The rifle was the invention of New Jersey arms designer John W Keene. Keene had been working on his bolt-action repeating rifle since the early 1870s and eventually received nine separate patents pertaining to the design.
Keene's rifle came to the attention of the Remington Arms Company. Remington was seeking a bolt-action repeater that might be acceptable to an U.S. Ordnance Department trial that was to be convened in 1878.
An agreement between Keene and Remington was reached for the company to fabricate several prototype Keene rifles for submission to the Board.
The rifle operated in more or less in the typical bolt action fashion. The action was unlocked by raising the bolt upward, and the empty case was extracted and ejected by pulling the bolt to the rear. As the bolt was almost fully retracted, the "magazine elevator" (as it was called by the inventor) raised a fresh cartridge from the tubular magazine into position in the breech so it could be chambered when the bolt was pushed forward. Manipulation of the bolt also automatically cocked the cocking piece, which was fashioned in the shape of an external hammer. It could be lowered to "half cock" to function as, a safety. As with most of the other bolt-action military repeating rifles of the time the Keene was fitted with a magazine cut-off to permit it to function as a single shot, with the contents of the magazine held in reserve for "emergency" use.
The magazine tube is loaded through a loading gate in the bottom of the receiver in front of the trigger guard similar to many modern slide action shotguns.
Although the "Remington-Keene," as it came to be known, was rejected by the 1878 Ordnance Board, the rifle performed well enough to justify the faith that Remington had in the design. The Remington-Keene was subsequently produced the in several configurations for the civilian market, chambered for .45-70, .60-40, and .43 Spanish. Remington manufactured the rifle from 1880 - 1885 with only around 5,000 rifles produced.
The United States Department of the Interior purchased an estimated 600 Frontier Model carbines with 24 inch barrels to arm the Indian Police on a number of reservations in the western United States.
In 1880 the US Government did purchase a few rifles. The US. Naval Bureau of Ordnance, ordered 250 trial Remington-Keene "Navy" rifles. This variant weighed approximately 9 lbs. and was about 48" in length with a 29¼" barrel secured by two bands. The magazine held nine .45-70-405 cartridges. These rifles remained in service for less than a decade aboard USS Trenton and USS Michigan.
The cost of the new machinery for the Keene rifles in return for the slow sales, helped push Remington into bankruptcy and when the company went into receivership in 1886, production ended on these guns for good. When they started back up in 1887, they did so with their Rolling Block Remington No. 1 rifles.
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