Three Merry Bowman
by Cliff Huntington
During the mid 1870's, a loosely organized group of archery enthusiasts
associated themselves at Crawfordsville, Indiana, for the purpose of practicing
with the bow and arrows. Only two of the members, Maurice and Will H.
Thompson were archers of experience, having shot over the finest hunting
grounds the south had to offer, armed with English longbows and arrows.
As with many organizations, enthusiasm initially reigns and then interest
languishes, soon reducing the numbers to a few dedicated souls. Such was
the case with this group from Crawfordsville, until one bright afternoon,
only three hardy individuals were left to answer roll-call. Captain H.
H. Talbott, Will H. Thompson and Maurice Thompson took the name of the
"Three Merry Bowman" and enjoyed many an adventure "by field
and flood." They were not an Archery Club, just three ardent archers
with the sole purpose of shooting game with the longbow and arrows. Their
membership was limited to three gentlemen, ladies being excluded.
They never indulged in the more formal target archery, "being quite
ignorant of the theory and practical details of Archery as a game."
According to Maurice, "...shooting at game in the fields and woods
(by 'flood and field') is as different from target shooting as day is different
from night. The bright rings of a target are a snare and a delusion to
the greenwood archer." Maurice wrote the following description of
their equipment in the 1879 Archer's Register, "The arrows used by
the 'Three' in their practice, except when shooting for prizes with other
Clubs, are of two kinds--broad-headed, barbed hunting arrows, and blunt
birding arrows. The steles of these arrows are 30 inches long and 3/8
of an inch greatest diameter, with goose-wing vanes 1 1/4 inches wide.
The heads each weigh 3/4 of an ounce avoirdupois. Their bows are six
feet six inches long, with a weight of from 60 lbs. to 72 lbs."
The "Three" would develop a lifelong friendship and enjoy
many a jaunt through the woods surrounding Crawfordsville pursuing the
plentiful hares and colorful wood ducks. On several occasions Captain
Talbott remarked that "the friendship between him and the Thompson
boys were one of a million." Captain Talbott would develop considerable
skill with the longbow, making some remarkable shots on game from thirty
to seventy yards.
During July of 1877 Maurice had simultaneously published two articles,
"Hunting With The Longbow" in Harper's and "Bow Shooting"
in Scribner's. Both were immediately popular with their subscribers and
through these articles a great interest in archery was rekindled. This
growing popularity brought with it a friendly controversy between the "Three"
and a group of riflemen, known as the Montgomery Scouts, also from Crawfordsville.
These crack riflemen were headed by the well known and celebrated marksman,
General Lew Wallace. (General Wallace would later gain international acclaim
with the publication of the novel "Ben-Hur" in 1880.) Maurice
and his archery enthusiasts had been promoting the merits of the bow and
had dared to infer that the bow could be made to compete successfully with
the rifle under rules of tournament shooting. Maurice, ever loyal to the
English longbow, issued a challenge to General Wallace for a shooting match
at ten o'clock on Tuesday, October 23, 1877, in the Dry Branch Bottom near
The two teams were selected with the riflemen being represented by General
Wallace, Frank Snyder and Edward Voris and the archers represented by Maurice
Thompson, Will H. Thompson and Captain H. H. Talbott. A meeting was arranged
between the two groups and the following rules of engagement were established.
Each group was to shoot three rounds of 30 shots at a four foot target
with a nine inch gold. Archers would shoot at 20 yards while the riflemen
shot at 100 yards, archers would shoot at 30 yards and rifleman at 200
yards with archers shooting their final round at 40 yards and riflemen
at 200 yards. The result of the contest showed the archers out scoring
the riflemen at each distance. General Wallace and Maurice Thompson produced
the highest scores for each's respective group with Maurice easily out
scoring the General. However, the General did score better with his second
200 yard total against Maurice's 40 yard score. After this contest, the
"Three" would begin a course of target-practice and find that
shooting the light English target arrows would be quite difference from
the heavy hunting shafts they were familiar with.
Captain Talbott's service during the Civil war carried him into Georgia
with the forces of General Sherman. He was in attendance at much property
destruction, but always protested these senseless acts. Captain Talbott
was present when the property of Elder Grigg Thompson was destroyed in
Gordon county, Georgia and as usual, lodged a protest. Who would have
guessed that a dozen years later this young Union Officer would become
lifelong friends with two sons of the Elder Grigg Thompson, two sons who
wore the colors of the Confederate. The bond of the bow is indeed a powerful