13 – The Yellowboy – Where Winchester Began

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

The name Winchester evokes images straight out of a Frederic Remington painting with the tough and solitary cowboy – and the image is warranted. Most westward American adventurers in the late 1800s carried a rifle, and a large portion of those were Winchesters. But it wasn’t just a show piece. It was a game changing tool that significantly upped the odds of survival in some of the nation’s most unforgiving country.
Oliver Winchester was a clothing businessman who purchased the bankrupt assets of the Volcanic Repeating Arms from Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson in 1857. If those names sound familiar it’s because they later founded the still-functioning firearm company, Smith & Wesson.
Winchester renamed his new venture the New Haven Arms Company and in 1860 produced the Henry Rifle. The Henry was a true lever action rifle holding 15 rounds (!) and is considered one of the first large calibers to use fully-encased brass ammunition that is still used today. While it did see success during the Civil War, especially against the typical 1-shot muzzleloaders of the day, it had a few design flaws.
In 1866, New Haven Repeating Arms changed their name to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and also released the Improved Henry Rifle; with it, the birth of the iconic lever action cowboy rifle was born. The new Winchester rifle corrected the shortcomings of the Henry Rifle and sales began to take off. The Improved Henry soon became known as the Model 1866 but has always been known by its nickname “Yellowboy” due to its conspicuous brass receiver. Just 7 years later, Winchester again refined their rifles and released the Model 1873 — “The Gun That Won the West”.
This particular Yellowboy was manufactured in 1868 and shot the standard .44 Henry rimfire cartridge. It is one of the highlights of our extensive Winchester collection.