Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Kaylee. Kaylee Wonders, “Who was Annie Oakley?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Kaylee!
If you think of the American West and, specifically, sharpshooters, one person likely comes to mind. She was a star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and an unparalleled sharpshooter. Her name? Annie Oakley! That’s right. Annie Oakley turned her marksmanship skills into worldwide fame.
But did she start out life as Annie Oakley? Nope! Her birth name was Phoebe Ann Moses (some sources spell her last name Mosey or Mozee). She was born on August 13, 1860, in a log cabin in Darke County, Ohio. Oakley was the sixth of seven children.
Oakley lost both her father and a stepfather as a child. She went to live at the Darke County Infirmary, where she received a basic education. She was also taught to sew while she helped care for orphaned children.
In her early teens, Oakley returned home when her mother remarried. She learned to shoot a variety of guns to hunt. Her talent helped her sell game to a local grocery store to help support her family. She earned so much money this way that she was able to pay off the mortgage on her mother’s house by the time she was 15.
In 1875, Oakley entered a Thanksgiving shooting competition against the well-known sharpshooter, Frank E. Butler. Oakley won the competition. Later, she married Butler, who was also a vaudeville performer. The two started on a memorable journey that would last more than 50 years.
Oakley joined Butler’s show in 1882 when his partner became sick. Phoebe took the stage name Annie Oakley, borrowing the name of a town outside Cincinnati. Her career really took off a couple of years later, when she met the American Indian leader Sitting Bull in 1884.
Sitting Bull was so impressed with Oakley’s abilities with a rifle that he gave her a new nickname: “Little Sure Shot.” In 1885, Oakley and Butler joined Sitting Bull in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Oakley was a top performer and Butler served as her manager.
The two toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show for the next 15 years. Oakley became famous throughout the United States and around the world for her incredible feats of marksmanship. She could shoot off the end of a cigarette held in Frank’s lips. She could also hit the thin edge of a playing card from 30 paces away.
One of her most famous tricks was looking in a mirror to shoot distant targets behind her. Oakley also would shoot holes in playing cards that had been thrown in the air before they hit the ground. Some of her fans included royalty from that time, such as Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
In 1901, Annie and Frank were in a train accident that left her partially paralyzed for a while. She left Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, eventually recovered, and still performed off and on in smaller shows. She also pursued acting in plays and movies. Annie and Frank finally retired in 1913.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Oakley saw a chance to serve her country and support other women. She wrote to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and volunteered to train a regiment of women to fight. Oakley offered to fully fund the regiment and teach each woman to shoot. However, Stimson rejected her offer.
On November 3, 1926, Annie Oakley died in Greenville, Ohio. Frank Butler died 18 days later. Oakley left a lasting impression on American Western culture. Her legacy lives on today in a variety of films and books. Most notably, however, is probably the Irving Berlin musical "Annie Get Your Gun", which is based on her life story. It debuted in 1946 with Ethel Merman playing the lead role.
Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, NCAS.A.1, NCAS.A.2, NCAS.A.3