John W. Garrett
1865 - 1937
Edited from information by the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and the Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper, by Eric Swab
John Witwer Garrett was a man of many accomplishments. For several years he was the national trapshooting champion in addition to being an accomplished hunter, fisherman and guide, a mountaineer, the second man added to the AdAmAn Club and proprietor of the Jno. Garrett Sporting Goods store. He also proved to be an advertising bonanza for the Winchester Arms company. He frequently provided shooting demonstrations during rodeos, parades and county fairs to co-promote “the superior quality of Winchester Arms” and his own business. Garrett traveled the country for trapshooting contests and hunting expeditions, but never drove an automobile as he preferred to walk.
Garrett was born December 15, 1865, in Pembroke, Gennessee County, New York, later moving to Cedar Rapids and attending Iowa College. He came to Colorado Springs in 1895 and soon opened a sporting goods store at 7 East Huerfano (later Colorado Avenue.) He had a reputation for being a smart and responsible businessman. According to the Gazette, “Garrett’s care for details was a by-word among Colorado Springs businessmen. Records at the sporting goods store show an account of every single transaction which took place in the 42 years of his business. Garrett did all his bookkeeping himself and his books always balance to the half-penny.”
"the most unique, novel and attractive gun and sporting goods room in the west"
He also knew how to draw in customers. He created one of the most interesting stores in town. Again, according to the Gazette, “To John W. Garrett…belongs the credit of having the most unique, novel and attractive gun and sporting goods room in the west…Mr. Garrett has shown his fondness for outdoor sports, for during the ten years he has lived in Colorado Springs he has hunted and fished in nearly all parts of the state and has a collection of sixty-four Colorado game specimens, all but four of which are his own killing. All these specimens are now on display, together with his numerous trap shooting trophies at his place of business.”
“What makes his large stock of gun goods especially attractive is not only his large display of rare game heads and horns, but the interior of his gun salesroom, which has the ceiling and walls covered in unique designs with native red spruce pine bark. The work of putting this bark with matched designs required the greatest skill. Mr. B. Benton of this city designed and built this room and much credit is due to his careful workmanship. The artistic effect and the rare game heads are really inspiring to the hunter and lover of mountain, field and stream. Mr. Garrett said: ‘Not purely from a business sense do I invite the public to visit my gun room, but from a broader view, I feel many would enjoy seeing the pretty slab-bark effect of the room, together with one of the largest game collections in the west.’”
When Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter, came to town and displayed her great skill, Garrett’s friends questioned whether he believed he could shoot as well as she. He not only showed them he could, but in later years he came to shoot with Annie Oakley in championship events.
Garrett was always one for organization. When Gazette columnist, Charles S. Dudley visited the basement of Garrett’s home on 710 North Cascade Avenue, he was shown rows of tables piled with gear for various outdoor activities, topped with guns or fishing rods. There was a table on which were all that he would need for a big game hunt. On another table were the clothing, accessories and a shotgun for duck hunting. On another were pheasant hunting things. On other tables were his trout fishing equipment and clothing, on another what would be required for tuna fishing, and so on. Of course on one table were his marksmanship frontier outfit and the needle-point accurate shooting irons for his entertainment. He explained that on each of these tables were all that he needed to go on various hunting or fishing trips. ‘Everything is right at hand, I can get ready in a minute.’
Garrett performs in Rodeo Parade, Aug 12, 1924
In that same column, Dudley relates this Garrett anecdote about “the time a new policeman followed him from his store to his house in the middle of the night. Garrett carried a gun over his shoulder. Every few steps he would stand still, aim at a home or a street light, then shoulder the gun again and walk on. ‘Crazy as a loon,’ said the policeman to himself. ‘And dangerous.’ When Garrett reached his house and was about to turn in from the sidewalk, the policeman accosted him and demanded to know his name and what he was doing with the gun, which was found to be unloaded. ‘Practicing for shooting in the parade tomorrow.’ said Garrett. The policeman was nonplused. He telephoned the police headquarters to find out what to do. ‘John W. Garrett, you say?’ said the desk sergeant. ‘Bless his heart. Bid him good-night, and wish him pleasant dreams.’
Garrett, when asked about the incident the next day said that he needed no practice in marksmanship, but that he was exercising the muscles in his arms for the repeated raising and lowering of the gun.
When the “Frozen Five” made their first ascent of Pikes Peak on December 31, 1922, John was a participant. As the premier fireworks dealer in Colorado Springs, he supplied the rockets and flares used in that New Year’s Celebration. The Gazette reported, “Mr. Garrett will superintend the firing of the bombs from the roof of The Gazette building” in downtown Colorado Springs. Apparently unsatisfied with his role on the roof of the Gazette he joined the December 1924 climb as the second new member of the AdAmAn Club. When it was announced that he would join the younger men on the New Year’s climb and take charge of the fireworks on the summit, people shook their heads dubiously, saying at 59 he was too old for that.
But Garrett made the climb with ease. He showed up in an outfit of his own invention. The outer garment was a long coat reaching almost to his knees that was made of balloon silk. He explained that it was light as a feather and virtually impervious to wind. In this coat, he climbed the Peak in the cold winter weather appearing like a moving tent. He had invented devices for his shoes that enabled him to hike up ice and snow. The fireworks that year were the most successful of the three year history of the club. From then until December of 1935, he made every ascent, supervising the annual fireworks display.
On August 25, 1937, John Garrett at the age of 72 was performing a publicity stunt for the Will Rogers Rodeo. Standing on the running board of an automobile traveling north on Tejon Street, Garrett shot 27 clay pigeons with his Winchester Rifle. Julius Jones (who became a member of the AdAmAn Club in 1936) was a trusted assistant of John Garrett, was reloading for him. Suddenly John Garrett slumping forward into the front seat. Bystanders mistakenly thought he was reaching over to pick something up. Garrett, the great marksman suffered a heart attack and was taken to St. Francis Hospital where he died shortly after his arrival. Until his death, he was the oldest member of the AdAmAn Club.
Background photo courtesy of The Gazette/Mark Reis.