Annie Oakley

by Niki from Tiburon

Annie Oakley  (Cowboys & Indians  (Courtesy Annei Oakley Center at Garst Museum))
Annie Oakley (Cowboys & Indians (Courtesy Annei Oakley Center at Garst Museum))

Annie Oakley was born on August 13, 1860, in Darke Country, Ohio. She was born in a cabin that her father made. Annie's real name was Phoebe Ann Moses but she changed it when she got older. When she was young, she went hunting with her father. Sadly, Annie's father died from pneumonia when Annie was just five years old! Annie's mom was left with six children to take care of. Annie's mom was a hardworking nurse. Annie, her brother, and her sisters helped out the best they could. They cared for animals, did the laundry, worked in the garden, baked, cooked,sewed, and also looked after the babies. Annie always liked roaming in the woods, there were squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, and turkeys. She began making traps to catch wild birds. Her father had taught her how to do it. The food she hunted for was always served at the dinner table. Annie's mom was not so pleased because she thought that a women should not hold a gun, so she didn't let Annie use her dad's gun.

In 1871, Annie was sent to work at the Darke Country Infirmary. Annie was sent there because her mom thought that would be a good place for Annie to learn how to catlike a women. Darke Country Infirmary was a place for orphans and homeless poor people who couldn't take care of themselves. Annie did housework in exchange for a room. If she wanted to earn a little money, she would have to mend and sew. She was not happy living there. Things started off well enough at the infirmary. Annie learned to knit and embroider and use a sewing machine. Samuel and Nancy Edington, the couple in charge, liked the way Annie always pitched in and her best. One day a man came to the infirmary looking for household help. He heard the Edingtons speaking highly of Annie, so he offered 50 cents a week, plus time of school and hunting. Nancy Edington wrote to Annie's mother for permission to send Annie to this couple, Annie's mom said yes, and took the job. For the next two years, Annie life was miserable, the couple treated her so badly she didn't call them by name. To her they were "the wolves." Annie worked day and night. They refused to send her to school. They stole Annie's letters from her mother, not only that but they wrote to Annie's mom, saying Annie was fine.

One spring day, when Annie was alone in the couples' house Annie ran away, went to a train Annie only had forty-eight cents not nearly enough for her ticket, but a kindhearted passenger paid her fare, and soon she was home again. Annie's mom had remarried before Annie went to Darke Country infirmary but, Her husband fell ill and died. Once again the family had very little money so Annie went back to the infirmary. At the infirmary Annie managed it so well that she got a raise.

Three days later, she returned home for her sister Lydia's wedding. Annie's mother had married for the third time which was a great help. Annie's moms criticism of shooting had stopped, if her teenaged daughter was more interested in hunting than marriage, so let it be. Soon Annie had won so many local turkey shoots-shooting contests with cash prizes, that she was not allowed to enter them!

So she found other ways to make money with a gun, she became a market hunter, selling wild fowl, and turkey, to shopkeepers in Greenville Ohio. From Katzenberger's general store in Greenville, Annie's birds went to hotels in Cincinnati, which is eighty miles away. There they were served up in style in the hotel dining rooms. Inearly 1870s, most hunters used shotguns, which fired pellets of buckshot. Birds killed this way were riddled with the shot. Diners had to pick out the tiny pellets as they ate, the way they picked bones out of fish or seeds out of fruit. They were used to it, but it was annoying. The only gun Annie had was a rifle, which fired one bullet at a time. Her aim was so good that she only needed one bullet to bring down a bird. That bullet could be removed easily before the game was cooked and served. Annie's skill made everyone happy: the diners were happy because they could eat their meat without swallowing a buckshot, the hotels, because serving such deluxe meat attracted customers, the Katzenberger brothers, because they sold Annie's meat at a good price, Annie herself, because for the first time in her life she could actually save money. The nickels and dimes she earned with her shooting added up. One day, they paid off the $200 mortgage on her family's new house. "My heart leaped with joy as I handed the money to mother."She wrote later. Annie was fifteen years old. Jack Frost came up with the idea of putting her in a shooting match. The cash prize of $100 was an irresistible challenge for Annie. What she didn't know was that she'd competing against a professional sharpshooter. Her opponent was a man in his twenties name Frank Butler. Frank traveled around the country giving shooting exhibitions in vaudeville houses theaters that offered shooting acts, minstrel shows, and short plays and entertainment. He liked to challenge local champions to outdoor shooting matches, and said he could beat almost anyone. He wasn't expecting a fifteen-year old girl. " I nearly dropped dead when a little slim girl in a short dress stepped up to mark with me," he said later. As the crowd watched, he and Annie began shooting. When the match was almost finished Frank missed his last shoot, then it was Annie's turn she aimed, fired, and had a perfect shoot. She won match, and she also won Frank Butler's heart.

Frank gave Annie a free pass to his show. There they watched Frank shoot an apple off the head of his poodle, George. When George brought Annie a piece of the apple, she sent back a thank-you note. Frank and George responded by sending Annie a box of candy. In less than a year, Frank and Annie were married. George sat and watched, wagging his tail. There are many colorful stories about Annie's first stage appearance. Frank's partner John Graham, fell ill, so Annie offered to take his place. Once onstage, she surprised Frank, he wasn't expecting her to shoot he thought she would be too shy. Annie never missed a shot, the audience loved it. She also threw targets, glass balls, and clay pigeons for Frank to shoot. Then a man in the audience said "let the girl shoot!" So Annie picked up a gun, made the shots, and began life in show business.

In 1883, Annie and Frank toured the Midwest with a sharpshooting act they called "Butler and Oakley." By day they did shooting exhibitions and by night they played in theaters. The former Phoebe Ann Moses (or Mozee, which she preferred) had taken a new name to go along with her new career. Now, as Annie Oakley, she also began talking more of the spotlight.Annie shot glass balls and clay pigeons. She shot standing up and sitting down and over her shoulder. Now it was Annie who aimed George and shot an apple from between his soft ears. Frank Butler was quick to see that Annie was a far better shooter than she was. Her easy, high-spirited stage presence charmed the audiences, but it was her dainty, ladylike appearance, combined with her dazzling shooting skill, that won the crowds over so completely. So people might stare in disbelief when a tiny, slim, dark-haired girl skipped onstage, but by the time she made her final curtsy, they were always on their feet, cheering. With a new marriage, a new name, and a new career, Annie's life was great.

In 1884, it got even better she and Frank joined the circus. "A World of Wonders! Greater than the Greatest!" Boasted an 1884 ad for the Sells Brothers Circus. The Sells Brothers had two hippos, a trained elk, a five-ton, three horned rhinoceros, Miss Maggie Claire, the flying woman, and an entire herd of zebras. It also had the "champion rifle shots," Butler and Oakley. They wanted to be in the circus, which offered wholesome family entertainment. So they signed a forty-week contracts and arranged to meet up with the Sells Brothers in April.

A few weeks before joining the circus, Annie and Frank had been appearing at a theater that night went as it usually did she skipped onstage, shot corks out of bottles, snuffed candles by shooting out the burning end, and shot off the burning end of Frank's cigarette from Frank's mouth. The audience clapped and cheered and left the theater. But one man was impressed with Annie shooting that he demanded to meet her right away. His name was Sitting Bull, the great Sioux chief, who was defeating General George Armstrong Custer at Little Bighorn in 1876. Sitting Bull gave Annie a pair of moccasins which he had worn when he fought Custer. He told Annie about the daughter he had lost after the battle of Little Bighorn, and declared that Annie could replace her. If Annie came to the territory, he said, she would be welcomed as princess. Annie was surprised and flattered. "The old man was so pleased with me," she wrote, "he insisted upon adopting me." Sitting Bull gave Annie a nickname, her nickname was Little Sure Shot. Annie liked her new name.

William F. Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill, was a tall, imposing man with shoulder-length hair. He owned a show-rodeo-circus-theater, it was called "The Wild West Show." With a huge cast of American cowboys, Mexican cowboys (called vaqueros), Indians, and hundreds of animals, including horses, goats, and elk. The show's ticket price was fifty cents. Annie and Frank knew that The Wild West Show was the perfect place for Annie's talent to shine. So they went to ask Bill if Annie could be in the show, and sadly, he said no because he already had plenty of sharpshooters. A couple of days later, when Annie was on the baseball field she was shooting targets then Nate Salsbury, Bill's partner offered her to be Bill's partner in the show and Annie was on the show.

About twenty years later, Annie and Frank were getting old so they decided to retire because they wanted to do more stuff in the world and she was getting a little weak. Sadly, twenty five years later Annie died in a car accident on November 3, 1926. Eighteen days later Frank died, on November 21, 1926.

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Last edited 6/5/2013 12:00:00 AM

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Spinner, Stephanie . Who Was Annie Oakley?. Grosset & Dunlap, New York2002. 109 Pages

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