Archaeologists have stumbled upon a remarkable discovery in a Nevada National Park.
A team of archaeologists undertaking a survey in Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada found a 132-year-old Winchester rifle, leaning against a tree. The rifle has long been exposed to the harsh elements, ever since it was left by its owner.
“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,” a statement issued by the park said.
How the .44-40 rifle came to be left against the tree is a mystery. Nichole Andler, Basin National Park’s chief of interpretation, has a theory that “it looked like someone propped it up there, sat down to have their lunch and got up to walk off without it.”
It is quite extraordinary that anybody managed to spot the rifle, as it was very well camouflaged. The rifle appears to have been left undisturbed for over 100 years, and in that time it had blended in with its surroundings; the wooden butt had turned grey and become partially buried.
The history of the National Park offers some clues as to how the rifle came to be rested against the tree. Great Basin is a remote and rugged area in the high desert of eastern Nevada. In the late nineteenth century it was primarily a mining site, but it could have also been used to herd cattle and sheep, meaning the rifle might have belonged to a herder in the area. Another explanation could be that the rifle is the relic of game hunting in the park.
“Right now there are more questions than answers,” Andler told Discovery News. “What we do know is the ‘Model 1873′ distinctively engraved on the mechanism identify the rifle as the Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle,” she added. A serial number on the lower tang corresponds with manufacture and shipping records from 1882.
Currently, the detailed history of the rifle is unknown. Winchester records do not indicate precisely who purchased the rifle or where it was shipped, so researchers are unable to piece together the weapon’s full story.
What is known is that the Winchester Model 1873 was a very popular rifle in the late nineteenth century. The 1873 model is often referred to as “the gun that won the West”, in reference to how common it was. Between 1873 and 1916, Winchester manufactured 720,610 Model 1873 rifles. In 1882 alone, more than 25,000 were made.
The prevalence of the gun contributed to a massive price drop for the Model 1873; in 1873, it cost $50, falling to $25 in 1882. By the 1880s, the Model 1873 was known as an ‘everyman’s rifle,’ as so many people owned one.
The Model 1873’s popularity may be the cause of it being left against a tree. As the model became more common and less expensive, it no longer was considered such a rare or precious item. This could have been the reason its owner left it lying against a juniper tree, where it remained for over 100 years.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons user: Geo Swan