Sweetwater County Museum Examines Former Judge’s 1892 Rifle

Sweetwater County Museum Examines Former Judge’s 1892 Rifle

Judge Joseph Payne and his daughter Jessie on the stoop of his Justice of the Peace Office in Green River, circa 1915.

SWEETWATER COUNTY — A vintage Winchester rifle recently examined by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum’s Vintage Firearms Research Program once belonged to a prominent Green River lawman and judge.

Born in Kentucky in 1838, Joseph Payne, Sr., came to Wyoming after his Civil War service with the 3rd Regiment, Colorado Cavalry.

Payne became Green River’s Town Marshal, a post he held from 1896 to 1898 and again from 1900 to 1901. He went on to serve for many years as Town Judge and Justice of the Peace and died in Green River at the age of 80 in 1918.

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His rifle is a lever-action Model 1892 Winchester carbine in .44/40 (.44 Winchester Center Fire), manufactured in the year the rifle was introduced, 1892. Nearly 20 years before, Winchester introduced its lever-action Model 1873, which, over time, (true or not), became known as “The Gun that Won the West,” a fast-handling, lever-action that chambered pistol cartridges, a feature that permitted shooters to carry ammunition that interchanged with their long guns and Colt single-action revolvers, if they so chose.

Judge Payne’s Model 1892 Winchester carbine in .44/40.

Marlin was a strong Winchester competitor. When Marlin introduced its Model 1888 rifle, Winchester wanted a new lever-action of its own, and fast. In well under a month, designer John Moses Browning had produced a prototype that was essentially a scaled-down Winchester Model 1886, which was also his creation. That prototype became the Model 1892, which soon went into general production.

The Payne Winchester is fitted with a “saddle ring.” Originally a feature of single-shot cavalry carbines, saddle rings, though largely superfluous well before the 1890s, remained a popular feature.

Like its predecessor, the Model 1873, the 1892 was chambered for pistol cartridges, including  the 32-20, .38-40, .44-40, and .25-20 Winchester. (Late in its production, is was also made in .218 Bee, though in very limited numbers.) The original Winchester company made well over a million of the very popular rifles from 1892 to 1945; the Royal Navy even bought about 21,000 of them in .44/40 during World War I.

Though a fine firearm in its own right, the Model 1892 has a unique distinction. In hundreds of western films and television programs from the 1930s onward, it was prominently featured in the hands of cowboys, lawmen, outlaws, ranchers, Native Americans, settlers, and soldiers of the 1870s and 1880s, well before it was actually available. The large-loop Winchesters so often carried in movies by John Wayne, (including 1969’s True Grit), and the centerpiece of the popular television series The Rifleman, which ran from 1958 to 1963, were Model 1892s. 

John Wayne in True Grit (1969) and Chuck Connors in a publicity still from The Rifleman (1958-1963); two of many film and television appearances featuring 1892 Winchesters.

Museum Services Specialist Dick Blust said that 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 sweetwatercountymuseum@outlook.com. There is no charge for the research service.