If a .45-70 lever gun was Winchester’s Holy Grail, then John Moses Browning was their Sir Galahad. Ever since the introduction of the .45-70 Government cartridge in 1873, Winchester had been on a quest to develop a lever action rifle that could handle it. Unfortunately, Winchester was unable to think past the toggle link action that made its first appearance in the Volcanic pistol of 1848.
That toggle link action eventually made its way into the 1860 Henry rifle and the Winchester rifles of 1866 and 1873. It was a good action for the time, and it would have been strong enough to handle the .45-70. Unfortunately they couldn’t accommodate the .45-70 round’s overall length. Winchester ended up stretching the toggle link action into the massive model 1876, but it was still too short for the .45-70.
Winchester probably experienced a scare when the great firearms design genius of the mid-19th century, Andrew Burgess, designed not one but two lever actions that could fire the .45-70 Government round. First came the Whitney-Kennedy Long Range Rifle in 1878. However, even though the Whitney-Kennedy submitted rifles chambered in .45-70 to the army for trials, most of their rifles were chambered for the .45-60 and .40-60 Winchester cartridges.
Winchester was more concerned with the second rifle Burgess designed. This was the Marlin model 1881. This rifle was one of the few repeaters that found favor with buffalo hunters. Quite a few of these Marlins were used in the 1880 to 1884 slaughter of the northern buffalo herd…the last big commercial buffalo hunt of the century.