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Headstone dedication honors trapshooter

Discussion in 'Shooting Related Threads' started by Joe Potosky, Sep 25, 2009.

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  1. Joe Potosky

    Joe Potosky Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Headstone dedication will honor trapshooter who took aim at bias

    By MEREDITH RODRIGUEZ - The Kansas City Star

    “Some folks just don’t have anyone to remember them.”

    Nelson Gipson shrugged and said so near the end of his life when asked why he laid flowers every year on the unmarked grave of Tobias H. Cohron, a gunsmith and gentleman shooter who lived in Pleasant Hill into the early 1900s.

    Gipson died in May, but his consistent acts of remembrance would lead to Pleasant Hill’s rediscovery of Cohron, an elite trapshooter who died penniless and crippled in a “Home for Aged Negroes” near Independence.

    On Saturday, trapshooting enthusiasts from around the country will meet in Pleasant Hill to dedicate a 48-inch by 36-inch headstone where grass once covered Cohron’s remains.

    They will remember a man of courage — the first African-American on record who tried to compete in the nation’s premier trapshooting contest. He was turned away from a New Jersey site in 1897 and steered away in 1899.

    Then, taking the only course offered African-Americans pinioned by the era’s pretense of “separate but equal,” he helped start the Afro-American Trapshooters’ League in 1903. The league, believed to be the first of its kind, held its own contests for the next decade.

    “There are so many people in history that nobody ever thought of, but they made waves. They made ripples,” said Pleasant Hill resident Mike O’Malley, who helped uncover Cohron’s story. “That’s what this man did.”

    • • •

    Cohron stood out in the 1899 photo, taken during the height of the Jim Crow era. He stood in the back row of a group shot during that year’s Grand American Handicap, the national championship sponsored by the Amateur Trapshooting Association.

    Kenny Ray Estes, museum director for the National Trapshooting Hall of Fame, noticed the image several years ago while researching black trapshooting history.

    Though pictured among the contestants, Cohron did not complete the competition that year. More than a half-century later, his obituary mentioned how, after shooting in the preliminaries, he was offered $500 by Southern shooters to withdraw.

    “Now this is back before any civil rights organizations. There wasn’t any NAACP… Jesse Jackson or politician looking for photo ops with a poor black man,” O’Malley said. “And he, on his own, gets on a train from Pleasant Hill and goes out there unsupported.

    “If you don’t admire anything else, you’ve got to admire the man’s courage.”

    Estes, too, was impressed and wanted to honor Cohron. But first he had to find Cohron’s grave site, a task helped along by serendipity.

    In a trapshooting collector’s newsletter with only 125 subscribers nationally, Estes found O’Malley’s name.

    He was the perfect research partner for at least three reasons: He already had started a folder on Cohron. He lived in Pleasant Hill. And, as it turned out, he went to the right church.

    Upon learning that cemetery records listed a location for Cohron’s grave that never existed, O’Malley approached the organist at his church.

    The organist was Gipson, a black man with a name close to that of a contestant listed as having shot with Cohron in the first Grand Afro-American Handicap.

    “I realized it was a long shot, but it would be no shot at all if I did not talk to Nelson,” O’Malley said.

    Gipson not only remembered Cohron, but the man in the handicap was Gipson’s grandfather, a good friend of Cohron’s whose name was misspelled in the listing.

    And Gipson was certain of Cohron’s burial place, because he had placed flowers there ever since Cohron died in 1955.

    “Out of the 125 people in this entire country, I happened to be going to church with the last man on earth who knew where that grave was,” O’Malley said.

    “Kenny Ray Estes believes it may have been divine intervention, and I’m not going to argue with him.”

    • • •

    Cohron lived most of his life as he died — in relative obscurity.

    Born in Mississippi in 1870, one of 15 children, Cohron was a janitor at Pleasant Hill Citizens Bank and a deacon at the Second Baptist Church in the Cass County town, where African-Americans were by far the minority.

    Cohron, known as “Tobe,” lived with his mother until her death in 1917. He then moved to a two-room house, but never married.

    It was uncommon for poor people to shoot for sport, Estes said. Travel was a luxury most African-Americans could not afford then.

    A factor that likely supported Cohron’s hobby was his trade as a gunsmith. He fashioned his own parts and worked on everybody’s guns in town, said former neighbor Robert Kimbrell who, as a child, knew Cohron in his later years.

    “He was quite a gentleman,” Kimbrell said. “Everybody in town liked him.”

    As an old man who was plagued with arthritis and who would later have one of his legs amputated, Cohron read all the time, Kimbrell said. In the summertime, he lounged under a big shade tree in his yard.

    He never talked about being a trapshooter, and Kimbrell never thought to ask about the trophies on his wall.

    He never knew that Cohron traveled to New Jersey and tried to compete twice against white shooters.

    A Sporting Life article lamented him being turned away.

    “Mr. Cohron, the colored brother from Pleasant Hills, Mo., was barred from participation in the 1897 Grand American Handicap on account of his color … and yet if he had been permitted to shoot, he might have proved to the objectors that the color of his skin did not make him any the less their equal at the traps. As long as a man is a gentleman, and Mr. Cohron had proven in the past he is, no American should be guilty of drawing the color line.”

    For the same reason that others formed the Negro baseball leagues, Cohron became the founding secretary for the Afro-American Trapshooters’ League.

    The group held the first Grand Afro-American Handicap in on Oct. 6, 1903, in a Kansas City shooting park.

    Only 20 people, mostly locals from Pleasant Hill, competed. Contestants paid $5 for 25 birds — real birds, not the clay pigeons of today.

    Cohron won that year, as he did four years later.

    The last of their competitions on record was in 1913.

    • • •

    As in golf and tennis, trapshooting’s whites-only policy remained the rule long after baseball and other sports had integrated.

    Black shooting groups, formed by Cohron and others, allowed for community gathering when such activity was discouraged, said Endia Snowden, secretary for the Eastern Skeet and Trapshooting Association, a black shooting league.

    Even if there were only 20 or 30 trapshooters competing, she said, 200 spectators would cook out and enjoy the camaraderie.

    “We made occasions and events out of nothing because we had no place to go,” Snowden said.

    It was not until the mid- to late 1970s that blacks were welcome in the mainstream trapshooting clubs, said Eva Crowley, secretary of the Western Skeet and Trapshooting Association.

    “He (Cohron) is an inspiration to everybody else who has come along behind him,” she said.


    Grave site ceremony

    The headstone for black trapshooter Tobias H. Cohron will be dedicated at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Pleasant Hill Cemetery, 1501 N. State Route 7.
  2. crusha

    crusha TS Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Interesting post...anyone have any photos?
  3. Ljutic111

    Ljutic111 TS Member

    Jan 20, 2008
    Very interesting and for all you shooters to know is that Mallard Trap Club in Monroe Twsp NJ was a first all Black Trap club in the eary 40`s, which 2 different groups , one from North Jersey and another from Staten Island , Cedar Manor being one of them , both had a trap house rented from a Black woman and then the whites "integrated" in and have been here for the past 40+ years under the same family ownership of the property . The history is on our website. I`m glad to see that this man will be getting the recognition he rightly deserves , unfortunately so long after his death . A proud day for a few left that remembered him . I would have loved to be there for the dedication .
  4. Hap MecTweaks

    Hap MecTweaks Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Mesquite, Nevada
    WOW!! What a great story from trapshootings past! Trap&Field with blessings from ATA should showcase this mans love of trapshooting also!!

    Thanks for posting this Joe!! Hap
  5. schockstrap

    schockstrap Active Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    The title of this thread almost caused me to not open it, but I'm really glad that I did -- it's a wonderful story. Probably the best posting that I've ever read on this forum... It's a potent reminder of how much we tend to forget about our past. It also brings to mind why it is so important to respect the elder members of the community, talk to them, and learn about their experiences. How many people do you think walked by this janitor every day of the week and never knew of his efforts?

    As a freshman in high school I went on a trip (organized by the church) to a local nursing home to spend a couple hours with the residents during the holiday season. Of course, as a teenager I thought it was the lamest idea ever -- why would these people want me (or anyone not related to them) to come spend time with them? We walked through the hall singingChristmas songs, etc., saying "hi" to people, when one of the nurses asked me if I would go talk to one of the old guys who had no family and hadn't had a visitor as long as she could remember. The guy starts telling me how he remembered being young, how great it was, how he grew up really quick in "the great war" -- wait a minute... holy crap, you were in WWI? (it was like 1987 at the time) The he tells me about how he was one of the first pilots in the RAF (wasn't called that at the time, but I don't remember the name), flew those old bi-planes, etc. He pointed to a picture on the wall of him standing in front of his first plane... then over to a picture of him and his brother on some kind of leave in Egypt -- both of them riding camels in front of the great pyramids. It was amazing -- I had read a ton of books on WWI and WWII and even built models of the planes that this guy flew, never knowing that someone that lived it was living just a few blocks away from my house. I only wish I had taken the initiative to write down everything that guy told me.

  6. Hauxfan

    Hauxfan Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Wow! Great Story!

  7. otnot

    otnot Active Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Thanks for sharing such an nice story. Times are changing but there is still alot of discrimination against people of color.
  8. over the hill

    over the hill Well-Known Member

    Aug 30, 2007
    Great historical thread.

    We need more like this.

    Thanks Joe

  9. Uncle Sam

    Uncle Sam Member

    Jan 6, 2006
    THAT...is a very interesting thread...Thank you for posting.....Uncle Sam,Pa.
  10. grunt

    grunt Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Thousand Oaks Ca
    Nice story. The man had balls to do what he did. In those days he could have been hung. R.I.P. Tobis. Dave Bishop
  11. j2jake

    j2jake Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Great post and the fellas honored him with a very nice Headstone. Jake
  12. Ithaca$$$Grade

    Ithaca$$$Grade Active Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    This is the picture from 1899 that accompanied Kenny's article last January in Trap & Field. The picture was provided to the Trapshooting Hall of Fame by Charlie Hartwig that posts on T.S.com.


    Jim W
  13. trapwife

    trapwife Well-Known Member Supporting Vendor

    Jan 29, 1998
    Leo and I will be attending the dedication tomorrow...really looking forward to honoring this wonderful shooter. "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it."
  14. recurvyarcher

    recurvyarcher Well-Known Member

    Apr 26, 2006
    I love this article. It IS the best post I have ever seen on ts.com. Thank you, Joe, for posting this.
  15. GSPBirdDog

    GSPBirdDog TS Member

    Apr 29, 2009
    Great story!!! Its good he is getting the respect he deserves.Give him "his moment in time"
  16. foghorn220

    foghorn220 Active Member

    Jan 29, 1998

    I was just on find a grave web site and I guess they are down right now just like the other genealogy sites was yesterday but came to trapshooters.com and this was the first thread I opened up.
    I was impressed with this thread also as TM1 said it needs to be on the Find a grave site.

    If it is not already on there then I would like to put it on and I will give credit to everyone that needs to be.

    Find a grave is a volunteer website and I like that because sites like ancestry and others you have to pay a lot per month and then you will find photo's that has came from the find a grave site on there that someone has stole from the volunteer's like me that took them for other people from the request they send out but really I don't mind people using my photo's to spread around as long as it helps families to find kin folks but I hate to see the pay sites charging people per month when they could go to find a grave and get probably quicker response for a photo and info.

    If Tobias H. "Tobe" Cohron is not already on find a grave then I would like to put him on and list him as some one famous instead of a regular guy.

    Ok I see he lived in Pleasant Hill ok what county is this in im sure it was in the state of Kansas anyway if I put him on there then I will sponsor the memorial that way we can add a lot of more photo's for him and if any one has his family info then I can link them together even if they are buried in the other part of the U.S.

    Thanks Eddie for the photo of the stone.

  17. foghorn220

    foghorn220 Active Member

    Jan 29, 1998

    Ok my find a grave site is up and running again and I punched in pleasant hill but found he was in MO so went and Tobias H "Tobe" Cohron already has a memorial made on sept 22 2009, I emailed the creator of the memorial and asked if she would transfer it to me because I wanted to honor him and add more details and also want to sponsor the memorial that way we can add more than the limit of 5 photo's.

    Of course I hadn't heard back yet from the creator of his memorial but I think I will have good results by tomorrow since I told her about other trap shooters might want to honor him for being a first black man competing against us white folks.
    It looks like she has only been a member for 7 month's but I think she lives close by from the photo's she has took.

    Anyway if anyone want's to leave a flower and a note for "Tobe" then click the link above the post and it will go to his find a grave memorial but I hope in a few days it will look a lot different if I get to maintain it.

  18. shotgunpeople

    shotgunpeople Active Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    I have had the honor of following Kenny Ray on his journey in finding Mr. Cohron's grave site almost from the beginning. What a story that has unfolded.

    Kenny Ray and Mike O'Malley are to be commended for their efforts. I was unable to attend today's dedication, but I will have a moment of silence in an other hour.

    Dave in SC
  19. Wolfman

    Wolfman Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Any thought as to nominating to the Trapshootng Hall of Fame for his contribution to the sport?
  20. bill1949

    bill1949 Well-Known Member

    Jan 29, 1998
    Great story...Bill
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