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Bogardus and Carver

‘Captain’ Bogardus and ‘Doc’ Carver had a deep impact on British and American shooting in the 1870s and ‘80s. Bogardus was not a military man and Carver was certainly no doctor (nor dentist as suggested in some accounts). Nevertheless, both did a great deal to promote pigeon, glass ball and, later, clay shooting.

Bogardus arrived in England in 1878, Carver in 1879. Their itinerary included exhibitions and challenge matches for high stakes. Both would later work with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show – which began circa 1883 but arrived in England for the first time in 1887 – both would enter into partnership with William Cody and regret it.

Carver was in litigation with the now iconic figure over various matters and claims to have lent him the money to develop the original Western show (allegedly $29,000). Doc records that Cody was a drunk who he had to periodically disarm and who their mutual acquaintance Wild Bill Hickok, a serious hombre by any account, had once forced to his knees and threatened to shoot. Bogardus also experienced ill luck when associated with Cody, not least when a riverboat containing his guns and all the props and animals for a new Cody-Bogardus show went down in a river-boat disaster. A little known female trick-shooter, Annie Oakley, took his place…

These financial disasters and personal peccadilloes not withstanding, Bogardus and Carver were the headliners amongst a new breed of performer – the exhibition shooters. Their exploits were legend.

Bogardus in Britain

Contemporary accounts tells us that Bogardus succeeded in scoring 99 birds out of a hundred in a match in the United States against an Englishman, Rimmel. His performances on English soil were not quite as impressive. In a match in 1878 with a British crack-shot called Wallace at £100 a side, he tied on 69 (which sounds a low score ex 100 save for the fact that the shooting was at 30 yards rise and the British Blue Rocks were much tougher bird than the US pigeons). A decider was arranged with stakes doubled. Bogardus lost to Wallace 62 to 71.

The wily pro had better luck with Cholmondeley-Pennell, an acknowledged ‘crack’, who he defeated twice, and with Captain Shelly, who he defeated at 30 yards rise for £200 a side by the wide margin of 20 birds (84-64). In this much reported contest he used a choked 12 bore Scott gun weighing 10 pounds. Bogardus’s greatest victory as far as financial reward was concerned was with Aubrey Coventry for £1000 in 1878 (a vast amount when one considers that £50 might buy a cottage in this era). He had some back luck in this, but still managed to win by one bird shooting 79 to his opponent’s 78 (again, at the expert’s distance of thirty yards). Typically, his scores were in the high seventies. This may sound low, but Greener confirms that they were, in fact ‘amongst the best ever made in England.’

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If one reads Bogardus’s own account of his 1878 visit to the United Kingdom (one appears in the Appendix of his book Field, Cover and Trap shooting). The Captain is fulsome in praise of all things English: 

“…during all my stay in England, I met with kindness and courtesy on every hand, especially from the press, and I am convinced that any straightforward man who may go there will never have to complain of his reception by English sportsmen. The truth is, it is rather the other way, and some mercenary charlatans have been tolerated and applauded in London when they ought to have been discouraged and denounced.”

Carver Follows On

Doc Carver arrived in England early in 1879 hot on the Captain’s heels (maybe he fell victim to Bogardus’s own rather inflated accounts of his rich winnings in England). In Bell’s Life of February 22 1879, following the Captain’s example, he issued a challenge to the sportsmen of ‘England or the world.’ It must have seemed quite exotic to the club-men of London, as its terms encompassed horseback shooting and rifle shooting – not quite the thing at Hurlingham – as well as conventional trap shooting. Carver attracted some attention on Rotten Row in Hyde Park, meantime, where he decided to ride out in full western gear. The Whitehall Review of April 3rd noted ‘The man an athlete, the horse, a picture.’  Apparently PR is not a modern science.

Carver shot a variety of matches and gave exhibitions with his lever-action Winchester ‘73s before being invited to Sandringham. There he performed one of his greatest recorded feats – breaking 100 glass balls straight with a rifle – in front of the Prince of Wales and guests. It was reported in the April 19th issue of The Field. In the same month he got some less welcome publicity, a London Policeman accidentally shot his black assistant, Jim Williams, while Carver was performing his shooting act at the Crystal Palace. Curiosity had caused the man to pick up one of Carver’s guns which, for no reason, he had assumed unloaded. Thankfully Jim recovered.

WW Greener and others supply detail on Carver’s conventional matches. He beat W Scott 66 to 62 on February 7, 1881, at the Union Gun Club, Hendon in a contest under the auspices of the International Polo and Gun Club. The weather conditions being ‘vile’ and the birds ‘the finest and quickest seen during the winter.’ The following month, he beat him again, at the Upper Welsh Harp at Hendon, 79 to 74 – the match being a 100 birds at 30 yards rise. This contest was the final of a three day event – 14th,15th,16th March 1881 (between his arrival and this date, Carver had travelled with his show on the Continent, apparently developing a formula later improved by Cody).  Greener was happy to report that Carver used a Greener choke-bore, and WW continued to report on Carver’s victories with a Greener in his advertising throughout the 1880s.

Bogardus, who preferred a 10 pound W&C Scott 12 bore, was an exponent of relatively light pellet payloads and small shot – his preference for pigeons was No. 8 shot – driven by large powder charges. Stuart-Wortley notes the American beating Captain Shelley [he actually beat Shelley by twenty birds, the final score being 84 to 64] easily at the gun club and comments that soon after many British pigeon shots adopted heavy guns with ‘smashing charges of powder’ [Bogardus sometimes used nearly 5 drachms]. These were evidently something of a revelation to British sportsmen and led the Gun Club to change its rules (around 1880) limiting the charge to 4 drachms and the gun weight to 8 pounds.

A Biased Opinion

Stuart-Wortley, a pompous snob, certainly suffered some amnesia concerning Bogardus’s victories. He had, however, kinder words for Carver “whose marvellous skill with the rifle had fairly astonished the world” and who shot “many matches” in England “never being beaten or approached” save in one 25 bird contest at the Gun Club which was a draw. Stuart-Wortley himself shot against Carver in December 1882 at Hendon, the stakes being a massive £500 a side. It ended in a tie – which may explain Wortley’s different attitude – each shooting 83 ex 100. The Englishman writes:

“There was much betting on the contest, and it was rendered peculiarly exciting by the fact that it was a tie at the 50th bird, and again eight or nine times during the last half of the match. The writer was unlucky, for his 50th bird fell dead upon a small building within the enclosure, but by the custom of the ground was given a lost bird.” [pp. 344-345 Shooting: Field and Covert]

It obviously rankled Wortley, and the amateur crack shot could not help concluding: “Carver did some wonderful things, but though he and Bogardus (who were, it should be remembered, professionals) claimed to be better than our best men, they certainly failed to prove it by their public performances.” There seems spin here, both Bogardus and Carver showed themselves to be wonderfully consistent shooters and generally victorious. They made a lasting impression on the British public as is confirmed by the inclusion of their names in so many of our great sporting books.