Zane Grey’s Guns

The prolific author had a penchant for lever-action Winchesters.

To say Zane Grey had a passion for Model 1895 Winchesters is an understatement. He owned at least five during his lifetime, some of which were exquisitely engraved by the factory especially for him.

 

What Zane Grey termed the Tonto Rim in Arizona is officially known as the Mogollon Rim (pronounced “muggy-own”), named for Juan Ignacio Flores de Mogollon, Capitan-General of Spanish-held New Mexico from 1715 to 1717. The area was a favorite bear and turkey hunting ground for Grey, one of America’s most successful authors, who hunted there for most of a decade with an assortment of Model 1895 Winchesters in .30 Government (.30-06).

To equip for his annual fall hunt there in 1919, Grey later recalled that he “had the fun of” ordering tents, woolen blankets, and everything else he didn’t have on the previous year’s trip. But with World War I having only recently ended, it was still difficult to get the necessary goods. Grey was particularly worried about obtaining a Winchester Model 1895 in time for the hunt, so rather than put all his eggs in one basket, he did a little shopping around.

“To make sure of getting a .30 Gov’t Winchester, I ordered from four different firms, including the Winchester Co. None of them had such a rifle in stock, but all would try to find one,” Grey wrote. “The upshot of this deal was that, when after months I despaired of getting any, they all sent me a rifle at the same time.

“So I found myself with four, all the same caliber of course, but of different style and finish . . . One was beautifully engraved and inlaid with gold—the most elaborate .30 Gov’t the Winchester people had ever built. Another was a walnut-stocked shot-gun butted fancy checkered take-down . . . The third was a plain ordinary rifle with solid frame. And the last was a carbine model.”

 

Zane Grey looks up the steep-sided Tonto Rim, one of his many Model 1895s in hand.

 

Grey and his party had successful hunts for turkey, deer, and bear, leaving alone the recently introduced Rocky Mountain elk, which were struggling to fill habitat emptied of Merriam’s elk by overhunting in the previous century. The Model 1895s were invaluable.

Grey’s widespread use of the venerable ’95 Winchester in .30-06 eventually came to the attention of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and in 1924 they presented him with yet another fabulously engraved and gold-inlaid ’95.

One of these five rifles, the carbine model, was inscribed “Sievert Nielson from Zane Grey.” Very little is known about Nielsen except this laconic account left by Grey:

“My companion on this trip (into Death Valley in March 1919) was a Norwegian named Nielsen . . . He was a man of about thirty-five, of magnificent physique, weighing about one hundred and ninety, and he was so enormously broad across the shoulders that he did not look his five-feet-ten . . . Nielsen accompanied me on two trips into the wilderness of Arizona, on one of which he saved my life, and on the other he rescued all our party from a most uncomfortable and possibly hazardous situation.”

 

“One was beautifully engraved and inlaid with gold—the most elaborate .30 Gov’t the Winchester people had ever built.” (Photo: Buffalo Bill Historical Center)

 

In return for these lifesaving feats, Grey awarded Sievert the carbine with the aforementioned engraving. However, Sievert later left Arizona for parts unknown, abandoning the rifle to the care of his friend Babe Haught. Haught then passed it down to subsequent generations, with it now in the possession of my friend Tommy Hunt, Haught’s grandson.

Some of the other 1895s have been sold at auction for as much as $40,000. Whatever their lot, whether as pricey collection pieces or priceless family heirlooms, these guns represent an important piece of our sporting heritage. Who knows? With so many 1895s to Grey’s name, you may own one yourself someday.