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Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley
File:Annie Oakley.jpg
Born Phoebe Ann Mosey
13, 1860(1860-Template:MONTHNUMBER-13)
Woodland (now Willowdell), Ohio, United States
Died 3, 1926 (aged 66)
Greenville, Ohio
Spouse(s) Template:Event
Parents Susan Wise (1830-?), Jacob Mosey (1799-1866)

Annie Oakley (August 13, 1860 – November 3, 1926), born Phoebe Ann Mosey,[1][2][3] was an American sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. Oakley's amazing talent[4] and timely rise to fame[5] 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 Oakley reputedly could split a playing card edge-on and put five or six more holes in it before it touched the ground.[6]


Early life

Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Mosey in "a cabin less than two miles northwest of Woodland, now Willowdell, in Darke County", a rural western border county of Ohio.[7] The village of North Star has a road sign stating it is near her place of birth.[8] Her birthplace log cabin site is about five miles eastward of North Star.[9] There is a stone-mounted plaque in the vicinity of the cabin site, which was placed by the Annie Oakley Committee in 1981, 121 years after her birth.[10] The committee misspelled her birth surname on the cast bronze plaque, incorrectly ending in an "s" instead of "y".[3]

Annie's parents were Quakers from Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania: Susan Wise, age 18,[11] and Jacob Mosey, age 49,[1] married in 1848.[12] A fire burned down their tavern in Hollidaysburg, so they moved to a rented farm (later purchased with a mortgage) in Patterson Township, Darke County. The move occurred sometime between sister Elizabeth's Hollidaysburg birth in 1855, and sister Sarah Ellen's Darke County birth in 1857.[citation needed]

Born in 1860, Annie was the sixth of Jacob and Susan's six children.[13] Her father, who had fought in the War of 1812, died in 1866 at age 66, from pneumonia and overexposure in freezing weather. Her mother married Daniel Brumbaugh,[11] had a ninth child, Emily,[14] and was widowed a second time.

When Annie was eight or nine years old, she was put in the care of the superintendent of the county poor farm, where she learned to sew and decorate. She spent some time in near-slavery for a local family where she endured mental and physical abuse (Annie referred to them as "the wolves").[15] When, after 1868, she reunited with her family at age 13 or 14, her mother had married a third time, to Joseph Shaw.[11]

Because of poverty following the death of her father, Annie did not regularly attend school. Later she received some additional education. She later rendered her surname as ending in "ee", while it appears as "Mosey" on her father's gravestone[16] and in his military record; it is the official spelling by the Annie Oakley Foundation maintained by her living relatives.[3][17]

Annie began hunting at the age of six to support her siblings and her widowed mother. She sold the hunting game for money to locals in Greenville, as well as restaurants and hotels in southern Ohio. Her skill eventually paid off the mortgage on her mother's farm when Annie was 15.[18]

Debut and marriage

File:The Amateur Circus at Nutley by Peter Newall 1894.jpg
Annie Oakley performing at an amateur circus in Nutley, New Jersey, in 1894, to raise funds for the Red Cross

Oakley soon became well known throughout the region. During the spring of 1881, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was being performed in Cincinnati. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer Francis E. Butler (1850–1926), an Irish immigrant,[19] placed a $100 bet per side (roughly equivalent to modern US$2,000) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost, that Butler, age 31, could beat any local fancy shooter. The hotelier arranged a shooting match with Oakley, age 21, to be held in ten days in a small town near Greenville, Ohio. Butler later said it was "18 miles from the nearest [train] station"[20] (about the distance from Greenville to North Star). After missing his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet, a serendipitous irony that led him to become a well-known winner in backstage life. Butler began courting Oakley, and they married on June 20, 1882.[20]

Career and touring

Aim at a high mark, and you will hit it.

Oakley and Butler lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a time, and she is believed to have taken her stage name from the city's neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided.[citation needed]

They joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1885. At 5 feet (1.5 m) 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 Buffalo Bill's show engagement, Oakley experienced a tense professional rivalry with rifle sharpshooter Lillian Smith. Being eleven years younger, Smith promoted herself as younger and therefore more billable than Oakley.[citation needed] Oakley temporarily left the Buffalo Bill's show but returned after Smith departed.

In Europe, she performed for Queen Victoria of Great Britain, King Umberto I of Italy, Marie François Sadi Carnot President of France 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 newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II.[22] The Annie Oakley Foundation suggests that she 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."[22]

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."[23] 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. The same year that McKinley was fatally shot by an assassin, 1901, Oakley was also badly injured in a railway crash, but she fully recovered after temporary paralysis and five spinal operations. She left the Buffalo Bill show and in 1902 began a quieter acting career in a stage play written especially for her, The Western Girl. Oakley played the role of Nancy Berry and used a pistol, rifle and rope to outsmart a group of outlaws [24] Following her injury and change of career, it only added to her legend that her shooting expertise continued to increase into her 60s.

Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 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.[25]

Libel cases

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 judgments than were her legal expenses, but to her, a restored reputation justified the loss of time and money.[26]

Most of the newspapers that printed the story had relied on the Hearst article, and upon learning of the libelous error they immediately retracted the false story with apologies. Hearst, however, tried to avoid paying the anticipated court judgments of $20,000 ($300,000, adjusted for inflation in 2008 dollars) by sending an investigator to Darke County with the intent of collecting reputation-smearing gossip from Oakley's past. The investigator found nothing.[citation needed]

Later years and death

Oakley continued to set records into her 60s, and 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. She embarked on a comeback and intended to star in a feature-length silent movie. In a 1922 shooting contest in Pinehurst, North Carolina, sixty-two-year-old Oakley hit 100 clay targets from 16 yards (15 m).[27]

In late 1922, Oakley and Butler suffered a debilitating automobile accident that forced her to wear a steel brace on her right leg. Yet after a year and a half of recovery, she again performed and set records in 1924.[28]

Her health declined in 1925 and she died of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio at the age of sixty-six in 1926.[29][30] She was buried in Brock Cemetery in Greenville, Ohio.[31] Butler was so crushed by her death that he stopped eating.[citation needed] He died just 18 days later.

After her death, her incomplete autobiography was given to Fred Stone, the stage comedian,[32] and it was discovered that her entire fortune had been spent on her family and her charities.[citation needed]

She was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West

File:Annie Oakley shooting glass balls, 1894.ogg

In 1894, Oakley and Butler performed in Edison's Kinetoscope film, The "Little Sure Shot" of the "Wild West," exhibition of rifle shooting at glass balls, etc.[33] Filmed November 1, 1894, in Edison's Black Maria studio by William Heise (0:21 at 30 frame/s; 39 ft.),[34] it was about the 11th film made after commercial showings began on April 14, 1894.[35]

Oakley's early movie star opportunity followed from Buffalo Bill and Thomas Edison's friendship, which developed after Edison personally built for the Wild West Show, what in the 1890s was the world's largest electrical power plant.[28] Buffalo Bill and fifteen of his show Indians appeared in two Kinetoscopes filmed September 24, 1894.[36][37]

Representations on stage and screen

  • In 1935, Barbara Stanwyck played Oakley in a highly fictionalized film called Annie Oakley.
  • The 1946 Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun is very loosely based on her life. The original stage production starred Ethel Merman, who also starred in the 1966 revival. A 1950 film version starred Betty Hutton. Some years after headlining the 1948 national tour, Mary Martin returned to the role for a 1957 NBC television special.
  • From 1954 to 1956, Gail Davis played Oakley in the Annie Oakley television series.
  • A highly-fictionalised Oakley appears in the 1966 comedy film Carry On Cowboy. This version of Oakley had a father who was sheriff of the fictitious Stodge City, and travelled out west to kill her father's murderer, and eventually fell in love with the inept Englishman, Marshal P. Knutt (Jim Dale). Oakley was played by Angela Douglas.
  • In 1976, Geraldine Chaplin played Oakley in Buffalo Bill and the Indians with John Considine as Frank Butler.
  • In 1982, Diane Civita played Oakley, opposite Richard Donner as Bill Cody, in an episode of Voyagers!, where, during Cody's performances for Queen Victoria, Oakley engaged in a marksmanship contest with a Russian duke.
  • In 1982, the British rock band Squeeze released a song called 'Annie Get Your Gun.'
  • In 1985, Jamie Lee Curtis portrayed her in the "Annie Oakley" episode of the children's video series Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends.
  • In 1996, Reba McEntire portrayed Annie in Buffalo Girls alongside Anjelica Huston, Melanie Griffith and Tom Wopat.
  • In 1999, Annie Get Your Gun was revived on Broadway with Bernadette Peters in the title role. Susan Lucci assumed the role when Peters took a vacation from the show, Cheryl Ladd assumed the role from Peters and was followed by Reba McEntire and Crystal Bernard.
  • In 2004, Elizabeth Berridge played Annie Oakley in the Touchstone Pictures film Hidalgo.
  • In 2006, an episode of PBS's American Experience documented Oakley's life.
  • In 2008, Neil deGrasse Tyson focused on Oakley on an episode of his PBS show.
  • In 2009, the band Watchout! There's Ghosts released a song called Don't Shoot Me Annie Oakley.
  • In 2009, Murdoch Mysteries featured Oakley and Buffalo Bill touring Toronto.

See also

  • Calamity Jane
  • Belle Starr
  • Lillian Smith
  • History of women in the military
  • Buffalo Bill
  • The 39 Clues


  1. 1.0 1.1 "We Hope "Mosey" Ends the Debate". annieoakleyfoundation.org. Summer 2003. http://www.annieoakleyfoundation.org/aim.html. 
  2. Bess Edwards (grandniece of Oakley). "Annie Oakley's Life and Career". annieoakleyfoundation.org. http://www.annieoakleyfoundation.org/bio.html.  "Born ... Phoebe Ann Mosey..."
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 [1]
  4. Katherine E. Krohn (2005). Wild West Women (book). Lerner Publications. p. 55. http://books.google.com/books?id=IK9J3H0S10wC&pg=PA55&dq=%22amazing+talent%22+%22sitting+bull%22.  "Sitting Bull was deeply moved by Annie's talent. He thought her ability with a gun was amazing." Charles M. Wills (2007). Annie Oakley: A Photographic Story of a Life (book). DK Children. p. 71. http://books.google.com/books?id=IK9J3H0S10wC&pg=PA55&dq=%22amazing+talent%22+%22sitting+bull%22.  "Like Annie, Lillian showed amazing talent with a gun at an early age."
  5. Buffalo Bill Wild West Show's champion marksman Captain Bogardus only toured for a year [2], which created a lucky opening for Annie Oakley to replace Bogardus and become a superstar.
  6. "Annie Oakley of the Wild West (book review)". girlswithguns.org. http://www.girlswithguns.org/short/short0104.htm. 
  7. "Tall Tales and the Truth: Was Annie really born in 1866? {answer is NO; born in 1860 — in a cabin northwest of Woodland/Willowdell}". Annie Oakley Foundation at web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2002-10-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20021015053658/http://www.ormiston.com/annieoakley/tales.html#YOUNG. 
  8. "Tall Tales and the Truth:". Annie Oakley Foundation at web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2002-10-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20021015053658/http://www.ormiston.com/annieoakley/nstar.gif.  Image of road sign reads: "NORTH STAR NEAR BIRTHPLACE AND EARLY HOME OF ANNIE OAKLEY "LITTLE SURE SHOT" BORN 1860"
  9. Road map showing North Star, Yorkshire, and Willowdell, Ohio Annie Oakley's birthplace log cabin site is some five miles east-south-east of North Star, and about equidistant from Yorkshire and Willowdell.
  10. "Tall Tales and the Truth:". Annie Oakley Foundation at web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2002-10-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20021015053658/http://www.ormiston.com/annieoakley/birthstone.gif.  Image of stone-mounted plaque reads (decipherable parts): "ANNIE OAKLEY'S BIRTHPLACE WORLD FAMOUS SHARPSHOOTER ANNIE OAKLEY WAS BORN PHOEBE ANN _Moses____ AUGUST 13, 1860 IN A LOG CABIN 1028 FEET DUE EAST OF HERE ON LAND THAT HAD BEEN IN THE SWALLOW FAMILY LINE FOR 127 YEARS AT THE TIME THIS MEMORIAL WAS DEDICATED IN JULY 1981 BY THE ANNIE OAKLEY COMMITTEE, INC."
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Susan Wise — FamilySearch.org Individual Record". Familysearch.org. 1908-08-18. http://www.familysearch.org/eng/search/PRF/individual_record.asp?recid=90921328&lds=2&region=-1&regionfriendly=&frompage=99. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  12. "Jacob Mosey". FamilySearch.org Pedigree Resource File. Familysearch.org. http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  13. "Annie Oakley". American Experience. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/oakley/. Retrieved 2009-04-07. "August 13, 1860: Annie Oakley is born Phoebe Ann Moses or mosey, on the family farm in Darke County, Ohio, fifth [sic] of seven surviving children. Her Quaker parents, Jacob and Susan, have moved from Pennsylvania, where they ran an inn. In Ohio, the family supports itself with subsistence farming. ..." 
  14. "Emily Brumbaugh, b. 2 May 1869, d. 29 Jun 1927 Familysearch.org Individual Record". Familysearch.org. 1927-06-29. http://www.familysearch.org/eng/search/IGI/individual_record.asp?recid=100442791997&lds=1&region=11&regionfriendly=North+America&frompage=99. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  15. Whiting, Jim. What's so great about Annie Oakley. Mitchell Lane Publishers. Delaware, 2007.
  16. "Jacob Mosey". FindAGrave.com. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Mosey&GSfn=Jacob&GSby=1799&GSbyrel=in&GSdy=1866&GSdyrel=in&GSst=37&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=6587350&. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  17. "Tall Tales and the Truth: Born Phoebe Anne Oakley Mozee? {answer is NO: "Her mother, Susan, named her Phoebe Ann..."; her father Jacob is surnamed "Mosey" in the National Archives War of 1812 military records; "In the 1870 Census, Annie is listed as Ann Mosey" — but, several other surname spellings appeared later. "The professional name Oakley was assumed in 1882, when Annie began to perform with Frank Butler; it was not a family name."}". web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2002-10-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20021015053658/http://www.ormiston.com/annieoakley/tales.html#NAME. 
  18. "Annie Oakley". Dorchester County Public Library, Cambridge, MD. http://www.dorchesterlibrary.org/library/aoakley.html. 
  19. "Francis E. Butler". FamilySearch.org Pedigree Resource File. Familysearch.org. 1926-11-21. http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/PRF/individual_record.asp?recid=90921227&lds=2&region=-1&regionfriendly=&frompage=99. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Tall Tales and the Truth: Did Annie meet Frank in Cincinnati? {answer is NO}". Annie Oakley Foundation at web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2002-10-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20021015053658/http://www.ormiston.com/annieoakley/tales.html#MATCH. 
  21. Annie Oakley exhibit at National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Tall Tales and the Truth: Did she shoot the Kaiser's cigarette?". Annie Oakley Foundation at web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2002-10-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20021015053658/http://www.ormiston.com/annieoakley/tales.html#KAISER. 
  23. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Letter to President William McKinley from Annie Oakley. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
  24. Wukovits, John. Legends of the West: Annie Oakley. Chelsea House Publishers. Philadelphia, 1991.
  25. Wills, Chuck. Annie Oakley. DK Publishing. London, 2007.
  26. "Anie Oakley (1860-1926)". pbs.org. 2006-02-14. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/oakley/peopleevents/p_oakley.html. 
  27. "Annie Oakley". lkwdpl.org Women in History. http://lkwdpl.org/wihohio/oakl-ann.htm. 
  28. 28.0 28.1 "Annie Oakley". dorchesterlibrary.org Dorchester County Public Library. http://www.dorchesterlibrary.org/library/aoakley.html. 
  29. "Champion Rifle Shot. Chipped Ash From Wilhelm's Cigarette. Bullets Lifted Home Mortgage.". New York Times. November 14, 1926. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20C17F63D5D13738DDDAD0994D9415B868EF1D3. Retrieved 2009-04-08. 
  30. "Little Sureshot". Time magazine. November 15, 1966. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,722700,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-08. "As it must to all men, Death came to Mrs. Annie Oakley. Butler, 66, most marked markswoman in history, at Greenville, Ohio, after long illness." 
  31. "Famous Ohio Gravesites". Ohio Living and Travel Magazine. http://www.ohiotraveler.com/Venue%20Files/famous_ohio_gravesites.htm. Retrieved 2006-12-20. 
  32. "United States". Time magazine. December 6, 1926. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,722829,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-08. "From Greenville, Ohio, I received a heavy brown pasteboard box, which I carried to the stage of the Globe Theatre, Manhattan, and opened in the presence of a notary public. It contained several scrapbooks, with clippings, photographs, letters and a typed autobiography up to 1890 of my late friend, Annie Oakley Butler, ablest markswoman in history, who died last month. There was no letter of explanation but it seemed apparent that Annie Oakley, with whom I played in a circus some 20 years ago, wished me to be her Boswell." 
  33. As titled/described by Raff & Gammon, Price list of films, ca. June 1895, p. 1 [MI].
  34. DIGITAL ID edmp 4030 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mbrsmi/edmp.4030 Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division Washington, D. C. 20540 USA.
  35. Chronological Title List of Edison Motion Pictures - Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division Washington, D. C. 20540 USA
  36. "DIGITAL ID edmp 4025 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mbrsmi/edmp.4025 Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division Washington, D. C. 20540 USA". Rs6.loc.gov. 1994-05-13. http://rs6.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/papr:@filreq(@field(NUMBER+@band(edmp+4025))+@field(COLLID+edison)). Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  37. Animated GIF files of Annie Oakley performing can be found here [3].

External links

  • Annie Oakley - Biography by Dorchester County Public Library, Cambridge, MD


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