|"Long Guns Of The West. Part 1. The Henry"
by Tom "Forty Rod" Taylor
Down the years we've seen The West “won” hundreds
of times. No matter the time period depicted, it was a good chance
it was being won with Colt single action army six-shooters, trapdoor Springfield
rifles or carbines, or lever action Winchesters…usually 1892 pattern carbines.
I cut my teeth, as many of you did, on movies and TV programs
of this type, and I fell in love with the rifles of Oliver Fisher Winchester’s
I have collected an example of the eight lever action
rifle systems introduced between 1860 and 1895, those being the Henry (model
1860) made by the New Haven Arms Co., and Winchester models 1866, 1873,
1876, 1886, 1892, 1894, and 1895. The first four are based on Henry’s
designs, the last four are all designs of John Moses Browning. My
’94 is a real, live Winchester from 1921, the rest are replicas, reproductions,
or clones depending on your choice of terms.
I am going to go through the history of the originals
one at a time, by year of introduction, most likely one each month until
all eight have been covered or until the mob comes to drag me out under
the big tree in the town square for a necktie party. Not being an
expert, I am relying on my extensive reference library of three or four
Ill start with the Henry rifle.
The Henry is a direct descendent of the Hunt, Jennings, and
Volcanic. To learn more about them you're going to have to do your
own research. I will tell you that Winchester was a major stockholder
and eventual owner of New Haven Arms and owned something like eight hundred
patents…including those of Plant Manager B. Tyler Henry. Henry’s
greatest contribution was the invention of a fully self-contained ‘cartridge’
comprised on a copper (later brass) cylindrical case with a ‘lip’ all the
way around the closed end which held the priming substance called fulminate
of Mercury. This was then covered by 26 grains of powder and a 216
grain conical bullet. While not totally waterproof, this first successful
cartridge was considerably more so that any previous design. It was
also more powerful than any of its ancestors. It is in honor of Mr.
Henry that all Winchester rim fire cartridges bear the letter H to this
day. Mr. Henry also took the previous action designs of the Hunt,
Jennings, and Volcanic and improved upon them, adding and extractor to
pull either loaded or empty cartridges from the chamber, and devising a
way to eject them away from the rifle once clear of the chamber.
Being a rim fire and being housed in a “brass” frame of
a bronze alloy called gunmetal, the rifle was limited in its power.
Even the few made in (or converted to) center fire showed no performance
improvement over the rim fire round.
Standard barrel length was 24” with a butt stock of oil-finished
walnut. There was no fore stock due to the barrel-magazine design,
which left the magazine open on the bottom for virtually its entire length.
Cartridges were loaded one atop the other by pulling the follower handle
all the way forward until it stopped and then rotating the front of the
barrel sleeve approximately 1/6 turn counter-clockwise. To ready
the rifle for action, the sleeve was turned back clockwise being careful
not to let the follower ‘slam’ down on the cartridges in the magazine.
The cycling of the lever loaded one round from the magazine where it could
be fired or ejected at the shooters choice.
The relatively weak rim fire ammunition (subject to being
set off by a blow from the side), the awkwardness of loading, the fact
that all the debris in the world could enter the open bottom of the magazine,
the follower handle moving rearward to sometimes strike the shooters front
hand stopping the feeding of the remaining ammunition, and the fact that
rapidly firing the black powder ammunition heated up the un-insulated magazine
and barrel to the point of pain were all negative attributes of the Henry.
Stability of the ammo, the ability to lay down a veritable
blizzard of fire, and rapidity of reloading pretty much offset the other
The ‘1860’ used in the rifle's identification may lead
some to believe the weapon was on the market in that year, when it was
in fact not in widespread use until 1862.
There were several variations of the Henry, including
several iron framed models and at least two different frame shapes.
A very small number were fitted with prototype loading gates and even fewer
with wooden fore stocks. A few have been found with longer or shorter
that 24” barrels, and finished other than the standard bluing. A
surprisingly large percentage were engraved, fully or partially plated,
and some found with elaborately carved or checkered stocks.
Many came equipped with a swivel on the left side of the
butt stock and a loop on the left side of the barrel-magazine about a foot
behind the muzzle.
The Henry rifle was made from 1860 until replaced in 1866
by a New Model Henry rifle by the new Winchester Repeating Arms Co.
Very few modern replicas have been chambered for the original
cartridge. The vast majority were chambered in .44 WCF (.44-40),
though more and more we are seeing .45 Colt and .38/.357 guns appearing.
A few are seen occasionally in even other calibers, but so far .44WCF is
My personal rifle is a Uberti/Santa Fe Arms 24” octagonal
barreled, .44-40, serial number 025xx. It has ‘military’ swivels
and a brass frame. I bought it in March 1987 from Winston’s Sporting
Goods of Upland, CA for $539.99 out the door.
Rowdy Yates did his magic it to slick it up, but aside
from springs and polishing it is mechanically stock.
I added a brass inlay made and installed by Russ N. Hound.
I wish all of you Merry Christmas and hope to see you