Do you remember the winter scene from the 1972 classic movie, “Jeremiah Johnson,” where a dying mountain man by the name of Hatchet Jack left a rifle—and a note—to the next person who passes?
“I, Hatchet Jack, being of sound mind and broke legs, do hereby leaveth my bear rifle to whatever finds it . . . It is a good rifle, and kilt the bear that kilt me. Anyway, I am dead. Yours truly, Hatchet Jack.”
We editors doubt that the story behind this Winchester Model 1873 rifle (below) is as interesting, but time will tell. Or maybe not.
According to info found on the Great Basin National Park Facebook page, numerous questions surround the rifle found by archaeologists. 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 brown rusted barrel blended into the colors of the old juniper tree in a remote rocky outcrop, keeping the rifle hidden for many years. Note: Many parts of Great Basin are extremely rugged, as shown in the photo below, which was taken from Lincoln Peak looking north towards Mt. Washington and Wheeler Peak.
Has the rifle really been leaning against the tree for more than a century? Or did someone—for some reason—place it there in more modern times? The Great Basin cultural resource staff is continuing research in old newspapers and family histories hoping to resolve some of the mystery and fill in details about the story of this rifle. It’ll be interesting to see if they can find answers.
ABOUT THE GUN
“Model 1873” is distinctively engraved on the mechanism and identifies the gun as a Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle. The serial number on the lower tang corresponds in Winchester records held at the Center for the West, Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyoming, with a manufacture and shipping date of 1882. Currently, the detailed history of this rifle is unknown. Winchester records don’t indicate who purchased the rifle from the warehouse or where it was shipped.
Winchester Model 1873 rifles hold a prominent place in Western history and lore. The rifles are referred to as “the gun that won the West.” Records indicate that 720,610 were manufactured between 1873 and 1916 when production ended. In 1882 alone, more than 25,000 were made. 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. The Winchester business plan included selling large lots of rifles to dealers or “jobbers” who would distribute the firearms to smaller sales outlets.
P.S. Regarding the photo below, it appears that Park staff placed orange strapping material around the rifle’s butt stock to prevent further damage during transport. We'll keep you posted if we ever learn more about this amazing find!