1876 Winchester “Centennial” Repeating Rifle

76-00912-01    Oliver Winchester bought the remains of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, started the New Haven Arms Company, reorganized it as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1866, and manufactured some of the most famous firearms ever created. Today we’re going to look at one of their most revered rifles: The 1876 Winchester Centennial Repeating Rifle.

Introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 and named to commemorate our nation’s one hundredth anniversary of independence, Winchester’s lever-action rifle was the largest and among the most powerful repeaters on the frontier.

The Centennial was one of the first lever-action weapons to use larger caliber, center-fire ammunition. In the same way that “rim-fire” meant the hammer struck the rim of the projectile, center-fire means the hammer strikes the center of the bullet when the trigger is pulled. In this case, larger means .45-75 to .50-90 caliber bullets.

The Centennial Repeater was 48½” long with a 28” barrel, and weighed in at 9 to 9½ pounds! And loading it with shells adds at least another pound. A gallon of milk weighs only 8.6 pounds–try holding that out in front of you and keeping it steady enough to hit what you’re aiming at!callout_1876cent_side_loading

The bullets go into the magazine through a spring-loaded feeder on the right side of the rifle. Fully loaded, the 1876 Repeater held 12 total cartridges–11 in the magazine and one in the chamber. All you had to do was stuff the bullets into the feeder, rack the lever and pull the trigger. Confederate soldiers who faced a Repeater in battle referred to it as that “rifle you load on Sunday and fire all week.”

This sturdy, reliable rifle was favored by good guys and bad guys alike. There were many of them at the Battle of Little Big Horn (most in the hands of the Native Americans), and they were common among those who traveled and settled out west.ringo1

The Model 1876 was carried by ranchers and cowboys, Texas Rangers and the Canadian North West Mounted Police. President Theodore Roosevelt owned and used one; even notorious outlaws such as Johnny Ringo (left) and Tom Horn relied on this rifle during the late 1800s.600px-cc16-crossfire_rafe-1876

Hollywood loved the 1876 Centennial Repeater, too. Tom Selleck carried one as Rafe Covington (right) in Crossfire Trail (TNT, 2001) and as Monte Walsh in Monte Walsh (2002). Virginia Madsen used the 1876 Centennial when she saved the day–and her man– also in Crossfire Trail. It made an appearance Steve McQueen’s hands when he played Tom Horn in the 1980 movie of the same name. And characters Johnny Ringo and Sherm McMasters used it in Tombstone (1993).

Just for comparison, the pic at the left600px-cc32-crossfire_1873-yellowboy-1876, from the final gunbattle in TNT’s Crossfire Trail, shows an 1876 Centennial in the back, an 1866 “Yellow Boy” or “Golden Boy” (because of the polished brass receiver) in the middle and a Winchester 1873 in the front.

The 1876 Centennial Rifle was the king of its day. Manufacturing was discontinued in 1898 after Winchester produced nearly 64,000 of this amazing lever-action rifle.

Tracy Garrett
History, Texas, cowboys, horses—these are a few of Tracy’s favorite things. Check out her westerns at www.TracyGarrett.com.

11 Comments

  1. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Melanie!

  2. What great info, Tracy. I’m sure I’ll be back to check this out for future reference.

    1. Glad to be of help, Tanya!

  3. Fantastic, blog Tracy. Thanks for all the information. Most of it I didn’t know! This is not related, but is sorta … the Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California, is one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been in. I highly recommend it to anybody visiting the northern part of California. One problem I’ll warn you in advance, Mrs. Winchester wore a size 4 shoe and had the steps in the stairs (tons of them, too) made to her specifications, so hang on tight. Again, Tracy, thanks for a really great blog. Hugs, Phyliss

  4. You’re welcome, Phyliss! Someday I want to visit the mansion. I hear they’ve recently discovered some new rooms!

  5. I have always found history of fire arms intriguing. It is one that should be well researched so you do not blow it.

  6. Thank you for an interesting post, Tracy. I never realized how many models of guns were available in the 1800’s. I can see the advantage of larger caliber ammunition, the ability to house 12 cartridges, and lever action shooting. The weight would be a concern. Do you know what kind of recoil it had?

    1. The recoil would be noticeable, Patricia, but it wouldn’t knock an adult off balance. Shooting black powder means more of a push than a shock. The recoil would be less than a modern 12-gauge.

      1. Thanks. Last time I shot our guns, the 20 gauge shotgun was not kind to me. I haven tried the two black powder rifles. After he was attacked by a bear, our son was given a 40 gauge rifle by a friend. Don’t think I want to.

  7. Tracey – That info is awesome…..didn’t know that much about rifles. The Old West shoot’em ups were my favorite kind of westerns. Thanks for sharing.

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