County Museum researches rare 19th-century rifle



 Winchester Hotchkiss “Second Model Navy” in .45/70, manufactured in 1881. Fewer than 1,000 were made.

Wyo4News Staff, [email protected] [PRESS RELEASE]

SWEETWATER COUNTY, WYOMING — A rare 19th-century naval rifle was researched last week through the Sweetwater County Historical Museum’s Vintage Firearms Research Program.


Museum staff identified the rifle as a Winchester Hotchkiss “Second Model Navy” in .45/70, which was the U.S. Army’s standard rifle cartridge (for the “Trapdoor Springfield” single shot) from 1873 to 1892. The Hotchkiss was an innovative design for its time – a bolt-action repeater with a tubular magazine in the buttstock, similar to that of the Civil War-era Spencer. It was manufactured from 1879 to 1892. The rifle researched by the museum was made in 1881, a rare “Second Model Navy,” as evidenced by a “US” and anchor stamp on the barrel. Second Model Hotchkisses were fitted with a manual safety and a magazine cutoff in the form of levers on top of the receiver. (During this era and for many years afterward, magazine cutoffs were a common feature of military bolt-action rifles. Shooters were expected to single-load their rifles until access to cartridges in the magazine became necessary, at which point the cutoff could be manually switched, which permitted charging from the magazine.)

The U.S. Navy purchased just under a thousand Second Model Hotchkiss rifles from 1880 to 1881, and they remained in naval service until the adoption of the 6mm Model 1895 Lee straight-pull bolt action.

It was noted that the Second Model Navy researched underwent a modification at some point; the standard barrel-mounted rear sight was removed and replaced with a tang sight, which likely took place after its Navy service, when it passed into civilian hands.

Those with a vintage firearm (or firearms) who would like to learn more about them are encouraged to contact the museum at (307) 872-6435 or via email at [email protected]. There is no charge for the service.