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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Ad Toepperwein,
Trick Shot Artist

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

When it came to handling a shooting iron, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok and even Barney Fife were rank amateurs compared to Ad Toepperwein, the greatest trick shot artist in history. What Babe Ruth is to baseball, Ad Toepperwein is to sharpshooting.

Adolph Toepperwein (sometimes misspelled Topperwein) was born in Boerne on October 17, 1869. When Ad was a child the family moved down the road to Leon Springs where Ad's father worked as a gunsmith. By age 10 Ad was a crack shot with a crossbow and just about any kind of firearm.

Ad worked as a cartoonist for the San Antonio Express but found his true calling after watching famed 19th century sharpshooter W. F. "Doc" Carter who came to San Antonio with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Ad quit his job at the newspaper and joined a vaudeville troupe in New York as a trick shot artist.

In 1901a representative of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company of New Haven, Connecticut saw Ad shoot and hired him to represent the company at shooting exhibitions. The relationship lasted 50 years.

While visiting the Winchester factory at New Haven, Ad met Elizabeth Servaty, a Winchester employee. They married in 1903. Although Elizabeth had never fired a gun in her life she learned the art of shooting from her husband. For the next 40 years they lived in San Antonio but traveled the world doing shooting exhibitions.

Ad Toepperwein could cut a playing card in half, edgeways, with one shot. He could eject a shell from his Winchester repeating rifle and then hit the shell with a bullet before the shell hit the ground.

He once shot 85 out of 100 clay targets while riding at 30 mph in an automobile. He tossed the targets in the air himself.

He threw 5 eggs into the air, picked up his Winchester .22 rifle and shot all 5 eggs before they hit the ground. He tossed 3 eggs in the air and shot each egg with a different rifle.

He could shoot at sheet metal from 50 yards and do portraits of Uncle Sam and Indian chiefs.

While a number of trick shot artists would shoot clay targets held by an assistant, Ad Toepperwein went one better. He made the shot backwards using a mirror.

He would place 2 targets 40 yards apart. While sitting in a chair between the 2 targets, he would aim a pistol at the target in front; then with his other hand, he would aim at the target behind him using a mirror. He would then shoot both pistols simultaneously and shatter both targets at once.

His greatest stunt took place in San Antonio in 1917. For 10 straight days, 8 hours a day, he shot at 2 inch wooden blocks tossed in the air by an assistant. Out of 72,500 blocks he missed 9. His first miss was on the 7,000th block. He had to stop shooting when he shot up all the ammunition in San Antonio.

Elizabeth "Plinkey" Toepperwein, no slouch herself, would shoot empty shotgun shells off her husband's fingers and then shoot a crayon out of his mouth. Trap shooting was her specialty. She hit 100 targets in a row over 100 times.

Ad and Plinkey Toepperwein were celebrities - rock stars of their time.

Bexar County Judge Frost Woodhull was frantic after losing an expensive gold pocket watch and fob. The watch he didn't care about but the fob was a priceless piece of weathered buckskin that held a Mexican Peso pierced by a bullet from Ad Toepperwein's rifle.

On a fishing trip near Uvalde a group of anglers was mystified to find an Indian chief in full headdress outlined on the face of a cliff above the river. Certain they had found a pictograph from an ancient civilization, the anglers called in experts on Native American cultures to have a look. The controversy went on for weeks.

When Ad Toepperwein could stand the fun no longer he admitted he created the image several months earlier with a .22 rifle while sitting in a boat tied to the opposite bank.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" June 1, 2020 Column

Sources:
"Fowling and Fowlers," San Antonio Light, March 20, 1898.
"Toepperwein In The Hall," San Antonio Light, September 11, 1966.
"The Toepperwein Legend," San Antonio Express, March 18, 1962.
"Adolph Toepperwein," The Handbook of Texas.



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