This 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.
The 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.
When 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.
Parks 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