7 – Rusted Relic Rifle

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

If this rifle could talk, you’d want to listen.
How do we determine a top museum artifact? Usually it’s a combination of several factors including rarity, value, beauty, verified history etc. However, occasionally an item doesn’t need any of those. This particular artifact isn’t exceptionally rare or valuable, and it’s definitely not beautiful. As for its story: yeah, we don’t know that either. So what makes this rusty relic so intriguing? There are three reasons:
#1- This was a very popular rifle in the late 1800s
#2- It was found smack-dab in the middle of outlaw country
#3- (The main reason) The hammer, which is visible in the photo, is fully cocked and ready to fire on a chambered round!

Reason #1: These are the rusted remains of a Winchester Model 1873 – “The Gun That Won the West”. It was a common sight in the American West in the late 1800s.
Reason #2: This rifle was found in the middle of Brown’s Park in the mid-1960s by Jack Leonard. It was by itself in some sagebrush and had obviously been there a VERY long time. Brown’s Park in the late 1800s was occasionally a wild place. It was used as a frequent layover for various outlaws including Butch Cassidy, Matt Warner, Elzy Lay and many more. It was also home to more than a few shootings and murders.
Reason #3: Nobody walks or rides with their rifle at full-cock unless they are anticipating its imminent use… in which case they wouldn’t just set it down and accidentally forget about it. So why was this rifle, an invaluable item of the day, left behind ready to fire for decades?
We can only guess what was occurring when this rifle was abandoned. Did it result from a shootout, a chase, an animal attack etc.? We’ll have to leave it to our imagination. Fortunately our imagination allows us to travel back in time and experience our history; for that we should be thankful.