A Fond Adios To A Texas Sharpshooter

A famous Texas sharpshooter has died. Joe Bowman's shooting ability — as well as his skill twirling a six-shooter — earned him the admiration of some of Hollywood's most famous on-screen cowboys.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Finally this hour, we're going to remember a man who really knew how to handle a gun.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn tells us about a Texas sharpshooter and Western showman who passed away a few weeks ago.

WADE GOODWYN: Joe Bowman was so good with a single action revolver, he could turn an aspirin into powder at 20 yards. He was so fast, he could shoot into sheet metal the profile of an Indian in full, feathered headdress. Bowman could take a playing card, set it on edge, and peel it in two with a single bullet. The performer known as the master of trigger-nometry could fire five times so quickly, it sounded like a single, if slightly longer, shot.

Mr. DENNY SHEWELL: Well, he'd start by what we call fanning the gun, and he would run his thumb over first and then his index finger and right on down his fingers, va-va-va-voom.

GOODWYN: Tonto Rim Slim, also known as Denny Shewell, was one of the last of Bowman's friends to see him alive. Shewell says if you saw a B-Western growing up, there was a good chance you were watching an actor who'd been trained by Bowman. He trained James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon in "Gunsmoke," and Robert Duvall, who played Augustus McCrae in "Lonesome Dove."

Shewell says that after Bowman ensured these actors looked like they'd grown up with a pistol, he could put on a demonstration that would leave, no doubt, the studio had hired the very best tutor in the world.

Mr. SHEWELL: He had a six-shooter in each hand and twirling them everywhere you can think of, and throwing them up and catching them and back in the holster and back right out again, and that's the part I liked.

GOODWYN: Shewell says Bowman lived the role of the chivalrous cowboy so completely, it was impossible to tell where the man ended and his performing character began.

Mr. SHEWELL: Anybody you talk to, the first thing they're going to say was that he was this unbelievable gentleman and he lived by the code. Right was right and wrong was wrong. And if he could do anything to make it right, he would.

GOODWYN: Bowman, who looked a bit like Bob Hope, was born in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1925. As a boy, he honed his skills by shooting flies who had the misfortune of landing on the family barbecue grill with his BB gun. He opened a boot shop in Houston, but his hobby of performing at rodeos and fairs eventually turned into a full-time profession in the 1960s.

If a measure of a man can be understood from his service to his country, Bowman can rest easy. He came home from World War II with three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart pinned to his chest.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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