Tilting once popular in Sumter

The youngest rider ever known to take part in a tilting tournament, Edith McCants Bookhart, was to ride during the Sumter County Fair in 1932.
The youngest rider ever known to take part in a tilting tournament, Edith McCants Bookhart, was to ride during the Sumter County Fair in 1932.

Reflections remembers the revival of Tilting (also known as Lancing), a sport which tested riding skills and eye-hand coordination. This ancient display of medieval skills which had its origin in jousting tournaments found its way into prominence in the South Carolina Lowcountry circa 1925, leading to numerous exhibitions being held in several areas after a long absence. Information and photos used to prepare this brief article were obtained from The Sumter Item archives and The Carologue Publication "Riding to the Rings" from spring 2013, Vol. 28., No. 4.

"In a letter written by Marjorie Craig in April 1935, recollections of the sport were offered by W. R. Symmes, a St. Matthews attorney; 'This sport was very popular in South Carolina immediately after the Civil War and was held annually at its state fair in Columbia. For some reason or other its popularity end(ed) and until 1900 its meets were few and far between. From 1900 to about 1925, I doubt if there was such an event held in South Carolina The sport has always been most popular in southern and central South Carolina These sections were mostly agricultural and had better mounts to engage in this past time. About 1925, a tournament was held at Singleton, near St. Matthews, home place of Henry Wienges. The course was held on his racetrack where he trained his thoroughbreds for the tracks of the west. Since that time a tournament has been again held at the State Fair in Columbia, and many tournaments in this vicinity In the little town of Cameron, South Carolina, some 3,000 people attended that tournament. In the city of Aiken, there was a tournament held at its centennial and the large polo field was a mass of humanity. St. Matthews, Cameron, Pinewood, Sumter, Bishopville and towns in the vicinity of these have proven the most popular at this ancient sport since 1925.'"

The first mention of the sport of tilting (lancing) in the Sumter area was found in the Watchman and Southron published in 1895. The article noted that a tournament took place in Hagood and Jordan with proceeds going to the building fund of the new church at Hagood. After the tournament a number of horse races were held involving several of the fastest steeds in the county. Mr. T. O. Sanders Jr. was listed as the contact person for entry into the tournament and races.

"A feature of the opening day of the South Carolina State Fair was a tilting contest. This statewide contest followed the revival of the ancient and thrilling sport held at Cameron, S.C., in February of 1925. This contest was soon followed by similar events at St. Matthews and Eastover. Between 20 and 30 riders were expected to participate in the tourney at the State Fair Grounds." The riders competed under the glare of powerful arc lights. The grandstand provided seating space for the large audience who came to witness this first statewide contest since the revival of the sport."

The towns represented were Columbia, Eastover, Bishopville, Allendale, Orangeburg, Cameron, Eutawville, St. Matthews and the community of Wateree. The contestants participating began practice a week before the fair on horses which were shipped to the site. The winner of the tournament was allowed the honor of selecting and crowning the queen of the tourney.

The tilting rules required the horsemen to ride at full speed the length of a 100-foot court, attempting to spear four rings hung at regular intervals along the course. This required expert riding skills and considerable ability in handling a lance. The record, in the early years, was set by the Rev. C. D. Brearley of St. Matthews who speared 50 rings out of a possible 50 in a tournament.

The list of contestants entered in the competition at the State Fair read like a who's who in the sport of tilting. Some of the best-known riders from South Carolina included Peter Gailliard, Eutawville; Carsey McCants, Cameron; D. K. Summers, Cameron; West Farnum, Orangeburg; R. C. Hamer, Eastover; Harry Darby, Eastover; Judge Schalik, Eastover; Rev. C.D. Brearly, St. Matthews; F. L. Weinges, St. Matthews; O. H. Weinges, St. Matthews; H. W. Shaw, Bishopville.

In 1928, a list of rules were posted updating the requirements expected of tilting competitors competing in Cameron, S.C. Horses were required to be no more than 14 hands in height, with lances measuring 8 feet in length and 5 feet from guard to point. The distance of the course was extended to 75 yards and consisted of 3 rings suspended 25 yards apart. Each rider was required to cover the distance (75 yards) in 6 seconds. It was also recommended that Knights wear sweaters and riding trousers with colors.

The tilting tournament of 1930 hit a high point at the Sumter County Fair. The tournament marked the high spot both in attendance and interest in Sumter. That year saw one of the largest crowds in the history of the fair assemble for the event. "Included in the list of riders were the following: Joe Bates, of Wateree, champion tournament rider in the state; Miss Edith Bookhart, of Cameron, the youngest rider in the state; O. D. Harvin, Knight of Fulton; D. K. Summers, Knight of Melrose; Dave Barwick, Knight of Pinewood; Lee Barwick, Knight of White Cloud; R. W. Ingram, Knight of Starlight; A. P. Cotton, Knight of Boykin; S. A. Harvin Knight of Cedar Hall; Sam Young Jr. Knight of Dalzell; R. H. Roper, Knight of Beverley; A. J. Hodge, Knight of Cross Roads; Carsey McCants, Knight of Orangeburg; G. H. McCutchen, J. W. McCutchen, of Mount Zion. Dr. George T. Harmon will deliver the charge to the Knights prior to beginning of the first run. Henry P. Moses will act as marshal; Ormsby Blanding as herald; J. M. Eleazer, chief announcer. The judges were George T. Little of Camden; R. C. Hamer of Eastover and George D. Shore of Sumter. Timekeepers are Dr. H. L. Shaw and Dr. Raymond Kitchen."

Tilting (lancing) continues to take place on special occasions as tournaments are frequently held in many of the surrounding communities.