|Wanda "Etta Butts Lindsley"|
The iron gate hinge pins were driven deep into the bosom of two stone pillars shaped like angels. The huge gate, partially open, and a narrow path through the snow allowed us to gingerly maneuver among the gravestones. Towering, silent monuments represented the once prosperous, while the poorer lay nameless until a thaw would make their headstones visible again.
Sally and I hadn't planned on spending the last day of 2002 at Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton, N.Y. "What the heck," she said, "1 guess we'll both eventually spend many a New Year's Eve in a cemetery." My good wife had a point, and we had a mission. We were searching for the grave of one of the best woman trapshooters of the 19th century. Both of us have always enjoyed visiting the resting places of the long departed. In the third grade, my first paying job was trimming around gravestones in an old Connecticut cemetery taken care of by my great uncle. A slow worker, I spent more time reading epitaphs than cutting weeds. Anyone with the slightest imagination should enjoy an old burial ground. Reading the chiseled headstone epitaphs, whether they are a flowery verse or simple sentence, can tell a lot about the person planted there. At least Sally and l like to think they do.
My interest in this fascinating woman whose history has long forgotten was fueled by a new book recently authored by my friend Tom Schiffer of Kentucky. His book "Peters and King" (available from Tom Schiffer, 10416 Gunpowder Rd., Florence, KY 41042) came out in 2002 and contains a history of the Peters Cartridge Co. and King Powder Co. of Ohio.
It seems that one of the principal pioneers in the development of smokeless and semi-smokeless powder was one Milton F. Lindsley. He worked for Dittmar Powder Co., the American Wood Powder Co. and the King Powder Co. From 1878 to 1902, Lindsley was known as the country's foremost authority on powder manufacturing, ranked among the country's best trapshooters, and married to the best woman shooter in America, next to Annie Oakley.
Author Schiffer loaned me copies of the Lindsley scrapbook, and from it and his book, I was able to learn about this once-famous shooting couple.
Etta Butts Lindsley, born in Pennsylvania in 1853, was a descendant from one of New York's pioneer daily newspaper editors. She shot trap and published shooting articles and poems under the name of "Wanda." Many great shooters back then shot under an assumed name. Trapshooting Hall of Famer Charles "Sparrow" Young registered under the name "Robin Hood" during his early years in the game. Mrs. Lindsley didn't want to be confused with her husband when they both competed. "One Lindsley on the scoreboard is enough," she said.
Milt and Wanda shot and worked side by side. When he was on the shooting circuit or off promoting his powder, she acted as superintendent at the powder mill
that employed him. In the early 1880s the Dittmar Powder Co. of Binghamton, N .Y., caught on fire. According to the Binghamton newspaper, " All employees fled in terror when the fire threatened an explosion which would have meant destruction to the entire city of Binghamton. Mrs. Lindsley shoveled dirt fast and furiously upon the flames and with the aid of one woman held the fire in check from a powder magazine until aid arrived."
The Lindsleys' trapshooting careers spanned the live-bird, glass-ball and, finally, the clay-target eras. They were the first husband and wife to compete in all major tournaments and were liked .and respected by all who knew them.
They lived in Binghamton until 1882 and then moved to Hoboken, N .J ., near a powder manufacturing facility at Rattlesnake Landing. Here Gus Pentz, a correspondent for "Shooting and Fishing," interviewed the Lindsley's. He wrote:
The Lindsley's lived well, if not high in a comfortable house on the palisades overlooking New York City. They had four hunting dogs, a gray driving horse with some reputation for speed and a pet bear named Jerry. He was a gift from Fen. Cooper of Mahanoy City, Pa., who so recently ran a successful tournament there. Jerry followed Mrs. Lindsley around like a puppy. Milt was evidently fond of driving his gray at a great rate of speed that caused this correspondent some concern over his own longevity.
Wanda, like Annie Oakley, loved animals. Jerry the bear was raised from a cub and lived in comfortable quarters in the stable. He was fed from Wanda's hand and took his daily constitutionals with her.
In 1895 the Lindsley's left New Jersey when Milt became superintendent of the King Powder Co. and the family moved, bear and all, to Cincinnati.
The fast-driving and sometimes hard-drinking Lindsley hit the ground running in Ohio. One of the first things he did was buy a Cole Eight, the fastest motorcar in the country .Tales of his trips to local watering holes were legendary; stories of the trips home were downright scary.
Wanda and Milt attended every major shoot, promoting new King smokeless powder and competing in target and live-bird matches. Clippings like the following one from a Joplin, Mo., newspaper dated April 30, 1896, cram their scrapbook.
Wanda ( Mrs. Lindsley ) is the universal attraction especially when she shoots. The visitors are lavish in their applause when she hits a bird and her score is watched by everyone. She made some fine shots yesterday and fully sustained her reputation as a markswoman. She is a witty, bright little woman with an intense liking for everything pertaining to sport and during the past seven years of her life has devoted much of her time to outside pastime.
The costume worn by Mrs. Lindsley is unique and artistic. The skirt of brown corduroy is made full and of comfortable walking length. The blouse waist is of green cloth with Persian embroidery. Her Zouave jacket is of leopard skin edged with sable. With this suit are worn tan shoes, canvas gaiters and a seal brown crush hat. The loose cloak is a handsome affair of electric blue broadcloth, embellished with real lace appliquéd upon the material.
Both of the Lindsleys shot L. C. Smith hammerless side-by-side shotguns. Milt and Howard McMurchy were the best of friends, the latter being L. C. Smith's number-one salesman. The two of them traveled together across the plains in 1896 to San Francisco with McMurchy writing gun orders and Lindsley lining up powder distributors for King.
Wanda seldom shot when Milt was away. She either watched over the powder manufacturing or wrote shooting and hunting articles or poems for the popular publications of her day. Her poem below bears no date and appeared in Sportsmen's Review. Most of the shooters she mentions are now in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. I've made notes as to who they are.
1 Wm. R. Crosby- Trapshooting Hall of Fame inductee.
Although jovial and a joy to be around, Wanda possessed that competitive spirit that sometimes makes
Occasionally she would come east to visit family and friends in Binghamton. In 1896 an unknown newspaper clipping tells of her visit with another famous woman shooter.
Mrs. M. F. Lindsley, wife of Milt Lindsley of the King Powder Co., Cinn., who is visiting friends in the east called upon Annie Oakley at her home in Nutley, N J. one day last week. The two ladies had a pleasant little shoot togethe7: M7: Butler (Annie's husband) acted as referee, trap puller and manage7: Miss Oakley shot as cleverly as ever although she had done no trapshooting since her season closed with Buffalo Bill's Wild West. Miss Oakley is devoting all her time to training Prince, the beautiful horse, who is expected to make his debut at the opening in Madison Square Garden, New York, next month. Note: a similar article states Mrs. Lindsley beat Miss Oakley by a single bird.
Wanda was always in the shadow of Annie Oakley even though when they competed against each other Mrs. Lindsley often prevailed. The press constantly referred to Wanda as "next to Annie Oakley the best woman shooter in America." Miss Oakley certainly was a better shooter and captured more of the public's attention. She probably shot more in a month than Wanda did in a lifetime. They were alike in many ways. Both were so small in stature that a stiff wind could blow them from their shooting positions, they loved and had a great rapport with animals, neither had children, and both their husbands were shooters.
Perhaps an unnamed 1897 New York newspaper article best described Wanda. It read in part:
She is slightly built with keen black eyes and quick movements . Her shooting costume is simple and modest. Mrs. Lindsley's enthusiasm for shooting has kept pace with her ever increasing expertness and although she prefers shooting at clay pigeons her best performances have been on live birds. Wanda, as she is known, handles her hammerless with the coolness of an old veteran and shatters the flying saucers with a neatness and dispatch that is refreshing to behold.
Shortly after the turn of the 2Oth century, Wanda's health began to fail, and her trips to gun clubs became infrequent. The April 12, 1902, Sportsmen's Review which covered the Grand American at live birds stated, "Milt Lindsley on the grounds today. He reports Wanda is very sick."
She died in Cincinnati on June 21, 1902, of what the doctors then called chronic interstitial nephritis. Medical people tell us it is the inflammation of the kidney membrane. Today a simple antibiotic would cure this in 10 days. The end came after months of intense pain and suffering. Milt sent her body back to Binghamton, where Sally and I found her 100 years later.
Those who pass her grave know nothing of the greatness that was once hers. The stone simply reads, "ETTA D. WIFE OF MILTON F. LINDSLEY, 1853-1902." Seems as though it should say more. It would only be fitting.