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Museum Minute: Roosevelt’s Winchester that he took to Africa tells us about his hunting days

Firearm owned by Theodore Roosevelt
Olivia Weitz
This Winchester Model 1895 lever action rifle was owned by Theodore Roosevelt. The rifle is on display at the Cody Firearms Museum.

In 1909, Former President Theodore Roosevelt went on an expedition to East Africa that was sponsored by the Smithsonian.

Danny Michael, curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, said the group brought 15 crates worth of firearms and ammunition.

“They weren’t thinking about hunting necessarily in the same terms that we might today, but they were thinking of collecting specifics for the natural history museum – really, taxidermy specimens to bring back for education and study purposes,” he said.

One of the firearms Roosevelt used on the trip, an 1895 Winchester lever action rifle, is now on display at the museum. Michael says the highly embellished rifle tells us a bit about who Roosevelt was as a hunter.

“A really Western identified gun in a Winchester lever action, with this idea of a big game cartridge that he used in Africa, with the wear to the artifact itself … There’s all these factors in the object to me that I think are representative of the person who used it,” he said.

Roosevelt is quoted saying the .405 caliber rifle was the “best medicine” for hunting lions. The former president published recollections of his trip in the book “African Game Trails.”

Olivia Weitz is based at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. She covers Yellowstone National Park, wildlife, and arts and culture throughout the region. Olivia’s work has aired on NPR and member stations across the Mountain West. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom story workshop. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, cooking, and going to festivals that celebrate folk art and music.<br/>