The Evans Repeating Rifle was a lever-action repeating rifle designed by Warren R. Evans as a high capacity rifle.
The Evans Repeater is one of the oddest rifles to ever be produced in the United States. The Evans was invented by Warren R. Evans, a dentist from Thomaston, Maine. With the help of his brother George, they perfected the rifle and started the "Evans Rifle Manufacturing Company" of Mechanic Falls, Maine in 1873. Their rifles were marketed by Merwin & Hulbert. The hope was that the rifle would be issued by the United States Army, but the rifle failed the standard dust test.
It was then offered as a sporting rifle. The rifle has a radial block receiver similar to the Spencer, but the rounds were fed from a Archimedean-screw magazine which formed the spine of the rifle stock and could hold up to 34 rounds. The fluted cartridge carrier made a quarter turn each time the lever was operated, feeding a new cartridge into the breech.
The round was unique to the rifle and hard to find. As stated earlier the mechanism of the rifle was not very sturdy and did not do well with such things as dust. Not a good thing in the Wyoming Territory in 1875. The rifle was heavy. It is not a natural pointer. Nevertheless the Evans Repeating Rifle has lately become something of a collector's item and prices are going up. Whatever its faults it's a fascinating part of United States firearms history. The Evans Repeating Rifle Company went bankrupt in December 1879. A victim of the post war arms glut, keen competition and the time.
A total of almost 15,000 Evans repeating rifle were produced between 1873 and 1879. Fortunately for today’s collector a good portion of these survive. There are a number of them advertised in various antique arms publications. The Evans repeating rifle holds the distinction of being the only firearm ever mass-produced in the state of Maine. It also had the greatest magazine capacity of any rifle mass-produced in the 19th Century.
The basic design of the Evans repeating rifle is similar to the Spencer Repeating Rifle. The Evans has a rotary magazine in the buttstock, cartridges are fed to the breech by cycling the cocking lever/trigger guard. The magazine tube of the Evans is much larger than that of the Spencer. It holds four rows of cartridges which are loaded through a trapdoor in the buttplate. Each time the action is cycled, the magazine feeds the next cartridge to the breech in a barber's pole fashion.
Old Model Edit
The first model or what is now known as the old model was made from 1873 to 1876. This model is easily distinguished from the later models by the fact that it has only an upper buttstock. The magazine tube is exposed and runs along the bottom of the stock. Also the ejection port has no dust cover. Approximately 500 old models were produced. Of these the very first (estimated serial numbers 1 to 200) have no cocking lever retaining stud on the underside of the magazine tube. Old models made after these have a stud or a locking nut to hold the lever in place. Barrel markings on the old models are as follows: “Evans Repeating Rifle/Pat. Dec 8, 1868 & Sept. 16, 1871”.
Old model Evans rifles were made in the following configurations:
- Sporting Rifle:
- Walnut stock, checkering and engraving available on special order. 26”, 28” and 30” octagon barrels. Estimated quantity made - 300.
- Military musket:
- 30” round barrel, full forend retained with 2 barrel bands. Estimated quantity made - 50.
- 22” round barrel, short forend retained with a single barrel band. Sling swivels. Estimated quantity made - 150.
Transition Model Edit
By early 1876 the so-called transition model was in production. The primary difference between this and the old model is that the transition model has a two-piece buttstock and a redesigned buttplate. This improved the balance of the rifle and offered better protection of the magazine from damage or dents which could jam the action. Barrel markings on the transition model are as follows: “Evans Repeating Rifle Mechanic Falls Me./Pat, Dec. 8, 1868 & Sept. 16, 1871”.
Transition model Evans rifles were made in the following configurations:
- Sporting Rifle:
- Walnut stock, checkering and engraving available on special order. 26”, 28” and 30” octagon barrels. Estimated quantity made - 1050.
- Military musket:
- 30” round barrel, full forend retained with 2 or 3 barrel bands. Estimated quantity made - 150.
- 22” round barrel, short forend, single barrel band, sling swivels. Estimated quantity made - 450.
- Montreal Carbine:
- A rare variation believed to have been sold in Canada by Ralph H. Kilby. A sporting goods dealer in Montreal and Evans’ Canadian agent. Estimated quantity made - less than 100.
New Model Edit
The company received numerous testimonials from its customers. One of the more colorful ones came from Kit Carson Template:CquoteTestimonials like this were great advertising and highly sought after by all the arms companies. The Evans repeater was also used by William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
Requests soon reached the factory from the far west for a more powerful cartridge. George Evans listened and then went to work. The new cartridge together with numerous improvements in the design were combined to make the new model Evans repeating rifle. By the summer of 1877 the new model was perfected and put into production.
The new model is easily distinguished by its larger, more robust receiver and sliding dust cover over the ejection port. The front edge of the receiver is cut straight not scalloped as in the old and transition models. The new model was chambered for a 1 ½” long .44 caliber cartridge case. Previous models used a 1” long case of the same caliber. The increased length of the new cartridge necessitated a reduction in magazine capacity to only 28 rounds. Barrel markings are the same as the transition model except with the addition of “U.S.A.”.
New model Evans rifles were made into the following configurations:
- Sporting Rifle:
- Walnut stock, checkering and engraving available on special order. 26”, 28” and 30” octagon barrels. Estimated quantity made - 3,000.
- Military musket:
- 30” round barrel, full forend retained with 2 barrel bands, many converted to sporting rifle. Estimated quantity made - 3,000.
- 22” round barrel, short forend retained by a single barrel band, occasionally with a bayonet mounting stud. Estimated quantity made - 4,000 plus.
- “Evans Sporting Rifle” marked rifles:
- Rifles found with this instead of the usual markings are believed to have been assembled from parts after the company went bankrupt in 1879. These were mostly 30” round barrel military muskets which had a short forend attached with a screw. This forend is quite different from the usual sporting forend.
When Warren Evans designed his rifle he also had to design his own cartridge. What he came up with is now known as the .44 Evans short. This is noted in the factory catalogs as being a 1” shell. The original cartridges were loaded with 33 grains of black powder and a 220 grain lead bullet. This gave a velocity of about 850 fps. The more common new model Evans rifle used the 11/2” case. This was known as the “.44 New Model” cartridge. The original cartridges were loaded with 40 to 43 grains of black powder and lead bullets ranging from 275 to 300 grains. With a 280 grain bullet velocity was about 1200 fps. Both cartridges were loaded by Winchester up to the early 1920s.