” models that were sold for $20 more than list. For those of us who are Western movie fans (I watch old Westerns continually to the chagrin of my kids), it was this designation that inspired the 1950 Western film Winchester ’73 with James Stewart. A great movie.

imrs.phpParks employees taped the gun together to keep it from falling apart and staff are trying to search records for any clue as to its original owner. That is likely going to be a dry hole but perhaps that is better. We can then spin a thousand stories around camp fires of the Winchester ’73 left in the high country for over a hundred years leaning on an old juniper tree. (I know I will be coming up with a few on my planned hiking trip to Nevada and Utah parks in March)

Source: Washington Post

20 thoughts on “One In A Million: Park Employee Finds Winchester ’73 Leaning Against A Juniper Tree In Nevada Park”

  1. Fiona-

    “I wish they’d just left it there. ”

    Me too, but now that they’ve hauled it off, I’d like to see someone fire it. It would be impressive if it still fired.

  2. I wish they’d just left it there. It looks wrong all covered in tape. Like it’s being desecrated or something. Reminds me of how the mummified remains were treated in the early 1900’s.

  3. It reminds me of the scene in “Jeremiah Johnson” where Redford’s character comes upon a frozen mountain man holding his rifle. This isn’t the movies so we have the luxury of imagining all sorts of scenarios. I’m going with mountain lion.

  4. Great story. I drove through the Utah canyons recently. There was a fresh coating of snow. Didn’t stop to hike but the sun, snow, wind, always give the canyons a different look. I will not stop saying this. I have now been to 47 states and the southern Utah canyons are the most uniquely beautiful part of this country. They’re where Butch Cassidy went to hide in Robber’s Roost when John Law was after him. When you see the canyons you can just hear the posse saying, “To hell w/ this!”

    Correction: Mother lode not motherload.

  5. @ Steve H

    Juniper Tree. You can’t kill the damned things 🙂 Tough trees

    My first thought on seeing the gun carefully leaned up against the tree was…woah….something bad happened here long time ago.

  6. If they look and search the area close enough they will probably find the bones. Now something a traveler would forget.

  7. Wonder what happened to the person that left it there? How weathered was the rifle? I don’t think it could have been there for more than a few years

  8. Wow! What a find.

    There is no way this would have been left behind. If it was lost around the time of its manufacture, it was too valuable and crucial to survival. Something had to have happened to the owner at the time. Either he tied, was captured, or chased away.

  9. Was there rounds in it? Had it been fired and a round laying around on the ground been found? Look around for the owner’s skeletal remains. He could be up the tree without a paddle.

  10. Strange that the tree didn’t grow, rot, burn, fall down or otherwise deteriorate for “over 100 years” as well. As soon as the ’73 touched it, the tree froze in time.

  11. …and within an old wooden casket, buried a hundred odd years ago, an old mountain man can now rest in peace.

  12. This is a great find. If I had found it, I would be hard pressed to turn it in. 🙂

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