May 27, 2014

Annie Oakley: "Little Sure Shot" of American History

Annie's famous mirror trick shot
When mentioning the Wild West Show, two individuals pop in mind: Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley. The story about Annie is not complete without Frank Butler.
Annie Oakley was born on August 13th, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio under the name Phoebe Ann Moses, which the family simply called her Annie.
Her parents (Susan Wise & Jacob Moses (Mauzy) were Quakers, immigrants from England who originally settled in Pennsylvania, where they married in 1848. They moved to Patterson Township in Ohio in 1855 where they rented a farm, which later they would mortgage. Annie's sister, Sarah Ellen, was born in 1857. Annie would be the sixth of seven children.

Young Annie Oakley and her Spaniel
Annie's father was a veteran of the War of 1812 and died when she was six years old from pneumonia brought on by cold exposure in winter weather. Her mother remarried to Daniel Brumbaugh, and another girl was born before Susan was widowed again.
In 1870, when Annie was nine-years-old, she was admitted with her sister to the Darke County Infirmary. The infirmary superintendent taught her how to sew and decorate, and a local family wanted to have her as a servant girl for a promise of fifty cents a week and education. So Annie was “bound out” to the family by the Infirmary. Instead of 50 cents a week and education, Annie spent two years in conditions of slavery, abused mentally and physically. One time Annie was punished for falling asleep while darning by putting her out in the cold with no shoes. Later, in her autobiography she referred to the couple as “wolves” without revealing their real names. In the spring of 1871, Annie was reunited with her family, her mother married a third time to Joseph Shaw.
Annie, 1880
Annie began trapping, shooting and hunting at age eight to help support her siblings and widowed mother using her father's Kentucky rifle he used in the War of 1812. She sold her game to restaurants, hotels and local folks in Greenville. She became so good at it that the family farm's mortgage was paid off by the time she was 15. Her marksmanship became well known locally.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1875, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was to take place in Cincinnati. Jack Frost was a hotel owner who purchased Annie's game, invited her to participate in the shooting contest against the professional marksman, Frank Butler.
Butler placed a side bet with Frost for $100 that (value today: $2,148) that he could beat any local shooter. Frost arranged the shooting match with the 15-year-old young lady. He was surprised to find himself shooting against a five-foot-tall girl. 
Frank E. Butler, 1882
They matched shot for shot until the 25th, when Butler missed and lost the match and bet. Attracted to her, he began courting her for almost a year before they were married on August 23, 1876.
Frank E. Butler was born on February 25th, 1852, eight years older than Annie. Frank was born in Ireland, moving to the United States at the age of 13. He procured a series of jobs, he formed a shooting act and toured with variety shows. After marrying Annie Moses (Oakley), they developed a shooting act in 1882 after Annie took the place of his sick partner. From that time on, Annie picked up a stage name – Annie Oakley – and history began to be made. Not much was mentioned about Frank's parents and relatives, apparently going on his own at 13, he had no family ties.
Annie's tent, Wild West show
Annie had stated that the finance part of the married team was in her husband's hands. He became her manager when she was offered a job at the Wild West show. Butler also worked as a representative of the Union Metallic Cartridge Company and salesman for the Remington Arms Company. The bond between Annie and Frank remained strong the rest of their lives and when Annie died on November 3rd, 1926, Frank stopped eating and died eighteen days later on November 21, 1926. The death certificate stated he died of “senility”. [Annie Oakley, Shirl Kasper, University of Oklahoma Press, 1992] Frank and Annie never had children. [The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley, Glenda Riley, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002]
At the Annie Oakley exhibit, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, Annie provided advice to those who wanted to be expert shooters, which also provided a philosophy of life and seeking one's goals; an inspiration for women of that era and later in history:
Aim at the high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you'll hit the bull's-eye of success.
Annie and Frank lived in Cincinnati for a time, and it is where she changed her name from Annie Moses Butler to her stage name: Annie Oakley; where they performed together. According to American Experience produced by PBS:
Frank Butler was Annie's ticket out of Greenville. They soon married. For the next six years, while Butler and his new shooting partner John Graham performed on the variety circuit, Annie stayed in the background. That was about to change [when] Butler and Graham were playing a theater in Springfield, Ohio, when John Graham suddenly fell ill. Annie filled in, holding the targets. That night Frank kept missing – until a jeering spectator shouted, "Let the girl shoot!" Frank obliged. Annie hit the targets every time – much to the delight of the raucous crowd. "Butler and Graham" soon ceased to be. Mrs. Butler took a stage name, borrowed from her paternal grandmother– Annie Oakley."
It is believed the stage name was taken from the Cincinnati neighborhood of Oakley.
In 1885, Annie and Frank joined the Buffalo Bill Wild West. Sitting Bull was impressed with the five-feet tall sharpshooter and affectionately called her Little Sure Shot (Watanya Cicilla) – which was used in advertisement for the show. They became close friends and when Sitting Bull would become “unmanageable” or melancholy; Annie would be the one to console him and get him back on track. 
Sitting Bull had been in trouble with the law ever since his orchestration of the attack upon the 7th Cavalry.  Sitting Bull was impressed with Annie from the start, for she dressed modestly, treated others with respect and despite her small frame, she was energetic and stood out as a strong woman.
Annie Oakley single-shot pistol presented as a gift
Of course, the respect was mutual. Sitting Bull felt that Annie had been gifted by the Great Spirit because of her supernatural ability to shoot well with both hands. He was so impressed, it was reported that he offered $65 for a photograph to be taken of himself and Annie. I have not been able to locate the alleged photograph, it may have been lost when Sitting Bull returned to the reservation where he was later by reservation police in a confrontation.
Rivalry, Lillian Smith
Since she had learned to sew while with the Infirmary, Annie made her own costumes. Although never having children of her own, she was compassionate toward children; thought to be because of her experience in childhood with orphans at the Darke County Infirmary.
When she started her career with Buffalo Bill's show, Oakley had to deal with rifle sharpshooter, Lillian Smith, whose personality clashed with Annie's and where Lillian developed professional jealousy of the newcomer to the show. Lillian was a braggart and disliked the newcomer stating, Annie Oakley was done for. In contrast to Annie's conservative clothing, Lillian liked flashy clothing and had a reputation as a shameless flirt. Smith and Oakley traveled to Great Britain with the Wild West show and met Queen Victoria in 1887. They both attended the Wimbledon Rifle Competition, and Annie bested Smith's shooting performance; which the British and American press embellished upon. A friend tried to repair the publicity by reversing the roles of who won the competition; but reputable sources dispelled the attempt. Annie became so angry at the way Smith acted and the particulars of the event, being a sore loser – she temporarily left the show.
In 1889, Lillian Smith left the show and at the same time Annie returned; obviously Buffalo Bill saw more potential of attracting crowds than the obnoxious Lillian. Smith moved to Oklahoma in 1907 and became a regular with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show performing as “Princess Wenona”, a fictionalized Sioux princess. She also performed in Pawnee Bill's show as a sharpshooter and performer, retiring in 1920, dying in 1930 in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the home town of the famous 101 Ranch. Bill Pickett is buried on the ranch property. While the working cattle ranch was subdivided and fell prey to developers, the location is a National Historic Landmark. [See May Lillie]
Annie gained notoriety in Europe as she performed for Queen Victoria of England, King Umberto I of Italy, President Marie Franรงois Sadi Carnot of France, other monarchies of Europe; including Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm requested that Annie shoot a cigarette held in his mouth; which she obliged but impressed everyone by not shooting the cigarette out of his mouth or breaking it in half, but expertly shooting the ashes off.
Later, after the outbreak of World War I, Annie sent a letter to the Kaiser requesting a second shot. The Kaiser never replied. 

Many who know or have read about Annie Oakley do not know that she promoted women serving in combat operations for the United States armed forces. She wrote a letter to President McKinley on April 5th, 1898, offering the government the services of a company of 50 'lady sharpshooters' who would provide their own arms and ammunition should the U.S. go to war with Spain

French Poster during European Tour
When the Spanish-American War began, Annie's offer was not accepted; however, Theodore Roosevelt, out of respect for Annie and the Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World – named his voluntary cavalry the Rough Riders. Annie became one of the first women to promote equality for females.
During those days with the Wild West show, Annie would receive letters from suitors, despite being married, often accompanied by a photo.
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That year, in 1901, William McKinley was fatally shot by an assassin. In the same year, Annie was badly injured in a train wreck tragedy where she received five spinal operations and experienced temporary paralysis. She left the Buffalo Bill show and in 1902 began an acting career in a stage play written for her: The Western Girl. She played the role of Nancy Berry and used a pistol, rifle and rope to outsmart outlaws. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center read from Annie's own words what she thought and did about the situation …

Annie Oakley bird hunting
In 1913, Frank and Annie retired from the arena, making money from shooting exhibitions and endorsements for the Union Metallic Cartridge Company (Remington Arms), settling in Cambridge, Maryland. There they adopted a dog in their family they named Dave, after a close friend Dave Montgomery of the comedy team Montgomery and Stone. The dog became a constant companion of the Butlers, and when they returned to the arena, he became part of the act where Annie would shoot an apple from the top of Dave's head. Annie had several dogs throughout her life, enjoying their companionship.
Annie shooting apple off Dave's head
Throughout Annie's career, she made it a point to teach women how to use a gun. It is believed that she could have taught as many as 15,000 women. She believed that women should know how to use a gun as a sort of physical and mental exercise and sport; but also to defend themselves. She stated:
I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies.
She is the inspiration of women still today by women sharpshooters who have entered the world of cowboy action shooting, including mounted action shooting like Annie performed in the late 1890s..
In 1917, Annie and Frank moved with Dave to Pinehurst, North Carolina; the same year that William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody died. Annie wrote a moving eulogy for Cody as he was a symbol of a passing era in American history.
In 1922, Annie made plans to make a comeback on the show circuit, which attracted large crowds in Massachusetts, New York, and major cities. She even considered and planned to be a star in the newly formed Hollywood motion picture industry. 
Annie Oakley Handgun Collection
Annie at age 64, 1924
But that was not to be, for in 1922, Annie and Frank were seriously injured in an automobile accident. It took more than a year for Annie to recover. By 1924, she was performing again, but by 1925 her health began to fail and so she moved to her hometown in Ohio to be with family. Frank and Annie would attend shooting matches in the area, and it was when Annie began to write her memoirs that were published in newspapers across the country.
Not many know it, but Annie had already been on film in 1894, thanks to the perfection of the invention of moving pictures by Thomas Edison who filmed the following stage act ...

In 1926, after fifty years of happy marriage, as mentioned previously, Annie and then Frank died within three weeks of each other. Both had experienced an adventurous and fulfilling life together, visiting places that folks only read about; spending six months in Paris alone because of Annie's popularity and the wonders of the Buffalo Bill show.
Throughout her career, Annie Oakley remained dignified and yet down-to-earth to her fans. She was an icon of the time for women being equal and self-sufficient; yet being a woman at the same time. It was probably one of the reasons why Frank loved her so much. Hollywood and books would continue her story, legends developing, making her an American-Western folk legend; and museums would exhibit tribute to her and her long adventurous career.

Winchester Annie Oakley Rifle - 1983
Oakley-Buffalo Bill Commemorative S&W Schofield .44-40 Pistol - 2014
Firearm manufacturers, through the years since, have produced commemorative rifles in her honor, and most recently, the American Remembers historical foundation has produced a pistol fashioned after one she owned – a Smith & Wesson .44-40 caliber break-open Schofield pistol. It is engraved and plated in gold with a portrait of Buffalo Bill on the left side of the cylinder and image of Annie Oakley on the right side of the cylinder. An optional presentation case is available.
If you happen to be in the Yellowstone National Park area, take the time to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Museum located appropriately in the town called Cody named after Buffalo Bill.
If your in Texas, drop at the city of Fort Worth and visit the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame that is dedicated to honoring pioneer and adventurous women of the American West, established in 1975. Honorees are added annually to its Hall of Fame. Annie Oakley was added in 1984. The museum exhibits include women in the field of rodeo and trick riding, shooting competitors and performers, ranchers, artists, writers, Trailblazers and Pioneers. There is an interactive bronc riding exhibit where visitors ride a fake horse, modified from training bulls used by rodeo riders. Exhibits relating to ranching, the featured gear is historically correct which include saddles, women's western clothing, as well as Victorian riding habit and sidesaddle. It also features how the cowgirl has been represented in the media and various roles portrayed in film, television, advertising and music. There is a Discovery Corral for children, a retail Cowgirl Shop, and a Rotating Exhibit Gallery – something for everyone in family entertainment and learning about history of the American West while celebrating the role played by women during the period. Jukeboxes play music performed by country and western women performers. The old-time theatre includes a narrative by Katherine Ross about cowgirls.
It is truly a tribute to Annie Oakley and other women of days gone by who inspired women from that period on.
Comic book of fictional stories of Annie Oakley included depiction of Annie as a blonde, which transcended into a TV series in the 1950s ...
Marvel Comics Fictional Stories
While Annie never was able to carry out her plan to become a film star, Hollywood produced films about her, this one starring Jamie Lee Curtis in the Tall Tales & Legends TV series:
RECOMMENDED READING (there are many books about Annie, non-fiction and fiction)
Bull's-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley by Sue Macy
The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley by Charles Rivers Editors
The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley by Glenda Riley
Shooting for the Moon: The Amazing Life and Times of Annie Oakley by Stephen Krensky and Bernie Fuchs
Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley's World by Walter Havigurst
An Interactive Biography of Annie Oakley by Charles River Editors
A Shooting Star: A Novel About Annie Oakley by Sheila Solomon Klass (Fiction)

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