Annie Oakley was born on
August 13, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio. Her real name was Phoebe Ann Moses.
Her little sisters didn't like the name so started calling her Annie.
She was born into a poor Quaker family of eight children.
When she was five, her father, Jake, died in a snowstorm. Her mother,
Suzanne, could not support them, so the children were sent to live with
various orphanages. Annie lived for two years at an orphanage. Then she
was placed in a foster home. At that home, she was treated very cruelly,
often beaten and overworked. She ran away from there after two years.
She ran back to her mother.
She stayed on her mother's farm where she learned to use her father's
old cap-and-ball rifle. She shot small game to put meat on the table.
She soon became a remarkable shot, shooting the animals through the head,
so that the meat was unspoiled.
By the time she was 15, she started shooting at the local gun clubs. By
then shooting in competition was vary popular. She beat everyone there.
One day she shot against Frank Butler, a renowned marksman, and beat him.
He had never lost to a woman before and was fascinated by her. Within
a year the two were married.
After they were married she changed her name to Oakley, after a Cincinnati
suburb. They traveled around the country displaying their talents. He
taught her out to shoot at a playing card tossed in the air. He also taught
her to stand on a galloping horse and shoot at flames in a revolving wheel.
When she was 25, the pair joined the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show.
Frank became her manager. Annie was very popular. She displayed her marksmanship
in a variety of different ways. One act that always pleased the crowd
was when she shot at a target behind her using the reflect in a Bowie
knife as a mirror. During the seventeen years she stayed with the show,
Annie only missed five shows. Some estimates say she made almost $1,000
a week. Though living on the road she always tried to maintain a neat
Agent John Burke built up the show and made sure it remained popular.
He took the character of Buffalo Bill, made famous by Ned Buntline, the
dime novelist, and took him to new levels. This made knowing Buffalo Bill's
true story very difficult. At any rate, Burke convinced the Sioux medicine
man, Sitting Bull, to join the show. The papers said it was became he
wanted to be near his adopted daughter, Annie Oakley. He supposedly called
her "Watanya Cicilia," which meant "little sure shot."
She became known by that name ever after. She taught Sitting Bull how
to write. When he died, he gave her the headdress and uniform he wore
in the Battle of Little Big Horn.
In 1887, the Wild West Show went to Europe. She won the hearts of several
noblemen. Even Queen Victoria was fascinated with her, giving Annie an
autographed picture of herself. She performed for Gilbert and Sullivan
and the Prince of Wales. In England she won several shooting matches and
was the first woman to shoot at the London Gun Club. She arranged a charity
event in Vienna for orphans. She was challenged to a shooting contest
by the Grand Duke Michael of Russia. Buffalo Bill didn't want her to do
it because he figured she would shoot the pants off him, so to speak.
He thought htis would be too embarrassing for the Duke to beat by both
a woman and a "commoner." He was right. She won, and the Duke
lost face in front of his prospective bride.
She was so popular that she had a falling out with Buffalo Bill Cody,
that resulted in Annie and Frank leaving the show, when Buffalo Bill returned
to the states. She performed for a short while with Pawnee Bill's Frontier
Exhibition. But by 1889, she made up with Buffalo Bill, and was back touring
with the Wild West Show. They went back to Europe, where she shot for
Kaiser Wilhelm in Berlin. She also appeared at the Chicago World's Fair
in 1901. She performed in the show for the next seven years without missing
In 1901, Annie was injured in a train crash. Four performers were killed
and almost one hundred were wounded. It took several months of recuperation
before she was able to perform again. When she did, this time it was on
a stage. It was the first time she had ever acted and of course, she was
very successful at it. She did not return to the Wild West Show after
that. She continued acting for several years. She returned to the Wild
West Show in 1912, for the goodbye tour.
During World War I, Annie and Frank trained soldiers to shoot. Most of
it was at their own expense. In 1921, Annie was again injured in an accident,
when 61 years old. She had to walk with a brace forever after that. They
moved back to Ohio.
On November 3, 1926, Annie died from pernicious amenia at Greenville,
Ohio. She was 66 years old. Her husband died only 18 days later. They
were both buried at Block Cemetery near her birthplace. During her life
time she had broken several records including hitting 943 out of 1,000
-Copyright 2001 by Beth Gibson