The Model 1873 Winchester found leaning against a Juniper tree in Great Basin National Park in 2014 is now a popular exhibit.
A 137-year-old rifle found five years ago leaning against a juniper tree in Great Basin National Park in Nevada is now part of an exhibit dedicated to the â€œForgotten Winchesterâ€ at the park visitor center near the Utah border.
The weathered Winchester Model 1873 is in a case designed to capture the way it looked when park archaeologist Eva Jensen stumbled across it on a rocky outcrop above Strawberry Creek during an archaeological survey.
Based on its condition, experts believe the weapon might have been abandoned in the forest more than a century ago.
But nearly five years after its discovery, park officials still donâ€™t know who it belonged to nor why it was left against the tree. No sales or ownership records have been found.
The serial number was visible, allowing experts at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo., to determine it was made in 1882.
The exhibit also highlights the role the Model 1873 â€” one of the most popular guns on the Western frontier â€” played in the history of the West.
â€œThe exhibit is a showcase for visitors to discover the rifleâ€™s mysterious story and become inspired to imagine, investigate and care about a piece of their American history,â€ said Nichole Andler, the parkâ€™s chief of interpretation.
Herbert Houze, former curator of a firearms museum at the Buffalo Bill center, has said Model 1873 rifles were so valuable that whoever owned the one on display might have rested it against the tree and been unable to find it later.
â€œYou just donâ€™t leave a gun like that there,â€ he said.
The rifles sold for $35 to $50 in the 1880s and can now fetch up to $15,000 depending on their condition.
The rifle on display has been exhibited at gun shows and at the Buffalo Bill center for a summer. There, officials did an X-ray, found a bullet in the stock and removed it.
The bullet is included in the new exhibit case.