Bullet Splitting Routine

by Mark Osterman

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We made a big deal about dividing the audience to make an open path from the stage out to about sixty feet. We would announce K.T. Oakley and she would have Screaming Weasel set up a tripod bearing a small ax and set this up about fifteen feet from the stage. K.T. Oakley would then take her 22 caliber rifle and walk out beyond the tripod and ax and set her self up so that she would rest the rifle on her shoulder, looking at a hand mirror held with the other hand. So, she was facing away from the stage with the gun pointing towards the stage and the ax.

I held up Christmas balls in each hand with my arms stretched. Prior to this I would remove my hat and throw it down on stage and put on some sun tanning goggles. I would also wear the wig we had used in the hair growing sketch as added protection. The look was very funny.

When K.T. Oakley shot the rifle, Screaming Weasel, who had long since gone back stage, pulled a rope and squeezed a lever. The rope was attached to a device I designed, set in the upturned base of a nail keg set on one side of the stage. It was a piece of pipe with a spring loaded bolt. When a pin was pulled the bolt would quickly shoot out about three inches and then drop back. Mounted on the underside of the keg top, it struck the bottom of a carefully placed tin cup, which would fly up in the air as if it had been hit by one half of the bullet.

The lever was the handle of a garden sprayer which had the mister removed and a length of plastic tubing attached. This ran up to the front of the stage and was fitted into another prop water keg. The tubing came up from underneath and was carefully set into a small hole in the front of the water keg. When the handle was depressed, water would flow in a steady stream onto my hat (filling it up) as if the water keg had been struck by the other half of the bullet. The Indian allowed this to run for some time allowing it to run out slower all the while and the stream would eventually cease.

As both of these shots fell about two feet lower than where the target were being held, this gave the routine some comedy (a straight line drawn from cup to keg intersected my crotch!) but also some shock value as everyone expected the Christmas balls to be struck the first time.

After this first shot, K.T. Oakley would go up to the ax and take out a nail file to dress the edge. She then went back and fired again and I would squeeze the Christmas balls making them shatter in little pieces. Very effective, and even though the first shot was also fake, for some reason everyone thought the second shot was the real thing.

Photograph

This tintype photograph (June 1993) by Claude Levet shows medicine show performer K.T. Oakley (France Scully Osterman) in her classic Anne Oakley-style trick shooting pose, 22 caliber rifle over her shoulder facing the target, aiming with a hand mirror. Mark Osterman writes:

 

"She was said to be the daughter of Annie Oakley, even though the real Annie (married to Frank Butler, also a trick shooter) never had childern. We gave her a vintage type military hat to wear because a western hat didn't seem appropriate for a show on the east coast. Actually, I understand that Buffalo Bill wintered his show just ten miles from where we lived in Pennsylvania.

 

France had (still has) a really nice early 22 caliber rifle that had the lines of a much more serious gun. She also used a very small, brass bound 32 caliber cap and ball pistol with real ivory grips which she could twirl. The little girls really looked up to her character....as did the older men.

The tintypes of me and my wife were made at a fair. Claude Levet, the tintypist, was set up across from our stage and made them without charge...it was a very hot and slow day. We had gotten married just the week before."

 

 


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