The Lion’s Lair
The “Sconce” – Jeff Cooper’s Unique Home.
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of Col. Jeff Cooper’s contribution to the handgun field. From creating the Leatherslap, the first practical shooting match, to the development of the Modern Technique of the Pistol, and later the founding of Gunsite Academy, up until his death in 2006, Col. Cooper was one of the paladins of the field, and his shadow stretches far across the landscape of the pistolero. A man of eclectic tastes, who prided himself as a great appreciator of things, there is one place where Cooper’s disparate interests can best be seen — in his home, the Sconce.
Defined as — among other things — a “fortified defense,” or a defensive work built to defend a particular point, the house Cooper designed and built stands at Gunsite, where it commands the entrance into the shooting school. Maintained as something of a museum, the Sconce is still inhabited by his wife, the elegant Janelle Cooper, who, along with their youngest daughter, Lindy Wisdom, was kind enough to take me on a tour during a recent trip.
Jeff and Janelle Cooper on the terrace of the Sconce.
Designed by the late Col. Jeff Cooper,his home stands
near the entrance to Gunsite Academy, where it remains
as a memorial to the founder of the Modern Technique of the Pistol.
Photo courtesy Mrs. Janelle Cooper.
Designed to be imminently defensible (Cooper’s “Notes on Tactical Residential Architecture,” contained in To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, are revealing), one of the most distinctive architectural elements of the Sconce is its use of bastions. These are fortified corners of the house, with the sides of the house slightly set in, similar to a tray ceiling, so that almost the entire outside of the house is visible through the narrow, arrow-loop-like windows in the bastions. Defensible, indeed: when you knock at the front door, you’re being covered from the rear by a window in the kitchen.
The main floor contains sleeping quarters, as Cooper suggested, separated from the rest of the house by a lockable iron grate — as well as the open living room, dining room and kitchen. A massive central fireplace dominates the main wall and the stern visage of a mounted kudu looks down over the broad mantel. The mantal is carved with the Old English words “Hige sceal pe heardre, hoerte pe cenre, mod sceal pe mare, pe ure maegen lytlab,” which Cooper so aptly translated as “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” A Roman gladius hangs on one side of the stone fireplace; a fencing saber on the other.
A spiral staircase in the living room leads up to the crow’s nest Cooper used as an office, and down to the library and gun room below. The floor-to-ceiling shelves are packed with neat rows of books — all sorts of books, from military history to leather-bound copies of Hemingway that gleam in the afternoon light coming in through the grated windows.
Entering the gun room is almost solemn; through the massive bank vault door, into the room, stepping carefully around the lion skin on the floor, to the bench running around two sides of the room. The walls contain the guns we’ve all seen in his writing: his Bren Ten and Scout Rifle, along with “Baby,” the .460 with which he doubled on Cape Buffalo on his 67th birthday. Several sabers lean in a corner near his 1911s, along with that rarest of the matador’s trophies, the tail of a fighting bull. The walls are covered with photos and posters, some foreign — such as the period map of the Soviet Union — and other mementos gathered during a life devoted to guncraft.
I can never say I knew Cooper — a fleeting handshake at the SHOT Show barely counts as having met him — but wandering through his house, surrounded by those things that shaped the man who shaped our field, one begins to understand him better. Understand — and appreciate.
By Jeremy D. Clough
Special thanks to Janelle Cooper, Buz Mills, Jane Anne Shimizu and Lindy Cooper Wisdom. For those interested in learning more about Cooper, his books, and his biography, written by daughter Lindy Wisdom, are available from Wisdom Publishing, as well as the biographical DVD entitled Jeff Cooper: A Man in Full which serves as a good introduction to this most fascinating man.
Top: Written in Old English, this quote, which dates from AD 991, translates
as: “Will shall be the sterner, heart the bolder, spirit the greater, as our strength
lessens.” Or, in Cooper’s apt paraphrase, “When the going gets tough, the tough
get going.” Bottom: Cooper was nothing if not well read. A student of history —
he held a Master’s in history — his library is well-stocked with volumes on military history.
Top: Cooper’s interest in firearms was wide and varied, but he is best remembered
for his passionate advocacy for the Colt 1911 .45: “If you want to win — in a hard
fought match or on the street — this is the gun you will carry.” Bottom: The crow’s
nest, reached by a spiral staircase in the living room, served as Cooper’s office.
With windows on all four sides, it has a commanding view of the area.