Tom Marshall

There was a certain fascination in the old live pigeon matches that can't be duplicated in the shotgun games of today. The element of luck was always present, as no feathered bird or clay target is more unpredictable in flight than the pigeon. High stake bets by spectators on the outcome of a single shot added greatly to the excitement of the game. A large white mounted pigeon in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame and Museum is inscribed: "It is estimated over $5,000 changed hands when Capt. A. H. Bogardus killed this bird." Back in the 1870s or '80s, $5,000 was the equivalent of well over $100,000 today. It wasn't pigeon feed then or now.

A hundred years ago, a shooter from Illinois dominated the game. Tom Marshall's reputation as a live bird and trapshooter spanned two continents.

nullMarshall, captain of the AII-American team of wing shots, traveled with his teammates in 1901 to shoot international races against competitors from England,  Scotland, Ireland, France. and Belgium. His team returned home undefeated. But he will always be remembered for something else. Marshall is the only shooter to win two Grand American live bird championships, an event sponsored by the old Interstate Association from 1893 to 1902.

Recently, a friend purchased one of Marshall's guns along with the old gentleman's shooting scrapbook. It contained many newspaper clippings, telegrams and photos relating to his days of long ago on the shooting circuit. Many previously unknown Tom Marshall tales and facts have come to light.

He was born in 1856 in Keithsburg, Ill., a little town on the Mississippi River near the Iowa border. His father was a wealthy doctor, so Tom was not a poor pioneer boy.  He grew up with the best of everything, which included  the latest in frontier firearms. After graduating in 1871 from Iowa University, he opened a drugstore in Keithsburg. Other business ventures included ownership of the first telephone company in Keithsburg and the first power plant in western Illinois. Marshall served as the mayor for 16 years, a member of the Illinois legislature and the tax commissioner for all of Illinois' railroads .

He inherited a fortune, made millions on his own and was loved by all Shooters, politicians and just plain folks called him "Our Tom."

His initiation into the shooting game took place early in life and is graphically described in a 1905 quote from the Keithsburg News:

"I lived as a youngster on the banks of the Mississippi at a time when the noble red man paddled his canoe upon the Father of Waters. The Indians would give exhibitions of their skill with the bow and arrow by shooting small coins from iron split sticks. It was these exhibitions by the Indians that aroused my interest to shoot. Hence my first attempt was with the weapon used by the redskins, and this taught me to shoot with both eyes open as do all the trap experts of today."

In 1875 he won his first shoot at live birds. The Mercer County Cup he won that day was only four inches high. Years later he told D. H. Eaton, author of Trapshooting the Patriotic Sport, "I've never won one since which looked so large to me. I thought myself quite the shooter winning the county championship."

Eastern shooters dominated the Grand American at live birds since the Interstate Association inaugurated the shoot in 1893. E. S. Rice, a DuPont Powder Co. representative, organized a team of 10 men from the Midwestern states to travel to New Jersey for the 1897 Grand. He intended to show the Easterners that the West had some boys that could shoot too. Tom Marshall was in this group. Here's how The American Field described the gun club that held the shoot:

"The new grounds at Elkwood Park near Long Beach, N.J. must be seen to be appreciated. The grounds are laid out in a cloverleaf pattern with the clubhouse in the center and three rings facing east, south and west. Each ring has four small houses occupied by the puller, scorer; referee, and the retrieving dog and his handler. Trappers load the five traps from a pit beneath them. Each pit is six feet deep. The traps are released by electricity and the puller by means of speaking tubes may communicate with the trappers if he so desires. The club house is replete with conveniences. It is 50 feet long by 30 feet deep and contains a large hall, cashier's office, cafe and a space for score compilers, reporters and telegraphs. The second floor has a large dining room, glazed on all sides, with a full view of the grounds in all directions. The entire building with the exception of the north side is of glass."

"It may be interesting to many to have some idea of the number hired by Elkwood Park during the week, besides those engaged by the Interstate Association. The following were employed outside: four dead bird men, four bird carriers, eight trappers, five pullers, four dog handlers, four ball boys, one chief and five assistants to catch and crate the birds and three gatemen. The house force consisted of two porters, four bar men, four cashiers, 15 waiters, one head and two assistant cooks, two carvers, two janitors, three detectives, one advertising agency, one telephone boy and one messenger."

Here is the newspaper description of the last four birds to decide the 1897 Grand American champion.

The race was twenty five singles. Marshall of Illinois., Dr. Carver of Chicago and Dr. Henry C. Koegel, Newark, N.J. had killed twenty one straight at the conclusion of Wednesday's shooting. 9 others were down one. All had to shoot 4 on Thursday morning.

The trio who hadn't missed were the first to shoot on Thursday, and they faced a high wind blowing in their faces.

The ever confident and suave Carver killed his first bird-the twenty second of the handicap-in clean style as did Mayor Marshall and Dr. Koegel. They then faced the traps south of the clubhouse where the wind was blowing right to left. An allowance of nearly two yards for windage carried the 3 men through their twenty third straight bird.

Then came the shoot at the western set of traps, exposed as they were to the full sweep of the half gale blowing. Dr. Carver, the old Indian fighter and probably the best ever with a rifle, shotgun or pistol, was shooting from the maximum thirty two yard line. He saw the second trap from the extreme right open. Out of it came a bird quicker and stronger on the wing than ever puzzled a marksman. It was a red bronze blue rock and like a streak of copper colored lightning rose twenty feet in the air and at express speed came directly at the gun. The charges of both barrels hit the bird but failed to stop the impetus of its own velocity and with the wind behind it smashed clean through the clubhouse window.

Dr. Koegel's twenty fourth bird was a silver; left driver which started from the trap as though it had urgent business in the next county. The doctor let go both barrels but it flew on.

Great interest was centered on Marshall's last shot and when he grassed a fast quarter flyer with his first barrel and sent his second into him for safety the enthusiasm of the spectators knew no bounds. The popular mayor was lifted on the shoulders of his admirers and carried in triumph to the clubhouse and around the grounds.

That evening he sent the following telegram to his wife. The original is in his scrapbook.

March 25,1897
Elkwood Park, Long Branch, N .J .

To: Mrs. Tom Marshall
Keithsburg, Ill.

I won the Grand American Handicap today.


Another " American Field" clipping in Marshall's scrapbook had the penciled notation "What a Pity." I have to assume it was written by him. Here's what is said:

Mr. Cohron, the colored brother from Pleasant Hills, Mo., was barred from participating in the 1897 Grand American Handicap on account of his color. This was no fault of the management but was done because objections were raised by some of the participants who did not think a colored man quite their equal, and yet if he had been permitted to shoot, he might have proved to the objectors that the color of his skin did not make him any the less their equal at the traps. As long as a man is a gentleman, and Mr. Cohron has proven in the past he is, no American should be guilty of drawing the color line. Without this explanation many of his people would wonder why he did not shoot.

(Author's note: It would be 53 more years before a black man would shoot at the Grand American. In 1950 a black dentist from Dayton, Ohio arrived at the Grand with a valid ATA membership card. Officials placed him in Class AA and on the 25-yard line, which was the maximum yardage at the time. He was placed in the last squad and shot by himself. After the first day, no one expected him to return, but he came back and shot alone in the last squad for the rest of the week. There was no mention of this in the Sportsmen's Review, forerunner of TRAP & FIELD, during its coverage of the 1950 Grand. I don't remember his name, but I watched all this happen and never forgot it.)

Tom Marshall returned to New Jersey in 1899 won the Grand American a second time, dropping all 25 birds plus 13 in a "miss and out" shootoff.

The next year the shoot was held at Interstate Park in Queens, Long Island, N.Y. Of the 244 entries, Marshall was one of eight shooters who killed all their birds but he lost out in the "miss and out" shootoff. Two months later on these same grounds, the Interstate Association sponsored the first Grand American at clay targets. There were 74 entries, and Marshall wasn't among them.

He was a free spender but a good investor. Marshall loaned sizable amounts for new business ventures or to friends in need. He spent over $1,000 for the English Wm. Cashmore shotgun that he used to win both Grand Americans .

A small newspaper clipping from an unknown source tells about a rather expensive party he gave. It read: "Lucy Cabeen is enjoying a visit from Chicago with relatives and friends. A dinner party of some hundred and fifty was given by her uncle Hon. Tom A. Marshall, in honor of her birthday. Among the guests were Prof. John Philip Sousa, organizer of the famous Sousa band. Prof. Sousa and his band entertained at the party with a concert on Mr. Marshall's lawn."

Before sailing from Boston to England in 1901 with the All-American team of wing shots, he was fined $5.00 for smoking on the streets. The ordinance had been passed just days before his arrival. He went before the judge was duly fined, threw down $10 and started to walk away.

"Hold on," said the Judge, "there is some change coming to you." Marshall answered, "Keep the change. I shall want to spit presently."

In 1913 Marshall gave all his shooting trophies to the Chicago Athletic Association. A clipping from the Keithsburg "News" of Thursday, Sept. 18, 1913, reads in part:

Today is Tom A. Marshall day in Keithsburg. "Our Tom" known personally by nearly every person in this part of the country will display for the last time his shooting trophies and guns. This exhibit is valued at $50,000. The two very large Tiffany Cups displayed are those which represent the two world's championships won. There are trophies from London, Mexico, Ireland, Vancouver; Quebec, Toronto and Niagara. State and city championship trophies are in abundance. One gun is valued at over $1,000, another at $750. A medal presented to him by Queen Victoria at her last jubilee is especially beautiful.

No one seems to know whatever became of the Chicago Athletic Association and Tom Marshall 's trophies and guns. One can only assume the organization disbanded, as his scrapbook and one of his guns recently surfaced in Connecticut.

He died at 78 on Aug. 18, 1922, only two days after competing in the Great Lakes Zone shoot at Indianapolis. At the time he was vice president of the American Trapshooting Association, which in 1924 became the Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA).

His obituary appeared in virtually every newspaper in America. Only one child survived him. In 1969, when he was inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame, his daughter Maude Marshall Kester was living in California. If there were grandchildren, it is doubtful they'll ever know how famous their grandfather was. And that's too bad.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 13:23