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I’m writing to ask if you have any information about equestrian William Sholes. He and Annie Oakley were good friends and she testified in court for him. I’d like to know what the hearing was about. Could you help?

Thank you, Chris Enss

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If you look for William Showles, with a ‘w’, via a simple Google search you will discover an abundance of information about this once famous bareback rider. Start with message 4393 on this board. There’s also an entry here in the CHS virtual library in Slout’s ‘Olympians of the Sawdust Circle’. An extended biography by John Daniel Draper is in the CHS journal, Bandwagon, Jan-Feb 2001, pages 19-23. His references can be seen here: http://www.ringlingcircus.org/equestrian/ A portion of the Showles wardrobe is preserved at Princeton University. The friendship between Showles and Oakley may have been rooted in their New Jersey origins and intermittent residency, and later visits to Long Branch. Both had been with the Sells Bros. Circus, but at different times.
Showles was divorced from his first wife, equestrienne Sallie Marks, on July 1, 1887; his second wife rider Daisy Belmont died in 1896; and he was then divorced by his third wife Hilda in 1899. The UK National Archives has a document concerning the last action, viewable on http://www.ancestry.com.
Showles was indicted by a grand jury in Monmouth County, NJ for manslaughter as the result of a gun accident on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1896, in Red Bank, NJ, which claimed the life of a friend, Ansel Croft. Showles had a revolver with a patented safety mechanism that failed to work when he slammed it on a bar counter. Before he passed, Croft stated a desire that no action be taken against Showles for the accident, which a majority on a grand jury determined was criminal negligence. He was acquitted in Freehold, NJ on February 20, 1897. The most detailed coverage I found online was in issues of the New York Clipper, but they don’t mention courtroom testimony. It’s possible that Oakley may have used her married name to avoid attention. I searched for reference to Oakley’s testimony on behalf of Showles, as a character witness, but nothing turned up. Further searching in newspapers or a court transcript may yield your desire.

Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator mof Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

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