The Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle stumbled upon by archaeologists at a national park in Nevada last November is currently on display in the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, WY.
Upon its discovery, its was at once both a relic and an enigma: a 132-year-old Winchester Model 1873 .44-40 cal. rifle, discovered leaning against a juniper tree in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, its stock gray and weathered after years of exposure to the elements.
Park employees posted a photograph of the rifle as it was found on the Park’s Facebook page. The post asked, “Can you find the man-made object in this image?” That one question sparked a media sensation, and the “Forgotten Winchester,” as some have called it, went viral online and received considerable national attention.
“The Winchester Model 1873 alone may be the most iconic western firearm of all time,” says Curator Ashley Hlebinsky of the Firearms Museum. “This is especially true of its marketing slogan, ‘The Gun that Won the West.’ With all it’s been through, this particular gun has certainly carried on that legend.”
The rifle was taken by park personnel to the Cody facility early this year for conservation and identification, as the Center holds complete manufacturing records for Winchester firearms.
One of the first steps taken by museum Conservator Beverly Perkins, Hlebinsky, and Curatorial Assistant Dan Brumley was to walk the rifle across the street to neighboring West Park Hospital’s radiology department for X-rays. The images showed that the gun was not loaded, but indicated a cartridge in the trap of the butt stock.
The door to the butt stock was loosened with a drop of penetrating oil, and the cartridge was removed and identified as a Union Metallic Cartridge Company .44 WCF, dated 1887 – 1911. To stop further flaking of the wood, Perkins used an adhesive (2 percent Klucel G hydroxypropylcellulose) mixed in distilled water and ethanol.
The Great Basin gun will remain on display in the Cody Museum until fall 2015, when the Center will return it to Great Basin for its 30th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.