by Marie Hoyer
From 1924 through 1940, there lived in Lewistown a humble man with no outstanding traits of face, size, or physical form. His main occupation was a sign painter, a craft he learned from his father in Omaha, Nebraska. Yet Ed McGivern became the world’s greatest handgun shooter and legend of all times. As a youth he became fascinated by shooting irons but his father declined to purchase one for him. At 17, he and a friend traveled to Sheridan, Wyoming. Later, while eating lunch at a tavern, two robbers entered the establishment where they were shot dead by the bartender. This event developed his interest in quick draw using not just one but two pistols.
McGivern became an expert shooter through study, persistence, and practice, practice, and more practice. He had a repertory of 250 different shooting performances using speed and accuracy. These he demonstrated at various times in
different areas of the United States. Using one or two revolvers, he could shoot between his legs, upside down, and in other positions. Using bullet holes he could also draw an image or write words using script or block letters. Many feats were performed doing rapid firings in under a second or just over.
To verify his many timings during some exhibitions, McGivern developed a timing machine to accurately register the speed of shooting a bullet, or bullets, under seconds. The machine was verified by the U.S. Bureau of Standards.
As a forensics and ballistic expert, he was sometimes asked to testify in legal gun cases. With his testimony several convictions were made but also some innocent people were acquitted.
Using his knowledge of guns, shooting, and reputation, McGivern helped in improving the sights, ammunition, and timing devices for different arms manufactures.
McGivern had a deep interest in lawmen and believed they should be highly trained to shoot from unfavorable positions. He freely instructed thousands of police, sheriffs, and highway patrol personnel in side arm use (including those in Lewistown). J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, asked McGivern to develop a training program for FBI agents. McGivern’s theory about drawing a weapon was “to train your reflexes to do all they can and then let them go.”
An Army Air Corps Base for B-17 airplanes was located in Lewistown in 1942. Because of an interest in handguns and knowing McGivern lived in Lewistown, a program was set up to train some officers in handgun use. Although the lack of handguns was a problem, enough were found and the training began. Through learning about fundamentals such as grip, stance, and squeeze, after much practice
the group was able to do some trick shooting.
Many speed and accuracy shooting feats and exhibitions of McGivern were recorded, some listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. His book Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting became a shooter’s bible. He died in Great Falls, Montana in 1957.