(Sweetwater County, Wyo. - June 26, 2021) The Sweetwater County Historical Museum recently added a rifle to its exhibit gallery known by many as “The Gun That Won The West” - a Model 1873 Winchester lever-action.
A .44/40, the museum’s 1873 was manufactured in 1884. Winchester’s first rifle was the Model 1866, basically an improved and modified version of the Henry rifle that saw combat as a Union arm late in the Civil War. The Model 1873 came next. Basically a modified and improved Model 1866, (with an iron or steel frame rather than the 1866's brass frame), the 1873 was chambered for the .44/40 cartridge which, while essentially a pistol round, was substantially more powerful than the Henry and Model 1866's .44-caliber rimfire. (Later, it was also produced in .38/40 and .32/20.)
While “The Gun That Won the West” tag is commonly associated with the Model 1873, it was actually a clever advertising ploy that was not used by Winchester until well into the 20th century.
Though the standard Model 1873 was produced in three basic variations - a long rifle fitted with a 24-inch barrel, a 20-inch barrel carbine, and a musket designed for the military market with a full-length stock - Winchester’s practice was to make individual special-order rifles according to customers’ specifications, including non-standard barrel and magazine lengths, engraving, and special stocks.
Over 720,000 Model 1873s were manufactured; production ceased in 1923. The museum’s 1873 is now on display as part of its “Cattle Ranchers and Sheep Herders” exhibit.
The museum is located in Green River at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and admission is free.