Wincester 1866 Repeating Rifle – aka The Yellow Boy

Winchester (U.S.) Model 1866 Lever Action Rifle (repeater/ breech-loading/ black powder/ cartridge ammunition)

Last time we discussed the Winchester 1873 Repeating Rifle. Today, I want to introduce the precursor to that rifle – the Winchester 1866 Repeating Rifle, aka The Yellow Boy.

The Yellow Boy got its name because of the shiny brass frame. The design improvements over the original Henry repeating rifle ensured the Yellow Boy’s success. In 1866, Nelson King, an engineer with Winchester Repeating Arms, patented a spring load gate for ease of loading cartridges into the side of a spring-fed, closed-end tube attached under the barrel. The tube held fifteen bullets. Add the one in the chamber and you could pull the trigger sixteen times before reloading.

The 1866 Yellowboy lever-action rifle was a marked improvement over the Henry rifle. It was the first true cowboy lever-action rifle, and the first rifle widely carried in a cowboy-style saddle scabbard.

Both the “Henry and Winchester Model 1866 “Yellow Boy” rifles found a ready market on the western frontier. The Indians referred to these arms as “many shots,” and “spirit gun,” which showed a measure of awe and respect for the products of the New Haven-based company. Many warriors were able to obtain these arms for themselves, and more than twenty of them were used against George A. Custer’s 7th Cavalry and their single-shot Springfield carbines at the Little Bighorn in June, 1876. Winchester repeaters also found favor with miners, homesteaders, ranchers, lawmen, and highwaymen.”

Winchester produced the Yellow Boy as a musket, a carbine (shorter barrel, often around 19”) and a rifle with a barrel up to 24 ¼”.

Some 150,000 Yellow Boys were produced from 1867 to 1892-93. The carbine version of the 1866 Yellowboy was a hit worldwide. Chief Sitting Bull had one; the forces of Benito Juarez used the rifles in Mexico; the Turkish Army used the new Winchester Yellowboy against the Russians; and settlers in the U.S. bought thousands for frontier use. Based on its popularity and performance, the “Yellow Boy” earned the title of “the gun that won the west.”

The Yellow Boy’s popularity with Native Americans as well as the general shooting public continued its production well after the introduction of the more powerful Model 1873 Winchester began.

The Yellow Boy is still popular in Hollywood. The Yellow Boy appeared in many of the Spaghetti Westerns, and, more recently, TomChaney (Josh Brolin) carried one in the new release of True Grit.

Winchester chambered it for the .44 Henry Flat round, or a flat nosed bullet. Though it didn’t have a lot of power for a rifle, the Henry Flat had already been proven in combat.  The Flat was a rimfire cartridge, which means the hammer strikes the rim of the cartridge, not the center. It wasn’t until near the end of production–when the 1876 Centennial Rifle was being produced–that Winchester developed a .44 center-fire cartridge for the 1866 rifle.

Here’s a tidbit that might come in useful in your plot – No dust covers were used on the 1866.  This did permit dust and other debris to enter the action, which meant misfiring or not firing at all–which can put the shooter in a real tight spot.

Next time — the gun that started it all: The Henry Repeating Rifle.

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14 thoughts on “Wincester 1866 Repeating Rifle – aka The Yellow Boy”

  1. Hi Tracy! These are the details that make a story visual. I hadn’t heard of “The Yellow Boy.” I’m already imagining what kind of man would carry this gun, and how that bit of brass would match his personality and make him stand out. Thanks for the post!

  2. Tracy,
    Thank you for another interesting post on guns. This past week we were in New Orleans and visited their Civil War Museum. Thanks to your posts, I looked at the guns in the cases in a very different way. Was nice to recognize their characteristics and remember some of what you said about their evolution.

  3. Tracy, I’ve learned so much from your gun posts. Thanks for the great information. That bit about the dust causing problems would work well in a story. I can just imagine it, the hero pinned down or cornered, he raises his Yellow Boy rifle…

  4. Margaret & Tanya, even more interesting is that the later repeaters came with dust covers–but many of the owners removed them because they slowed down the reloading. 🙂

  5. Thanks, Tracy, for the information. It is really
    a beautiful rifle!

    BTW, Congratulations to Cheryl and Mary on their
    RITA finaling!

    Pat Cochran

  6. Good site! Just a note that the title of this page should say “Winchester”, not “Wincester” as it presently does. Easy fix

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