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A Winchester Model 1894 owned by only Native people

Land of Four Seasons

Provided by Jon Hammond.

Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Piute) tribal elder Harold Williams with a Winchester Model 1894 rifle that was owned by a succession on Indian men.

The late Nuwä elder Harold Williams had a Winchester Model 1894 lever-action carbine, the kind made famous by actor (and eventual Bear Valley Springs resident) Chuck Conners on the show The Rifleman. This gun, developed by famed firearm designer John Browning, became the one of the most popular non-military rifles ever made, with the millionth model being presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1927. The particular firearm owned by Harold Williams was first seen in the possession of a Nuwä Indian man who was wearing a tapinuwa, or loincloth.

Harold's father, Ed Williams, was a fluent Nuwä speaker who was born in 1900. He recalled being a boy and seeing a Nuwä man, dressed in only a traditional breechclout, with that Model 1894 rifle in the vicinity of Piute Mountain. This would have to have been around 1910, so as recently as that date, there were still a few people living largely traditional ways in the mountains of Eastern Kern County.

The Winchester 1894 was best known as a deer hunting rifle, and it shot primarily .30-30 cartridges, though it was capable of firing several different calibers of bullets and sizes of cartridges.

The Model 1894 was also shorter than earlier rifles and muskets -- carbines were designed to be used on horseback, where the shorter barrel length meant that they could be hung from a saddle and the gun wouldn't interfere with either the rider's arms or the horse's legs. This helped make the Model '94 a favorite of cowboys, as well as for those who hunted from horseback. California Mule Deer provided one of the main sources of meat for traditional Nuwä families, and the gun owned by the loincloth-wearing Indian man that Ed Williams remembered was no doubt used primarily for hunting deer.

In about the 1930s, that same Model 1894 rifle was acquired by Jack Brown, a Nuwä man who lived at what is known as Rancheria, on the lower slopes of Piute Mountain. It was one of the traditional living sites of Nuwä people, and Rancheria is the location where Emma Williams, Sophie Williams and some of the other women continued to make beautiful Kawaiisu baskets up until about World War II. Jack Brown spoke some English but primarily Nuwä and he lived in a little cabin without electricity or indoor plumbing, drawing his water from the year-round creek nearby.

The old gun went from Jack Brown to Harry Williams, another Nuwä man who spent most of his life living in remote cabins around Twin Oaks, Loraine and Piute Mountain. Harry was Harold William's uncle, and one day he told Harold that he was going to sell the rifle to someone who had offered him $10 and a bottle of wine. Harold told his uncle that he would pay him more than that, so Harold made a trip back to Tehachapi to get money and bought the Model 1894 from Harry Williams.

Harold took good care of that Indian-owned gun for the rest of his days.

Provided by Jon Hammond.

A close-up of the Winchester name.