Joe Bowman (marksman)
"The Straight Shooter"
Celebrated Sharpshooter, Hollywood Consultant, FBI/SWAT Firearms Instructor, Historian, and Old West Artisan.
April 12, 1925|
Johnson City, Tennessee (USA)
|Died||June 29, 2009
Junction, Texas (USA)
|Residence||Houston, Texas (USA)|
|Occupation||Bootmaker, Marksman, Western Entertainer|
Betty (Fruge') Bowman (1954–1968, divorced)
Ca. 1992–2009, his death)
Mark M Bowman II
Joe Bowman, born Joseph Lee Bowman (April 12, 1925 – June 29, 2009), was a Houston bootmaker and marksman called "The Straight Shooter", considered to have been a guardian of Texas and western frontier culture. Shortly after his death, Bowman was inducted posthumously into the Texas Heroes Hall of Honor at the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera.
Bowman was born to parents Mark McKinley Bowman, Sr. and Margaret Clark Bowman, in Johnson City in East Tennessee. He was reared in Asheville, in western North Carolina, where he and his brother, Mark, Jr., watched Tom Mix and Gene Autry films as boys. When he was twelve in 1937, Bowman moved with his parents to Houston, where his father procured work as an auto mechanic and as a place of potential relief for young Mark’s asthma. Young Bowman learned to shoot flies off the garbage can with BB guns. At the age of fifteen, he began apprenticeships with Roy Smith Boots and Palace Boots in downtown Houston. He was an active member of the Boy Scouts of America during his formative years in Houston and attained their highest rank of Eagle Scout.
In 1943, he graduated from Sam Houston High School in Houston and was drafted into service during World War II, during which he was severely injured by a land mine and blown against a tree while stringing telephone lines for the Allies down a steep hill during the German occupation of France. He received three Bronze stars and a Purple Heart for his service as a combat infantryman in a US Army communications squadron in France during World War II. After the war, Bowman returned to Houston, where he attended the University of Houston for two years before he opened Bowman and DeGeorge Boot Shop in Rice Village. He toured alone as “The Straight Shooter.”
“The Straight Shooter” performed with pistol and rifle at gun shows and rodeos throughout the United States. One celebrated act involved lighting two candles, one on each side of an ax blade, then firing a .22 caliber rifle at the leading edge of the ax blade. This would split the bullet and the two pieces of the bullet would extinguished the candle flames. He also routinely split playing cards in half with the same technique and had the accuracy to blast tiny saccharine tablets into powder, which were actually smaller than the .22 caliber bullet itself. He also performed for King Hussein in Jordan, the ruling family of Kuwait and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Bowman was sought out by law enforcement agencies around the world to give specialized firearm instruction and taught police Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) teams and Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) teams the techniques of “instinct shooting”. Based in Houston, site of the Johnson Space Center, Bowman entertained American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts and he performed in the world famous Houston Astrodome many times. He also gave sharpshooting exhibitions at such events as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Bowman’s marksmanship drew the attention of Roy Rogers, John Wayne, Jock Mahoney, James Garner, James Drury, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dan Pastorini, former quarterback of the Houston Oilers. Drury, a Houston resident and co-star of NBC’s The Virginian western television series from 1962–1971, told The New York Times, “I’ve seen fast, I’ve seen faster, I’ve seen fastest, and then I’ve seen Joe Bowman.” Bowman’s son, Mark Bowman, of Austin, Texas said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle that his father “loved an era of bygone days and lived by that code. We lost a part of Houston’s heritage and a great guardian of Texas culture and history.” Until the last days of his life, Bowman took part in shooting exhibitions. Pastorini called Bowman “probably one of the most unselfish men I’ve ever met. He had a heart of gold and whenever you needed him, he was always there. He always had time for kids and charities … to talk about his gunslinging and his adeptness at handling a weapon,” Pastorini told The Chronicle.
In 1989, on the occasion of the death of his close friend, actor/stuntman Jock Mahoney, Bowman issued a stirring tribute written by Mahoney entitled "Coming Home", preserved on Bowman's Internet site. Mahoney starred in the former CBS western Yancy Derringer. The poem was read in 1990 in Studio City, California, by Jock Mahoney's widow, Autumn, at a memorial tribute to Mahoney, who died at seventy of a stroke prompted by a road accident in Washington State.
Bowman made two pairs of boots for Roy Rogers, which are displayed in the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri. In the early 1960s, Bowman ended his bootmaking business and concentrated on his western show in which he wore a ten-gallon hat, an embroidered shirt and leather boots. He was a consultant to actor Robert Duvall for his role as Augustus "Gus" McCrae, patterned on the legendary Texas cattleman Oliver Loving, in the screen adaptation of Larry McMurtry's classic Western Lonesome Dove. He taught Duvall how to use a Walker revolver, once a favorite of the Texas Rangers. He also took Duvall to Bowman's favorite boot shop (Wheeler Boot Company) in Houston and introduced him to bootmaker Dave Wheeler, where the iconic boots Duvall wore as Gus were crafted.
Sammy Davis, Jr. purchased several of Bowman's custom fast draw holsters and two sets of Bowman's custom retooled Ruger Blackhawk single-action revolvers, with extremely intricate engraving and the legendary "smooth" action on the trigger hammer, early in the 1960s. There is film circulating of Bowman and Sammy Davis, Jr. practicing fast draw against each other on a film set in Nevada during the Rat Pack era of the late 1950s. Bowman also designed and created several pivoting, reinforced competition Western fast draw holsters that created a paradigm shift in competition fast draw, resulting in faster competitive draw times in the late 1950s and early 1960s competitions. Into his 80s, Bowman still designed boots, belts and holsters for his friends, leaving seven decades of artisan expertise and master craftsmanship as his legacy.
Death and legacy
Bowman died of a heart attack in his sleep at a hotel in Junction, the seat of Kimble County in central Texas, where he and his wife of seventeen years, Betty Reid-Bowman, had stopped for the evening while en route to their home in Houston following an exhibition trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mrs. Bowman said that her husband had been in good health though he wore a pacemaker. He was "soft-spoken and he was a man’s man," his widow told The Chronicle.
In addition to his wife and son, Bowman was survived by a daughter, Jan Bowman of Dallas, Texas; a daughter-in-law, Charlene Bowman of Austin, Texas and his brother, Mark M. Bowman, Jr., of Denver, Colorado. Bowman's father, brother, and son have the same names. In 1954, Bowman married the former Betty Fruge', (a Houston model and local TV star of the 50's Houston television show "Fashions in Motion"), who despite the lack of background with weaponry but with Bowman's tutelage, became the U.S. & North American female fast-draw champion. She appeared as the episode subject in 1962 on CBS's former quiz show, To Tell the Truth. The marriage ended in 1968 in divorce. Bowman is interred at Forest Park Lawndale in Houston.
In an interview in 1992 with the Houston Chronicle, Bowman lamented the passing of television westerns and culture: "So much of what I do is for the adults, reminding them of their childhood. What I remember is the morality of the westerns and of the cowboys. That’s all that westerns were: morality plays, where there was good and evil. Now look at the movies and on TV: good can be bad, there’s no distinct line. I don’t think kids learn from that."
In 2006, the official State of Texas sculptor, Edd Hayes, did an extremely lifelike bronze of "Joe Bowman – The Straight Shooter" to commemorate his lifetime of achievement. Bowman was appointed "Texas Ambassador of Goodwill" by 4 Texas governors. He was also named international spokesman for Sturm, Ruger, & Co., Inc. and was asked by Bill Ruger, Sr. to star in a nationally televised safety message campaign for "old model" single action revolvers. Sturm, Ruger & Company, Incorporated recently introduced a limited edition "Joe Bowman – Straight Shooter" New Vaquero .45 Caliber revolver into their line of traditional single action revolvers.
United States Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) wrote a stirring tribute to Bowman's life and legacy that was published on Sen. Cornyn's website on July 20, 2009. Additionally, in July 2009, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, and the Houston Chronicle, among other respected newspapers around the country all wrote feature tributes on the extraordinary life of this decorated war hero, patriot, historian, celebrated marksman and Western artisan.
- Genie Strickland, "Frontier Times Museum announces Texas Heroes Hall of Honor", Bandera Bulletin, July 7, 2009.
- William Grimes, “Joe Bowman, Sharpshooter, Dies at 84“, The New York Times, July 6, 2009.
- "Robert Stanton, "Death of Joe Bowman"". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved July 17, 2009.
- "Tribute to Jock Mahoney". joebowman.com. Retrieved July 17, 2009.