Museum Gotta See ‘um

by Susan Cohn, The San Mateo Daily Journal
Article originally published at San Mateo Daily Journal

ELKO MUSEUM HOLDS THE LARGEST PUBLIC COLLECTION OF GUNS IN NEVADA. The firearm collection of Bob Chow, a U.S. Olympic shooting competitor and longtime instructor at the Coyote Point Rifle and Pistol Club in San Mateo is part of the extensive permanent collection of the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko.

AN OLYMPIAN’S LEGACY: THE BOB CHOW FIREARMS COLLECTION AT THE NORTHEASTERN NEVADA MUSEUM IN ELKO. When Bob Chow, a former U.S. Olympic Team member from San Francisco, died on Oct. 17, 2003, at the age of 92, his legacy in the world of firearms was assured. First, Chow was a champion pistol shooter who was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team that competed in London. Chow was the only U.S. rapid-fire shooter to score 60 hits in the match and he placed 13th overall. Second, Chow was a renowned pistolsmith, who from the 1950s until the 1980s had his own shop in the Mission District of San Francisco. Chow built pistols for competition shooters and lawmen alike, and his creations were, and still are, much sought after. (He was known for polishing the internal surfaces of his pieces as much as the exterior.) Finally, Chow donated carefully selected pieces from his personal firearm collection to the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko, where the Bob Chow Firearms Collection makes that museum the holder of the largest public assemblage of guns in Nevada.

HOW THE CHOW COLLECTION CAME TO ELKO. A personal connection brought Chow’s collection to the Northeastern Nevada Museum. Larry Caughlan, a wildlife biologist with strong connections to the Elko area, wanted training in rapid-fire pistol shooting and went to Chow for lessons. Caughlan learned that Chow was going to retire and was looking for a place for his extensive weapons collection. Caughlan contacted Howard Hickson, director of the museum, and Hickson and Dr. Thomas Gallagher, a member of the Museum’s Board of Directors, worked with Chow until September 1988, when Chow donated 70 weapons to the Museum. Hickson said, “I traveled to San Francisco to persuade Bob Chow to give his magnificent firearms collection to the museum. His guns were outstanding.” Lynn Rubel, the Museum registrar, traveled to San Francisco and brought the firearms to Elko. An additional 30 items, mostly Civil War memorabilia, were included in the gift.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CHOW COLLECTION. The Chow collection includes a number of notable specimens. There is a Winchester 1873, “The Gun That Won The West,” a model known to many through the movie Winchester ‘73, starring James Stewart; a Colt 1902 Sporting Model .38, a pistol designed by John Browning, the forerunner of the Model of 1911, which was until relatively recently the standard issue pistol for most branches of the U.S. Military; and a Star Double Action of 1858, the third most popular revolver during the Civil War behind Colt and Remington. (The “Navy” models differed from the “Army” models in their use of a .36 caliber round ball, while the Army models used a .44 caliber ball. The reasoning was that the Army might need a more powerful weapon in order to stop a horse.) Also on display is a Tabatiere “Zulu” shotgun, an example of the common practice of converting late 19th century American, British and French percussion military muzzle loading muskets to use shotgun shells by salvaging as many existing parts as possible and adding a breech loading mechanism.

BOB CHOW, THE TEACHER OF THE TEACHERS. In his later years, Chow spent a great deal of time at the Coyote Point Rifle and Pistol Club in San Mateo, as an instructor of the techniques of marksmanship. Jay Finkelstein, who currently serves as a Range Safety Officer at the Club, said, “Bob Chow was the teacher of the teachers of marksmanship at Coyote Point. In the shooting sports he was superb and he was known as a genius gunsmith, particularly with the .45 Colt.” Some of the many medals that Chow won are on permanent display at the Coyote Point club.

MUSEUM PARTICULARS. The Northeastern Nevada Museum is located at 1515 Idaho St. Elko, Nev. In addition to the Bob Chow Firearms Collection, the museum contains an American Mastodon exhibit, featuring rare fossils found near Elko; the Wanamaker Wildlife Wing, displaying mounted animals from around the world; and numerous cases holding objects relating to mining and ranching. Look for the wooden, cow-hoof shoes worn by a clever cattle rustler. The shoes left behind no human footprints, stumping law enforcement officials until they caught the thief “red-footed,” wearing his contraptions. For more information visit or call (775) 738-3418.

Susan Cohn can be reached at or