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April 16, 2015

Annie Oakley

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Annie Oakle
James Wilson Marshall

On August 13, 1860 "Phoebe Ann Mosey" otherwise known as "Annie Oakley" was born in a log cabin in Willowdell about 5 miles west of North Star on the Ohio border. Her parents were Quakers of English descent. Annie had 5 sisters an 3 brothers. Her father who had fought in th War of 1812, became an invalid due to overexposure during a blizzard in late 1865 and died of pneumonia at age 66 in 1866. Her mother remarried and had another child but this husband passed away also.

Due to poverty and the death of her father, Annie did not attend school regularly. At age nine, she and one of her sisters worked in an infirmary where she learned to sew and decorate. In the spring of 1870 she was "bound out" to care for an infant for 50 cents a week. Annie was a slave and endured mental and physical abuse. she was forced to do men's work too. One time Annie was "left out in the freezing cold without shoes" as a punishment because she fell asleep while darning clothes. In 1872, Annie ran back to her mother's home only to find she had remarried for a 3rd time. To help feed the family, Annie and her siblings trapped game and sold it to locals and shopkeepers. Annie was a fair shot. At age 8 she saw squirrel run from a tree and across the lawn to snag a pine nut. Annie grabbed a rifle from the house, fired and nailed it right through the head--sideways dropping it instantly.

Annie Oakle
James Wilson Marshall

Annie soon became well known throughout the region. On Thanksgiving day 1875, the "Baughman & Butler" shooting act was being performed in Cincinnati. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer Frank E. Butler, an irish immigrant, bet $100 (which is worth $2,148 today) to hotel owner Jack Frost that he could beat any local fancy shooter. The last thing Butler expected was to shoot against a 5 foot tall, 15 year old girl named Annie. After missing his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet. About a year later Butler married Annie on August 23, 1876. Some folks say it was 1882 when they got married because Butler was still married in 1876 to his former wife. Some say the match was taken in 1881 and not 1875. So the "official" marriage date is June 20, 1882 in Windsor, Ontario. Records were not very accurate in those days.

Annie and Frank Butler lived in Cincinnati for quite awhile. "Oakley" became her stage name whenever they perfomed together.

In 1885, Annie Oakley joined "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show." Annie had many nicknames. Sitting Bull, the famous Souix chief, called her "Watanya Cicilla" which meant "Little Sure Shot" which appeared in many playbills there after. In Annie's first show she experienced a tense rivalry with sharpshooter Lillian Smith. Both were accomplished rifleman. Annie left the show but returned 2 years later after Smith departed just in time for the "Paris Exposition of 1889." This was one of the first World Fairs. This 3 year tour cemented Annie Oakley as "American's first female star." She was the highest paid performer except for Buffalo Bill. Annie performed in many side shows for extra income too.

Annie Oakle
James Wilson Marshall

In Europe she performed for Queen Victoria, of the United Kingdom as well as other kings and dignitaries from other countries also. At one of her perfomances, Annie shot the ashes off a cigarette held by the newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II. After World War I broke out, Annie sent a letter to him requesting a second shot, but the Kaiser never responded.

Annie's feats of marksmanship were amazing. At 30 paces she could split a playing card held edge-on, hit dimes tossed in the air, and she shot cigarettes from her husband's lips. When a playing card was thrown in the air, it would be riddled with bullets before it hit the ground with either a pistol or a rifle. She used mirrors while facing backwards, with a rifle over her shoulder and shot both still and moving targets too. Absolutely Incredible!!!

Annie Oakle
James Wilson Marshall

Annie Oakley promoted the service of women in combat for the United States Armed Forces. In 1898 she wrote a letter to President Mckinley and offered her services with 50 other "lady sharpshooters" should the US go to war with Spain. The Spanish-American War did occur, but Annie's offer was declined. Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt did name his volunteer cavalry the "Rough Riders" after "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World," where Annie Oakley was a major star.

In 1901, Annie was badly injured in a train accident. After 5 spinal operations, she was back in action. In 1902, Annie left the Buffalo Bill show and began an acting career in a stage play written for her called "The Western Girl." She played the role of "Nancy Berry" a crime fighter equiped with a pistol, a rifle, and a rope to outsmart and capture bands of outlaws.

Annie Oakle
James Wilson Marshall

Throughout her career Annie taught over 15,000 women how to use a gun, not only for physical and mental exercise, but also to defend themselves.

Annie continued to set shooting records well into her 60's. In a shooting contest in 1922, Annie hit 100 clay targets in a row from 16 yards and she was "62." In late 1922, she was forced to wear a steel leg brace after a horrible accident. Yet after 1 1/2 years of theropy, Annie perfomed again and set shooting records in 1924

Annie Oakle
James Wilson Marshall

Her health declined in 1925 and died of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio at the age of 66 on November 3, 1926. Greiving for his wife, Frank Butler went on a hunger strike and died 18 days later. They had enjoyed each other for 50 years.

A vast collection of Annie Oakley's personal possesions, performance memoribilia, and firearms are on permanent exhibit at the "Garst Museum" and the "National Annie Oakley Center" in Greenville, Ohio. Annie Oakley was inducted into the "National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame" in Fort Worth, Texas. Many movies, plays, and books have been written about Annie Oakley; these are but a few.

Annie Oakle
James Wilson Marshall

Report presented by Gary "Col. Klink" Klinke
John A Sutter Historian