It’s Women in History Crush Wednesday, and I’m posting well before midnight for a change!
Up until I was five or six years old, we had two cats. I don’t think I realized at that point of my youth that you actually have the power to name your pets, because any pets that I had were named before I was born, so I simply assumed that it was a crazy random happenstance that our cats were named Annie and Oakley. Little did I know that my parents had named their cats after such an amazing and accomplished woman. I came across some pictures of the cats earlier this week, and thus chose this week’s WCW, legendary markswoman Annie Oakley.
Born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13th, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Oakley had a rough childhood. Her father died of pneumonia when she six, leaving her and her family of seven. Her mother remarried, but soon after that, her second husband also died, leaving a family of now eight. When she turned eight, Oakley moved to the county’s poor house, the Darke County Infirmary, where she was educated and became passionate about the welfare of children. At ten, Oakley began working for a wealthy family nearby in order to help pay for her family’s needs; this family turned out to be abusive, and after two years, Oakley escaped back to the Infirmary. At the start of her teenage years, Oakley moved back to her family home, where she used her father’s old rifle to hunt game that she sold to hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores in neighboring Ohio towns. Oakley found great success in hunting, as she was able to pay off her family’s mortgages at fifteen years old.
Gaining renown for her talents, Oakley was invited to a shooting competition against famous marksman Frank Butler in late 1875. Making twenty four out of twenty five shots on target, Oakley beat Butler, who was amazed by her abilities. A year later, the two wed and continued on Butler’s midwest tour. Butler’s usual performance partner fell ill in 1882 and Oakley filled in, taking her stage name “Annie Oakley.” The couple toured together for three more years, meeting Lakota leader Sitting Bull, who nicknamed Oakley “Little Sure Shot,” and William Frederick Cody along the way. Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill, had Oakley and Butler join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
Headlining the show for nearly seventeen years and then joining other small shows, Oakley performed all across America and Europe, earning praise and prizes along the way. Oakley’s elegance in maintaining ladylike demeanor and talent in shooting made her a hit among women and children, who took away the lesson that they could compete and excel in a “man’s arena” while maintaining proper etiquette. Additionally, Oakley’s self-confidence proved to women that they could stand up for themselves.
In 1913, Oakley and Butler retired from show business and moved to Cambridge, Maryland with their dog Dave, who had previously helped the couple with tricks while on tour. Oakley spent much of her time in Maryland continuing to hunt, teaching other women to hunt, and performing in charity events.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, and before during the Spanish-American War, Oakley offered her services to the army. However, the army refused her offers to teach marksmanship to troops and to form and train all-female regiments, so Oakley volunteered in groups like Red Cross, the National War Council of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the War Camp Community Service.
Oakley planned to make a comeback into show business in 1922, but a car accident left her injured and unable to perform. She was in poor health for several years following, so she and Butler moved back to Ohio so that Oakley could be near her family. Oakley quickly wrote out her adventures to be included in newspapers once home. On November 3rd, 1926, Oakley died of natural causes, and barely three weeks later, Butler, too, died. The couple filled their fifty years of marriage with adventures, travel, and performances, leaving a legend of their skills that remains impressive today.
Today, we remember Annie Oakley in movies, books, stage productions (like Annie Get Your Gun, which inspired today’s title), television shows, textbooks, and museums as the first female star of what had traditionally been a male-dominated skill and profession. To learn more about her, check out these Buffalo Bill Center of the West and PBS articles!
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays! Be heard!