Annie Oakley With A Crossbow

Annie Oakley With A Crossbow

Sharpshooters were unique in Huntsville history


It was the late 1950s. War Eagle Mills Farm had a crafts fair. Eureka Springs had a folk festival. And an enthusiastic druggist named Arlis Coger knew exactly what the community of Huntsville needed to stake its claim to fame and tourist dollars — a crossbow tournament.

Coger was a crossbow competitor, but he was not the originator of the tournament idea. George M. Stevens, an artist, inventor, crossbow maker and romantic fancier of the Middle Ages, put together the first National Crossbow Tournament in 1954 in Blanchard Springs. Coger and other civic leaders worked to lure Stevens and the tournament to Madison County, explains Marie Demeroukas, photo archivist and research librarian of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, and in 1958, the medieval-themed event was held for the first time on Governor’s Hill overlooking Huntsville.

Demeroukas comes into the story much later, in the early summer of 2019, when the museum opened a new exhibit called “Scenes of Madison County.” A photograph announcing the exhibit ran in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday, and by the time the museum opened to the public on Monday, Shirley Duncan Franklin was there to see the display. When she was a student at Huntsville High School, she told Demeroukas, Franklin had been a Crossbowette, part of a team of young women who were community ambassadors for the tournament and celebrities because of it. By the time Demeroukas was done talking to Franklin that morning, she knew the museum had to pursue this largely untold story.

Over the next few months, Demeroukas spoke with more than a dozen Crossbowettes, including several of their queens, and amassed more than 300 photographs, an inch and a half deep pile of newspapers clippings and about two dozen artifacts. Among items donated or loaned to the museum were one of the original Crossbowette uniforms and a crossbow used in their trick-shooting demonstrations.

Diane McKinney Johnson, a Crossbowette and later a crossbow tournament queen in 1964, explains that there were precision drills all the girls worked on, but during her time period, each girl had a special trick of her own. Hers was to use a mirror smaller than a postage stamp to see the target over her shoulder, aim and shoot at it. Others shot at balloons on a spinning wheel, shot the apple off the head of a wooden statue christened “William Tell’s son” or tried to shoot through the flame of a candle to snuff it out. Doris Ann Coger Kisor, Arlis Coger’s daughter, was queen in 1960 and remembers she and her fellow Crossbowettes played music by shooting at and ringing bells.

Many of the Crossbowettes brought the museum pieces to put the puzzle together, but perhaps no one more than Patsy Laird Vaughan, who had collected portions of Stevens’ collection of memorabilia when he died. She lived long enough to know the exhibit would come together, Demeroukas says, but she’ll miss the reunion that all of the Crossbowettes wanted. It will happen from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 15 at the museum, with a public portion of the program at 2 p.m. that will include a short program on the history of the tournament along with photos and films by Floyd Roberts. His daughter, Dorothy Roberts Dyer, made his collection available for the event.

Kisor says she went off to college and never shot a crossbow again after her year as queen. In more recent years, Johnson brought down an 11-point buck with a crossbow — after she had beaten cancer and a spinal fusion. And the tournament? Like so many great ideas, it fizzled out. Competition moved to Withrow Springs State Park in 1966, Demeroukas says, and 1967 was the last year of the pageantry of the Crossbowettes and the Lancers, horseback riders who escorted the queen in her carriage. The final tournament was held in 2003.

“Of all the projects I’ve worked on for the museum, this has been one of the best,” says Demeroukas. “It’s been a fabulous chance to examine in great detail one small aspect of a community. And everyone I’ve met has been just delightful!”



Crossbowettes Reunion

WHEN — Open to the public at 2 p.m. Nov. 15; exhibit through Dec. 14

WHERE — Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale

COST — Free

INFO — 750-8165

Categories: Galleries