When you think of a high-capacity rifle, something like one of these bad boys probably comes to mind. And when you think of a cowboy rifle, you probably picture something a little more like this. Now what if I were to ask you what a high-capacity cowboy rifle looked like? Allow me to introduce you to the Evans Repeating Rifle—an antique lever action capable of holding 34 rounds, the highest capacity of any rifle produced in the 19th century.
Where you’ve seen it:
The Evans Repeating Rifle hasn’t seen much Hollywood time. Featured briefly in the hands of a cowboy gang member in the classic cowboy film Tombstone, it may be more familiar to those who played the (remarkably entertaining) video game Red Dead Redemption (left).
Invented by Maine dentist Warren Evans in 1873, these high-capacity rifles were marketed by Merwin and Hulbert—one of the largest revolver manufacturers of the time. Given the weapon’s clear tactical advantage over other rifles of the time, Evans thought the U.S. Army would be interested in adopting the platform for its soldiers. When subjected to a standard “dust test”, however, the rifle jammed up and the military declined to pursue it. Rather than let his invention go to waste, Evans marketed his rifle to a commercial audience—with reasonable success. Approximately 15,000 units were produced between 1873 and 1879, and a few ended up in the hands of renowned shootists Kit Carson and “Buffalo Bill” Cody who both thought highly of the rifle.
The Evans was fed by a rotary helical magazine (left) that spanned the length of the buttstock and spun like a barber pole with each extension of the cocking lever/trigger guard. Rounds were loaded through a trapdoor in the buttplate. Several variations of the rifle, including a sporting model, military musket model, and carbine variant, were sold in the six years the rifle was produced.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Evans never enjoyed widespread success was due to its caliber. Warren Evans chose to develop his own proprietary round—the .44 Evans short—rather than chamber it to an already popular and widely available round like the .44-40, .44 Russian, or .44 S&W. Considering mail was still delivered on horseback and most small towns had only a single merchant, finding ammunition for the Evans was undoubtedly tricky. The .44 Evans was a stout little round, though, if you could find it. Firing a 220 grain lead bullet with 33 grains of blackpowder, it would get the job done on them dern’d ol’ rustlers.
It may have been a finicky piece, but I’d gladly take one in a Wild West gunfight. I mean, come on. Thirty four rounds! While the bad guys in black 10-gallon hats tediously reload their sixguns, you’d be leisurely slinging an overwhelming amount of lead downrange.
Featured image courtesy of the National Firearms Museum.