History of Fast Draw
"As I Recall" - By Bill Boyd
TV, Tenacity, and the Faber FasDraw Timer - By Marianne Faber
"My Take on the History of Fast Draw" By George A. Reese
By: Quick Cal a.k.a. Cal Eilrich
The following is a very abbreviated history of the sport of Fast Draw, an entire full length book could be authored on this subject. It is an attempt by those of us who believe that documenting the stages of the history of a sport that is based on the American Old West and has existed for almost 60 years is important. Those with knowledge are invited to submit facts known to them here, as this is meant to be an online working document and a resource for those seeking information about the Sport of Fast Draw.
Tied to the American Old West
Fast Draw found its beginnings in the mid-1950s amidst the era of the television western. Since the beginning era of motion pictures western movies had always been popular. In 1903, a twelve minute film was made called The Great Train Robbery. This milestone achievement in film making was based on a true train robbery carried out by Butch Cassidy and the 'Hole in the Wall Gang' on August 29th, 1900, only 3 years prior. Even though it was made on the east coast, it helped spawn a new motion picture industry in Hollywood, CA where weather was more dependable. "Did Hollywood invent the western, or did the western invent Hollywood?"
Before Hollywood there were the dime novelists, some of whom actually followed certain gunmen around in the actual time period and promoted their subjects to a legendary status. There was an actual term in the old west
'quick on the draw', which actually meant hot-headed and quick to draw a gun with very little provocation, It was really this group of literary figures that coined the phrases quick draw, fast draw, gunfighter and gunslinger in the late 1800s and very early 1900s. These exciting stories created a rich environment on which to base early western movie screenplays.
Western movies were king during the 20s, 30s and 40s, with Tom Mix and Gene Autry as Hollywood's Top Box Office Stars. Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, John Wayne and a host of others became huge box office sensations. But it was really the era of television where weekly serial westerns reigned, that spawned the nationwide interest in Fast Draw. Wanted Dead or Alive, Maverick, Paladin, Texas Ranger, The Rifleman, Lawman, Wagon Train, Johnny Ringo, Bonanza and Gunsmoke are just a few of the westerns that captured the imagination of Americans.
During the 1950s there became a need in Hollywood for gun coaches and trainers for many of the movie actors who needed to become proficient with six-guns. Arvo Ojala was the most popular coach to the stars and his pupils have become a 'who's who' list of celebrities including Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Dale Robertson, James Arness and Hugh O'Brian to name a few. Arvo was also a noted maker of fast draw holsters, but he was most famous for getting gunned down by Marshal Matt Dillon in the opening segment each and every week in the longest running TV western in history, "Gunsmoke." Arvo once told me that the royalties that he earned from that one scene paid for many Cadillacs over the years.
The romance and legend of the American West grew stronger each year during the 50s as over 100 western performers toured the country entertaining millions of Americans. Rodd Redwing, Thell Reed and Joe Bodrie were the best known of the gunslingers. Roy Rogers and Clayton Moore made hundreds of appearances. There were emerging performers during the 60s as well Stan Sweet, Bob Munden, and Joe Bowman among them. Hugh O'Brian who was starring as Wyatt Earp wagered $1,000 to any Hollywood actor that could beat his timed draw. In 2006, I had the privilege of interviewing Hugh O'Brian. He confirmed this story but said it was actually $5,000 and that no one ever beat him, and some did try. He also confirmed that Audie Murphy called him out, but insisted that they use live ammunition, Hugh declined the offer. Of special note; after performing a show in 2010 in Reno, I was honored to have a Vietnam Veteran approach me and he told me a story about Hugh O'Brian. While he served in combat in Vietnam, the USO Tour had entertained the troops and Hugh O'Brian was among them. Even though his weekly Wyatt Earp role had ended a few years prior, he felt the troops would best know him portraying that character. After hearing that some soldiers had to miss the performance Hugh O'Brian went to the front lines in his full Wyatt Earp costume complete with his double dropped loop holster sporting a pair of 7-1/2" Colt .45s, he preferred the Buntline Colts for photos. He did some gun spinning and the hand clap trick with a number of the soldiers, while in the line of fire; they loved it! I ran into Mr. O'Brian a little later that year and relayed the story the veteran told me; he remembered it, confirmed it and smiled. He said the USO people were really upset with him for putting his own life in danger. I can tell you that Mr. O'Brian is still a hero to that soldier and that soldier is still a hero to Mr. O'Brian.
The Sport of Fast Draw is Born
Dee Woolem, a native Oklahoman was employed by Knott's Berry Farm in Anaheim, CA to perform as a stuntman, he staged train robberies and entertained millions of visitors of the park for a number of years. In 1954, with the help of technicians at the park, he created the very first fast draw timer. That year he conducted the first known timed fast draw competition, there were 12 competitors and he billed it as the National Fast Draw Championship; first place was a chicken dinner. Contestants placed their trigger finger on a button and the hand had to be placed 6" away from the six-gun at the closest point of contact. The timer would start as soon as the hand was moved towards the six-gun and would stop at the sound of a safety blank being fired; judges had to determine if the fired shot was level. Dee held four National Championships and won all of them with his record being .12 hundredths of a second. Dee went on to tour the nation and made countless appearances for Great Western Firearms, Crossman Arms Co., and Daisy Firearms. Dee also designed his own holsters, which were marketed by Tandy Leather and he was billed as "The Fastest Gun Alive". Dee rightfully has earned the title of "The Father of Fast Draw."
Fast Draw Organizations
During the 50s and early 60s, it seemed the entire country was consumed with the image of the American Old West. Colt Firearms hired George Virgines, a well-known fast draw artist and sport organizer from the Chicago area to write a brochure on "How to Form a Fast Draw Club". There were Fast Draw clubs forming all over the country. Contests were hosted by clubs and it seemed that each club had their own set of rules. Although no firm figures exist, it has been calculated that there were over 100,000 fast draw participants in the U.S. during that time period. In 1958 the first known association was formed in an attempt to standardize rules in their region, which included Northern California and Nevada. Harry Goudge, the Denim Brothers, George Narasaki and A. John formed the Northern California Fast Draw Association, with a one page set of rules; this evolved over the next decade into the Western Fast Draw Association. In the next year or two a number of state associations were formed from coast to coast.
In 1961, while conducting a National Fast Draw Championship in Kansas, a meeting was held to form a National Fast Draw Association, by Jim Kennedy of Irvine, TX, but it didn't take hold. In 1961, the Mid-Western Fast Draw Association was formed in the Chicago area by Don Oplinger and George Virgines and by the mid-60s most clubs and states in the Mid-West opted in. Some state associations still exist to this day. The WFDA (West and Northwest) tended to favor closer and easier to hit targets and were more speed orientated and shot primarily .45 blank cartridges at 4" balloon targets, with some wax events thrown in. The MWFDA (Mid-West and South) favored more challenging to hit targets with wax bullets and occasionally shot blanks and valued accuracy over speed.
There were a number of publications that were circulated but most were short lived. The Gunsmoke Gazette, published by Bud Young appeared in 1961; the Pacesetter was published in Kansas starting in 1962; the Sagebrush Sentinel in 1964 & 65; Top Gun Magazine (WFDA) Ron Mossholder '65-'66; Fast Draw Digest '67 by Don Oplinger; by 1968 both the WFDA and MWFDA started to publish monthly newsletters that continued until they merged in 1976.
A legendary figure in the sport by the name of E.L. "Pop" Warner, who actually rode with Poncho Villa and was in real stand up gunfights in his day, traveled across the country competing and commenting on standardizing the rules between both major associations; he lived to see his goal achieved.
In 1976, The Western Fast Draw Association and the Mid-Western Fast Draw Association merged to form the World Fast Draw Association (WFDA); which still exists. The sport has seen ups and downs mainly due to constant rule and equipment modifications and the lack of a unified direction that dates back to the 1950s. The guns and holsters became highly modified and over the years the even the wax targets were increased in size and speed became the predominant goal.
In 2002, Cowboy Fast Draw, LLC was founded in Deadwood, SD by Brad and Susan Hemmah and has grown to the largest Fast Draw organization by far in almost 60 year history of the sport.
Guns: Became highly modified in the quest for speed. It began with adding fanning hammers in the late 50's, then aluminum barrels came along a few years later. By the 1970's some guns were skeletonized and metal parts were replaced with aluminum and titanium. Action jobs included deepened notches and approaches, but evolved into short stroke actions. Thumbing hammers were almost non-existent due to the fact that 95% of
competitors fanned the guns. John Phillips was highly regarded as the top Fast Draw Gunsmith.
Holsters: In the mid-1950s Hollywood holsters mainly consisted of Mexican loop holsters rigged to fit through a slot cut in the belt, hence the term drop-loop holster. Metal lining was added and holsters started to be attached to the belt to allow forward cants. As twist-fanning evolved the boots were attached to shanks and then they were enlarged. By the 1970s the boots got so large that the term "bucket boot" was used to describe the fast draw rig. Some of the early top manufacturers were Arvo Ojala, Andy Anderson and Alfonso's of Hollywood. As the 60s and 70s progressed Blocker Holsters, Ernie Hill Speed Leather and Mernickle Holsters were widely used.
Timers: In the mid-1950s they used clutch driven timers that had a sweep hand that when tuned 360 degrees it was equal to one second, and the clock face was divided in 1/100th of a second. These timers varied widely
in accuracy and were off as much a 1/10th of a second from manufacturer to manufacturer. Through the 50s and 60s the 3 main Fast Draw Timer manufacturers were Chrondek, Microtron and Fabor. In the 70s digital timers became widely used and eventually required. John Phillips introduced the Lindsey Timer, other timer manufacturers were Bill Corbin, John Smith Hughes and in the 1990s the Fast Trac was introduced but supplies were very limited.
In 2004 the Precision Timer was introduced by Shoot Magazine, recently produced is the Quick Draw Electronics Timer and CFDA's Gunslinger Cowboy Fast Draw Timer. The modern timers used LED lights which make the timing much more accurate due to the fact that incandescent bulbs had varying illumination rates.
Contributing Credits So Far: Ron Bright, Bob Arganbright, Ken Gentry, Bill Boyd....
The year was 2001, Brad Hemmah had been very involved with Fast Draw for over 15 years, first with a local club in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They competed with stock guns and shot .22 blanks at balloons from 6'. He then began competing with the World Fast Draw Association (WFDA) starting in the late 80s and got very involved with the organization.
In 1992, Brad started to host a number of top quality World Championships that continued through the 90s in Deadwood. He became disillusioned with the constant diversity of opinions and internal politics that kept fracturing the organization. Brad then formed a vision of creating a new organization based more on the reality of period correct equipment, simplified rules, the Spirit of the Cowboy Way, and with the motto Safety First and Fun Second being the primary concern. A founding principle was to keep guns stock, with only internal action jobs allowed, so that anyone could go to almost any gun shop and purchase a gun that would be competitive on a World Championship level.
Brad dedicated many hours of interviews and research of facts and opinions by many advisors, most who had been involved with Fast Draw for the decades dating back to the 50s. Among those advisors were such Fast Draw icons as Tom Wentz, Jim Standridge, Bob Arganbright, Jim Martin, Ron Bright, Cal Eilrich, Ron Phillips, Bob Mernickle, Bill Corbin, Ray Theilke, Wes Flowers and a host of others.
In 2002, The Cowboy Fast Draw Association, LLC was officially filed in State of South Dakota by Brad and Susan Hemmah located in Deadwood, SD. The forming of this organization literally provided a re-birth for the Sport of Fast Draw. What Brad came up with was very close to the same set of rules that CFDA still operates under today. The organization was formed as a business entity so that it would have a chance to succeed and
to keep it as free as possible from internal politics.
In 2003, Andy Fink of Shoot Magazine competed in CFDA's first major contest, The Master Gunfighter Championship, in Deadwood, SD and covered it in Shoot Magazine. Troy and Bonnie Bollock were spectators at the Master Gunfighter Championship and then later that year founded CFDA's first affiliated club The Powder Horn Ranch Regulators in Mitchell, SD.
In 2004, Shoot Magazine hosted the first major contest outside of Deadwood the CFDA National Championship and the first clubs were formed outside of South Dakota in Idaho. The first CFDA World Championship was held in Deadwood and the first CFDA State Championship was held at Cabela's in Mitchell, SD by the Powder Horn Ranch Regulators.
In 2005, the first CFDA Affiliated Club was formed in the western time zone, by Cal Eilrich in Fernley, Nevada.
In December of 2005, Andy Fink and Cal Eilrich had a meeting and discussed promotional ideas concerning Cowboy Fast Draw and recognized the potential the sport had. They drafted a letter and sent a partnership proposal to Brad and Susan Hemmah.
In 2006, Brad and Susan Hemmah had already realized that administrating CFDA was becoming a full time job and Brad was pursuing new business opportunities related to the casino business and could no longer dedicate the necessary time that CFDA required. They decided to sell their interest in CFDA to the partnership of Cal Eilrich and Shoot Magazine Inc. (Andy Fink). The Hemmahs felt that they were leaving CFDA in good hands, due to Cal's business background and long history in the sport both as a competitor and administrator; and Shoot Magazine's promotional abilities. The transfer took place in April of '06 and CFDA offices moved to Boise, ID. CFDA at that time had just over 300 members and 5 affiliated clubs.
Marshall Hopper, who worked for Shoot Magazine at the time, became the Membership Director and was the first full time paid employee in the history of organized Fast Draw.
CFDA almost immediately began to spread from coast to coast and started to gain national attention in the media and within the firearms industry. That same year CFDA began the practice of members adopting an alias to be known by within the sport and also established category championships.
Andy Fink a.k.a. Chucky (Shoot Magazine) was indeed instrumental in spreading the word about Cowboy Fast Draw through their magazine and was in charge of editing and publishing the Gunslinger's Gazette, which was originally a full color glossy magazine.
Cal Eilrich a.k.a. Quick Cal assumed the position of overseeing contest procedures, rules, club formation strategies and developing equipment and other innovations needed to build the sport. He also headed up the effort to define, rewrite and reorganize the CFDA Rulebook, which became the CFDA Gunslinger's Guidelines.
He was committed to do so without violating the original principles that the organization was founded upon.
Marshall Hopper a.k.a. Mississippi Marshal handled all membership issues and processed orders from the CFDA Mercantile. He was instrumental in the organization of the sport and played a huge role in writing the Range Officer Course, Youth Safety Training Program and defining the true Spirit of the Game.
In 2007, CFDA hosted both the National and World Championships and established the CFDA Range Officer Course and Youth Training Program. By the end of 2007, CFDA's membership grew to 1,000 members and about 20 affiliated clubs had formed, but unfortunately Shoot Magazine went out of business due to a loss in advertising revenues at the beginning of the recession. Quick Cal purchased Shoot Magazine's interest in CFDA and moved the business office to Fernley, NV. Cal's daughter Erika Frisk a.k.a. Hannah Calder joined the staff as the editor of the Gunslinger's Gazette, converted the publication to the more affordable and current newsprint format. It was November of 2007 when CFDA began issuing numbered membership badges for all new members beginning with membership #1,000. Mississippi Marshal kept the membership office and CFDA Mercantile running in Idaho City, ID and he and the Idaho Shootists hosted the National & Idaho State Championships; they built their club to over 130 members.
In 2008, CFDA moved the World Championship from Deadwood, SD to Fallon, NV and trademarked the name "Fastest Gun Alive". The sport continued to grow and spread from coast to coast. The Regulator Posse was formed by Quick Cal in 2008 to establish an experienced and specially trained group of volunteers to represent CFDA across the country and assist in establishing new clubs and to instruct the CFDA Range Officer Course.
Mongo, was elected the Sheriff of the Regulator Posse and still holds that position today.
2009 & 2010 saw an explosion in the number of CFDA Affiliated Clubs and Titled Championships across the nation and the formation of the first international clubs. By the end of 2010 CFDA was just crossing 2,000 members and about 40 affiliated clubs. CFDA also launched its computerized scoring program created by CD Tom, which has revolutionized contest management. Mongo was instrumental in continuously refining and working with CD Tom in perfecting this very complicated and versatile scoring system.
2010 also saw the formation of CFDA Shoot for the Stars Scholarship Program. Blackjack and Fannie Mae have done an amazing job getting this project off the ground. The program accomplished non-profit status by the end of 2011 and is starting to award scholarships to our young CFDA members in furthering their education.
In December of 2010, a very tough decision was made by CFDA Management to close the office in Idaho and bring all membership and product services to the Nevada office, due to organizational and budget considerations. Mississippi Marshal continues to be an Ambassador of the Spirit of the Game and has been the key announcer at major competitions. He also serves on the Director's Council which is a key component of day to day decisions and issues facing CFDA.
In 2011, Dinah Eilrich a.k.a. Alotta Lead joined the staff full time to handle the duties of Membership Director & Club Liaison. She instituted new programs such as a very comprehensive "Club in the Works" package and has overseen updating and upgrading the CFDA data base; and processes orders for the CFDA Mercantile on a daily basis. She also answers the many phone calls and questions by CFDA members and new folks looking to get involved with Cowboy Fast Draw. CFDA also introduced the Gunslinger Cowboy Fast Draw Timer to provide reliable continuity in Fast Draw timing equipment for years to come; workable audience displays also made their debut at the Nevada State, Oregon State, National and World Championships.
Currently (February of 2012) CFDA is issuing membership numbers at over 2,600 and there are about 70 clubs affiliated or in the process of doing so. The sport continues to gain national attention and was recently featured in Guns of the old West and on national television in Shooting USA.
There are so many fine people who are dedicated to CFDA and what it stands for; far more than can be mentioned here. They truly represent the very spirit of the Cowboy Way; may that spirit live on forever through the example we can provide for those who follow!
This is a special section dedicated to those who would like to tell their experiences of Fast Draw throughout the years. If you would like to submit and article to be included in the archive, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"As I Recall" - By Bill Boyd (added July 17th, 2012)
TV, Tenacity, and the Faber FasDraw Timer - By Marianne L. Faber
"My Take on the History of Fast Draw" - By George A. Reese (added January 27, 2017)