This story has been corrected. An earlier version omitted the name of Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr.
Bass Pro Shops set the record straight Wednesday and reached out to the Cherokee Nation after a single rifle on sale at an Arkansas store set off a social media storm this week.
A customer saw the commemorative Winchester for sale at the Rogers, Arkansas, outlet and posted images of it on Twitter as a “Trail of Tears” item. Reactions on social media and a posting on Indian Country Today called for a boycott of the store and contained statements of shock and disbelief at the store’s profiting from a historic event that is painful to so many people.
“The biggest thing is there seems to be some confusion that this is a firearm we are selling as a product,” said Jack Wlezien, Bass Pro Shops director of communications. “This is a one-of-a-kind product acquired on a trade-in by one of our associates. It is not part of our standard assortment. It is one rifle. It has been removed from the sales floor, and we are in contact with a variety of groups to make sure it is handled responsibly,” Wlezien said.
The Trail of Tears refers to the forced relocation of the Cherokee people in 1838, when they were forced to walk more than 1,000 miles to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. More than 4,000 died. Many are buried in unmarked graves along “The Trail Where They Cried.”
Wlezien said the gun came to that store from a customer as a trade-in on a new firearm purchase. It is common practice at the nationwide chain of stores for people to trade older guns for a discount on newer ones, he said. The individual outlets then put up those used guns for sale.
“It’s a niche product that came in on a trade. As you can imagine, there are a wide range of firearms traded on a regular basis, and there wasn’t much deep consideration about the individual gun from a merchandising standpoint by our (sales) associate, but now we are taking steps to be sure we’re dealing with it appropriately,” Wlezien said.
Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Julie Hubbard said Bass Pro Shops reached out to the Cherokee Nation, which issued a statement Wednesday afternoon from Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. applauding that action.
“The Cherokee Nation commends Bass Pro Shops’ swift and decisive action to remove a 1978 Winchester rifle commemorating the Trail of Tears from a store’s shelf and applauds Bass Pro Shops for using the incident as a teaching moment for its employees,” the statement read. “The Cherokee Nation commemorates and memorializes the Trail of Tears. As Cherokee Nation citizens, it eternally remains a testament to our resilience, fortitude and perseverance. The story of the Trail of Tears is one of survival and the ability to adapt and survive in unimaginable circumstances. We hope in today’s environment companies will reach out to Native tribes to better understand our history.”
“Our company has a deep and longstanding respect for Native Americans and their culture,” Wlezien said.
The company’s Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium features ‘North America’s first people of conservation’ in the front portion of its museum. The historic and cultural displays were developed in partnership with the Southwest Tribal Fisheries Commission, the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, and other conservation leaders, he said.
It also appears the rifle may have been mislabeled by the store on a tag attached to the gun.
A quick internet search for “Cherokee Commemorative rifle” turns up videos and auction pages where a Winchester “Cherokee Carbine” in .22-caliber and .30-30 have been sold for prices from roughly $400 to $1,000. The rifle at Bass Pro was marked at $1,599.99.
According to a list on the website winchestercollector.org, the .30-30 or .22-caliber Winchester Model 1894 “Cherokee Carbine” matching the image of the rifle at Bass Pro Shops was one of dozens of Winchester rifles manufactured from 1964 to 2006 that annually commemorated people and historic events from Bat Masterson to John Wayne, the Alaska Purchase Centennial to the railroad-themed Golden Spike rifle.
Other Native American-themed commemorative guns include Little Big Horn, Sioux, Cheyenne and Chief Crazy Horse. A run of 9,000 “Cherokee 30/30” rifles and 3,950 Cherokee .22-caliber rifles were produced in 1978, according to the list. There is no mention of the Trail of Tears in relation to those rifles.
However, another Winchester Model 1894 that is no longer for sale and hard to find anywhere online was issued by the collectors group America Remembers, along with the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. It was issued as a “tribute” rifle specifically for the Trail of Tears. The groups describe the gun as a “firearm in special remembrance of all those who endured the saddest period in Cherokee history, and a tribute to the spirit and proud legacy of the Cherokee.”