Friday, April 20, 2018

The loneliest rifle

After last week's storm had passed and the state department of roads democratic socialist workers union secured triple-doubletime pay ensured conditions were safe enough for crews to plow light snow on a warming and sunny blue-sky spring day...

I fired up the Lincoln and headed northwest for Guernsey, Wyoming.

I suspect I'll write about why last weekend and why Guernsey, but this is not that.

Guernsey is hard by the North Platte River, not far downstream from Guernsey Dam, which itself isn't far from the headwaters of the river.

The river is low in the winter and early spring before snow pack begins to melt.

The UP Railroad follows right along the old Oregon Trail.

Pretty country, no?

Precipitation -- largely in the form of snow pack -- flows off of the east side of the Rockies to form the North Platte. The water flows downhill to join the South Platte and become simply the Platte River, which flows across Nebraska and into the Missouri River, which flows into the Mississippi, and, eventually, into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Guernsey area was an important stop along the various trails pioneers took moving west, chiefly the Oregon Trail.

The Pony Express had a route station there, too.

A favorite stopping/camping place was Sand Point/Register Cliff.

When I was a lad of 16, and to my everlasting shame, I carved my initials in that cliff. Today it looks like my initials have been obliterated by the work of a later generation of dickheads. It's now a crime to mar the cliff, and the practice seems to have stopped.

In 1932 the people of Guernsey commemorated the pioneers by erecting a number of monuments, at the city park in town and out by Sand Point and Register Cliff. This one is in town, close to the visitor's center/museum.
To all pioneers who passed this way to win and hold the West, Trail and Register Cliff one mile south, erected by the people of Guernsey 1932.

Oregon Trail

Pony Express

I've no idea.
A saber and the outline of what might have been a rifle.
Which brings us to the title of this post and the curiosity I've decided to call The Loneliest Rifle. For on the other side of this plinth...

Fortunately, the serial number was legible.
Waffenfabrik Bern 121249

When I chased that down (yay, internet!) I found that the rifle is quite likely a Swiss Vetterli 1869/71. These rifles are pretty interesting. Fascinating, actually. They were really the first breech-loading, magazine-fed, bolt-action, metallic cartridge military rifles.

How exactly the rifle came to be in Guernsey and become affixed to the plinth I do not know. The museum wasn't open, and the few folks I asked had no idea. America is a nation of Immigrants, though, so it shouldn't be terribly surprising that such a rifle would find it's way to Wyoming.

Part of me cringes to see the rifle in this condition. It's not my place to judge, however, what the people of Guernsey did in 1932, nor what they have done in the intervening 88 years. And I do have to thank them for providing me with a mystery, even though I defaced their cliff back in the day, which has been quite enjoyable to explore.


  1. Doggone but you come up with fascinating stuff.

    Kinda sad to see that rifle is such condition, but like you said, those folks probably had their reasons.

    Great stuff!

    1. Thanks Sarge. Even though we are a relatively young nation, with little history in comparison to yurp, etc., you can't swing a cat without hitting some really cool stuff in America.

  2. Yep, Sarge said it for me. Between you and him (and a few others), the web is a joy.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  3. Judging by the size of the trestle, the Platte must become a proper river, later in the Springtime.
    The rifle is cringeworthy, though.

    1. That it does. Were it not for the dams it would generally have more winter flow and much heaver, even torrential, flow during snow melt season. It was about 6 inches deep at midstream near that trestle but mid-channel pilings are water/algae stained to about 10 feet. Likewise the width was about 20 yards there but the permanent channel is about 175 yards with signs of high water stream width 300-400 yards.

      The rifle looks terrible. Seems kind of amazing that it's there at all though. 86 years of rain and snow and scorching sun and little kids...

  4. Bloody cool rifle. Given the Swiss penchant for record keeping I would not be surprised if a record still exists of the manufacture/sale of it.

    Thanx for the post and beginning to post again, had been missing your voice on the desert of the web

  5. The Swiss Vetterli rifles were in widespread use in the U.S. prior to WW2 and Winchester even made ammo for them up until WW2. In 1961 you could buy a nearly mint unissued example by mail for all of $9.95, so there have been a lot of these around and pretty cheap. Someone wanted "an old gun" to put on a monument and this was a cheap and readily available option. Much better than sacrificing something likely to be more useful for hunting or predator control (2 or 4 legged). If you want one of the Swiss Vetterlis today, they are easy to find at pretty reasonable prices.
    Thanks for the history and geography lesson. Too many people never knew or have forgotten what it took to settle our great country, and the folks who supply our needs today.
    John Blackshoe

    1. I read somewhere that they were a fairly common "deer rifle" as late as the 1960's, perhaps even 1970's. Who'da thunk it?

      History is endlessly fascinating. It seems long ago, and in our personal experience 5-6-7 generations is a long time, But the last ice age ended a mere 15,000 years ago. That's when the whole civilization thing got started, and in geologic time that was less than an eyeblink ago.