This morning during breakfast I broke routine. Instead of watching Today like I usually do, I flipped channels during a commercial. I ended up on the History Channel which had a program about Sharp Shooters.
Normally I wouldn’t have watched it, but I just happened to tune in when they were profiling a husband and wife showman shooting team. Apparently they were quite the rage once upon a time.
“…we became widely known as the world’s greatest shooting team – The Famous Topperweins. Man, those were the days! Whole towns turned out to see us perform; schools were closed in order that the kids might come and witness the crack shooting exhibitions.” ~-Ad Toepperwein-~
Their story was a very sweet one. It kind of had a fairy tale-ish quality to it.
The Prince: Adolph Toepperwein
Born in 1869, Ad Toepperwein was born with guns in his blood. His dad custom built buffalo rifles and introduced Ad to weapons early. By the time he was 10, shooting at targets (and nailing them) was as natural as breathing.
His heroes of the day were the marksmen of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But he claimed early on that one day he’d best the likes of Doc Carver and Captain Bartlett.
He had somewhat of a fairy tale rise to fame. For even though he was born to the gun, he was not born to a showman family. He was working at a crockery job in San Antonio before fate thrust him on the vaudeville circuit.
But he didn’t stay on the circuit. He got bored with it. When the Winchester Repeating Arms Company offered him a job as a contract exhibition shooter to demonstrate their product, he took it. That’s how it was he came to meet his future wife.
Meeting His Princess-to-Be, Elizabeth Servaty
Described as a “vivacious 18-year old redhead,” Elizabeth worked at one of Winchester’s plants assembling cartridges. It was during a visit to that plant that Ad met Elizabeth.
The details are sketchy. One report says they met at a pump in the town’s common, not at the plant itself. But another report says she did catch his eye at the plant because of how fast she was loading the cartridges.
However it was that they actually met, the fact was they were married rather quickly after doing so.
“Well sir, to make a short story shorter, we hit it off right away and were married a few weeks later.” ~-Ad Toepperwein-~
The Act Becomes a Family Affair
Ad took Elizabeth back to home base in Texas, where they stayed with his mother and sister. But Elizabeth didn’t want to stay home while he was on the road. She wanted to go with him.
So he taught her how to shoot and she picked it right up. From them on they were inseparable.
“It sure pleased me when she took an interest in my shooting – most women were scared of guns in those days, you know. I taught her to shoot and soon after we were married Elizabeth was part of my act on my tours, shooting one-inch pieces of chalk from between my fingers, shooting empty shells off my fingers, and other feats of skill. Later on, she won the title of world’s champion woman marksman.” ~-Ad Toepperwein-~
End of the Show
Ad and Elizabeth (who became known as Pinky) toured together doing shooting shows for over 40 years. Pinky became so expert with weapons she was definitely the elite among women, but was arguably also the best among men too. Some even argued she was a better marksman than her husband.
When she died in 1945, so did their act. Ad retired from Winchester in 1951, but stayed connected to shooting via training and instruction. Bad eyesight kept him from actually doing it anymore though. He died in 1962.
Quotes were gleaned from the Showman Shooter site.