Great Basin National Park has unveiled a new exhibit dedicated to one of its best-known artifacts.
The “Forgotten Winchester,” a 137-year-old rifle discovered leaning against a tree in the Nevada park in 2014, is now on permanent display at the main visitor center in Baker, 300 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The weathered rifle is housed in a case designed to simulate the way it looked when park archaeologist Eva Jensen stumbled across it in the hills above Strawberry Creek.
News of its discovery made headlines around the world and sparked ongoing speculation about its past.
Almost five years later, though, park officials still don’t know who the rifle belonged to or why it was left there.
What they do know is that it was manufactured in February 1882 and shipped from Winchester’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut, in June 1882. No sales or ownership records have been found.
Based on its condition, experts believe the Winchester Model 1873 might have been abandoned in the forest more than a century ago.
Its recovery came in the nick of time. Two years after Jensen found the rifle, a lighting-sparked wildfire swept across the hillside, reducing the tree it was leaning on to a charred black stick.
“The exhibit is a showcase for visitors to discover the rifle’s mysterious story and become inspired to imagine, investigate, and care about a piece of their American history,” said Nichole Andler, the park’s chief of interpretation.
Included in the display is a .44-40 caliber bullet that was discovered inside the rifle’s stock, where cleaning rods normally were kept. The cartridge is thought to have been made between 108 and 130 years ago by Connecticut-based Union Metallic Cartridge Co., a long-gone manufacturer that merged with Remington in 1912.
The new exhibit also highlights the role the Model 1873 played in the history of the West.
The display was designed and funded by the National Park Service, the Great Basin National Park Foundation and the Fund for People in Parks, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit that sponsors improvements at some of the West’s smaller, less famous park sites.
“It has been a fun and inspiring project to work on with our park staff and our partners to complete this exhibit and give the Forgotten Winchester a permanent home,” Andler said.