Annie Oakley

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Annie Oakley (August 13, 1860November 3, 1926) b. Phoebe Ann Mosey was an American sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. Oakley's amazing talent and luck led to a starring role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, which propelled her to become the first American female superstar. Using a .22 caliber rifle at 90 feet (27 m), Oakley could split a playing card edge-on and put five or six more holes in it before it touched the ground.


According to the Annie Oakley Foundation, Annie Oakley was born in "a cabin less than 2 miles northwest of Woodland, now Willowdell, in Darke County, Ohio."  North Star, a few miles away, has a plaque claiming it to be her town of birth.

Annie was the fifth of seven children. Her parents, Susan and Jacob Mosey, were Quakers from Pennsylvania. A fire burned down their tavern so they moved to a rented farm in Patterson Township, Darke County, Ohio. Her father, who had fought in the War of 1812, died in 1866 from pneumonia and overexposure in freezing weather. Susan Mosey remarried, had another child, and was widowed a second time. During this time, Annie was put in the care of the superintendent of the county poor farm, where she learned to embroider and sew. She spent some time in near servitude for a local family where she endured mental and physical abuse (Annie referred to them as "the wolves"). When she reunited with her family, her mother had remarried a third time.


Partly due to poverty following the death of her father, and partly by preference, Annie did not regularly attend school with other children of her age. Later she received some additional education. Apparently, she could not spell her family's name since she later rendered it ending in "ee". Her family's surname, "Mosey", appears on her father's gravestone, in his military record and is the official spelling by the Annie Oakley Foundation (AOF) maintained by her living relatives. Being one of many Oakley myths, the name "Moses" appears incorrectly attributed in some encyclopedia entries and internet searches; AOF reported that her "brother John and sister Hulda changed their names to Moses before their dual wedding ceremony in 1884."


Annie began hunting at the age of nine to support her siblings and her widowed mother. She sold the hunting game to locals for money, and her skill eventually paid off the mortgage on her mother's house.

Annie soon became known throughout the region as a shotgun sharpshooter. During the spring of 1881, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was being performed in Cincinnati. Marksman Francis "Frank" E. Butler, (1850-1926), placed a $100 bet ($1900, adjusted for inflation) with hotel owner Jack Frost, that Butler could beat any local fancy shooter. The hotelier arranged a shooting match with Annie, age 21, to be held in ten days time in a small town near Greenville, Ohio. Frank later said it was "18 miles from the nearest station" (about the distance from Greenville to North Star). After missing his 25th shot, Frank lost the match and the bet — a serendipitous irony that led him to become a well-known winner in backstage life. Frank began courting Annie, won her heart, and they began a happy marriage of 44 years on June 20, 1882.


They lived in Cincinnati for a time, and she is believed to have taken her stage name from the city's neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided. At first, Oakley was Butler's assistant in his travelling show. Later, Butler realized that Oakley was more talented, so he became her assistant and business manager. Annie and Frank's personal and business success in handling celebrity is considered a model show business relationship even after more than a century.


They joined the Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in 1885. Standing only 5 feet (1.5 m), Oakley was given the nickname of "Watanya Cicilla" by fellow performer Sitting Bull, rendered "Little Sure Shot" in the public advertisements.

During her first Buffalo Bill's show engagement, Oakley experienced a tense professional rivalry with rifle sharpshooter Lillian Smith. Smith promoted herself as younger and, therefore, more billable than Oakley. Oakley temporarily left the Buffalo Bill's show but returned after Smith departed.


Oakley had initially responded to the show's age rivalry by removing six years from her promoted age. She was a modest and proper woman, who couldn't remove any more years without making it seem that she was born out of wedlock after her father died. As it was, her promoted age led to perennial wrong calculations of her true age and the dates for some of her biographical events. For example, the 1881 spring shooting match with Frank occurred when she was a 21-year-old adult. However, that event is widely repeated as occurring six years earlier in the fall, which also suggests a mythical teen romance with Frank.


In Europe she performed before Queen Victoria and other crowned heads of state. Oakley had such good aim that, at his request, she knocked the ashes off a cigarette held by the Prince of Prussia, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II. AOF suggests Annie was not the source of a widely-repeated sarcasm related to the event. "Some uncharitable people later ventured that if Annie would have shot Wilhelm and not his cigarette, she could have prevented World War I."


In 1901, she was badly injured in a railway crash, but she fully recovered after temporary paralysis and several spinal operations. She soon left the Buffalo Bill show and began a quieter acting career in a stage play written especially for her, The Western Girl. Following her injury and change of career, it only added to her legend that her shooting expertise continued to increase into her 60's.

In 1903, sensational cocaine prohibition stories were selling well. The newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, published a false story that Oakley had been arrested for stealing to support a cocaine habit. The woman actually arrested was a burlesque performer who told Chicago police that her name was "Annie Oakley". The original Annie Oakley spent much of the next six years winning 54 of 55 libel lawsuits against newspapers. She collected less in judgements than were her legal expenses, but to her, a restored reputation justified the loss of time and money.

Most of the newspapers that printed the story had relied on wire services, and upon learning of the libelous error they immediately retracted the false story with apologies. Publisher Hearst, however, tried to avoid paying the anticipated court judgements of $15,000 ($285,000, adjusted for inflation) by sending an investigator to Darke County with the intent of collecting reputation-smearing gossip from Annie's past. The investigator found nothing.


Annie continued to set records into her 60s, even after suffering a debilitating automobile accident that forced her to wear a steel brace on her right leg. In a shooting contest in Pinehurst, North Carolina in 1922, sixty-two-year-old Annie hit 100 clay targets straight from the 16 yard mark. She also engaged in extensive, albeit quiet, philanthropy for women's rights and other causes, including the support of specific young women that she knew.


Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926, of pernicious anemia, at the age of 66 and was buried in Brock Cemetery in Greenville, Ohio. Her husband, Frank Butler, was so crushed by her death that he stopped eating. He died just 20 days later. After her death it was discovered that her entire fortune had been spent on her charities.

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