150 Years of Winchester — The Gun That Won the Western.

The Model 92 becomes the go-to rifle. With the birth of motion pictures came a uniquely American film genre, the Western action movie. Among the first Westerns was the famous 1903 film called “The Great Train Robbery,” which was shot on location in, of all places, New Jersey.

As the American film industry migrated to Southern California to take advantage of the perpetually sunny weather, the Western action movie soon became its mainstay — cowboys, Indians, outlaws, charging horses, runaway stagecoaches and plenty of exciting gunplay in smoky saloons and on dusty streets.

The Winchester Model 1892 lever-action quickly became the go-to long gun for movie prop houses because it “looked right” and used the readily available Winchester 5-in-1 blank cartridge that was interchangeable between rifles and revolvers chambered in 38-40 Win., 44-40 Win. and 45 Colt. Audiences of that era were not as demanding of historic accuracy as they are today, and thus in early movies many a Civil War battle was fought by soldiers in blue and gray using Model 1892 rifles that wouldn’t have been invented for another three decades.

Monument Valley

The Monument Valley Years. Another benchmark Western film was John Ford’s 1939 epic “Stagecoach,” filmed on location in Monument Valley. As the Ringo Kid, John Wayne carried a loop-lever Winchester Model 1892 carbine that became one of his lasting trademarks on the silver screen. Wayne would also win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal as one-eyed Marshal Ruben J. “Rooster” Cogburn in the 1969 film “True Grit,” using the same Winchester Model 1892 carbine in the movie’s climactic shootout from horseback with a gang of outlaws.

The 1950 Western “Winchester ‘73” starred Jimmy Stewart and was based on the actual life of Kansas lawman turned outlaw Henry N. Brown, who was lynched by a mob after a failed bank robbery in 1883. Winchester’s exhibition shooting wizard Herb Parsons filled in for Stewart during the film’s trick shot scenes.

As part of the movie’s promotion a nationwide search was launched for any remaining One-of-One Thousand Model 1873 rifles. As a result more than two dozen previously unknown One-of-One Thousand guns were uncovered in America’s dusty attics, barns and cellars.

Jimmy Stewart and Herb Parsons

The Rifleman. During the 1950s and 1960s much of primetime television programming was centered around the American Western. Chuck Connors starred for six seasons as Lucas McCain in the hit TV series “The Rifleman.” Connor’s chosen firearm was the Winchester Model 1892 with a large D-shaped lever loop adapted to fire rapidly from the hip.

The King of Cool, Steve McQueen launched his acting career as bounty hunter Josh Randall in “Wanted —Dead or Alive.” He carried a cut-down large loop Winchester Model 1892, nicknamed the “Mare’s Leg” in a fast draw belt holster. While the gun used standard blanks, studio prop men would insert 45-70 Government cartridges in McQueen’s gun belt because the hefty rounds “looked tougher” on the early low-resolution TV screens.

Spaghetti Westerns. By the mid-1960s foreign-made Western films, often called “Spaghetti Westerns” for their production locations in Spain and Italy had become popular with moviegoers around the world. The release of “A Fistful of Dollars,” the first of director Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, brought American TV actor Clint Eastwood to international stardom on the big screen. Naturally a number of Winchester rifles dutifully played their supporting roles in these movies. 

The Western action film has experienced a rebirth in recent decades. Original studio productions like “Silverado,” “Unforgiven” and “Open Range,” along with remakes of classics like “3:10 to Yuma” and “True Grit” still have the ability to entertain and entrance audiences. They transport us back to the Old West — when a Winchester rifle or carbine was your ticket to ride.

Chuck Connors Rifleman