The time was right.
Fifty years after Thomas A. Marshall was ushered into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame as part of the charter class, the 12-gauge Cashmore gun he used to win the 1897 and 1899 Grand American Handicaps is being donated to the Trapshooting Hall of Fame and Museum in Sparta.
The 1899 Grand American was the last time live birds were used in the competition.
“I’m really excited about this,” said Tom Kester II, Marshall’s great-grandson. “I want to see the gun returned to where it should be. It was kind of a strange feeling when I shipped it back to the hall. It was being reunited with the picture of the man who owned it. It’s kind of like a reunion in my mind and kind of fun to see it come home.”
The donation of the gun marks a homecoming on another level. Marshall was a resident of Keithsburg, a small Mississippi River town in Mercer County. Marshall was a pharmacist, owned Keithsburg’s telephone company and served as mayor.
He grew up shooting in Mercer County, winning the Mercer County Cup in 1875 at age 19. Eventually, his shooting prowess took him all over the world. Kester said Marshall was once personally awarded a medal by Queen Victoria of England.
Now, the gun he used will reside in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. Marshall’s shotgun, in pristine condition, was recently appraised at $25,000.
“It’s the 50th anniversary of the opening of the hall of fame,” Kester said. “He was one of the original inductees 50 years ago. Annie Oakley was a member of that first induction class.
“I’ve already shipped it. It’s in the hands of the hall right now with a shotgun John Phillips Sousa shot with. He and my great grandfather were hunting partners.”
When Marshall won the Grand American the competition involved 25 targets — live birds.
“Clay pigeons can be set to do a lot of strange things,” Kester said. “A bird who is breaking free can do a lot of squirrely things. In those days 25 straight was a pretty amazing task. But, they were known to go with 50.
“I’ve heard them referred to as pigeons and doves. Maybe they used either or. I’m sure they were farm-raised, or maybe they were captured in the wild. I know the most demanding position on the field, they called them bird boys. They managed the birds in the traps and released them properly.”
Marshall is the only person to win a pair of Grand Americans that used live birds as targets.
Kester, who now lives in Pasadena, California, was in Sparta last Tuesday to attend the Hall of Fame banquet.
The gun was manufactured by the William Cashmore Gun Co. in Birmingham, England, the same company that built Oakley’s gun.
“It has not been fired since 1922 (the date of Marshall’s death),” Kester said. “It’s been in my grandmother’s house, always in a gun closet. There were two of them that were commemorative.”
Marshall died two days after competing in the Great Lakes Zone Shoot. He was vice president of the American Trapshooting Association at the time. The organization became the ATA two years later.