Friday, September 16, 2011

"I plinked it." Elizabeth Servaty Toepperwein (1882-1945) ~by Tanya Hanson

Renowned Texas trick-shooter Adolph Toepperwein (1869-1962) loved rifles as a kid and toured the vaudeville circuit until 1901, when he began a fifty-year gig as an exhibition shooter with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

True to any romance novel plot, he fell instantly in love with a 19-year old employee upon meeting her while visiting a Winchester manufacturing plant when he was 34. Elizabeth Servaty was nineteen. Upon their marriage in 1903, “Ad” taught his bride to shoot. Connecticut born Elizabeth had never shot a gun before in 
her life, but Ad found her to be “a natural.” 

During her training, she shot at tin cans with a .22, and after several tries, made her first hit. “I plinked it,” she declared, referring to the distinctive sound. And forever after she was known as Plinky.

(Practice-shooting at easy targets like cans is known across the world today as “plinking.”)

Within three weeks of her first lesson, Plinky joined her hubby’s act, shooting one-inch pieces of chalk from between his fingers, and empty shells off his fingertips. They 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 amazing record after another. They shot while standing o 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. Plinky’s aerial targets included metal disks, apples, oranges, eggs…and glass marbles.

Not only did Plinky delight the crowds, but she also set records. The first woman to break 100 straight targets at trapshooting, she repeated the incredible 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 2000 thrown –in only five hours, 20 minutes. The phenomenal time span also included the time needed to cool the gun barrel and unpack targets. Missing only eight targets meant Plinky had hit an unprecedented 97.6%

World-famous shooter Annie Oakley, a member of the Trapshooting Hall of Fame, once said to Plinky: “Mrs. Top…you’re the great 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. She became the first woman in United States history to quality as a national marksman with a military rifle. Amidst all this, Plinky gave birth to and raised son Lawrence, who sadly predeceased her in 1940 when he was only 36.

While folks in the know informally believe that Plinky was a better all-around shot than her husband, they never held a contest to see. And despite her amazing talent, Plinky was proud to claim she never shot an animal.

She passed away in her San Antonio home on January 27, 1945, her husband at her side. After Ad’s death in 1962, their lifetime of marksmanship memorabilia went on display on the grounds of The Long Star Brewery in San Antonio. In late 1998, the gallery was moved to the Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum a few blocks from the Alamo, which is how and where I “met” this remarkable couple on my first-ever foray to Texas not long ago.

I hope you enjoyed meeting her today! And I especially thank the Sweethearts for inviting me to join their corral!

Tanya Hanson

Coming soon, Book Four of my Hearts Crossing Ranch series. I'll draw a name today for a pdf. copy of Book One, Hearts Crossing Ranch, for everybody who comments and leaves an e-mail address..


  1. Tanya, I'd never heard of Plinky or her husband--even though I've been to the museums years ago. I loved that she was a marksman but didn't shoot animals. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Welcome to the Sweethearts gang. Wow, you literally opened with a "bang." Your post is wonderful, spot on, just what readers love. Me? I live near San Antonio and I've never heard the story about Plinky and her man. What a pair.

    My favorite thing--old photos--these are so good.
    Imagine living such a life as they did.
    Thanks, Tanya--you did good!

  3. Great post, Tanya. I'd never heard of her, but I know the 'plink' sound. I've never shot an animal, either, but I love target shooting, with both my rifle and pistol. Loved, loved the photos you found here!

  4. hi Caroline and Celia, thanks so much for inviting me to be a Sweetheart. This is such a beautiful blog. oxox

    I too love old photos. I have a whole trunk full of "ancestors". Many aren't identified, sadly, but the pictures are very inspiring.

  5. Hi Lauri, the only time I've shot a gun was in Bandera Texas, during the Wild Rose Press writing retreat last year. I did darn good with my Peacemaker LOL.

    So appreciate the post! oxox

  6. What a great story, Tanya. I had the pleasure of seeing Annie Get Your Gun at Music Circus a few weeks ago and really got caught up in her life and how women succeeded in shooting contests. It really was a wild west at that time in history.

    So glad to have you with us at Sweethearts.

  7. Hi Paisley, she was so fun to read about. After the Wild Rose retreat on a real ranch in Bandera, I spent three days in San Antonio all alone like a big girl LOL. Finding the Buckhorn Saloon (I thin it's Texas' oldest still running) and the museum were just cherries on top after the Alamo and River Walk. I had a great time.

    Thanks to all you sweethearts for inviting me to the corral. I know I'm gonna love it here!

  8. Enjoyed the post. I love leanring about interesting women from the past.

  9. hi Georgie, I too, love learning about the strong women of the West. In this case, Ad was certainly a pillar of support. I almost wish they'd had that contest between them LOL. Thanks for stopping by today.

  10. Tanya,
    Welcome to Sweethearts of the West! So glad you are one of us, now. I loved this post. You always have the most interesting posts. I really enjoyed reading about this amazing woman, and the incredible love story, too. Thanks so much for posting this, and loved the pictures, too. GREAT POST!

  11. hi Cheryl, you are so welcome, but I'm the one who should be thanking all of you. I love strong women, men who adore them, great love stories. So Plinky was a great topic and even greater inspiration! Thanks for the comment. oxoxox

  12. Tanya,
    Welcome to Sweethearts! Great post!
    I had heard of her probably on a TV program and find her story amazing. Thanks for reminding me of her.

    I've been to San Antonio a few times. My mom's family is from there and the surrounding areas. My great great grandfather was Judge Dwyer. I think he had some cousins in San Antonio too. His son, my great grandfather, ended up out here in far west Texas. ;-)

    Anytime anyone wants to go to San Antonio I'm happy to go along.

    Good to see you here!

  13. Tanya, what a wonderful story! I hope you work them into one of your books fun would that be?!!

  14. I did enjoy meeting Plinky today. Totally unknown to me before this, which is kind of sad.

  15. Hi Jeanmarie, I love San Antonio. I had such a blast, and visited the Alamo every day. It was so reverential. I hear the next Wild Rose Press retreat may be back in Bandera, so I'd love a San Antonio buddy! Hope to meet you.

  16. hi Christine, yeah, Plinky definitely needs to be showcased in a book. A cool subplot maybe. Thanks for the idea. And for posting today.

  17. hi Christine, yeah, Plinky definitely needs to be showcased in a book. A cool subplot maybe. Thanks for the idea. And for posting today.

  18. Hi Marybelle, what a pretty name. Definitely deserving of a western romance heroine. I too learn so much researching the west. I totally lucked out meeting Plinky at that fun, small museum. Thanks for the post.

  19. Great information! I went to the Texas Ranger museum last year and I don't remember seeing the info about Plinky and her husband. But then I was being rushed through by my sister-in-law and my husband.

  20. Hi Paty, yeah, I think Plinky was at the end, after the displays of famous gunfighters et al. Or maybe it's a moveable display and not always out. I admit, I was on my own and got to savor every second of my visit in San Antonio. Anyway, I hope you can see it someday

  21. Christine, I drew your name! Please e-mail me at my website if you want to receive an e-copy of Hearts Crossing Ranch. Everybody, I had great fun and thanks for the posts.


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