2007 California State Fast Draw Championship
by Greg "Papa G" Custodio
Hosted by the Sundowners Single Action Shooting Club and sponsored by the Los Banos Chamber of Commerce the event far exceeded the expectations of all parties involved. What began as a seemingly innocent conversation at a garage sale about a barbeque competition and Fast Draw demonstration evolved into the Henry Miller Wild West Weekend and the California State Fast Draw Championship. The grand finale to a year of special events organized by the city to celebrate their centennial year.
Thanks to donations by local businesses and community groups, the Sundowners and the Golden State Gunslingers were able to convert a livestock show arena into a first class shooting venue for this inaugural gunfight. Ballistic safety netting covered the area above the backstop to insure none of the wax bullets used in the match would escape the shooting area. Local artist Joan Bengtson was commissioned to create murals depicting scenes of old Los Banos as well as the Yokut Indian villages that dotted the landscape in the late 1800’s.
The weekend began under dark, cloud filled skies on Friday, October 12, 2007 with the Will “Tawodi” York – “Big John” Whala Shootist Championship. Fans of the big iron who braved the rain were not disappointed. Tawodi and Big John put up a good fight but in the end it came down to Nevada’s Cal “Quick Cal” Eilrich versus California’s Jon “Trickshot” Wilson. When the gunsmoke cleared Quick Cal held the first place Shootist Championship belt buckle. After the Shootist match members of the Fast Draw community teamed up with members of the Los Banos community in a special Pro-Am match to honor the memory of beloved local resident and veteran Fast Draw competitor, Frank “Lefty” Manzanedo. Proceeds from this event were donated to local charities.
Sunny and warm California weather greeted the shooters on Saturday morning for the first day of the Championship. The fairground was alive with Old West ambiance. The smell of savory food filled the air. Vendor's booths were brimming with colorful wares. Live music was everywhere. High Card Johnny was in the Red Garter Saloon dealing games of chance. Los Banos professional trick roper Hilda Machado was demonstrating her amazing skills and teaching an attentive audience how to spin ropes. Lawmen, cavalry soldiers and cowboys were patrolling the grounds on foot and on horseback. The Buffalo Soldiers mobile museum was a fascinating exhibit chronicling the history of this proud military unit. Even President Abraham Lincoln and a contingency of soldiers from the North and the South were in attendance. Many of the visitors dressed in Old West attire and took part in western themed games and activities.
Looking over the field of fast guns there was no way to predict who would walk away with the Top Gun prizes. Gunfighters from the Cowboy Fast Draw, Ohio Fast Draw, World Fast Draw and Old Time Gunfighters associations united under the CFDA banner to share the sport they love with the people of Los Banos. Amongst them was the 1963 California State Champion Bob Bussinger and Jim VonFeldt the 1974 California State title winner. The sounds of cannon fire from the civil war soldiers' encampment thundered in the distance as the shooters prepared themselves to meet their destiny. CFDA Membership Director Marshall "Mississippi Marshal" Hopper was on the microphone calling the contest; keeping the spectators well informed and entertained with his special brand of southern humor. When the first day of competition was over the shooters joined our sponsors for a good old fashion Saturday Night Social enjoying a chuck wagon dinner and an evening of dancing to lively country western music provided by recording artist Joni Harms.
Sunday started with a special match, “Still Alive at 65”. Contestants that were eliminated from the championship on the first day qualified for a second chance at cash prizes if the fastest shot they fired in competition was .650 or higher. Seven shooters made the cut, Hal “Five O” Lagmay, Charles “Chickasaw Warrior” Gilmer, Todd “California Drifter” Springer, Yuly “Bandida” Springer, Tammie “Lefty” Lipscomb, Elyssa “Sweet Pea” Long and Shirley “Wench” Miller. As fate would have it the final shootout paired the California Drifter against his wife Bandida. Many laughs were had at the Drifter’s expense as he endured the taunts of his fellow gunfighters to edge out his beautiful bride for the $300.00 top prize. Bandida received a $200.00 second place winner’s check to soften the blow of her defeat. Not a bad day for this pair of Golden State Gunslingers at their first competition.
The last day of the Fast Draw Championship ebbed and flowed in dramatic fashion. A match is really interesting to watch when it gets down to the last ten in each division and Sunday was no exception.
The 10 fastest women gunfighters in California on October 14, 2007 were Annette “Miss B. Haven” Coffman, Kathy “Cool Hand Suz” Landsdowne, Treasea “Fannie Mae” Long, Shirley “Legally Loaded” Coffman, Geneva “C21 Peacemaker” Brett, Peggy “Queen of Hearts” Franks, Dinah “Alotta Lead” Eilrich, Yuly “Bandida” Springer, Erika “Hannah Calder” Frisk, and Tammie “Lefty” Lipscomb. The championship round pitted Miss B. Haven against Cool Hand Suz. The first light went off and both shooters hit the target with Miss B. Haven bringing the heat to win the shot. Miss B. Haven got one more win before Cool Hand Suz put a fast one downrange to send a message to the 2007 CFDA World Champion that she wasn’t done for the day. Miss B. Haven decided it was indeed her moment in the sun and on the very next draw answered back with the fastest shot of the round capturing the CFDA Women’s Division California State Championship title.
The lineup in the Men’s Division read like a who’s who in the history of Fast Draw. Six of the fast guns in Sunday’s Top 10, Cal “Quick Cal” Eilrich, Jim “Ol’ Gun” Standridge, George “Sundowner” Narasaki, Ken “Short Keg” Gentry, Francis “The Draw” Carlos, and Jim “Gentleman Jim” VonFeldt were pedigreed veteran Fast Draw Champions each with over 30 years of sixgun experience. Anyone who has shot against them can attest to the fact that they are some of the fastest guns in the CFDA today. The combination of experience and speed makes them the most difficult obstacles to overcome in the quest for Fast Draw glory. Rounding out the field were CFDA Champion ValDean “Trapper Smith” Schroeder, WFDA Area Top Gun James “Arizona Ranger” Barney, WFDA World Thumbing Champion Jon “Trickshot” Wilson, and OTGA Nevada State Champion Gary “Omaha Outlaw” Wagner. It was a see saw battle all the way but one by one shooters were eliminated and the field was narrowed down to the final two. All eyes were on Sundowner James “Arizona Ranger” Barney and his “obstacle” veteran champion Jim “Ol’ Gun” Standridge as they stepped up to the firing line to close the show. If either of them were nervous it didn’t show. At the first light Ol’ Gun put out a fast miss as the Ranger laid in a respectable .436. The Ranger hit another .436 on the next draw but Ol’ Gun’s light was blinking with a .418 making it one to one. Both men settled into their stance at Marshal’s command “shooter set” focusing intensely on the light for the third shot. Seconds later they exploded out of their holsters and it sounded like one shot. Marshal announced the times Arizona Ranger .427, Ol’ Gun .430, two to one in favor of the Ranger. It was obvious there isn’t any holding back in Ol’ Gun’s game because he marked the grease with a .410 on his next draw to answer the Ranger’s .459 tying it up at two to two. With sudden victory looming over their heads the shooters pulled their smokewagons for the last shot. Marshal announced the time, .416 for the 2007 Men’s California State Champion, James Barney.
The gunfighters packed their gear and gathered one last time at the KUBB Country Radio Main Stage for the awards presentation. On Friday they were Fast Draw competitors with their eye on the prize but as they sat in the grandstands waiting for the presentation to start they bantered with each other as old friends.
Their attention was drawn to the stage as “Big John” Whala’s booming voice was heard over the PA system announcing the arrival of a special delivery. Escorted by mounted Merced County Sheriff Deputies a Wells Fargo stagecoach arrived at the stage entrance to deliver the Chamber of Commerce prize. Los Banos Mayor Tommy Jones emerged from the stagecoach to supervise the unloading of the Wells Fargo strongbox containing canvas bank bags filled with $7000.00 in gold coins that were to be presented to the winners. Just as soon as the stagecoach left the grounds a masked rider showed up with his sixguns blazing intent on stealing the strongbox. Out of the clear blue sky the Golden State Gunslingers came riding in on stick horses. With hangman’s noose in hand they corralled the bandit and took him into custody saving the day!
The heavy sacks of gold made it safely into the hands of their rightful owners and the gunhands said their final goodbyes. The 2007 California State Fast Draw Championship had come to an end. As the last gunfighter rode off into the sunset the town was already buzzing with talk of next years Henry Miller Wild West Weekend. The Sundowners have been invited to host the California State Championship again on October 10 though 12 in 2008 so mark your calendars. You don’t want to miss the next one.