Winchester Model 1873 Found Abandoned in Nevada Desert

Archaeologists discover a rifle dating from 1882, still leaning against a tree in a remote park in Nevada.

The Snake Mountains of Eastern Nevada are not easily explored. Rough terrain and remote territory make certain that lost items may remain undisturbed for prolonged periods of time. The lever-action 1873, spotted by archaeologist Eva Jensen, required very little excavating to recover by the staff at Great Basin National Park and has been a discovery that sent her into the archives to discover the identity of the rifle’s owner.

It was found propped up against a juniper. The manufacture date: 1882. The find was a lucky shot for Jensen who was with her team, scouting for Native American artifacts and petroglyphs prior to a prescribed burning of vegetation. The rifle was found with the stock buried an inch or two in the dirt and with a number of rocks supporting it. The wood was dried out and the steel body rusted thoroughly, but it was not enough to disguise the rifle from the trained eye of the 57-year-old archaeologist.

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winchester1The Winchester 1873 as discovered at the site. Courtesy National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

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Since the discovery in early November, Jensen has found herself searching historical records—bills of purchase, newspapers, photographs, and letters—to hunt down the owner of the gun. Every rifle produced by the Winchester company was stamped with a serial number, and as consulted by the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, the rifle was manufactured in 1882. The order number for the rifle was even found and showed that the rifle was shipped from the warehouse in Connecticut that year. The trail, however, has gone cold, as there is no information as to where it was shipped.

According to Jensen, everybody she encounters seems to have a theory of how the gun was left, and the search continues for hard evidence to illustrate the events of that day. For now, the rifle is being kept in climate-controlled storage and will become part of the park’s public collection. The location of where the rifle was found has not been revealed.

The Winchester was a series of lever-action repeating rifles manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. They were among the earliest repeaters. The model type 1873 discovered by Jensen was considered especially successful, and has been popularly called “The Gun that Won the West”.

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See the LA Times story for details.

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Mark Hallum

Mark Hallum is a staff writer for Popular Archaeology Magazine.