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!
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..