Annie Oakley

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Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley by Baker's Art Gallery c1880s-crop.jpg
Oakley in the 1880s
Phoebe Ann Mosey

(1860-08-13)August 13, 1860
DiedNovember 3, 1926(1926-11-03) (aged 66)
Resting placeAshes buried in Brock Cemetery
Frank E. Butler (m. 18761926)
Parent(s)Susan Wise Mosey (1830–1908), Jacob Mosey (1799–1866)
Annie Oakley Signature.svg

Annie Oakley (born Phoebe Ann Mosey; August 13, 1860 – November 3, 1926) was an American sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. Her talent first came to light when at age 15 she won a shooting match against traveling-show marksman Frank E. Butler, whom she later married. [1] The couple joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show a few years later. Oakley became a renowned international star, performing before royalty and heads of state.

Marksman Person who is skilled in shooting

A marksman is a person who is skilled in precision shooting using projectile weapons to shoot at high-value targets at longer-than-usual ranges.

Exhibition shooting sport

Exhibition shooting or trick shooting is a sport in which a marksman performs various feats of skill, frequently using non-traditional targets. Exhibition shooting tends to stress both speed and accuracy, often with elements of danger added.

Frank E. Butler American wildwest marksman

Francis E. Butler was an Irish American marksman who performed in Wild West variety shows. He was married to sharpshooter Annie Oakley, and while his birth date is listed on his and Oakley's U.S. passport application as February 25, 1852, the obituary for Butler posted by the Associated Press in 1926 has his age as 76, which meant he was born in 1850. According to baptism registers on file at the National Library of Ireland, Butler was baptized on January 30, 1847. His parents were Michael Butler and Catherine Whelan. He was the oldest of their five children.


Oakley also was variously known as "Miss Annie Oakley", "Little Sure Shot", "Little Miss Sure Shot", "Watanya Cicilla", "Phoebe Anne Oakley", "Mrs. Annie Oakley", "Mrs. Annie Butler", and "Mrs. Frank Butler". Her death certificate gives her name as "Annie Oakley Butler". [2]

Death certificate vital record that documents a death

The phrase death certificate can refer either to a document issued by a medical practitioner certifying the deceased state of a person or, popularly, to a document issued by a person such as a registrar of vital statistics that declares the date, location and cause of a person's death as later entered in an official register of deaths.

Early life

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann (Annie) Mosey [3] [4] [5] on August 13, 1860, in a log cabin less than two miles (3.2 km) northwest of Woodland, now Willowdell, in Darke County, Ohio, a rural county along the state's border with Indiana. [6] Her birthplace is about five miles east of North Star. There is a stone-mounted plaque in the vicinity of the site, which was placed by the Annie Oakley Committee in 1981, 121 years after her birth.

Willowdell is an unincorporated community in Darke County, in the U.S. state of Ohio.

Darke County, Ohio U.S. county in Ohio

Darke County is a county in the U.S. state of Ohio. As of the 2010 census, the population was 52,959. Its county seat is Greenville. The county was created in 1809 and later organized in 1817. It is named for William Darke, an officer in the American Revolutionary War.

North Star, Ohio Village in Ohio, United States

North Star is a village in Darke County, Ohio, United States. The population was 236 at the 2010 census.

Annie's parents were Quakers of English descent from Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania: Susan Wise, age 18, [7] [8] and Jacob Mosey, born 1799, age 49, married in 1848. They moved to a rented farm (later purchased with a mortgage) in Patterson Township, Darke County, Ohio, sometime around 1855.

Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania Place in Pennsylvania, United States

Hollidaysburg is a borough in and the county seat of Blair County in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It is located on the Juniata River, 5 miles (8 km) south of Altoona and is part of the Altoona, Pennsylvania, Metropolitan Statistical Area. In 1900, 2,998 people lived in the borough, in 1910, 3,734 lived there, and in 1940, 5,910 residents were counted. The population was 5,791 at the 2010 census. Coal, iron ore, ganister, and limestone are found in the vicinity. In the past, the borough had foundries and machine shops, a silk mill, car works and classification yards.

Blair County, Pennsylvania U.S. county in Pennsylvania

Blair County is a county located in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2010 census, the population was 127,089. Its county seat is Hollidaysburg. The county was created on February 26, 1846, from parts of Huntingdon and Bedford Counties.

Patterson Township, Darke County, Ohio Township in Ohio, United States

Patterson Township is one of the twenty townships of Darke County, Ohio, United States. The 2010 census found 1,365 people in the township, 967 of whom lived in the unincorporated portions of the township.

Born in 1860, Annie was the sixth of Jacob and Susan's nine children, and the fifth of the seven surviving. [9] Her siblings were Mary Jane (1851–1867), Lydia (1852–1882), Elizabeth (1855–1881), Sarah Ellen (1857–1939), Catherine (1859–1859), John (1861–1949), Hulda (1864–1934) and a stillborn infant brother in 1865. Annie's father, who had fought in the War of 1812, became an invalid from hypothermia during a blizzard in late 1865 and died of pneumonia in early 1866 at age 66. [10] Her mother later married Daniel Brumbaugh, had one more child, Emily (1868–1937), and was widowed for a second time.

War of 1812 32-month military conflict between the United States and the British Empire

The War of 1812 was a conflict fought between the United States and the United Kingdom, with their respective allies, from June 1812 to February 1815. Historians in Britain often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars; historians in the United States and Canada see it as a war in its own right.

Hypothermia A human body core temperature below 35.0°C

Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature below 35.0 °C (95.0 °F) in humans. Symptoms depend on the temperature. In mild hypothermia there is shivering and mental confusion. In moderate hypothermia shivering stops and confusion increases. In severe hypothermia, there may be paradoxical undressing, in which a person removes their clothing, as well as an increased risk of the heart stopping.

Pneumonia Infection of the lungs

Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung affecting primarily the small air sacs known as alveoli. Typically symptoms include some combination of productive or dry cough, chest pain, fever, and trouble breathing. Severity is variable.

Because of poverty following the death of her father, Annie did not regularly attend school as a child, although she did attend later in childhood and in adulthood. [11] On March 15, 1870, at age nine, she was admitted to the Darke County Infirmary along with her sister Sarah Ellen. According to her autobiography, she was put in the care of the infirmary's superintendent, Samuel Crawford Edington, and his wife Nancy, who taught her to sew and decorate. Beginning in the spring of 1870, she was "bound out" to a local family to help care for their infant son, on the false promise of fifty cents per week (equivalent to $10in 2018) and an education. The couple had originally wanted someone who could pump water, cook, and who was bigger. She spent about two years in near slavery to them, enduring mental and physical abuse. One time, the wife put Annie out in the freezing cold without shoes, as a punishment because she had fallen asleep over some darning. [12] Annie referred to them as "the wolves". Even in her autobiography, she never revealed the couple's real names. [13]

According to biographer Glenda Riley, "the wolves" could have been the Studabaker family, [14] but the 1870 U.S. Census suggests they were the Abram Boose family of neighboring Preble County. [15] [16] Around the spring of 1872, Annie ran away from "the wolves". According to biographer Shirl Kasper, it was only at this point that Annie met and lived with the Edingtons, returning to her mother's home around the age of 15. [17] Annie's mother married a third time, to Joseph Shaw, on October 25, 1874.[ citation needed ]

Annie began trapping before the age of seven, and shooting and hunting by age eight, to support her siblings and her widowed mother. She sold the hunted game to locals in Greenville, such as shopkeepers Charles and G. Anthony Katzenberger, who shipped it to hotels in Cincinnati and other cities. [18] She also sold the game to restaurants and hotels in northern Ohio. Her skill paid off the mortgage on her mother's farm when Annie was 15. [19]

Debut and marriage

The Amateur Circus at Nutley (1894) by American illustrator Peter Newell. The scene depicted in the center is of Annie Oakley, standing on horseback, demonstrating her shooting ability. The Amateur Circus at Nutley by Peter Newall 1894.jpg
The Amateur Circus at Nutley (1894) by American illustrator Peter Newell. The scene depicted in the center is of Annie Oakley, standing on horseback, demonstrating her shooting ability.

Annie soon became well known throughout the region. On Thanksgiving Day 1875, [20] the Baughman & Butler shooting act was being performed in Cincinnati. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer Frank E. Butler (1847–1926), an Irish immigrant, placed a $100 bet per side (equivalent to $2,282in 2018) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost that Butler could beat any local fancy shooter. [21] The hotelier arranged a shooting match between Butler and the 15-year-old Annie, saying, "The last opponent Butler expected was a five-foot-tall 15-year-old girl named Annie." [20] After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet. Another account says that Butler hit on his last shot, but the bird fell dead about two feet beyond the boundary line. [22] He soon began courting Annie and they married. They did not have children. [20]

According to a modern-day account in The Cincinnati Enquirer , it is possible that the shooting match may have taken place in 1881 and not 1875. [22] It appears the time of the event was never recorded. Biographer Shirl Kasper states the shooting match took place in the spring of 1881 near Greenville, possibly in North Star as mentioned by Butler during interviews in 1903 and 1924. Other sources seem to coincide with the North Fairmount location near Cincinnati if the event occurred in 1881. [22] The Annie Oakley Center Foundation mentions Oakley visiting her married sister Lydia Stein at her home near Cincinnati in 1875. [23] That information is incorrect as Lydia didn't marry Joseph C. Stein until March 19, 1877. [24] Although speculation, it is most likely that Oakley and her mother visited Lydia in 1881 as she was seriously ill from tuberculosis. [25] The Bevis House hotel was still being operated by Martin Bevis and W. H. Ridenour in 1875. It opened around 1860 after the building was previously used as a pork packaging facility. Jack Frost didn't obtain management of the hotel until 1879. [22] [26] The Baughman & Butler shooting act first appeared on the pages of The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1880. They signed with Sells Brothers Circus in 1881 and made an appearance at the Coliseum Opera House later that year. [22]

Regardless of the actual date of the shooting match, Oakley and Butler were married a year afterward. A certificate on file with the Archives of Ontario, Registration Number 49594, reports that Butler and Oakley were wed on June 20, 1882, in Windsor, Ontario. [27] Many sources say the marriage took place on August 23, 1876, in Cincinnati, [23] but no recorded certificate validates that date. A possible reason for the contradictory dates is that Butler's divorce from his first wife, Henrietta Saunders, was not yet final in 1876. An 1880 U.S. Federal Census record shows Saunders as married. [28] Sources mentioning Butler's first wife as Elizabeth are inaccurate; Elizabeth was his granddaughter, her father being Edward F. Butler. [29] Throughout Oakley's show-business career, the public was often led to believe that she was five to six years younger than she was. The later marriage date would have better supported her fictional age. [23]

Career and touring

"Aim at the high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you'll hit the bull's-eye of success."

Annie Oakley exhibit at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas

Annie and Frank Butler lived in Cincinnati for a time. Oakley, the stage name she adopted when she and Frank began performing together, [5] [30] [31] is believed to have been taken from the city's neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided. Some people believe she took on the name because that was the name of the man who had paid her train fare when she was a child. [23]

Oakley c. 1899 Annie Oakley - Full length photograph circa 1899.jpg
Oakley c. 1899

They joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West in 1885. At five feet tall, Oakley was given the nickname of "Watanya Cicilla" by fellow performer Sitting Bull, rendered "Little Sure Shot" in the public advertisements.

During her first engagement with the Buffalo Bill show, Oakley experienced a tense professional rivalry with rifle sharpshooter Lillian Smith. Smith was eleven years younger than Oakley, age 15 at the time she joined the show in 1886, which may have been a primary reason for Oakley to alter her actual age in later years due to Smith's press coverage becoming as favorable as hers. [32] Oakley temporarily left the Buffalo Bill show but returned two years later, after Smith departed, in time for the Paris Exposition of 1889. [33] This three-year tour only cemented Oakley as America's first female star. She earned more than any other performer in the show, except for "Buffalo Bill" Cody himself. She also performed in many shows on the side for extra income. [33]

In Europe, she performed for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, King Umberto I of Italy, President Marie François Sadi Carnot of France and other crowned heads of state. Oakley supposedly shot the ashes off a cigarette held by the newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II at his request. [34]

Buffalo Bill's Wild West poster Miss-Annie-Oakley-peerless-wing-shot.jpg
Buffalo Bill's Wild West poster

From 1892 to 1904, Oakley and Butler made their home in Nutley, New Jersey. [35]

Oakley promoted the service of women in combat operations for the United States armed forces. She wrote a letter to President William McKinley on April 5, 1898, "offering the government the services of a company of 50 'lady sharpshooters' who would provide their own arms and ammunition should the U.S. go to war with Spain." [36]

The Spanish–American War did occur, but Oakley's offer was not accepted. Theodore Roosevelt, did, however, name his volunteer cavalry the "Rough Riders" after the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World" where Oakley was a major star.

In 1901 (the same year as McKinley's assassination), Oakley was badly injured in a train accident, but recovered after temporary paralysis and five spinal operations. She left the Buffalo Bill show and in 1902 began a less taxing acting career in a stage play written especially for her, The Western Girl. Oakley played the role of Nancy Berry who used a pistol, a rifle and rope to outsmart a group of outlaws. [7]

Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught more than 15,000 women how to use a gun. Oakley believed strongly that it was crucial for women to learn how to use a gun, as not only a form of physical and mental exercise, but also to defend themselves. [8] She said: "I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies."

The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West (Annie Oakley)

Annie Oakley, 1894, an "exhibition of rifle shooting at glass balls, etc.", in an Edison Kinetoscope movie

Buffalo Bill was friends with Thomas Edison, and Edison built the world's largest electrical power plant at the time for the Wild West Show. [37] Buffalo Bill and 15 of his show Indians appeared in two Kinetoscopes filmed September 24, 1894. [38]

In 1894, Oakley and Butler performed in Edison's Kinetoscope film The "Little Sure Shot of the Wild West," an exhibition of rifle shooting at glass balls, etc. [39] which was filmed November 1, 1894 in Edison's Black Maria studio by William Heise. [40] [41] It was the eleventh film made after commercial showings began on April 14, 1894. [42]

Shooting prowess

Annie Oakley shooting over her shoulder using a hand mirror. Annie Oakley shooting over her shoulder using a hand mirror..jpg
Annie Oakley shooting over her shoulder using a hand mirror.

Biographers, such as Shirl Kasper, repeat Oakley's own story about her very first shot at the age of eight. "I saw a squirrel run down over the grass in front of the house, through the orchard and stop on a fence to get a hickory nut." Taking a rifle from the house, she fired at the squirrel, writing later that, "It was a wonderful shot, going right through the head from side to side". [43]

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes that:

Oakley never failed to delight her audiences, and her feats of marksmanship were truly incredible. At 30 paces she could split a playing card held edge-on, she hit dimes tossed into the air, she shot cigarettes from her husband's lips, and, a playing card being thrown into the air, she riddled it before it touched the ground. [44]

R. A. Koestler-Grack reports that, on March 19, 1884, she was being watched by Chief Sitting Bull when:

Oakley playfully skipped on stage, lifted her rifle, and aimed the barrel at a burning candle. In one shot, she snuffed out the flame with a whizzing bullet. Sitting Bull watched her knock corks off of bottles and slice through a cigar Butler held in his teeth. [45]

Libel cases

In 1904, sensational cocaine prohibition stories were selling well. 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.

Most of the newspapers that printed the story had relied on the Hearst article, and they immediately retracted it with apologies upon learning of the libelous error. Hearst, however, tried to avoid paying the anticipated court judgments of $20,000 (equivalent to $560,000in 2018) by sending an investigator to Darke County, Ohio with the intent of collecting reputation-smearing gossip from Oakley's past. The investigator found nothing. [46]

Oakley spent much of the next six years winning all but one of her 55 libel lawsuits against newspapers. She collected less in judgments than the total of her legal expenses. [46]

Later years and death

Oakley in 1922 Annie Oakley NYWTS.jpg
Oakley in 1922

In 1912, the Butlers built a brick ranch-style house in Cambridge, Maryland. It is known as the Annie Oakley House and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. In 1917, they moved to North Carolina and returned to public life.

She continued to set records into her sixties, and also engaged in extensive philanthropy for women's rights and other causes, including the support of young women she knew. She embarked on a comeback and intended to star in a feature-length silent movie. She hit 100 clay targets in a row from 16 yards (15 m) at age 62 in a 1922 shooting contest in Pinehurst, North Carolina. [47]

In late 1922, the couple were in a car accident that forced her to wear a steel brace on her right leg. She eventually performed again after more than a year of recovery, and she set records in 1924. [37]

Her health declined in 1925 and she died of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio at the age of 66 on November 3, 1926. [48] [49] Her body was cremated in Cincinnati two days later and the ashes buried at Brock Cemetery, near Greenville. [22] [50] [33]

Butler was so grieved by her death, according to B. Haugen, that he stopped eating and died 18 days later in Michigan, and his body was buried next to Oakley's ashes. [51] [52] Kasper reports that the death certificate said that Butler died of "senility". One rumor claims that Oakley's ashes were placed in one of her prized trophies and laid next to Butler's body in his coffin prior to burial. [53] Both body and ashes were interred in the cemetery on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1926. [54]

After her death, her incomplete autobiography was given to stage comedian Fred Stone, [55] and it was discovered that her entire fortune had been spent on her family and her charities. [56]

A vast collection of Oakley's personal possessions, performance memorabilia, and firearms are on permanent exhibit in the Garst Museum and the National Annie Oakley Center in Greenville, Ohio. [57] She has been inducted into the Trapshooting Hall of Fame, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, the National Women's Hall of Fame, the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, and the New Jersey Hall of Fame.


There are a number of variations given for Oakley's family name, Mosey. Many biographers and other references give the name as "Moses". [58] Although the 1860 U.S. Census shows the family name as "Mauzy", this is considered an error introduced by the census taker. [59] [60] Oakley's name appears as "Ann Mosey" in the 1870 U.S. Census [15] [16] and "Mosey" is engraved on her father's headstone and appears in his military record; "Mosey" is the official spelling by the Annie Oakley Foundation, maintained by her living relatives. [3] [5] [61] The spelling "Mosie" has also appeared.

According to Kasper, Oakley insisted that her family name be spelled "Mozee", leading to arguments with her brother John. Kasper speculates that Oakley may have considered "Mozee" to be a more phonetic spelling. There is also popular speculation that young Oakley had been teased about her name by other children. [60]

Prior to their double wedding in March 1884, both Oakley's brother John and one of her sisters, Hulda, changed their surnames to "Moses". [3] [61]


During her lifetime, the theatre business began referring to complimentary tickets as "Annie Oakleys". Such tickets traditionally have holes punched into them (to prevent them from being resold), reminiscent of the playing cards Oakley shot through during her sharpshooting act.[ citation needed ]

Representations in arts, entertainment, and media


Oakley's worldwide stardom as a sharpshooter enabled her to earn more money than most of the other performers in the Buffalo Bill show. [33] She did not forget her roots after gaining financial and economic power. She and Butler together often donated to charitable organizations for orphans. [33] Beyond her monetary influence, she proved to be a great influence on women.

Oakley urged that women serve in war, though President McKinley rejected her offer of woman sharpshooters for service in the Spanish–American War. [36] Beyond this offer to the president, Oakley believed that women should learn to use a gun for the empowering image that it gave. [74] Laura Browder discusses how Oakley's stardom gave hope to women and youth in Her Best Shot: Women and Guns In America. Oakley pressed for women to be independent and educated. [74] She was a key influence in the creation of the image of the American cowgirl. Through this image, she provided substantial evidence that women are as capable as men when offered the opportunity to prove themselves. [75]

See also

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Further reading