Rusty Living History.
Recently I had the pleasure of getting together with many of the FMG staff in Cody, Wyo., while they were putting on the 2013 Shooting Industry Masters match. One of the first things his esteemed Editorship Roy said to me was “Duke, you’ve simply got to see the Dug Up Guns Museum. It’s right up your alley. Old rusty guns, and weird and strange stuff people have dug up.”
Of course every gun guy in America knows of Cody’s Buffalo Bill Museum with its fantastic firearms collection, but I had no idea what a “dug up museum” could be. As I often do, I wondered if the hustle and bustle of his job had pushed my beloved editor over the brink. But as a dutiful minion, I set out with my also beloved photographer, Yvonne, toward downtown Cody and sure enough just off of Main Street I spotted a fully restored US Army “deuce & a half” truck with the logo “Cody Dug Up Gun Museum” on its door. Such was proof Roy knew exactly what he was talking about. The museum itself was on the second floor of the building displaying the same sign. (Address is Cody Dug Up Gun Museum, 1020 12th Street, Cody, WY 82414.)
Ascending a flight of stairs, you turn a corner and enter a very well appointed room with exhibits containing over 900 items — almost all of which have been retrieved from Mother Earth. In simple terms: they’ve been dug up. Some were found by metal detecting, some were simply spotted sticking out of the ground, and others were lying in dry streambeds.
One of the more exotic ones, and an exception to the dug up rule, is an 1810 vintage Spanish flintlock musket someone had set in the crotch of a tree in California. When discovered, the tree had grown around the musket and it was about 10 feet from the ground.
This is just one display case, of many, showing Civil War vintage
percussion type rifles and revolvers that have been dug from Mother Earth.
The words “museum quality” is a catch phrase nowadays for pristine condition historical firearms. To be museum quality a firearms must be as new and perfectly functional. I’ve been privileged to handle a few museums’ guns, even at the esteemed Buffalo Bill Museum. To touch them you must wear white cotton gloves and you are strongly warned not to cock them, or work their bolts or levers.
The pieces in Cody’s Dug Up Gun Museum are exactly opposite. Few if any are still functional, most are in desperate ill repair; bound up with rust, wood rotted away, pieces missing or broken and even some with obvious battle damage. With most museum firearms you see what historical guns looked like. At the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum you see what’s left of some guns that were actually involved in making history.
There are several revolvers still fully or partially loaded, and were found with their hammers cocked. Use your imagination here. How did a Colt Model 1860 Army .44 cap-and-ball revolver end up in the ground with its hammer cocked? This next one gives an even more graphic mental image. It’s a Remington Model 1858 .44 cap-and-ball revolver, still partially loaded, having a deep gouge in its brass triggerguard obviously put there by something sharp. Was it struck when its owner blocked a sword blow? Did it happen when hit by a piece of shrapnel from an exploding cannon ball?
A unique item is a Colt Model 1851 .36-caliber revolver still fully loaded, but since its wooden grips have rotted away, you can see its mainspring is broken. Was it discarded in disgust, or perhaps tossed aside in the heat of battle when a functioning weapon was found?
Then there are the mysterious dismantled guns, obviously taken apart and the parts tossed about. A hint to them can be found in historical accounts concerning the Little Bighorn Battle in Montana where the US 7th Cavalry was defeated by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. It’s recorded that after the fight the surviving troopers could not carry the carbines and revolvers of the wounded. So the officers instructed the revolvers be taken apart and the parts scattered and the carbines piled together and burned. Perhaps this same procedure was used throughout the west in other fights with Indians, accounting for intact pieces of firearms that have been dug up.
The Cody Dug Up Gun Museum is arranged according to time lines. The displays start with Revolutionary War artifacts; then moves to Civil War, Indian War, the Cowboy era, the Gangster era of the 1920s and 1930s, World War I and World War II. There’s even a display of firearms having been dug up in the Cody area. Along with the firearms are various accouterments from the same era — as well as dug up relics such as horse bridle bits, spurs, cartridge cases, bullets and so forth.
This single-shot muzzle loading pistol was probably discarded because
it blew up. A cheap gun made for the Indian trade.
This is what’s left of a Spanish 1810 flintlock musket stashed in the
crotch of a tree, which grew around it for well over 100 years.
History Of The Place
How did Hans and Eva Furth, owners of the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum, come into so much of American firearms history? Some of it they found themselves. Hans said to me from the time he discovered his first item, he has been on a lifelong quest to collect as many dug up firearms as possible, and his dream was to build a museum with them. That dream came true in May 2009 when he opened up his museum in Cody.
To build his collection Hans has scoured gun shows nationwide and more recently the Internet. People who believe in what he was doing donated other items. With many of the items in the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum, the provenance has been lost as a relic gun was passed from hand to hand before the Furths obtained it.
However, some of the guns do have stories accompanying them. One I found especially interesting was the Winchester Model 1876 retrieved from 5 feet underground during the construction of a road in Washington. Its action sideplate has been peeled backward from a bullet strike. That fact led its discoverers to look for a skeleton, thinking the rifle had been buried with a body. None was found. So not only is there the mystery of what sort of fight was ongoing when the rifle was damaged, but also how did it get so deeply buried?
Collecting historical relics of any sort from government owned property is strictly illegal. However, there is much privately owned land adjacent to Civil War and Indian War battlefields and likely is where some of the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum’s artifacts originated. As I said, with many their historical provenance has been lost, so we’ll simply never know the story behind the relic.
I found the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum fascinating. If you would like to see firearms “interrupted” while they were making history, this is the place to go.
By Mike “DUKE” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino
For info: www.codydugupgunmuseum.com, (307) 587-3344
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