He started to shoot trap before most of our grandfathers were
His scrapbook's newspaper clippings from unknown publications, now faded and fragile, described him as "a tall, well formed and good looking man who attracts attention wherever he goes...he regularly breaks targets or drops live birds with the ease Ty Cobb steals home plate. ..as a musician he has decided ability and can play the violin, mandolin, banjo or piano with equal ease and grace. In his hands the banjo can do everything but talk ...He is blond and sports a yellow mustache which curls and looks like a daisy. At the line he stands erect as a Michigan pine and throws the gun to his shoulder as quick as a thought. After singing "pull" he centers his saucers squarely...This congenial and modest fellow from Dayton, Ohio, is perhaps the most loved and respected man trapshooting has ever seen."
If you were in the game a hundred years ago, the name Rolla Orville Heikes would jump from every shooting publication, as do the names of today's All-Americans. He shot for over 50 years, and there wasn't much he didn't see, do, or win. Thanks to one of his scrapbooks in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame and Museum and an interview with his late granddaughter, I pieced together long-forgotten details about the man affectionately known as "Pop" or "the daddy-of-'em-all."
He is probably remembered most for winning the first Grand American at Clay Targets, held at New York in 1900. Evidently, Rolla wasn't too impressed with this feat at the time as it is hardly mentioned in his scrapbook. To win he beat 74 other shooters and broke 91 from 22 yards (23 was the maximum yardage at that time). He shot on the circuit for some 20 years before winning the Grand. During earlier years he had beaten a lot more than 74 shooters with far better scores than 91xlOO. Actually, he was one of the favorites to win the first Grand. Shooting publications of the time - The American Field, Sporting Life, and the Sportsmen's Review - picked Heikes, Fred Gilbert or J .A. R. Elliott to come out on top. The first Grand was the only one that industry representatives were allowed to compete against the amateurs. Referred to as "trademen," they comprised over half the field and were subsidized by the gun, ammunition, target or powder companies.
"Pop" Heikes was the first shooter to represent a company whose products were trapshooting-related. Hundreds followed him, but Heikes was first when he signed up with LeFever Gun Co. in 1886.
Before failing eyesight ended his shooting career in the early 1930s, he represented the Remington Arms Co., The Peters Cartridge Co., The Union Metallic Cartridge Co., The United States Cartridge Co., The Winchester Repeating Arms Co., The Standard Target Co., Schultze Powder Co., American Wood Powder Co., L. C, Smith Gun Co., The Hunter Arms Co., and the LeFever Gun Co. No other "trademan" represented more trapshooting related products.
Heikes took defeats with the same grace that accompanied his wins. A man of few words, he always had a kindly smile and greeting for all.
"You can tell the quality of a man," he said, "by the firmness of his handshake and the shine on his shoes." No one in our game a hundred years ago had more friends.
"Pop" was born in Montgomery Co., Ohio, just four miles from Dayton on Christmas morning 1856. His ancestors were early settlers in the county and in the nursery business. Young
In 1877 he moved to Brownsville, Neb., and went into the general farming and stock business. Here he began shooting glass target balls and the new Ligowsky clays.
On New Year's Day 1880, he broke l00 straight Ligowsky clay targets. No one knows for sure who actually broke the first 100 straight clay pigeons, but it was very likely Heikes on this day in Nebraska some 124 years ago.
While living here his health began to deteriorate. Fearing consumption (tuberculosis), he moved to Utah and started a cattle business with a friend. The shooters from Heikes' early days in Nebraska teased him, saying that going to Utah was not necessarily due to ill health. Infatuated with trapshooting, he rigged up Bogardus glass-ball traps allover his farm. It was so covered with broken target balls that vegetation would not grow, and new boots were cut to pieces within days.
Though Heikes knew little of cowboy life, he knew how to shoot a rifle and shotgun at moving targets. As his fame spread through the mountains, the Ute Indians began to congregate to see him shoot, and they christened him "White Chief."
After a year in Utah, all traces of consumption and other ailments left him, and in 1881 he returned to Dayton and married Miss Cora Warbinton. It was back to the nursery business for Rolla until he learned to raise more money shooting trap than trees and shrubs. The LeFever Gun Co. of Syracuse, N.Y., began sponsoring him at all the big tournaments. Heikes started on his way to one of the most successful careers in the history of trapshooting.
In 1890 the United States Cartridge Co. of Lowell, Mass., sponsored a year-long series of trapshoots in every major city in America. An eastern team competed against a western team and both traveled together in a special five car train. The idea behind the tour was to promote trapshooting and, of course, U.S. Cartridge Co. ammunition. The western team was composed of C. W. Budd, Des Moines, Iowa (captain); J. R. Stice, Omaha, Neb.; C. E. Cahoon, Freeport, Ill.; J. A. Ruble, Beloit, Wis.; and Rolla Heikes, Dayton, Ohio. The eastern team was represented by H. McMurchy, Syracuse, N.Y. (captain); W. H. Wolstencroft, Philadelphia, Pa.; W. E. Perry, Boston, Mass.; H. B. Whitney, Phelps, N.Y.; and W. S. Perry, Worchester, Mass. Heikes' newspaper clippings describe the large crowds, sometimes in the thousands-that witnessed these matches in cities as far west as San Francisco. The papers covered the smallest of details and painted a vivid picture of times in America when things weren't so hurried and trapshooting equaled baseball in popularity.
A year before the U.S. Cartridge Co. tour, the astute Heikes patented a unique 6"x2" leather-over-steel hand protector that fit under the barrels of side-by-side shotguns. It prevented burnt hands and fingers from hot gun barrels. Within months most shooters were using one. Heikes sold thousands of hand protectors before selling the patents to the Chamberlin Cartridge Co. of Cleveland for the then-unheard of price of $8,000. Beavertail forends on double-barrel guns eventually eliminated the need for Heikes' hand protectors, and they are collector's items today.
In the early 1900s the Union Metallic Cartridge Co. (now Remington Arms Co.) sponsored a southern squad of five of the country's best trapshooters to stimulate interest in trapshooting, much like the 1890 U.S. Cartridge Co. tour. Heikes was on that team. A newspaper article tells of the team shooting at the City Park Gun Club (city and state unknown). One of Heikes' squad mates that day was Frank C. Riehl of Alton, ill. His son, Al Riehl, was inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1990 and in the late 1950s was one of my first bosses at Remington. I found Frank Riehl's shooting record for 1905 in Sporting Life's Trapshooting Review for 1906. On May 9-10 some 99 years ago, he finished second at a trapshoot held in Sparta, IL. Now that's a name now familiar to all of us! Trapshooting in Sparta will soon be rejuvenated.
Another interesting squad member with Heikes on the U. M. C. southern team was Col. J. T. Anthony of Charlotte, NC. A newspaper clipping from Heikes' scrapbook describes Col. Anthony:
Col. J. T. Anthony is a Southern man who joined the squad at this point yesterday. He is well known throughout the South as an excellent shot. Col. Anthony is an old Confederate soldier; having joined the Army when quite a young man. He served under Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia and was in some of the hardest battles of the war; including Gettysburg and Chancellorsville. In the team exhibition yesterday he averaged 83 but this was not up to his usual record.
When someone asked Rolla why everyone called him "Pop" though he was a relatively young man, he told this story: Seems he was at a shoot in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., accompanied by his wife and young son Horace. Charley "Sparrow" Young (who later also won the Grand American) was sitting at the same table with Rolla and his family. One morning Mrs. Heike was slightly indisposed and did not come down for breakfast at the usual time. Rolla stayed in the room with her. The hotel waitress asked Sparrow if his mother and father were coming to breakfast or if they wished their meal sent up to them. Sparrow told everyone the story, and Rolla was christened "Pop." The title of "daddy-of-'em-all" was applied to him for winning the majority of all the general averages from 1890 to 1896. The term High Over All replaced general averages. In 1902 "Pop" Heikes shot in and won 29 of 51 tournaments. He placed second 10 times, third eight times and fourth three times. He finished lower than fourth only once. The May 23, 1897, edition of the Kansas City Star had this to say about Heikes' gun:
Rolla 0. Heikes of Dayton, Ohio, the champion shooter who has been at Washington Park all week, has an autographed gun which he carries with him everywhere and has won for him many large championships. It is a Winchester repeater and during its service has fired about 25,000 shots, more than anyone gun has ever been shot in the United States. On its stock have been carved the initial, or names of nearly all the crack live-bird or target shooters in the country. J. A. R. Elliott, Fred Gilbert, Tom Marshall, Annie Oakley Charlie Budd, Doc Carver and not less than 50 others. The stock is completely covered with carved letters and it would be difficult to find place for another name. Heikes takes this gun everywhere.
Shooters and friends were shocked when headlines of the June 27, 1911, 3 p.m. edition of the Dayton Daily News reported in bold type: "Rolla Heikes Famous Dayton Marksman Reported Murdered.
"Pop Heikes was shocked when he read it, too!
It seems while attending a shoot in Detroit and staying at the Wayne Hotel, he left a bag containing papers bearing his name and money in the hotel lobby. A thief stole the bag and boarded a train for Chicago. Here he got into an argument with his partner, and in dividing the spoils, he was shot and killed. Papers were found on the body bearing Rolla's name and the police notified his wife in Dayton. After she went through a few hours of weeping and consoling from friends and family, her husband walked into her room. There were no reports of her immediate response.
In April 2004 while in Dayton, I was fortunate to have dinner with Mr. Heikes' granddaughter. Unfortunately she passed away five months after my visit. She remembered her grandfather and was eager to talk about him. She was the daughter of Horace Heikes, Rolla's only child. Her dad was also a shooter, and a good one, too. I brought up the fact that her grandfather had won many trophies and medals yet less than a half dozen can be accounted for. Where did they all go? Where is the famous autographed Winchester pump gun? She didn't have an answer.
She said, "He died during the worst of the Great Depression and was almost totally blind and close to poverty. I can only think, but of course don't know that he had his valuable trophies and medals melted down solely for their metal value."
Heikes died on Sunday, Sept. 23, 1934. He was 78 years old. Bill Moore, editor of the Sportsmen's Review, dedicated a full page of the Sept. 29, 1934, issue of his magazine to his old friend "Pop" Heikes. It was a fitting tribute to the man who would be in the very first group to be inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in 1968/1969. The last paragraph of Moore's obituary read in part:
"Pop" has gone to join his old comrades "on the other side"-men whose names were familiar wherever trapshooting was indulged, the world over. Tom Marshal, Fred Gilbert, Charles Budd, Charley Grimm, Jim Elliott and a host of others. We will "not see the likes again. " Dear old "Pop" was acknowledged as the "greatest of them all"