Theodore Roosevelt’s Favorite Dakota Rifle
By John Taffin
Published In The GUNS Magazine 2011 Special Edition
Some people are collectors — I am more of what you would call an accumulator. I’ve been accumulating guns since 1956, and long before that began accumulating books. Collectors usually have a specific goal in mind — accumulators simply surround themselves with things they like. I’ve never counted the number of books I have, however, there are bookshelves in five rooms in my house. There is no doubt I have more books than the grade school library did, where I was first introduced to really good books. One book that had a profound effect on my life was The Boy’s Book of Theodore Roosevelt, first read in 1950 when I was in the sixth grade. There are now 58 other books on my shelves by or about Theodore Roosevelt.
Long before I ever owned my first firearm I was reading about his hunting expeditions, and more importantly the type of man he was. He became one of my life’s guides.
In the fall of 1883, Theodore bagged a buffalo and two elk in the Badlands of the Dakotas and wrote to his wife, who was expecting their first child in February: “I am in superb health, having plenty of game to eat, and living all day long in the open air. With a thousand kisses for you, my heart’s darling, I am ever your loving Thee.” Alice was to have accompanied him, however due to her pregnancy she stayed home in New York. Before leaving the Badlands Theodore invested $14,000 to buy his own cattle herd. Little did he know, he would not be an absentee rancher.
In November, Theodore was re-elected for his third term in the New York Assembly. He was on top of the world and ran for Speaker of the House. However, the political bosses were not about to have him in that position, and he was defeated. He did not forget, and when he served as chairman of the Cities Committee he began a successful campaign against corruption. His future was set, but his world was about to come crashing down. On the following February 16, Theodore was literally in shock, as he sat before two coffins containing his wife and mother both of which died in the same house on the same day. We can only imagine what was going through his mind. He would never talk about this double tragedy. When the session of the Assembly ended Theodore sold the house, turned his young daughter Alice, the child his wife had died delivering, over to his sister and left New York for the Badlands of the Dakotas. He would either find himself or be lost forever …
The toggle action Winchesters of the 1870s are represented by CFA’s
Model 1873 .44-40 and Model 1876 .45-75.
A Changed Man
The Dakotas changed Theodore into what Col. Cooper would later call “An honest to God man.” His time in the Dakotas would strengthen him physically, morally and spiritually. He returned to New York as a true man of character and never again would run from anything. The image most of us will always have of Theodore Roosevelt will be charging up Kettle Hill as second in command of the Rough Riders not boarding a train to run away from his responsibility. Theodore had been a sickly child and his father had a gym built in the house so he could build up his frail body; what father and the gym started, the Badlands finished. From that time on Theodore would live what he called the “Strenuous Life.” In fact, it was so strenuous he would wear his body out long before its time. On the morning of Jan. 6, 1919, Theodore’s son Archie cabled his brothers, “The old lion is dead.” Theodore Roosevelt was 60 years old.
In January of 1956, GUNS Magazine began its second year with Theodore on the front cover. He did not look presidential but rather dressed in his Dakota Badlands buckskins and holding his short magazine Winchester Model 1876. The article within was entitled “The Guns of Teddy Roosevelt”; apparently the author was unaware Theodore did not like the nickname of Teddy. As a young boy he was known as Teddy and to his wife Alice, as we saw above, he was Thee.
Guns were tremendously important to Theodore. As we read about his hunting exploits, we soon notice he was always ready to embrace the newest firearms if they were a definite improvement. When he traveled to Africa after leaving the White House, one of his firearms was the relatively new 1903 Springfield .30-06. When Winchester introduced the smokeless powder .30-30 in 1895, Theodore was captivated by its long-range capabilities and considered it a fine antelope rifle. As a rancher in the Dakotas he also carried and used what he considered the best firearms available at the time. His belt gun was a beautifully engraved and ivory stocked 7-1/2″ Colt Frontier Sixshooter carried in an exquisitely carved leather holster. His favorite Dakota rifle was the Winchester Model 1876, which had been introduced at the Centennial Exhibition celebrating the 100th year of American independence.
Bullets used in reloading for the .45-75. (L to R) Hornady 300 JHP, Lyman #
457122 Gould HP, RCBS #45-300 FNGC, and Oregon Trail 350 FP.
TEN-X brass is properly head stamped.
The first Winchester rifle, though not labeled as such, was the 1860 Henry named after Winchester’s shop foreman B. Tyler Henry. The year 1860 marks a great advance in firearms — up to this point the single-shot muzzleloading rifle was the best available but now shooters had a choice of two repeating firearms using fixed ammunition, the Spencer and the Henry.
Winchester soon purchased rights to the Spencer, thus, removing any competition. The 1860 Henry was the beginning of the Winchester dynasty and it was advertised as a man on horseback equipped with a 17-shot Henry simply could not be captured.
The Henry was chambered in .44 Rimfire and was different from the subsequent Winchester lever actions. It did not use a loading gate but rather loaded from the front through a tube exposed when a portion of the barrel and magazine were rotated to the side. Six years later using the King’s Patent of a loading gate, the 1866 Winchester arrived still chambered in .44 Rimfire.
Seven years later the beautiful 1873 Winchester came forth using a new cartridge, the .44 WCF, or Winchester Centerfire, now usually referred to as the .44-40. All of these rifles were excellent and certainly to be preferred by shooters above a muzzleloader. However, for hunting big game they definitely lacked power and couldn’t be compared to a .54 Hawken or the 1873 Springfield .45-70. It was time for Oliver Winchester to combine the power of the single-shot with the repeating capability of his lever action rifle. The result was the Model 1876.
All three of the first Winchesters, 1860, 1866 and 1873 operated with a toggle action. This same principle was used to create the Model 1876, which is basically a larger Model 1873 capable of handling longer and more powerful cartridges. All of these rifles were designed before the advent of John Moses Browning whose lever action designs for Winchester, the Models 1886, 1892, 1894 and 1895 all used double-locking lugs replacing the toggle action of the earlier Winchesters. By today’s standards the latter models are very strong rifles; the earlier Winchesters aren’t and all original Models 1860 through 1876 must only be used with black powder loads and replicas of these rifles are for black powder or black powder level loads only.
25 and 50-yard groups fired with TEN-X factory loads.
GUNS Magazine began its second year of production in January
1956 by featuring Theodore Roosevelt on the cover along with the
article entitled “The Guns Of Teddy Roosevelt.”
The original Model 1876 was chambered in .40-60 .45-60, .45-75 and .50-95. The action of the Model 1876 was too short to accommodate the .45-70, however, by going to a bottleneck design for the .45-75, Winchester was able to basically duplicate the .45-70. Theodore Roosevelt used several Winchester 1876 Models and considered the .40-60 as a great saddle gun for deer and antelope in the Badlands. However, his favorite chambering was .45-75. In his 1885 book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Theodore Roosevelt had this to say: “A word as to weapons and hunting-dress. When I first came to the plains I had a heavy Sharps rifle, .45-120, shooting an ounce and a quarter of lead, and a 50-calibre, double-barreled English express. Both of these, especially the latter, had a vicious recoil — the former was very clumsy — and, above all, they were neither of them repeaters — for a repeater or magazine-gun is as much superior to a single-or double-barreled breech-loader as the latter is to a muzzleloader. I threw them both aside: and have instead a .40-90 Sharps for very long-range work, a .50-115 6-shot Ballard express, which has the velocity, shot, and low trajectory of the English gun; and better than either, a .45-75 half-magazine Winchester.
The Winchester, which is stocked and sighted to suit myself, is by all odds the best weapon, I ever had, and I now use it almost exclusively, having killed every kind of game with it, from a grizzly bear to a bighorn. It is as handy to carry, whether on foot or on horseback, and comes up to the shoulder as readily as a shotgun — it’s absolutely sure, and there is no recoil to jar and disturb the aim, while it carries adequately quite as far as a man can aim with any degree of certainty; and the bullet, weighing three quarters of an ounce, is plenty large enough for anything on this continent. For shooting the very large game (buffalo, elephants, etc.) of India and South Africa, much heavier rifles are undoubtedly necessary; but the Winchester is the best gun for any game to be found in the United States, for it is as deadly, accurate, and handy as any, stands very rough usage, and is unapproachable for the rapidity of its fire and the facility with which it is loaded.”
Notice all the attributes Theodore assigned to the .45-75 Model 1876: exceptionally handy, easily mounted to the shoulder, low recoil, long-range accuracy, capable of handling anything in the United States, totally dependable with rough usage, easily loaded and exceptionally rapid firing. Roosevelt considered the Model 1876 to be the best available at the time. However, he was not the sentimental type when it came to firearms. As better arms came about, the Model 1876 was retired, and he used such later rifles as the Winchester Models 1894 and 1895, and the .30-06 Springfield.
All the Winchesters, 1860, 1866, 1873 and 1892 have long been offered in replica form while the 1886 and 1895 were offered through both Winchester and Browning although manufactured in Japan. The legendary Model 1894 was just recently removed from production after well over 100 years with many millions being produced, and they are still relatively easy to find in both rifle and sixgun chambering. The one Winchester, which has been conspicuous by its absence, is the Model 1876. More than five years ago I talked to Mike Harvey of Cimarron Firearms about the Model 1876. He assured me it was in the works. It was a long time coming, however, the Cimarron Centennial Model 1876 is now not only available, but is also offered in all four of the original chambering of .40-60, .45-60, .45-75, and .50-95. As an added bonus, all of these “obsolete,” cartridges are now offered by Ten-X Ammunition in both smokeless and BPC (Black Powder Cartridge) configurations. Roosevelt always looked forward, however I am quite happily traveling backward to enjoy the rifle he used 125 years ago. Sometimes progress really does work for us!
Looking at Cimarron’s Centennial Model 1876, just as Theodore Roosevelt, I find a whole lot to like about both the rifle and the .45-75 chambering. This Model 1876 is beautifully crafted. The octagon barrel, magazine tube, fore-end cap, sliding dust cover and buttplate are all finished in a very deep blue black color, while the receiver, hammer, trigger, lever and tang are attractively case hardened. Both the forearm and buttstock are of nicely figured walnut, although with the typical Italian reddish colored gloss finish.
The rear sight is a typical “V” shaped Buckhorn with a square notch at the bottom of the V and is mated with a front post of the proper size. Both sights are mounted in a dovetail for easy adjustment and also furnished with a locking screw. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation with a sliding bar with steps of varying heights as still found on even the most modern lever actions today. Behind the rear sight we find “1776 Centennial 1876,” on the left side of the octagon barrel just in front of the receiver “CAL 45-75” is inscribed, and on the top of the tang we find “Model 1876” just as on the originals. On the top of the octagon barrel in front of the rear sight we find two lines inscribed: “CIMARRON’S REPEATING ARMS FREDERICKSBURG TEXAS U.S.A.” and “KING’S IMPROVEMENT PATENTED MARCH 29. 1866. OCTOBER 16. 1860.”
With the Model 1876 I can only find two things to object to; one is easily fixed while the other is easy to work around. According to the RCBS High-Range Trigger Tension Scale, the trigger pull is just more than 7 lbs, a fact, which makes the excellent groups acquired somewhat surprising. As soon as I pay for this test rifle — there is no way I will ever send it back, my good friend and gunsmith Cactus Tubbs at RK Gunsmithing will bring that down to a more agreeable 3-4 lbs. The other “problem” is the curved steel buttplate, which is just as found on the original Model 1876. Theodore Roosevelt found the recoil to be mild, which it was when compared to the powerful single shots and also when used in a hunting situation. Though, when shooting numerous loads off the bench I needed help. With repeated firing of many loads, the top and bottom corners of the curved buttplate began to dig into my shoulder, causing mild discomfort. This was easily solved by the use of a Pachmayr Slip-On Decelerator Pad. Shooting a few rounds or for hunting the pad isn’t needed. However, when a lot of rounds will be fired for testing it goes back on.
With a 22″ barrel Cimarron catalogs this Model 1876 as a Short Rifle as compared to the standard Rifle with a 28″ barrel. Even with the shorter length the Model 1876 still holds nine rounds in the magazine tube. One of the problems with many lever-action rifles is the tension on the loading gate, which quite often makes it difficult to insert cartridges and especially so in cold weather. Not so on this Model 1876 as I find it the easiest to load of any lever-action rifle I have ever experienced, the .45-75 cartridges slide in so easily — they almost load themselves.
|Centennial Model 1876 Short Rifle|
|Importer: Cimarrron Firearms|
|Action Type: Lever action|
|Caliber: .45-75 (also available in.40-60, .45-60 and .50-95)|
|Barrel Length: 22″ (also available in 28″)|
|Overall Length: 42″|
|Weight: 9-1/2 lbs|
|Finish: Blue with case hardened/colored receiver|
TEN-X offers both smokeless and black powder loadings for the .45-75.
This ease of operation continues with the feeding of cartridges from the magazine tube into the chamber. Anyone with any experience using the old-style lever actions will tell you how slick they operate. It’s almost a spiritual feeling working the action and feeling a cartridge come straight up and then into the chamber as the lever is closed. With the .45-75’s bottleneck shape — and if the barrel of the Model 1876 is pointed slightly below horizontal — the cartridges literally slide into the chamber even before the lever is closed. Even before shooting, it is a joy just to see and feel everything operate.
As mentioned earlier, just as with the original Winchester, the Cimarron Model 1876 is offered in .40-60, .45-65, .45-75 and .50-95. In his excellent book Shooting Lever Guns of the Old West, Mike Venturino tested all four of these cartridges in original Winchesters. He explained the ease of making the first two cartridges using .45-70 brass, the .50-95 from .348 Winchester and the difficulty he had with .45-75 brass. At the end of this section he said: “Unlike the .45-60 caliber, I doubt if there is any chance that the .45-75 caliber will ever be resurrected in a modern replica of the Model 1876. Its case shape is just too oddball.” I am glad, and I’m sure he is to, he was wrong. Not only is the Cimarron Model 1876 chambered in .45-75, TEN-X Ammunition offers two loadings using 350-gr. hardcast bullets; one uses smokeless powder while the other is assembled with a special blend of Hodgdon’s black powder substitute, Triple 7.
Fired from the 22″ barrel of my Short Rifle, these clocked out at 1,155 fps and 1,253 fps, respectively. Mike’s loads using the RCBS #45-300 FNGC bullet over 70 grains of Double F black powder were right at 1,440 fps from an original 1876 with a 28″ barrel. With the shorter barrel my loads lost about 200 fps.
Not only is the .45-75 rifle available along with loaded ammunition and brass, Lyman also offers excellent .45-75 dies at standard prices, not with the high-dollar tag usually affixed to custom die sets. For reloading the .45-75 I used TEN-X brass and four bullets; bullets used were the Oregon Trail 350-gr. FN, which is a dead-ringer for the bullet used in the Ten-X factory loaded rounds, Hornady’s 300-gr. JFP and two home cast bullets. The do-it-yourself bullets consisted of both the RCBS #45-300 FNGC and a very old design, Lyman’s #457122, which is known as the Gould hollowpoint.
When loading these cast bullets for use in the Model 1876, it pays to check the overall length. My friend Ray Walters has a 28″ Cimarron 1876 and the Lyman/Gould hollowpoints will chamber when crimped in the crimping groove; with my 1876 I have to crimp over the front shoulder or they will not chamber. Cast from wheelweights, both bullets are in the 325-330 grain weight range. With their softer alloy, sized to .458″ and with the proper powder charges they both shot slightly tighter groups than the hard cast 350-gr. FN bullets in either the factory or hand-loaded versions or the jacketed bullets.
The accompanying chart provides muzzle velocities and groups at various distances for factory loads and reloads with four bullets. Powders chosen for testing were Accurate 5744 and 2015, Hodgdon’s H4895, Varget, and Trail Boss, as well as Goex Cartridge. I don’t necessarily recommend the loads listed with Accurate 2015, as they may be a little hot for a prolonged use with their muzzle velocities in the 1,600-1,650 fps range. Even with the heavy trigger pull and open iron sights from the chart it is easy to see excellent results were obtained. Fifty-yard groups in the 1″ or less range were not unusual, and it was no problem to come up with 2″ groups at 100 yards using the excellent RCBS bullet.
My favorite handloads for this bullet are assembled with 27 grains of 5744 for 1,386 fps and 16 grains of Trail Boss for 1,246 fps; switching to the Lyman/Gould HP I use the same two powders, although one less grain of 5744, for 1,314 fps and 1,252 fps respectively. It doesn’t take much shooting or reloading experience to realize these loads are easy to obtain with the same weight bullets in a 7-1/2″ Ruger .45 Colt Blackhawk; that should put the .45-75 in the proper perspective as to how it should be used in a hunting situation. For me, that would be anything in the US at 100 yards or less.
The Model 1876 from Cimarron was a long time coming but worth the wait. At nearly $1,550 it can certainly not be considered an inexpensive rifle. However, for the cost of one original Model 1876 in shooting condition, one can have Cimarron Model 1876 in all four chambering as well as be able to use both smokeless and black powder loads. In today’s market, I call that a real bargain.
As one enters the front door of my home, the first thing they see is a painting of myself with Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands. Although the painting is real, the situation is purely imaginary. Thanks to Cimarron Firearms, you can bet my imagination has a field day every time I shoot Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite Dakota rifle. *
.45-75 loads featuring Hodgdon’s Varget produced excellent 100-yard accuracy.
Unlike the .45-70, which is only slightly tapered, the .45-75 is a bottleneck
cartridge; Lyman offers excellent .45-75 WCF loading dies.
Taffin’s two favorite bullets for the .45-75 are the RCBS #45-300
FNGC and the Lyman #457122 Gould HP.
|Cimarron Firearms Model 1876 .45-75|
|Factory Ammo||Velocity||3 Shots/50 Yds|
|Ten-X 350 FN||1,155||2-1/4|
|Ten-X 350 FN BPC||1,253||2-1/4|
|Bullet: RCBS #45-300 FNGC|
|Load||MV||3 Shots/50 Yds|
|27.0 gr. 5744||1,386||1-1/8|
|42.0 gr. 2015||1,656||1-3/8|
|44.0 gr. H4895||1,396||1-3/4|
|44.0 gr. Varget||1,257||1-3/8|
|Bullet: Lyman #457122 Gould HP|
|Load||MV||3 Shots/50 Yds|
|26.0 gr. 5744||1,314||7/8|
|40.0 gr. 2015||1,581||3|
|40.0 gr. H4895||1,274||1-1/2|
|40.0 gr. Varget||1,312||2-3/8|
|16.0 gr. Trail Boss||1,252||7/8|
|70.0 gr. Goex Cartridge||1,231||2-3/8|
|Bullet: Hornady 300 JFP|
|Load||MV||3 Shots/50 Yds|
|27.0 gr. 5744||1,237||2-1/8|
|42.0 gr. H4895||1,193||1-7/8|
|Bullet: Oregon Trail 350 FN|
|Load||MV||3 Shots/50 Yds|
|27.0 gr. 5744||1,250||2|
|42.0 gr. H4895||1,240||2-1/8|
50-yard groups fired with the Cimarron Firearms Model 1876 Winchester .45-75.
For more info:
Cimarron Firearms Co.
Hodgdon Power Co.
Looking For More? Get It From The GUNS Magazine 2011 Special Edition