Saturday, Jul 25, 2020
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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.
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.
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