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Home > Books > Badminton > Chapter XXVI: Archery in the United States
Chapter XXVI
Archery in the United States
Part 4 of 4

The greatest distances covered by flight shots at the Grand National Meetings are 290 yards by Mr. Maxson at Natural Bridge, in 1891; 285 5/6; yards by Mr. Strong, at Dayton, in 1893; 210 1/3 yards by Mrs. Kern, at Dayton, in 1889, and 211 1/3 yards by Miss E. C. Cooke, at Natural Bridge, in 1891.

The records for team contests, teams of four, are held by the Highland Archers of Wyoming, Ohio:

     Gentlemen, 1888, 96 arrows at 60 yards, 316 hits 1636 score.
      Ladies, 1885, 96 arrows at 50 yards, 291 hits 1321 score.

Concurrent with the birth of the National, a number of smaller associations were formed in the several sections of the United States. Of these the leading were the Eastern, before referred to; the Western, embracing the clubs in the Mississippi Valley; the Pacific, composed of the archers in California, and the Ohio State Association. The Western soon became consolidated with the Ohio Association, which now includes the bowmen from that and all neighbouring States. Its meetings have been better attended than those of any other minor association, and it has produced the majority of the really expert archers of the United States. The Eastern Association flourished for several seasons, but now possesses few active members out of the vicinity of Washington, D.C.

The public meetings of the various archery societies show the same spirit of bustle that marks private practice. At both, round is crowded upon round till the programme includes more than double the shooting. that is done at the leading English meetings. This is due in part to the long distances that must be travelled, and the outlay of time and expense, which are so great that the competitors have grown to care more for the pleasure of much shooting than for a less number of shafts more effectively delivered. The conduct of the meetings has generally been excellent, and in the three days devoted to the matches of the National Association 639 arrows have usually been shot. To do this, many of the customs of the English range are set aside. The targets are generally set at but one end of the field. Three arrows are shot at an end, but two sets of three are shot before the archers advance to the targets to draw their shafts. Shooting begins at 9 A.M. and, each day closes after sunset. Business meetings occupy the evenings, and, as is the case with most American amusements, pastime and pleasure are forced till they become all but labour. This system is disapproved by the older bowmen, and a spirit has been developed which calls for the curtailing Of the number of contests, giving more opportunity for social intercourse on the range and better scoring at the targets. At the National Meeting for 1893 this feeling took practical form, and one of the Championship Rounds was dropped, an inter-sex match. being substituted therefor. The necessity for hurry has. prevented that study of each other's style of shooting which is: so essential to the onward progress of the sport. Few of the leading archers are able to score better now than they did several years ago.

The difficulty of attending public meetings, other than local, has, even when the pastime has been generally in vogue, limited the attendance, and the small number of opportunities thus: offered for match shooting has caused the American archer to fall greatly below his practice average when he has contested. at the National Meetings. Colonel Robert Williams was one of the few who could maintain a high average in public, and. his Double Yorks of 220-1042, at the Ohio State Association. Meeting in 1883, and 215-995, at the National Meeting in 1885, are still the American records. The national record for the Double American Round, made by Mr. Clark at Chautauqua in r 886, has been passed in two of the minor associations, and in the Ohio State meeting for 1883 Colonel Williams scored 177--1129, and at the meeting of the Potomac Valley Archers, October 6, 1888, at Washington, Mr. Maxson. scored 177-1193. Mrs. A. M. Phillips, of Battle Creek, Michigan, holds the National records for the Double National Round, 131-713, shot at Dayton, Ohio, in 1189, and Double Columbia Round, 142-980, shot at Washington in 1887. Mrs.. M. C. Howell has the honour of being the only American archer with a perfect record for hits at any round at a national meeting. At Norwood, Ohio, 1890, her score was, at the Double Columbia, 144-966.

It is instructive as well as interesting to contrast these records made at public meetings with the highest well-authenticated practice scores. At the Double York Round, Colonel Williams is easily first, having shot the Double Round August 9 and 10, 1885, as follows:--

100 yards 80 yards 60 yards Total Aggregate
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
59 293 45 239 24 176 128 708 259 1363
62 274 45 229 24 152 131 655

Few of his practice scores have been preserved, but in the fragmentary list of one of his fellow club-members are thirteen Double York Rounds of over 1,000 points, eleven of which were shot in 1883. No other American archer ever gave such promise as did Colonel Williams, and had he continued in practice the American record would without doubt have been greatly advanced.

For many years the record for the Double American Round remained as made by Mr. Clark at Wyoming, Ohio, August 22, 1883:--

60 yards 50 yards 40 yards Total
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
30 182 30 224 30 240 90 646

July 11, 1890, at Washington Grove, Maryland, Mr. Maxson raised this record, scoring in succession at the Single American Round:--

60 yards 50 yards 40 yards Total
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
30 186 30 202 30 242 90 630
30 204 30 210 30 234 90 348
30 210 30 216 30 240 90 666

Many bowmen have recorded fine scores at the Ohio Round (ninety-six arrows at 60 yards) at public meetings. At the Ohio State Meeting, in 1883, Colonel Williams scored 96-560; at Dayton, in 1889, Mr. Maxson scored 93-541, and at Natural Bridge, 91-531. In inter-club and other matches several higher records have been made, notably those of Colonel Williams in 1883 of 96-604, of A. Houston 94-604 and Mr. Clark 95-597 August 15, 1883, in a team contest between the Highland Archers of Wyoming, Ohio, and a picked team of Chicago bowmen. In a match between the same teams, August 8, 1883, H. S. Taylor of Chicago scored 93-607.

The following scores, made in practice by Mrs. Howell, the present lady champion, are also worthy of record:--

DOUBLE COLUMBIA ROUND, JUNE 30, 1884.

50 yards 40 yards 30 yards Total Aggregate
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
23 149 24 184 24 182 71 515 142 1048
23 163 24 174 24 196 71 533

SINGLE NATIONAL ROUND, JULY 25, 1883.

60 yards 50 yards Total
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
45 273 24 156 69 429

DOUBLE NATIONAL ROUND, JUNE 26, 1883

60 yards 50 yards Total Aggregate
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
40 214 22 122 62 336 131 735
45 263 24 136 69 399

As a rule American archers have favoured the short distances for practice, and at these some most excellent records have been made. A few clubs have continued their meetings throughout the year, shooting indoors during the winter. The Brooklyn Club for several seasons used the 14th regiment Armoury. That good archery practice is possible indoors is shown by the records of a match shot between Messrs. Nash and Brownell, December 17, 1882:--

NINETY-SIX ARROWS AT 60 YARDS

Name 1st 24 2nd 24 3rd 24 4th 24 Total
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
Mr. Nash 24 135 24 146 24 130 24 154 96 566
Mr. Brownell 23 141 21 111 21 101 23 141 88 494

Two additional scores were shot by Mr. Nash at 60 yards, making 23-157 and 24--148, total 143-871 for the 144 arrows. The only miss was a rebound, which, under the present system of scoring, would have counted 1--1, making the total 144-872. The 60-yards range has always been a favourite with American archers, and the annual Thanksgiving Day match, and most team contests, have been shot at this distance.

Prior to the adoption of the American as a Championship Round by the National Association, more attention was paid. to the York than it has since received. That the American bowmen were rapidly developing into fair long-range archers: is apparent from an inspection of the records of any of the public meetings of 1882 and 1883. Private matches at the York Round were also frequent, and I note one in October 1882, at the Double York, between three bowmen whose names are on the Championship roll of the National Association:--

Name 100 yards 80 yards 60 yards Total Aggregate
Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score Hits Score
R. Williams, jun. 50 254 45 209 21 137 116 600 229 1169
48 256 42 184 23 129 113 569
W. A. Clark 48 198 40 182 24 124 112 504 227 1099
47 219 44 228 24 148 115 595
Will H. Thompson 41 173 44 226 23 121 108 520 225 1063
50 194 43 217 24 132 117 543

Several specialities have been tried at the various meetings to give variety to the programme; those that have most interested the spectators were the flight and turtle-back shooting. In the latter a target is thrown upon the ground beyond a tree, or some other intervening object, and the archers, casting their arrows high into the air, seek to hit it. As the arrows are volleyed, the sight forms one of the prettiest features of the meeting. This is a mere adaptation of the manner in which the Indians kill turtles on the Orinoco River in South America. Roving has been but slightly practised in the United States. A few of the most expert shots have practised wing shooting with the bow, and Mr. Maurice Thompson holds the public record of thirty-eight and private record of forty-six glass balls out of fifty thrown up at twelve yards distance.

At the beginning of the present archery epoch, equipments were either crudely made by amateurs or imported from abroad. As the pastime grew in popular favour, the demand for bows, arrows, &c., offered strong inducement for American manufacturers to compete in their production. Several of the large sporting houses and fancy-wood-workers, obtaining English equipments as models, quickly put upon the market some good tackle. Instead of the customary deal of imported arrows, a heavier yellow pine was often used in the production of the shafts, thus giving greater stiffness for a given weight. Many experiments were tried, but an arrow was finally adopted, similar to the balloon feathered shaft of England, which is now in general use.

Bows were also manufactured, some of excellent character. W. N. Granger, of Buffalo, N.Y., before retiring from the business, produced some of the finest weapons ever used in this country. These were close copies of the English bow, but were soon superseded in the hands of many by the raw-hide backed weapon, invented by Mr. Sutton., of New York. This was made by cementing a strip of green hide upon the back of a stave of yew, lemon, or other wood. This gave to these bows a sharp reflex action, and enabled dense breakable woods of quick cast to be used with safety. These weapons were based on the composite bows of the North American Indians (described in Chapter III.) These bows never became generally popular, owing to a tendency to grow sluggish with use. They were, however, capable of excellent service, and it was with a 51-lb. bow of this kind that Mr. Maxson his his three leading American Rounds before referred to.

Piece-bows also sought the popular favour, and one of three pieces, bent to Cupid shape, was especially worthy of notice. Its high arched limbs, so pleasing to the eye, insured its ruin for the bow could not be kept well in hand, and arrows had a bewildering tendency to throw to one side of the mark. The crest of the limbs soon gave way, the fibres having been weakened in bending the blank or stave. Few of these weapons found favour with veteran archers.

Another bow was put on sale, but never won success, save as a toy; a reversible weapon, elliptical in section, whose limbs were inserted in a socketed handle, with a central opening. The inventors claimed that by passing the arrow through the centre, instead of to one side of the weapon, greater accuracy of aim was possible. This device quickly led to the production of another --an arrow with bristles set in kerfs or slots, instead of feathers. The latter were quickly ruined in passing through the bow-handle, but the bristles maintained their stiffness after long use.

As archery declined in popular favour, the production of good tackle ceased, and for several years nearly all goods have been imported from England.

America furnishes many woods well adapted for the manufacture of bows. Mulberry, bois d'arc or Osage orange, sassafras, southern cedar, black locust, black walnut, slippery elm, iron wood, mountain ash, and the common hickory are all fair bow timber; but the lack of expert makers has rendered it easier to secure an English lance-wood or yew of good quality than to obtain a satisfactory weapon of native material and workmanship. Californian yew affords an excellent bowstave, but little of it has been. used, as bowmen -- who prefer the yew tree-generally select the denser growth of Europe. Some most excellent weapons were made from this material in San Francisco and New York about 1880 to 1882, and, when backed with raw hide or hickory, shot as well as Spanish yew of much greater cost.

Bois d'arc, which is especially abundant throughout the Mississippi Valley, gives a bow of remarkably quick cast, and, when backed with hickory, makes a weapon that is well adapted to the climate of the United States. The dense bone-like wood is little affected by changes in temperature, and retains nearly its full power after long-continued use. This is an essential quality for a bow in America, for, even during the course of a summer day, the range of temperature and humidity of the atmosphere are such as greatly to alter the cast of a weapon made from any of the softer woods. As a result, a lance or other hard-wood bow is preferred by most archers to the finest yew.

Northern hemlock and southern cedar do excellent service for a time, but the fibre of the wood becomes compressed and they soon pack and lose their elasticity. Mulberry has proved an excellent wood for a hunting how, standing rough usage well, but owing to its somewhat heavy action has been little used before the targets. Except in weapons made by amateurs few of the native woods have had a fair test; but even these have shown that, when well made, many of the American woods afford excellent material for either self or backed bows.

Lacking in traditions of the pastime, engrossed in the struggle for riches and position-which is a marked characteristic of all new countries with no aristocracy or wealth and leisure intent on amusement, America has not afforded an auspicious field for the popular and permanent engrafting of archery. Capital has centred in the larger cities, and in few of these are found public parks adapted to the sport. Ranges have been sought in the suburbs, often with no ready means of rapid transit. As the membership of clubs has commonly been drawn from the mercantile and professional classes, only the closing hours of the day have been given to club practice. Such have been some of the hindrances to the growth of archery; but these alone do not account for the rapid decline of a form of field sport that for a season swept the country from ocean to ocean. Two causes have been most potent. In their desire to excel, the older bowmen have deserted the shorter ranges, time permitting but one class of distances to be shot, and few experts have been found on the club grounds with leisure or good will to properly coach the novice. Few take naturally to the use of the bow, and the untaught enthusiast has quickly left the range, discouraged by his want of success, and with a distaste for a sport which he bas never understood. The only clubs which have maintained a vigorous growth throughout their history are those which have adhered to the shorter distances at regular club meetings. Then, too, the lack of a really first-class publication, open to the scores and discussion of matters of common interest to the widely-scattered bowmen, has hindered the active growth of the pastime: Printer's ink largely caused the revival of archery in this country, and by printer's ink --if at all-- it must maintain its hold on the American public.

Tennis and other sports less exacting in time and practice have beguiled many erstwhile archers from their fealty to the bow, so that prominent archers are now no more numerous than clubs were in 1882 or 1883. America is not lacking in material from which in time a large body of archers may be drawn, but those with leisure and taste for the sport are so scattered that compact club organisation seems at present impossible.

The National, Eastern, Ohio, and recently-revived Pacific Associations are slowly gaining ground, while individual archers, here and there, are taking up the pastime. The press is alert for articles on the subject, and, during the past season (1893) archery has largely supplanted tennis at several of the summer haunts of wealth and fashion. These are auspicious signs, but indicate rather the slow and steady growth of archery than its general adoption as a popular national pastime.

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