U.S. Forest Service rangers in Walla Walla gunning to solve relic's riddle

ANDY PORTER WALLA WALLA UNION-BULLETINMarch 7, 2013 

WALLA WALLA -- A long-ago treasure hunting expedition might have yielded a link to the early days of the U.S. Forest Service in Washington.

The rusty, muzzle-loading shotgun found by local resident Dave Roberts raised eyebrows when he brought it to the Walla Walla District Office last week.

"That's cool!" exclaimed Allen Madril, Forest Service Heritage Project manager, as he examined the firearm at the Walla Walla District Office.

Roberts said he found the gun years ago when he was a boy. At that time his father would take the family on outings to search around old homesteads in the vicinity of Mount Adams, and it was during one of those he discovered the double-barreled firearm when he pried up a floorboard and found it underneath.

"This was like a 10-year-old finding a pirate's treasure," he said.

Madril said while the old double-barreled gun has historical value because of its apparent age and where it was found, it is especially intriguing because of what's on the top of the buttstock.

Carefully inlaid in the wood is a replica of what appears to be a U.S. Forest Service badge. Roberts said he realized the similarity while driving by the Forest Service's office on Rose Street one day and seeing the emblem on the sign out front.

Roberts said the old shotgun was kept by his father for many years, but it came into his possession recently. Because of the possible historical link to the Forest Service, he contacted Walla Walla District Ranger Mike Rassbach to arrange Wednesday's meeting so he could turn it over.

The exact age of the gun is still a mystery, but the percussion cap mechanism points to weapons from the early to mid-19th century before breechloading guns became commonplace. The wooden ramrod used for loading was still in place, but apparently had been broken off at some time in the past, making it too short to reach down the barrels.

A cursory examination of the barrels found no maker's name, although what appears to be a number and some type of mark were found near the back end. One barrel might still be loaded, possibly with a double charge, Roberts said.

Madril said he was looking forward to doing research to discover the story behind the old firearm.

"The story behind that (gun), that to me is what makes it fun," he said. The badge could indicate it belonged to one of the early Forest Service rangers who lived at the site. "That's what a Forest Service station was in those days, a cabin in the woods," Rassbach said.

Roberts' returning the old gun to the Forest Service so it could be researched was another essential part of the story, Madril said.

"The artifact is important to me, but the closing of the circle is also important," he said.

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