“I plinked it.” Elizabeth Servaty Toepperwein (1882-1945)

On my recent foray to San Antonio, Texas, I had on my list of things to do– all walkable from my hotel– a visit to the Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum not far from The Alamo. It was here that I “met” a very intriguing couple, Ad and Plinky Toepperwein.

                                 

A native Texan, Adolph Toepperwein (1869-1962) took his childhood love of rifles all the way and  became a renowned trick shooter.  He toured on the vaudeville circuit, and in 1901 began a 50-year relationship with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company as an exhibition shooter.  It was during a visit to one of their manufacturing plants that he met a 19-year old employee, Elizabeth Servaty, and fell instantly in love with her. He was 34. While Ad’s sharpshooting career is totally amazing of itself, I’m going to introduce you today to his bride, a pretty amazing shot all on her own.

As soon as Elizabeth, a Connecticut native, married Ad Toepperwein in 1903, he taught his bride to shoot. She had never fired a gun in her life. During her training, she shot at tin cans with a .22, and after several tries, made her first hit, telling Ad, “I plinked it.”  Referring of course to the distinctive sound of bullet hitting tin.  Ever thereafter, she was known as Plinky. Practice-shooting at  easy targets like cans is today known across the world as “plinking.”

To quote Ad himself, Plinky was  “a  natural.” Within three weeks of her first lesson, she joined his act,  shooting one-inch pieces of chalk from between his fingers and empty shells off his fingertips.

                                       

She and Ad began touring as a husband and wife trick-shooting team in a career that spanned 40 years.  At the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, they set one incredible record after another. They shot while standing on their heads and while lying on their backs. They broke two targets at the same time, one in front and one behind using a mirror. Some of Plinky’s aerial targets included marbles, metal discs, apples, oranges and eggs.

                           

Not only did Plinky please the crowds, but she also set records in the process. She was the first woman to break 100 straight targets at trapshooting, and she repeated this amazing feat  more than 200 times, often with a twelve-gauge Winchester model 97 pump gun.

                              

 She also earned the world endurance trapshooting record by hitting 1,952 clay birds out of  2,000 thrown in five hours and twenty minutes. And this time span included the time needed to cool the gun barrel and unpack targets!

                                     

She missed only eight, hitting an unheard of 97.6%.  

Celebrity shooter Annie Oakley, a member of the Trapshooting Hall of Fame, once told Plinky, “Mrs. Top . . . you’re the greatest shot I’ve ever seen.” In 1969, Plinky  was inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame in Vandalia, Ohio.

Although trapshooting was her main focus, Plinky was equally skilled with rifle, pistol and shot gun. Elizabeth Servaty Toepperwein became the first woman in United States History to qualify as a national marksman with the military rifle. Amidst all this, she gave birth to and raised son Lawrence, who sadly predeceased her in 1940 at only 36 years of age.

Despite her amazing talent, Plinky was proud to never have shot an animal. And while it’s informally believed she was a better all-around shot than her trick shooter husband, they never held a contest to find out for sure.  Plinky died in her San Antonio  home with her husband at her bedside, on January 27, 1945, and was buried in Mission Burial Park, San Antonio.              

                                     

After Ad’s death on March 4, 1962, he was laid to rest beside his wife. Shortly thereafter, a Toepperwein museum housing the memorabilia of the couple’s many years of marksmanship was displayed on the grounds of The Lone Star Brewery in San Antonio.  In late 1998 the Toepperwein Gallery was moved  to the Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum a few blocks downtown from The Alamo, where I came to know Plinky and Ad. 

                                          

How about you? Anybody ever gone trapshooting? (I tried at the Bandera Gun Club and was a total failure.) Anybody have a childhood hobby you’ve carried into adulthood, or even become a pro at it?

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A California beach girl, I love cowboys and happy-ever-afters. My firefighter hubby and I enjoy travel, our two little grandsons, country music, McDonald's iced coffee, and volunteering at the local horse rescue. I was thrilled last year to receive the CTRR Award at Coffeetime Romance for Sanctuary, my tribute to my cancer-survin' hubby!

48 thoughts on ““I plinked it.” Elizabeth Servaty Toepperwein (1882-1945)”

  1. This Petticoats and Pistols, emphasis on the pistols, entry is wonderful. I thought of Annie Oakley immediately and then found her in the article. But it definitely sounds like Plinky was in a class by herself. Just looking at her smile makes me wish I had met her.

    Sounds like Ad was some sort of husband too. She may have been a natural but he spent a lot of time teaching her. I don’t think my husband would have had the patience. 🙂

    How ironic and sad is it that being so much younger, she died first?

    I did archery, did it well, and keep thinking I need to get back into it. But the last time I tried to find bows, I could only find ones for bow hunting. I am one of those people who couldn’t shot for sport, though I could if it meant putting food on the table.

    Everyone in the midst of the heat wave, stay cool. We will be up to 102 today.

    Peace, Julie

  2. thanks tanya–i loved this article!
    how interesting and what an AMAZING woman plinky was..love the nickname 🙂
    i think it’s crazy anyone let anyone hit chalk from between their fingers…i don’t think i would ever have that must trust or confidence in myself as a shooter
    her averages are just amazing!!

    i have gone trapshooting…it’s fun though i’m pretty certain i’m not a “natural” 🙂
    i did develop some pretty good clay pigeon throwing skills after the shooting didn’t pan out
    i love that plinky was proud to never have shot an animal…i’m proud of her too!

  3. Hi Tanya, That chalk story made my jaw drop. My husband’s a good shot, but I am *not* holding chalk for him to shoot! Plinky was just plain amazing. So was her husband. You wonder how someone can do what they did . .. a gift, I guess. But I can’t imagine it!

  4. Loved, loved, loved this post! What a fabulous story. I had never heard of Plinky, but what a remarkable woman she must have been. And how fun that in her efforts to please her husband by learning to shoot, she found a whole new career. I love that she and Ad never competed against each other. Such a wise choice. They were truly a team. Great post, Tanya!

  5. There are so many fascinating characters in history. What a great post, Tanya. I particular love these women who did ground breaking things.

    It’s crazy isn’t it? To think her husband would stand in front of her while she shot at that chalk. I mean, c’mon, muscles twitch. Things happen. A brave AND foolish man.

  6. Hi Julie, thanks for stopping by today. We’re having left–over June Gloom here and it’s chilly and foggy. Boo. I’m glad you enjoyed meeting Plinky. I was also sad sh elost her son too early.

    I had archery in high school PE and absolutely loved it. I watched a Robin Hood documentary on History Channel last night and got homesick for it LOL.

    Thanks for stopping by today.

  7. Dear Adrienne, so good to see you here. I too had never heard of Plinky and Ad until my trip to Texas. I learned so many different things in my six days there.

  8. Hi Tabitha, thanks for posting today. I’d never shot a gun until recently and aiming is way harder than I imagined 🙂 You sound like a pretty good shot yourself. I also cannot imagine shooting at something so small or so close. Whew.

    Me too, about her never shooting an animal. Plinky sure amazed me, just doing this for 40 years. Whew again.

  9. hi Vicki, Ad actually is a whole blog topic of his own LOL but like many of our Wildflower Junction readers, I love sharing about women who broke the mold. I’m sure I’ll babble about Ad one of these days too 🙂 I thought Plinky simply amazing and couldn’t wait to introduce her here at Petticoats and Pistols. Glad you enjoyed this. oxoxox

  10. Thanks, Karen. I love the idea of a husband-wife team. I confess, hubby and I don’t often do well on projects together LOL. I think it was likely very wise they never competed against each other. Probably kept peace in the home 🙂 Imagine if he’d never taught her to shoot, how different her life might have been. Glad you stopped by today!

  11. Hi Mary, yes, I admit to chills thinking about her shooting tiny objects held in her husband’s hand. Now, held in an enemy’s hand would have made more sense, especially that first time. Wow, he must sure have had ocnfidence in her skills. Whew.

    I too love groundbreaking women especially since I am an admitted weenie. oxoxxo

  12. I have watched trapshooting but I have never tried it myself. My son did one time in camp and was pretty good at it. I don’t think I would be fast enough. The only thing I have ever shot at was can setting on a log.

  13. Tanya, this is amazing. And I’d never heard of the Topperweins before today. Loved reading about them. I’m sure Adolf was heartbroken when Plinky died.

    I’ve never engaged in trapshooting and have never fired any type of gun before. I think I’d like to try though.

  14. Hi Quilt Lady, always so good to see you here! Trapshooting is definitely quickly paced. I’m sure that’s another reason Plinky’s record is so amazing. I hope you’re having summer weather at your homestead. It’s too hot some places, and too chilly here.

  15. Yes! I’ve tried trapshooting… Managed to hit one clay. Aargh!

    When I married, my dh was stationed in San Antonio. I learned to shoot his German P .38 sidearm while on three-day passes. We’d drive up to Copperas Cove to visit my grandmother. The two of us would drive down to a creek, flip flat rocks, and shoot rattlers. I know, dh @ 21 and I @ 17, not a thimble-full of smarts between us then. LOL

    Loved this post, Tanya. I’d never heard of Plinky and Ad.

  16. TANYA! GREAT POST, as usual! I had never heard of this couple. You’d think with all the hoopla over Annie Oakley over the years, that someone would have “discovered” them as well and made a musical or something about them! LOL VERY INTERESTING–and what a great shot she was! I loved their story. Thanks so much for posting and sharing. You learn something new everyday here at P&P!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  17. Thanks, Tanya, what a fascinating post!
    Don’t you wonder why it took so long for her induction into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame? What in the world were they waiting on?
    It is inconceivable to me that someone could have enough nerve to shoot amything out of another person’s hand (or be the holder)!!! Nobody is perfect. She obviously missed occasionally since her record was not 100% all the time.
    And Ad must have been a remarkable man for his time to share the spotlight with his wife that way. I’ll look forward to hearing more about him.

  18. Great blog, Tanya! I’m still stuck on the 1,952 clay birds in less than 6 hours. I’m a trapshooter, and I wouldn’t be able to hold the gun, much less hit anything after that amount of time. Wow!

  19. hi Linda, I hadn’t ever fired a gun either until my cowgirl trip. One thing insisted upon are ear plugs. It cracks me up on TV shows, them running around firing guns and no one’s ears are bothered LOL. Thanks for commenting, filly sister oxox

  20. Hi Joyce, so good to see you here. One thing I’ve learned recently is that San Antonio was largley a German community after the 1840’s! you and dh were team-shooters too LOL, just like Plinky and Ad. You know, the couple that shoots together stays together LOL 🙂

  21. hi Cheryl, I so agree. I’d never heard of either of them, so the displays at the museum were wonderful to see and definitely filed in my blog ideas. I too have learned many incredible things here at P and P. So glad you’re a filly now. oxoxox

  22. Hi Judy, thanks for stopping by Wildflower Junction today. Yeah, I wonder what he’d have done if Plinky hadn’t been a natural. To be honest with you, I had intended to double-check that Hall of Fame date because I thought the same thing, but…got busy, I guess. I’m sure glad she got her recognition, though, during her life time and I agree, Ad was very forward-thinking.

  23. Very interesting. I have done trap shooting, we called it blue rock shooting. My dad would enter a contest every year just before Thanksgiving to win our turkey for the year. He must have been a good shot because he always won a bird.

  24. Hi Nancy, so good to see you at Wildflower Junction. Congrats to your dad for those yummy turkeys–what happy Thanksgiving memories those must be! Do you know why they called it “blue rock” shooting? Did they shoot at blue rocks LOL?

    Thanks so much for posting!

  25. Tanya, what a great post! I love the Buckhorn Saloon in San Antonio. Dang it, my kids moved back to the Panhandle three months ago, and I won’t have an excuse to go down there as often, but I’ll always have memories. Great subject, and so very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Hi Phyliss, filly friend! (I know you’re my filly sister but Phyliss filly friend was too alliterative to ignore 🙂 I totally loved the Buckhorn…but not all the stuffed animals LOL. e.g. tiger and giraffe. But the ambience was terrific. I didn’t rent a car during my visit so tried to pick a hotel convenient to things I’d want to see…and the Buckhorn is one of Triple A’s gems. (Yes, I had a tour book LOL). I was so glad I could get there.

  27. Hi Tanya, fascinating post! How wonderful that Ad and Plinky shared such a career.

    I’ve fired a 22-caliber rifle a couple of times, and once begged my father to let me fire his 12-gauge shotgun. I was ten and weighed about 85 pounds. The recoil would have knocked me flat if he hadn’t stood behind me.

  28. Loved the post! As a child my father and my brother made bows and arrows for us to play with, which we found to be great fun. At least it was fun until my brother shot me with the bow, putting the arrow into my tongue. With that history one would think I would want nothing to do with archery but marriage to an archer changed that and as a family we have many archery trophies. We love the sport. Never shot guns much but do know how to use them.

  29. What an interesting post. I am surprised she never became as famous as Annie Oakley. Rats, I missed the museum and saloon when we were at the Alamo last year. Will have to check it out next time.
    I did some target shooting and was a pretty good shot. Never shot clay pigeons and it has been a few years since I did any target shooting. Anymore, most of our shooting is done with a camera.

  30. Amazing Story…So interesting to read about. It is nice there are pictures of the two of them.

  31. Hi Jennie! Oh, thanks for posting. I always love hearing from you. I agree…how cool they could find something to do together and make a living at it. Just my afternoon at the Bandera Gun Club taught me a Great Deal about recoil. I had the pro’s at my side as well…and I’m all grown up.
    oxoox

  32. Hi Connie, I watched a doc. on the “real” Robin Hood last night on History Channel that had a lot of info about archers. What a great sport. I think I mentioned above how much I enjoyed it in high school. Wish I’d kept it up, actually. For being so near-sighted, I seemed to have good aim then and am really good at darts these days! Thanks for posting today.

  33. Hi Patricia, I’m more a camera girl myself. Yeah, next time in SA. the Buckthorn and Rangers Museums are really fun. One price for both. And a very fine gift shop LOL. (I’m a born shopper.) Thanks so much for posting today.

  34. Hi Amy, I agree. I am lucky to have found the pix of them both. Ad’s story is actually quite remarkable as well. He just might end up in a future blog here LOL. Thanks for visiting the Junction today.

  35. Plinky! LOL Funny this should come up now because just the other night my dh went “plinkin'”. He used to hunt with his brothers and dad but now just has fun with a bb gun. I know – boys and their toys! I’m not as good with the rifle as I am with our friend’s bb pistol. But that’s what they call it – going plinkin’.

    I’ve never shot an actual gun. I’d like to learn how (especially a handgun) by going to a range and doing it right.

  36. I just thought that you all might like to know that i feel very lucky to be able to lookafter one of her guns it’s a S&W revolver that was used all over the USA and Canada and was presented by Ad to his friend Howard Kline in 1945 after her untimely death the gun is treasured here in Dartford, Kent, UK it was also great to be able to shoot the gun in MO before i brought it home where it’s illeagl to shoot it (crying shame and a disgrace in a democratic country)

  37. This is a fantastic article. I have been looking and researching Plinky for quite some time as I believe my brother and I are related to Plinky as my grandmother was her sister. Evelyn Servaty. My father talked about meeting his aunt when he was just a little boy-7 years old. Thank you for posting.

    Respectfully,
    Gary Brown

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