An American sharpshooter who traveled across the country and displayed her skills.
“Annie Oakley” (Phoebe Ann Moses or Mosey) attained international fame, as a rifle and pistol shot. Along in the 185O’s her parents left the mountains of Pennsylvania and settled in the northeastern part of Darke county. Here in a wild tract of land known as the “fallen timbers” Annie was born in 1860. Her mother was a Quaker and exhibited some talent for art, which was expressed in pencil sketches and a few paintings, but limited by circumstances of poverty and hard work. Her father was a natural athlete, fond of shooting wild game, but not an expert shot. From one she probably inherited skill and a generous disposition; from the other agility and a love of outdoor sports.
It is said that when but a small child she would secretly follow her brother on his hunting expeditions, and when discovered and reprimanded, would plead to remain with him and help shoot. One day, when a little over eight years of age, while her brother was away from the house, she caught sight of a fox squirrel frisking along the fence, and taking his muzzle loading rifle, she rested it on the rail of the porch, fired and cut the animal’s throat. When the brother returned he was surprised, and in order to wreak vengeance on his offending sister he secretly put a double load in his shotgun, and giving her the weapon, threw up his hat as a target. To his surprise this, too, was quickly pierced, and the sister, undaunted, won the day. From this time on she progressed in marksmanship, and at twelve years of age was given a light muzzle loading shotgun and a breech-loading rifle as a tribute to her skill.
Annie’s early education was limited, and before her ninth birthday she commenced to work for a living. The father died, leaving a family of small children, and a small, heavily mortgaged farm. By hunting and trapping quail, pheasants and other game and doing manual labor she saved enough to pay off the mortgage before her fourteenth year. Being variously employed at housework for a couple more years she finally went to live with a sister at Cincinnati, Ohio, where she married Mr. Frank E. Butler in 1876. Frank was a gentleman and an expert shot, whom she met at a shooting contest. Later, the two visited professionally, nearly all civilized countries.
Life on the Road
During the first year of her public life she played with vaudeville companies, probably doing feats of fancy marksmanship. The two years following she exhibited with Sells Brothers circus, shooting from horseback. Then followed a long engagement with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, beginning in the early spring of 1885. While with the Wild West show, Annie shot at the London and Paris expositions, the World’s Fair at Chicago, and exhibited before nearly all the crowned heads and aristocracy of Europe. She remained with this world famed show for seventeen years, seven of which were spent abroad.
Besides being feted by Queen Victoria, she received jewels and presents from nearly all the crowned heads of Europe, and her collection of trophies in the way of jewels, firearms and mementos is quite extensive. Her salary as early as 1900 when with the Wild West was $150 per week with expenses paid, and it is said she gave generously of this to charity, being mindful of her own early struggles. Strange as it may seem, she was not fond of public exhibition and social life, but prefers out of door sport, and yearns for the time when she can enjoy the seclusion of private life.
She was fond of swimming, walking, running and bicycle riding, which may had contributed to her remarkable vitality and sustained good health. Her guns weighed about seven pounds, and she sometimes shot 150 shots in a day, thus lifting over 1,000 pounds.
In personal appearance she was slight, below average height, with black flowing hair, keen, blue-gray eyes, clear-cut expressive features, and a rather piquant face. One might expect that such a life as hers would produce coarseness and lack of refinement, but Miss Annie possessed a rare modesty and a charming personality.
In 1893 she built a handsome residence in Nutley, New Jersey, not far from New York City, where she spent several enjoyable vacation seasons. Otherwise, she lived on the road.
On October 30, 1901, the Wild West show suffered a disastrous wreck in which Annie Oakley was severely wounded, having to undergo five operations in order to save her life. This ended her engagement with the big show and in the fall and winter of 1902 she starred in a play written especially for herself, and, if possible, made a greater artistic success than she had in the shooting field.
Annie joined the “Young Buffalo Wild West” in April of 1910, continuing with them for three years during the summer and spending winters in Florida with her husband, shooting game.
Having sold their home in New Jersey, Annie and Frank built a home in Cambridge, Maryland in 1913 with hopes of becoming domesticated. They were drawn to the area because of the plentiful game and waterfowl, with plans for hunting. By 1917 they sold the Cambridge house and moved to Pinehurst, North Carolina, where they enjoyed an active social life.
Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926, in Greenville, Ohio. The news of her death saddened the nation and brought forth a wave of tributes. Her husband, Frank Butler, died just over three weeks later.