TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Bass Pro Shops pulled a used 1978 Winchester rifle commemorating the Cherokee Trail of Tears from one of its Arkansas store's shelves and apologized to the tribe after a photo of the gun led to calls to boycott the outdoor gear chain.
A customer in Rogers, Arkansas, posted photos of the rifle on Twitter, leading to accusations that Bass Pro was profiting from the tragic forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation that began in 1838.
"So often in this country, we go about our days unaware of the things that cause people pain. I think it's that kind of unawareness that we need to kinda wake up to a little bit," Seth Haines, the customer who sent the tweet, said.
More than 4,000 Cherokee died during the more than 1,000-mile walk to what is now Oklahoma in what is known as the Trail of Tears.
The company's communications director, Jack Wlezien, told The Tulsa World that the rifle was acquired from a trade-in and is not part of the store's standard stock.
"It's a niche product that came in on a trade," Wlezien said.
"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."
Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. applauded the company's decision to remove the rifle and "for using the incident as a teaching moment."
"The story of the Trail of Tears is one of survival and the ability to adapt and survive in unimaginable circumstances," he said.
"We hope in today's environment companies will reach out to Native tribes to better understand our history."
Bass Pro sent 5NEWS the following statement about the rifle being pulled from the Roger's store:
"The 'Trail of Tears' firearm was a one-of-a-kind product acquired on a trade-in by one of our associates. It is not part of our standard assortment. We have no plans to carry the firearm and we’re reviewing it with Native American partner organizations to ensure the matter is handled respectfully. Our company has a deep and longstanding respect for Native Americans and their culture. In fact, we honor the enduring spirit of native tribes as “North America’s first people of conservation” at Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, a not-for-profit conservation attraction adjacent to our national headquarters developed in partnership with Native American organizations and other conservation leaders."
The Tulsa World reported that, according to the website winchestercollector.org, a .30-30 or .22-caliber Winchester Model 1894 "Cherokee Carbine" that matches the image of the Bass Pro Shops rifle was one of dozens of Winchester rifles manufactured from 1964 to 2006.
Those rifles annually commemorated people and historic events, including Bat Masterson, John Wayne and the purchase of Alaska from Russia.