Cody Dug Up Gun Museum.

Cody Dug Up Gun Museum

Field review by the editors.

Cody, Wyoming

When it comes to gun tourism, Cody, Wyoming has live rounds in all of its chambers. The frontier town, named after Wild West legend William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, is the summertime site of staged daily gunfights, a gatling gun range, a boneyard of dead gunslingers, and a high caliber firearms museum.

It's on the second floor.
It's on the second floor.

Our cross-hairs are on a one-of-a-kind roadside attraction -- the scrappy Cody Dug Up Gun Museum. The name seems like a joke, but it turns out to be a serious collection of discarded vintage firearms, salvaged from battlefield dirt, farm junk piles, and anywhere a gun might have been dropped or buried. A rifle explodes in a besieged homesteader's hand and falls into a crevice; a cavalryman drops his revolver into a creek during a Civil War charge. It's a side of American history you won't see in a conventional history museum.

The Dug Up Gun Museum was created by Hans and Eva Kurth. Hans' collection, which spans from the early 19th century through World War II, is displayed in four long rows of glassed closely arranged displays.

WWI European battlefield droppings.
WWI European battlefield droppings.

Hans said his focus on discarded firearms started when he was a boy. "I would go to gun shows with my dad -- there wasn't much a kid could legally buy at a gun show except a broken, dug-up gun, such as a rusty Winchester. I started collecting, and spent years traveling to gun shows."

The weapons, falling apart and mottled with corrosion are arranged... in dirt. Different shades of soil, desert sand, crater gravel. In some displays, barrels and fragments of damaged guns criss-cross and converge.

1860 Colt revolver,
1860 Colt revolver, "still capped and loaded."

Each gun is accompanied by a laminated label providing details on its make, model and likely years of use. "British Double Barrel Percussion Pistol...in the cocked position, probably dropped while being reloaded," reads one; another informs it's a "Sharps Rifle Model 1859 Carbine -This US Civil War era carbine was found with the hammer frozen at full cock and it is missing all its wood."

Hans enjoys ferreting out the story behind a gun, based on info from previous owners and what he can determine through direct examination. "These guns, they were all in use," Hans said. "You're looking at a moment in time. That's what's important about spending time with the gun... 'oh, this thing blew up' or 'it is still loaded'..."

It's an eerie, frozen, mortal instant -- a jam during a gunfight, a barrel bent during a trench assault.

Twentieth century wars offer up a wide variety of smashed and projectile-riddled items -- a rusted 1917 German luger (with snail drum magazine); a Russian PPsh-41 submachine gun. A Waffen SS German M40 helmet proudly shows off its fatal entry wound. Another helmet sits on a fake skull. To add visual context, displays are sprinkled with dug up bullets, dug up swords and daggers, ammo belts and grenades.

Cody Dug Up Gun Museum.

Hans is always on the prowl for newly surfaced guns, and rotates finds into his museum displays. We questioned him about how to establish the provenance for items supposedly found on battlefields, passed down through generations of a family, or discarded and rediscovered. Discarded firearms are usually short on paperwork, and a thrilling backstory may be debunked if the gun model didn't exist in that period, or the serial numbers on components are mixing old and new. A seasoned dug up gun collector needs a discerning eye, and perhaps, nose.

WWII German M40 helmet with bullet hole.
WWII German M40 helmet with bullet hole.

"If someone told me he pulled it out of an old outhouse hole in Maine," Kurt said, "well, there's a certain type of crud that bonds to it."

No dug up gun is too far gone to disqualify consideration. Hans said "It might be a completely rotten hunk of glob -- sometimes guns have been burned, but the metal parts will not rust -- the bluing turns thick and gets a certain color." On the other end of the spectrum, a firearm in pristine condition might lack essential dug up gun charm.

"Something found in a wall or attic, might not fit," Hans said, then quickly reconsidered. "...unless it was from somewhere special, like an antebellum house or a slave cabin."

The Kurths, originally from Canada, thought Cody was a perfect location for sharing the collection with the public. Hans wanted to write a book with photos of his collection, and "friends would say 'Well, if you had a museum you could sell the book there.'" The book has yet to be written, but Hans opened the Dug Up Gun Museum in 2009.

According to Hans, museum visitors are a broad blend -- along with gun owners and history buffs, "there are people from heavily gun controlled states, or people who are foreigners who can't have guns in their home countries."

The Cody Dug Up Gun Museum is free, relying on donations by visitors. Note: No photography permitted.

Cody Dug Up Gun Museum

Address:
1020 12th St., Cody, WY
Directions:
Between Rumsey Ave. and US 14/16/20-Sheridan Ave.
Hours:
May-Sep Daily 9-9. (Call to verify)
Phone:
307-587-3344
Admission:
Donation
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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October 17, 2017

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