Lever for a Lefty

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Winchester's 1876 or Centennial Model rifle was intended from the start as a big game rifle, being chambered for centerfire cartridges ranging from the .40-65 all the way up to the powerful .50-95. First offered in 1876 and displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Winchester's newest lever-action soon garnered favorable reviews from many experienced American hunters, including one who later served as president, Theodore Roosevelt.

While the standard Model 1876 lever gun loaded through a port on the right side of the receiver, this example is more than a little different. Featuring left-handed loading capability, this 26-inch rifle also has an intriguing one-piece cleaning rod affixed to the side - both custom features that are not reflected in surviving Winchester factory records. Yet this "special" .50-caliber rifle is not marked as the unique creation of any gunsmith, despite the amount of time and effort required to make such a conversion.

Loaned to the National Firearms Museum by collector C.L. Werner of Nebraska, this unusual Winchester Model 1876 represents a mystery. Was it made for a Western buffalo hunting trip to be used by the left-handed General Philip Sheridan? Or was it just a special rifle that an unknown gunsmith crafted to reflect his talent? We may never know.

Reprinted from America's 1st Freedom, March 2008.