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A recent find in the Nevada desert has left archeologists scratching their heads. Eva Jensen, a Program Manager with the National Park Service,ย recently found an old Winchester Model 1873 Rifle in Great Basin National Park, which had apparently been left learning against a Juniper tree…for over 100 years . . .

The 132-year-old rifle, exposed to sun, wind, snow, and rain was found leaning against a tree in the park. The cracked wood stock, weathered to grey, and the and the brown rusted barrel blended into the colors of the old juniper tree in a remote rocky outcrop, keeping the rifle hidden for many years…. The rifle was not loaded when it was found, but would have held .44-40 caliber ammunition when in use….

Model 1873 rifles hold a prominent place in Western history and lore. The rifles are referred to as “the gun that won the West”…. Selling for about $50 when they first came out, the rifles reduced in price to $25 in 1882 and were accessible and popular as “everyman’s” rifle….

Who left the rifle? When and why was it leaned against the tree? And, why was it never retrieved? The Great Basin cultural resource staff is continuing research…hoping to resolve some of the mystery….


I have to confess, as a history buff, this is a really cool find. I just hope that whomever left the rifle leanin’ against an old juniper tree didn’t find himself (herself?) needing it soon thereafter.



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    • Not to be the debbie downer here, but just because the rifle was made in 1892 doesn’t mean it’s been sitting on that tree since then. For all anybody knows, somebody found it all old and rusty in their grandpa’s basement and to get rid of it they decided to put it out in the desert. Last month.

      • Yeah, but look at the pics that show the bottom of the stock – it really has advanced rot on the lower part of the stock.

        It may not have been out there 100+ years, but it looks like it was out there a loooooooong time… Likely many decades at the least.

        My opinion and worth every last cent minus shipping and handling…

        • Oh thanks; I hadn’t seen those photos! I’m no archaeologist anyway ;-). I mean… I have no idea how long it would take the bottom of the stock to be under a few inches of plant material and such. No idea what kind of tree it is and how much crap it rains down and how much rainfall there is there, etc etc, and what any of that would mean to me even if I did know hahaha …but maybe when they compare the deterioration on that part to the rest of it (if they bother to actually “science” this thing) they can come up with an estimate of just how long it was out there. Not that it really matters either haha. It’s a super cool find no matter what!

        • It’s quite cool.

          Too my un-traind eye, the weathering looks most advanced where the stock touches the ground.

          But I have zero experience judging weathering…

          Former Water Walker’s opinion sounds valid to me…

  1. Now this is a cool story. Question for all, if you made such a find what would you do? Take it as a trophy? Turn it in to park officials for display? Turn it in to the closest city cops for destruction? You know, to make the world safer ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Exactly my same first thought, too; the episode with the 19th century settlers travelling westward. The baby was gravely ill, so the father set out on foot, with his rifle, to seek out some help while the wagon train waited behind.

      He walks right into about 1962 and stops at a roadside diner, where they provide him with some basic meds; antibiotics, I think. At some point the Sheriff gets called, so the father flees back to the desert to the wagon train, dropping his rifle as he ascends a dune.

      When the Sheriff reaches the rifle at the top of the dune, the man has disappeared beyond it. Sheriff picks up the rifle and the stock breaks, as though brittle and weathered for having been laying there…..for a hundred years, which it had.

      Father returns to the wagon train and saves the baby’s life with the medicine. At some point in the story, it’s learned that the baby grows up to be a famous doctor, I think maybe the one who developed the very medicine that saved his own life as a baby. Great episode.

      • There’s a certain quality about those old episodes I love. The best I can describe it is a sense of craftsmanship wrought in film. They seemed to combine innovative stories and skilled cinematography. And a kind of patience you don’t see today where the quick pan and rapid cut is king. Like what a student film would be if it weren’t terrible.

      • Thanks Geoff. Don’t recall that episode.
        Finding artifacts seems the only form of time travel available.
        Once sat on a rock at about 10,000′ in God’s Pocket, Jarbidge Range, NV. Found an old Prince Albert can at my feet. Long gone miner must have been taking in the view just like me.

  2. Why can’t I ever find stuff like that when I’m hiking?

    I wonder if it was just in an area so remote that no one was near it or if no one ever noticed because of how well it blended into just another tree.

  3. Pretty amazing hiding in plain view, for that long, and never being discovered until now.

    I hope it at least ends up in the Nat Park museum.

    • People often look, much more rarely do they see.

      Not really a criticism, more of a commentary on the nature of consciousness and the influence of expectations upon perception.

  4. Years back, my uncle was bow hunting, had a successful kill, and had to bone & pack out the meat in several trips back to camp. When he returned from the first hike out, he couldn’t find his bow. His first hike out and back was at night, so nobody could’ve taken it. He returned in daylight, and still couldn’t find it, gave up and made his final hike out without it.

    It’s easier than you would think. However my story above was in the thick forest of Washington, and not some of the more sparsely wooded areas in Nevada. I’d be curious as to who simply left a rifle there and never came back for it, what the circumstances were, etc.

  5. I read about this last week. I’m extremely skeptical that it was there for 100 years, just because the rifle is >100 years old. I think the wood would be gone and the metal would be a barely recognizable mass of rust.

    • I don’t know about that, metal and even wood tends to last quite a while out there. Lots of pre war car bodies strewn about with much thinner metal that have not disappeared yet. I wonder how late these would have been in relatively common usage though?

    • “Iโ€™m extremely skeptical that it was there for 100 years, just because the rifle is >100 years old. I think the wood would be gone and the metal would be a barely recognizable mass of rust.”

      It was found in the Nevada desert. Very dry air…

    • When you use good wood, it lasts a long time. There are barns here built around 1890 and the interior wood is just fine (except where cows kick it) — and our weather is a good hundred times as wet as in that desert.

      As for steel, when it gets wet maybe once or twice a year and dries out swiftly, a patina of rust can actually protect the metal.

  6. I happen to know the history of that rifle. It belonged to great-great uncle George, back in the great snow of ought six. After complying with the requirement to store ammunition a minimum of 20 miles from a firearm, he was set upon by a pack of wolves, and was unable, for some unknown reason, to make the 40 mile round trip, on foot, before being consumed. The wolves approved of the law.

    • ” After complying with the requirement to store ammunition a minimum of 20 miles from a firearm”

      For the love of God, Don’t give them any ideas! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yeah. No decoraters or wall hangers for me. I’d rather see something like this in a museum. + I just like museums.

  7. Is the juniper tree more than 100 years old? If not, I doubt that the rifle lain on the ground and the tree grew under it, leaving it in a propped up position.

    • C’mon Ralph … I’d have thought you’d have known you need to use ammonium nitrate fertilizer if you’re going to plant howitzer seeds…

  8. I’ am an antique dealer and know for a fact treated hardwood can beat in the sun for 100years. WE don’t how long this cool gun was there but it was in a remote area. I wish I’d found it…there would be no story. Yes and I’ve had many pieces of Victorian furniture left to rot which very easily restored.

    • Same here. I do A LOT of restoration and remodeling work and have saved very badly weathered/water damaged woodwork and furniture. Most people really do not understand the durability of hardwood, even when abused. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • See “antique barnwood” …or water submerged logs. And this gun was in a desert with what I presume very low humidity. I also realize deserts have monsoons and floods. For an extreme example of woods durability look at wood found in Egyptian tombs…thousands of years.

        • I have done interior work using submerged wood, and it looks awesome. I have used barn wood and reclaimed lumber from houses but the planking from that submerged stuff is beautiful with very little finishing. We just cleared it, came off the planer smooth as glass. Was a bit hard to nail, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • There’s a really upscale restaurant in the area that remodeled, and for the interior they used restored weathered century-old planking from the south side of a barn. The restoration brought back the color but didn’t change the physical weathering at all; the effect is gorgeous.

            And farmers here regularly take fence posts eighty or more years old, place off the outside quarter inch, and use them as smaller posts for lesser fences, this in an area where many farmers are in a zone where they get upwards of a hundred inches of rain per year.

            As a conservation and trail volunteer for our county parks, I dearly love getting old wood donated, because it has the weathered look of the wild country several of the parks are meant to be, but most of it still has good strength for shelter walls or even benches, or can be ripped on a table saw to make stakes for marking new seedlings (the pieces that don’t get used to make planting boxes or are chipped to provide mulch).

            Thinking of steel, three summers back I found a steel bracket of pre-WW II vintage. Under an eighth of an inch of rust, it was still strong (thanks to the antiquities act, I had to leave it in place or contact a museum so someone qualified could assess it, so I carefully put it back).

            • “antiquities act,” Where do you live?

              As for barn wood, I have salvaged a lot over the years. Comes in handy for rebuilding outhouses without tearing them down, and lots of people like to use it on new structures so they blend in with existing buildings. On that other hand, I have put tons of new plank sheathing on old barns and buildings. Lots of farmers are unconcerned with the aesthetics of appearance, as long as it is weather tight. And cow proof. Can’t be forgetting cow proofing!!!

              • I live on the Oregon coast. I learned about the antiquities act while doing conservation work; anything that’s been in place over 75 years can’t be removed (which is stupid sometimes, as in when we find old-time logging cables rusted down to steel splinters dangerous to wildlife).

                Some of the old barns here have stalls all framed with real 4″ planks — they were serious about “cow proof”.

              • So, it is a state thing. Here in PA, unless it is on state or national park land, its scrap and gets hauled off for recycle, unless you can find someone who wants a particularly interesting looking piece for decoration or reuse for oil/gas. I know several people who operate oil and gas works who are always on the look out for reusable metal gear/equipment they can rehab. There are hundreds upon hundreds of miles of abandoned oil and gas pipelines, sucker rods and cable, electric lines, drill rigs and equipment, and buildings. Even on park lands, unless it is of particular historical significance, they want it cleaned up. PADEP is real big on removing such stuff, after you pay them exorbitant amounts of money, file thousands of pages of blahblah, and hire one of their approved contractors for even more exorbitant amounts of money. And lets not forget the Super Fund sites. Oh, yea, lots of crap being cleared out in PA.

              • I decided to check. The areas I’ve been doing conservation are county land, but there’s a catch: they used to be federal land, but when they were given to the county it was required that all those federal restrictions had to be maintained.
                So technically, if I trip over a weathered piece of concrete that is made with gravel raked from a beach (easy to tell, if you know what to look for), it’s over 75 years old, and because the county got the land from the feds, I have to roll the bloody thing back to where it was, so I haven’t “disturbed” it.
                We do cheat sometimes — I will NOT leave broken glass or sharp metal where kids could get hurt. Generally I’ll heave a chunk of rotten log on top, but if it’s near enough the shore, I’ll wing it out into the deep channel, on the principle that a storm could have done that. And I leave it safer than it was.
                Of course if it’s native artifacts, there are several laws, state and federal involved, and I have to take a GPS reading, flag it, and report it, but I’m fine with that, having native blood myself.

              • Ah, I remember when that “give back” from feds to states/counties was being pushed, lots of people were all happy and whatnot, till they discovered all the restrictions on use and development that came with it. When someone is desperately trying to give you a horse you pry that mouth open and check ALL the teeth.

              • Along with it all came Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction over land use, any place they had built something that protected the land. That was fine, so long as they did the maintenance on the dikes or whatever. But in the fine print there were “use life” numbers and a stipulation that when the Corps’ “use life” guarantee had run out, it’s all left in the county’s ballpark. So thanks to some of those starting to run out, the county is now on the hook for the expense of maintaining a whole array of dikes and such, but thanks to other inherited regulations they don’t have a choice to alter those or set their own standards for the maintenance.
                I’m involved right now in leading the way to establish a volunteer organization to handle one piece of that, so far indirectly, by doing trail maintenance and conservation to free up county parks resources to deal with one dike. But I told one of our county commissioners they ought to just vote to annex the property and throw out the federal jurisdiction except over the jetty and the road going to it (because the fine print also requires that if the Army Corps decides to do an official inspection of the jetty, they have to rebuild the road to modern standards; at the moment it’s at early ’70s standards).
                What a tangled web . . . .

              • We live north of Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River. ACoE is in charge of maintaining the locks which bring traffic north to East Brady. At least they were until they began to refuse to do the maintenance on said locks. One hell of a fight going on about it. There could be commercial traffic for most of the year, ACoE claims it is only recreational traffic and is limited to too small a period of time each year to justify the cost of maintaining those locks. And why, you ask, is there not commercial traffic? Because ACoE and EPA took measures to choke off commercial traffic, and they are working hard to limit recreational traffic, too. YAY government, f**king up everything it touches.

  9. I have a question was the rifle loaded with ammo ? anyone know? type ammo ? who made the ammo could set a better date ?

  10. Just be thankful the rifle was unloaded…otherwise it would have made that tree kill many passersby for sure.

    • Once again, the ammo was stored WAY far away. I doubt it could have murdered more than just a few.

  11. Years back one of my great uncles “disappeared” while hunting. He was a widower in his 80s and nobody missed him for several days. Eventually the neighbors called the sheriff and after several more days of searching they found his body under a tree, with his old double barrel 12 gauge leaning up against another tree. The coroner was of the opinion that he sat down to rest and had a heart attack. So such things can happen. If the sheriff’s people hadn’t found my uncle the critters would have gotten to him and fifty or a hundred years later somebody would have found a very weatherbeaten shotgun and no story to go with it.

  12. We have old wagon and axle tounges that are 120+ years old, as well as shivles and other hand tools. Yes the wood deteriorates but enough is still there. The stock looks like some of our equipment. We also dug out an old shot out savage single shot from the lower barn that everyone had forgotten about. According to grandpa it had been there 60+ years. Things have a way of blending in and disappearing.

  13. Everyone is talking about the rifle, but what about the tree? That’s impressive that a desert tree can survive for 132 years!

    (sarcasm, by the way)

  14. Oh my G*d! The rifle was unattended for over a hundred years, and it didn’t kill anyone? We need common sense gun abandonment laws, because guns kill people! The BATFE needs to take the gun away from the tree! Stupid right-wing tree!

  15. I dont mean to insult all of your theories and imaginations here but .. Juniper trees ‘CAN live up to 20 years if cared for! Now That is not to say that the tree didnt grow right underneath it and prop it up so perfect like it belonged to that tree! But Perhaps there is human remains and other artifacts under the tree as well. Damn im good!

    • On second thought, it depends on what species of juniper apparently, some have been alive since before sweet baby jesus..

  16. Very interesting, in plain sight. Some wonder how to hide there stuff, why not in plain sight! And it is so ready for action, to bad the weather got it. Just remember in plain sight, now you could hide your piece anywhere. Accessibility is what is great about this article. Always watch your flank and six when strolling around out there.

    • You know, I think we can assume that this rifle was being OC’d at sometime back in the day. No doubt by some smartass showoff who has thus damaged “our cause”.

  17. I think the oddest think about this rifle is the fact that it was unloaded. What scenario would it make sense to have an unloaded gun out there? If it was for personal protection you would at minimum keep rounds in the tube. If it was for hunting you’d expect that they would keep it loaded. The only two reasons I can think that would make any kind of sense would be a gun fight during which the owner ran out of ammo so put it down against the tree. In that case you should have empty shell casing some where close by, and possibly some bullet impacts in the tree or surrounding trees. The other possibility would be some one passing through, shot the rifle at some point during the day (possibly to get dinner) and and decided to camp there for the night. So they unloaded their rifle to clean it since they were probably using black powder rounds, and leaned it against the tree to let it dry before they went to sleep. In the morning they hoped on their horse and rode off forgetting that they did not put the rifle in the saddle holster ( am assuming that rifle was carried in something like a saddle holster because there does not appear to be any evidence that rifle had a sling) the night before. In that case you should with a little digging find evidence of the camp site right around that area. My money is on that second option, since it there had been some sort of gun fight of some sort in the area, there probably would be a story about it.

  18. My thought was someone met with an accident/mishap and ended up on foot. Comes a point you can’t carry stuff once dehydration sets in. Possible they had pistol and rifle using the same cartridge, unloaded the rifle and set it there with the intention of returning and either died or were not able to find it later. In the high desert wood and metal last a long time exposed to the elements. Hope PS did the right thing and gridded out the area around this find, very possible they could find other things, or even human remains.

    Here in PA I could take you out and find wood and metal items from the oil boom era that are as old as that rifle.

  19. “If only they could talk!”

    Among collectors, these guns are called a “dug up” – even if they were simply found and not dug up. Actually, there are lots of them around. Many have been found loaded and cocked – and rusted solid. They all have a story to tell – especially when the location where found has been documented. When such guns are found at the site of a wagon fight, an outlaw shootout, or in the area of the Custer Battle, the guns really talk to us.

    There’s a museum in Cody, Wyoming that specializes in such guns.

    A lot of “Saturday Night Specials” were used once, then dropped into an outhouse, to be dug out 100 years later. We wonder what drama played out using those guns…..

    The archaeologists at the Park should get out there with metal detectors to locate any other metallic objects in the area. Empty brass will still be there.

    Anyone with an interest can research what has been found at the Custer Battlefield, and how the archaeologists tracked specific firearms across the battleground by forensic analysis of the brass. They were even able to tell when a specific gun changed sides by the brass showing up at Sioux positions.

    • Nice! For those interested in Little Bighorn and the Indian Wars period, read Crimsoned Prairie by SLA Marshall.

  20. Very rare incident. Symbolic even. Should’ve just been left there if you ask me. It survived 130+ years undisturbed….. leave it alone.

  21. Somebody pointed out to me yesterday that when that rifle was put there that juniper would have been a bush, so they may have put it there to hide it from someone else. A possibility.

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