Shooting Contests in Victorian America

Shooting Contests in Victorian America

Picture the typical “Town Social” in any community, in any Western state, throughout the latter-half of the nineteenth century. Such social gatherings–whether to celebrate a bountiful harvest (or the simple conclusion of the harvest), Independence Day, Founder’s Day, to celebrate the conclusion of a trying time–certain types of attractions seemed to be “on the program”. Dances (or “Balls”). Picnics. Parades. Bands playing in parades or seated, for audiences. Orators. Recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. Foot races. Horse races. Pie-eating contests. Pie-baking (taste-test) contests. Among many more, Shooting Contests were a favorite!

Competitions among marksmen weren’t limited to “home town events”. Sharpshooters traveled to regional and national competitions in the American Victorian era, just as they do today.

I want to focus on the smaller events, when capable gunmen pitted their talent and skill against others in the community. Why? Because I included a shooting contest in The Gunsmith’s Bride, title 6 in my Holidays in Mountain Home Series, on the occasion of Independence Day.

Though I selected a handful of Western shooting events to share in form of vintage newspaper clippings, I found many such references of shooting contests and competitions in New York, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, and elsewhere. It seems natural that sports men (and women) enjoyed in the East would eventually follow them as they migrated westward.

The Topeka Gun Club holds an all-day shoot contest on Thanksgiving. Reported in The Topeka State Journal of Topeka, Kansas, November 27, 1901.

The (Kansas) State Sportsmen’s annual meeting was occupied entirely with shooting contests. Reported in The Wichita Daily Eagle, of Wichita, Kansas, (initial report in Abilene, Kansas of May 14), on May 15, 1890.

Fourth of July Celebration includes Shooting Contest. Reported in the Cortland Register of Cortland, Kansas, on July 8, 1892. Part 1 of 2.

Fourth of July Celebration includes Shooting Contest. Reported in the Cortland Register of Cortland, Kansas, on July 8, 1892. Part 2 of 2.

The newspaper publisher had a quirky sense of humor… with more than a touch of sass. More information about the Fourth of July Celebration–and the event’s attendants (and lack thereof), along with who “almost won” the shooting contest, appeared in a separate snippet:

Two quips about the Fourth of July Celebration and “almost winning” the shooting contest. Courtland Register of Courtland, Kansas, on July 8, 1892.

Elsewhere, the same publisher inserted a snippet pronouncing the shooting contest a success:

“The celebration was a success in the fullest sense of the term.” Referencing program at the grounds, races, races, shooting contests, and game of ball, with a large crowd gathered to participate and observe. Courtland Register of Courtland, Kansas, on July 8, 1892.

FIND THE GUNSMITH’S BRIDE by Kristin Holt:

Learn more about the historical elements behind The Gunsmith’s Bride.

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Victorian America’s Harvest Celebrations

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