A manly diversion, shooting pigeons in the park

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Accuracy with a weapon has always been a trait to be admired. And proving that accuracy was considered “a manly diversion,” I imagine cavemen had spear throwing contests. Today, we go back to witness the great Captain Adam H. Bogardus shoot down small helpless birds with deadly accuracy.
Adam H. Bogardus, although born in New York, grew up in Elkhart, Illinois. During the Civil War, he did two short, 100-day stints in the Union Army; his job was sharpshooter. When the war was over, he found that the only skill that he had to make a living with, was his accuracy with a gun.
It wasn’t long before Bogardus was earning a good living traveling around the country, challenging the best local shots to a pigeon shooting contest. Money came not only from the prize purses for the match, but also from side bets he made against individual marksmen.
In February of 1874, a local Wilmington merchant and gaming man, Thomas Bulpin organized a shooting contest. We read in a letter to the Joliet Signal, “Our city has been quite enlivened the last few days by the presence of several well-known “Knights of the trigger,” who have visited us to take part in the little pigeon shooting enterprise gotten up by our friend Bulpin, who seems always alive to anything in the shape of manly diversion.
“The shooting came off on Wednesday, the 18th inst., on the race track – admirably adapted for the purpose; the river on one side and the range of bluffs on the other forming as suitable a place for the enjoyment of such sport as anywhere in the State.
“The champion shooter of America, Captain A. H. Bogardus, took part in the proceedings, also O. T. Cook of Joliet, Thomas Bestford of Morris, and several distinguished “shootists” from Braidwood, Chicago and elsewhere.
“The two first events were won by our young townsman, James Bogart — he killing all his birds without a single miss – thus placing himself among the foremost shots of the day.
“The noble ‘Captain’ also slaughtered the whole of his feathered victims, but was unfortunate in three of them falling outside of bounds. The second and third prizes in both sweepstakes resulted in ties, and a division between Messrs. Bogardus, Baldwin, Meredith and Cook.
“A match game was afterward made upon the ground to come off the following day between the veteran Bogardus and Bestford, to shoot at twenty-one birds each for one hundred dollars (about $2,500 today) a side, the Captain shooting at twenty-four yards from the trap and his opponent twenty-one; handle and trap for each other. The result at first was a tie, each man killing twelve birds. They agreed to shoot it off at three birds each, the first miss to lose. Bestford failed to kill his bird; Bogardus scored and won the match. The wind blew fresh from the river and the birds flew very swift.”
This is my take on that match and the results of that shooting match: Bogardus let himself be bested by a local boy on the first day, and only won second prize by shooting late so the birds would fall out of bounds. But I believe it was a shill that is, I believe he lost on purpose. Then when he challenged Bestford the following day, the odds against him would be greater, thus when he bet on himself, he would make more money. Simple.
And I think the editor of the Wilmington Advocate agrees with me. He had this to say, “If reports be true, the pigeon shooting match between Bogardus and Bestford on Thursday of last week, near this city, was a shameless, gambling fraud. Such “put up” matches are on a par with pocket-picking.”
The following year Bogardus won the American sharpshooting championship. He promptly left for England to defend his title, remaining there for three years.

In 1880, he returned to Joliet, using glass balls he had invented for the purpose, he gave a demonstration. “Capt. Bogardus and son, of Chicago, the champion shots of the country, furnished the sporting fraternity of Joliet considerable amusement last Wednesday evening at the Opera House. The Captain seldom misses a ball with the shot-gun, and exhibited his accuracy as well as rapidity of movement by breaking 50 glass balls in three minutes and four seconds. His son, aged only 16 years, is almost perfect with the rifle.”
In 1882, Bogardus broke 4,844 balls out of 5,000 over an eight hour and twenty-minute exhibition at Madison Square Garden in New York.

In 1883, Bogardus became partners with the great Buffalo Bill Cody in Cody’s Wild West Show. He put on nightly exhibitions of his skill, and eventually put his four boys into the act as well. However, he did not get on with Cody’s other partner, Dr. Carver and he parted company with the Wild West Show after one year.
Bogardus continued to put on exhibitions and take on all comers into his 70s, dying at the age of 79 in 1913. He is buried back in Elkhart next to Governor Oglesby. We read in his obituary, “Capt. Bogardus held the distinction of being the only person in the world who ever killed 100 live birds with 100 consecutive shots.”
In 1969, he was posthumously inducted into the Illinois Trap Shooters Hall of Fame.


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