Huntsville's Crossbow Tournament

Online Exhibit

Crossbowettes pose with their crossbows, October 1962. Front, from left: Susie McDonald, Linda Owens, Shirley Duncan, Diane McKinney, and Juanita Thompson. Seated in coach: 1961 Queen Joy Patrick. Dorothy Dyer Roberts Collection (S-2019-59)

Organized by George M. Stevens, the first National Crossbow Tournament was held in 1954 at Blanchard Springs in north-central Arkansas. Stevens was an artist, inventor, and crossbow maker who was enthralled with the weapon’s history and the romance of medieval times. Seeing a good thing, Huntsville druggist and crossbow enthusiast Arlis Coger and other civic leaders worked to lure Stevens and the tournament to town, which was soon dubbed “Land of the Crossbow.” They hoped the tourney would become a signature tourist event like War Eagle’s craft fair and Eureka Springs’ folk festival. In October 1958 the medieval-themed event was held on Governor’s Hill, overlooking Huntsville. It featured costumed contestants, competitions, a queen and her court, and precision crossbow shooting by the Crossbowettes.

The Crossbowette team was made up of Huntsville High School girls wearing eye-catching blue-and-gold costumes. Organized by Stevens, not only did they perform and help with the tournament, they were community ambassadors, appearing in parades and giving crossbow demonstrations. Stevens once said, “Whether people watch the show because of the pretty girls or the crossbows we’ve never been sure.” Each year one of them was crowned queen. The girls trained on the crossbow with Stevens and Coger and learned military drills from Mike Zotti, a high school science teacher. Special tricks included shooting at balloons fastened to a revolving wheel or placed inside a mechanical dragon’s mouth, which opened and closed. Other tricks included using a small mirror mounted on the crossbow to aim backwards at a target, “playing a song” by shooting at targets wired to chimes, and shooting at an apple or a glass Christmas ornament placed on the head of William Tell’s “son,” a small, colorfully painted wood figure.

Lancer in action on Governor’s Hill, Huntsville, October 1959. Bruce Vaughan, photographer. Mary Maestri Vaughan Collection (S-2015-98-84)

Another group of costumed performers were the Lancers. Members of local riding clubs, the Lancers escorted the Crossbowettes and the queen during parades and into the tournament grounds. They provided thrilling entertainment too, using long wood lances to spear small rings hanging from posts while riding at full gallop. Inventor of the repeating crossbow, Stevens sold handmade and factory-made crossbows during the tournament, as well as feathered bolts (arrows) made by his wife Dolly. Tournament visitors were treated to speeches, live music, and competitions held by the American Crossbow Association (ACA). Medals were awarded at a banquet held at the Crossbow Restaurant, which was decorated with paintings done by Stevens.

After the tournament’s initial years, visitor attendance lessened. The tournament moved to nearby Withrow Springs State Park in 1966. The following year was the last for the Crossbowettes and Lancers. The ACA competition continued, minus the pageantry, through 2003.

Crossbowettes pose with their crossbows, October 1962. Front, from left: Susie McDonald, Linda Owens, Shirley Duncan, Diane McKinney, and Juanita Thompson. Seated in coach: 1961 Queen Joy Patrick. Dorothy Dyer Roberts Collection (S-2019-59)

Organized by George M. Stevens, the first National Crossbow Tournament was held in 1954 at Blanchard Springs in north-central Arkansas. Stevens was an artist, inventor, and crossbow maker who was enthralled with the weapon’s history and the romance of medieval times. Seeing a good thing, Huntsville druggist and crossbow enthusiast Arlis Coger and other civic leaders worked to lure Stevens and the tournament to town, which was soon dubbed “Land of the Crossbow.” They hoped the tourney would become a signature tourist event like War Eagle’s craft fair and Eureka Springs’ folk festival. In October 1958 the medieval-themed event was held on Governor’s Hill, overlooking Huntsville. It featured costumed contestants, competitions, a queen and her court, and precision crossbow shooting by the Crossbowettes.

The Crossbowette team was made up of Huntsville High School girls wearing eye-catching blue-and-gold costumes. Organized by Stevens, not only did they perform and help with the tournament, they were community ambassadors, appearing in parades and giving crossbow demonstrations. Stevens once said, “Whether people watch the show because of the pretty girls or the crossbows we’ve never been sure.” Each year one of them was crowned queen. The girls trained on the crossbow with Stevens and Coger and learned military drills from Mike Zotti, a high school science teacher. Special tricks included shooting at balloons fastened to a revolving wheel or placed inside a mechanical dragon’s mouth, which opened and closed. Other tricks included using a small mirror mounted on the crossbow to aim backwards at a target, “playing a song” by shooting at targets wired to chimes, and shooting at an apple or a glass Christmas ornament placed on the head of William Tell’s “son,” a small, colorfully painted wood figure.

Lancer in action on Governor’s Hill, Huntsville, October 1959. Bruce Vaughan, photographer. Mary Maestri Vaughan Collection (S-2015-98-84)

Another group of costumed performers were the Lancers. Members of local riding clubs, the Lancers escorted the Crossbowettes and the queen during parades and into the tournament grounds. They provided thrilling entertainment too, using long wood lances to spear small rings hanging from posts while riding at full gallop. Inventor of the repeating crossbow, Stevens sold handmade and factory-made crossbows during the tournament, as well as feathered bolts (arrows) made by his wife Dolly. Tournament visitors were treated to speeches, live music, and competitions held by the American Crossbow Association (ACA). Medals were awarded at a banquet held at the Crossbow Restaurant, which was decorated with paintings done by Stevens.

After the tournament’s initial years, visitor attendance lessened. The tournament moved to nearby Withrow Springs State Park in 1966. The following year was the last for the Crossbowettes and Lancers. The ACA competition continued, minus the pageantry, through 2003.

Artifact Gallery

Patsy Laird Vaughan posing with her Crossbowette memorabilia, Hindsville, 2019. From 1959 to 1960, Patsy was both a Crossbowette and a crossbow tournament competitor. Over the years she collected many photos and items associated with the tournament, which she generously donated to the museum.

Shiloh Museum photo archivist Marie Demeroukas presented this slide program during a reunion of the Crossbowettes on November 15, 2020.

Here’s a recording of Crossbowettes sharing stories during the November 2020 reunion at the Shiloh Museum. Museum photo archivist Marie Demeroukas is the moderator.

rossbowette reunion, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, November 15, 2019. Back, from left: Sue Ellen McDonald Montgomery, Judy Karnes Cotton, Diane McKinney Johnson, Shirley Duncan Franklin, Juanita Thompson Shepherd, Linda Owens Womack, Kathy Counts Howard, Doris Ann Coger Kisor, Joy Patrick Parrott, and Chris Smith Royston. Front, from left: Nancy Smith Marsh, Trudy Gaskill Karnes, Karen Smith Croxdale, Claudette Elzey Shrum, Pat Woollen Wusnack, and Barbara Fowler Robinson.

Crossbowette reunion, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, November 15, 2019. Back, from left: Sue Ellen McDonald Montgomery, Judy Karnes Cotton, Diane McKinney Johnson, Shirley Duncan Franklin, Juanita Thompson Shepherd, Linda Owens Womack, Kathy Counts Howard, Doris Ann Coger Kisor, Joy Patrick Parrott, and Chris Smith Royston. Front, from left: Nancy Smith Marsh, Trudy Gaskill Karnes, Karen Smith Croxdale, Claudette Elzey Shrum, Pat Woollen Wusnack, and Barbara Fowler Robinson.

Know Your Crossbowettes

1958 Crossbowette Queen Nancy Dryer

1958 Queen
Nancy Dryer

1959 Queen
Margaret Jane Fitch

1960 Crossbowette Queen Doris Ann Coger

1960 Queen
Doris Ann Coger

1961 Queen
Joy Patrick

1962 Queen
Charlotte McBee

1963 Queen
Linda Owens

1964 Queen
Diane McKinney

1965 Queen
Susie McDonald

1966 Queen
Trudy Gaskill

1967 Queen
Karen Smith

Angela Sanders
1958

Barbara Fowler
1959

Beverly Alverson
1962

Carolyn Bolinger
1960

Charlotte McBee
1960-1962

Chris Smith
1965-1967

Claudette Elzey
1966-1967

Diana Turner
1961

Diane McKinney
1961-1964

Doris Ann Coger
1958-1960

Joy Patrick
1958-1961

Juanita Thompson
1961-1963

Judy Karnes
1966-1967

Karen Smith
1965-1967

Kathy Counts
1965-1967

Linda Owens
1961-1963

Marie Ann Mowery
1963-1964

Mary Fancher
1961

Nancy Smith
1967

Pat Woollen
1958-1960

Patsy Edmisten
1959-1960

Patsy Laird
1959-1960

Patsy Sutton
1958

Sharon Fancher
1958-1959

Shirley Duncan
1961-1964

Susie McDonald
1962-1964

Trudy Gaskill
1964-1966

Crossbow Tournament Home Movies

Theses home movies were made by Floyd Roberts of Huntsville, Arkansas, and are courtesy of his daughter, Dorothy Roberts Dyer.

Clearing of Governor's Hill and construction activities, view of entrance pavilion, procession of lancers, crossbowettes, and Queen Nancy Dryer in coach, Crossbowettes practicing marching drills, lancer competition, Crossbowettes practicing their drill routine and shooting at balloons, public crossbow competition, scenes of parking and competition areas, crowning of queen, Crossbowette demonstration, including backwards trick shot, lancer competition, public competition.
Construction and maintenance on Governor's Hill, with scenes of Steven's Crossbow Shop (brick red building), parking area, competition field, and stage, chicken cookout, procession of lancers, Crossbowettes, and former Queen Nancy Dryer followed by Queen Margaret Jane Fitch, crowning of Queen Margaret, public competition, lancers' competition, Crossbowettes drilling and shooting, public competition and awarding of medals, (Arlis Coger in beige shirt).
Miss Arkansas Susie Jackson (seen in opening shot) learns how to shoot a crossbow from George Stevens (in white shirt and beige cap) and marches and poses with Crossbowettes at Arlis Coger's home in Huntsville.
Crossbowette demonstration, arrival by coach of queen Doris Ann Coger, public competition (Arlis Coger in black and white plaid jacket); Queen Doris Ann on stage with Patsy Edmisten, lancer competition, and competition winners (Arlis Coger far left, Patsy Laird far right).
Public crossbow competition, Patsy Laird in red and white Crossbow Starlets costume, queen Joy Patrick in sedan chair, Huntsville High School marching band in front of George Steven's crossbow shop, Governor Orval E. Faubus on stage, march into arena, arrival of queen Joy in hard-to-see sedan chair, arrival of former queen Doris Ann Coger in coach, public crossbow competition, Wesley Brass Band, knighting of winning lancer by queen Joy, Crossbowette trick-shooting demonstration (balloons, William Tell's "son," shooting backwards with use of mirror).
With crowd in stadium, riding of lancers, former queen Joy Patrick getting into coach with lancer escort, queen Charlotte McBee in coach.
With scenes of fairgrounds (stage, crowd in stadium, scoreboard), riding of lancers, Huntsville High School marching band, arrival of queen Linda Owens by coach and her crowning, public competition, lancer stake-race competition, arrival of Lucina Brashears in suit of armor, queen Linda and Lucina on platform, Crossbowette demonstration, lancer stake-race.