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Pale Horse Revelations #7: Weapons of the Old West - Winchester Model 1866

Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." In this latest installment we will wrap up our exploration into the weapons featured in the book. Today's focus will be on the Winchester Model 1866 rifle (pictured).

In the novel, our protagonist receives one of these rifles as a Christmas gift from Jesse Chislom. Here's the passage that describes the rifle and the discussion surrounding it:

"Garrison tore away the butcher’s paper to reveal a rifle, but one not like any other that he had seen. It was a lever-action repeater, like his Spencer rifles. But unlike the Spencer, which had to be reloaded from the magazine’s muzzle end, the loading gate on this rifle was located on the receiver’s right side. Also unique were the fully enclosed magazine and the wooden forearm. “That’s a Winchester 1866,” Chisholm informed him. “Technically, it hasn’t even gone into production yet. That one was part of an early production run, one of several hundred produced as samples. Now that Winchester’s got an army contract, they’ll start producing them in mass quantities early next year,” he further explained. “I’m not sure how Mead, my business partner, managed to get his hands on a few of them, but when he told me about them, I immediately thought of you,” Chisholm continued. “I insisted he include at least one in the loads he was sending down here,” he added."

The description of the rifle contained in this passage is accurate. The surrounding dialogue is a product of my imagination crafted to explain the fact that Garrison is receiving the rifle in December of 1865. While fictional it is based upon the reasonable assumption that an early production run would have been necessary in order to secure the contract with the U.S. government.

The first Winchester rifle, the Model 1866, was basically an improved version of the earlier Henry rifle. At the conclusion of the Civil War Oliver Winchester rebranded his New Haven Arms as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The company started with the basic Henry rifle, then redesigned and modified it to create the Winchester Model 1866. Like the Henry rifle the first Winchester was chambered for the rimfire .44 Henry and was built on a bronze alloy frame.

Where the Winchester 1866 differed was the improved magazine and wooden forearm. The designers were able to remedy a flaw in the Henry's design by incorporating a loading gate on the side of the frame and integrating a round, sealed magazine that was partially covered by a forestock. The Model 1866 was nicknamed the "Yellow Boy" because of its bronze/brass alloy receiver.

Like the Spencer rifle that we looked at last week, the Winchester Model 1866 saw action around the world. France purchased 6,000 of the rifles and put them to use during the Franco-Prussian War. The Ottoman Empire purchased 45,000 rifles that saw use in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.

Although Winchester introduced an improved model built on a steel frame in subsequent years the Model 1866 remained in production until 1899. This was in response to public demand based largely upon the fact that the Model 1866 was less expensive than the later steel framed models.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at the Winchester Model 1866. As always, I have sought to provide some interesting background information that may enhance your reading experience while trying not bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.

This concludes our weeks long exploration of the weaponry featured in "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations in which we will take a deeper look at the legendary American Bison. Thank you for your continued interest and support.

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