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Advent of the Fancy Shooters

The more time Adam Bogardus spent hunting, the less inclined he was to slave away in his carpentry shop. He had led a volunteer company in the Union Army for six months in 1863, but on return found himself drifting away from civic interest in his adopted town of Elkhart, Illinois. Being confronted with the grisly tableaux of battle and thinking of the large family that he left behind produced unexpected changes in his attitude. Some men come back from war and put down their guns forever. Adam Bogardus came back from war and found that hunting game, his passion since a boy, was the one activity that brought focus to his life.

He excelled in handling a shotgun�as had been the case since his boyhood days outside of Albany, New York. Forsaking carpentry, Adam now joined the ranks of a uniquely American vocation�he became a market hunter. He killed birds�grouse, snipe, duck, turkey, quail, woodcock�not for his own table, but for shipment to the restaurants of booming Chicago and St. Louis. He shot them in vast quantities, unburdened by nonexistent game limit laws. It was a lucrative�and envious�livelihood. His stature in the community rose as he changed from a mediocre carpenter to an expert hunter. 

It was inevitable that challenges to his ability from other shooters found their way to Bogardus. It was also fortuitous, because he was tied to Elkhart by family and by proximity to markets, but non-migratory fowl were getting scarcer, and competition from other market hunters more aggressive. Bogardus wasn�t keen on accepting the first challenge he received�he didn�t like to best men he didn�t know, and shooting at pigeons released from traps did not appeal to him as a test of skill. In 1868 he accepted his first challenge to shoot against another man with a prize of $200 in the balance. He won by a score of 46 birds to 40. In just a few minutes, he had earned as much as he usually did for selling over 1300 birds to the restaurant trade. He wasted little more time on market hunting and started sending out challenges of his own. 

It did not take long for Bogardus to realize that in man-to-man competition, a little gamesmanship went a long way. He started to refer to himself as �Captain Bogardus�, a rank he earned in the War, and an honorific that immediately commanded respect. He purchased nattily tailored attire to shoot in, and made a point of appearing well-groomed. He arrived at shoots with several expensive guns, stored in hand-crafted cases. He often suggested matches where decorative badges were also at stake; and posed for public photographs wearing those gaudy medals. Some opponents must have felt they had lost before a single shot was fired. 

In the 1870s, as the Captain�s collections of medals grew, he faced two problems. First, he was running short of competition�he had beaten all comers, including State champions and the champion wing shot of Canada. Since the posted purse was supplemented by numerous side bets among the crowd, the sport needed a semblance of competition. As a result, the shooting meets grew from a single test to multiple events, such as shooting two birds at a time, or shooting against a clock, or shooting from a moving wagon. To attract crowds, Bogardus even invented a special fireworks cartridge to be fired from a rifle.

The second problem was that the size of the meets combined with the number of events required literally thousands of live target pigeons�wild pigeons�passenger pigeons. There were still large flocks of passenger pigeons in the 1870s, but not as many as earlier in the nation�s history, when passenger pigeons had been the most abundant bird on the planet. For trap shoots, pigeons were caught on the ground in nets after eating alcohol-spiked grain; or after being drawn to a blinded  live decoy tied to a little perch�a stool pigeon. Moreover, the pigeons, once despised by nearly all European settlers as flying vermin, now actually had human defenders in the form of a new national organization (founded in 1866) called the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Bogardus and his cohorts were somewhat stunned to find that their pigeon shoots weren�t welcome in many eastern cities, which was an irritant because that is where the high-stakes gamblers lived. 

Bogardus approached these problems as a challenge to his ingenuity. An alternative to live targets was needed in order for shooting competitions to draw crowds. A glass ball target had been developed in England along with a special sling to hurl it, but it was heavy and could not be thrown more than 30 feet or so. He commissioned lighter glass balls and designed a new sling mechanism to throw them, and then staged shooting exhibitions at major city venues to promote these innovations. The result was a revolution in trap shooting. The fragile targets allowed breech loading shotguns and light shot to be used, greatly increasing reloading speed and easing the effects of recoil. In March, 1877, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Bogardus shot 1000 balls in one hour and forty minutes. The glass targets breathed new life into wing shooting competitions and exhibitions; they attracted the attention of expert rifle and pistol shots, as well, and a new form of popular attraction was presented to the American public: fancy shooting. 

Adam Bogardus' reign as the most famous shooter in America was short-lived. An audacious challenge was delivered to Bogardus from California, from an upstart who claimed he could best all of Bogardus' feats and, moreover, could do so with a rifle and not a shotgun. As he traveled eastward, the new sensation gave demonstrations of his astounding skill. The gauntlet was thrown by William Frank "Doc" Carver while Bogardus was touring Europe, but by the time Bogardus arrived back in the United States, Carver had left on his own three-year European tour. The match between the two champions would not take place until well into the 1880s.

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Phoebe Moses could often be found stalking the western Ohio woodlands, her dogs padding alongside. She was a talented wing shot, but credited the dogs with much of her success as a market hunter. At 15, she was already a calculating businesswoman. The income from the game birds she harvested had already paid off the $200 mortgage on her mother�s home. Phoebe had begun working towards that goal only a few months earlier, on her return to her family�s household from the county poor farm. When Phoebe was 10, necessity had forced her mother to send the girl to the poorhouse as a ward. Those years of banishment included a long stretch of servitude to a local farmer and his wife, who treated her cruelly. She had learned sewing and embroidery at the poor farm, but hunting earned quicker profits than needlework. She became adept with the rifle in just a few weeks. 

Most people in Greenville knew about the hardships Phoebe had endured, and so the admiration for her determination outweighed the view that her vocation was inappropriate for a woman. Phoebe herself allowed no opening for that criticism: she always dressed in long skirts, never behaved improperly, and presented a cheerful demeanor. Mr. Katzenburger at the general store bought her bags of quail, grouse, and woodcocks and made a fair profit from it. A few locals tested their shooting ability against hers, and walked away acknowledging her superiority. 

The Greenville citizens did not lack pride in their town. Like any other burg,  Greenville had a segment of the population prone to wagering. So it was not unexpected that Phoebe�s shooting talents were bragged about and hypothetically compared against the famous expert shots mentioned in the newspapers. In November of 1875, a hotel owner in Cincinnati overheard some of these Greenville sports talking, and directed their attention to a current guest, a professional exhibition shooter named Frank Butler. The Greenville contingent raised $100 to pit Moses against Butler, and he accepted the offer. 

Frank Butler was 26 years old, but had only begun exhibition shooting a few years earlier. He had toured with a circus, and also built a shooting act to perform in music halls. He was trying to break into the first rank of  expert rifle shots, and needed competition victories to support his show business career. To this effect, he anointed himself as a "champion" and issued challenges to all comers. When Frank Butler arrived at the designated spot for the shoot against Moses, he already knew his opponent was to be a woman; a win would not enhance his reputation much, but the prospect of a hundred dollar payday tipped the balance. What he did not expect was that Phoebe Moses was so young, so petite, so self-assured, and, yes, beautiful. Butler, like Bogardus, was used to intimidating his opponents with natty attire, few words, and expensive equipment. On this occasion, however, it was Butler that was caught off balance. Phoebe stepped up to the line and hit the first glass target thrown. 

Frank Butler recovered his composure and knocked down his first ball. They traded more solid hits, one after another. After 40 minutes the tally stood tied at 24 hits apiece, with no misses. It was Butler�s turn to start the next round; he missed. Phoebe paused before stepping to the line, but when she did, Butler saw from the resolve on her face that this contest was over. She hit the target, and the hundred or so spectators broke into a cheer for their local heroine. Frank wanted to stand before them and make a grand show of graciously handing over his stake. He was told to call the girl not by her first name, but by the nickname derived from her middle name, Anne. It dawned on Frank that he had not only just lost a hundred dollars, but had also his heart stolen by Annie Moses. 
























Adam H. Bogardus, Champion Shooter

The Passenger Pigeon; too good a target



Bogardus glass target balls. The crosshatch panes made them shatter more easily.




Phoebe Moses of Darke County, Ohio



Sharpshooter Frank Butler

Jerry Kuntz � 1997-2006 | All Rights Reserved | Contact