Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Mosey in a log cabin in Darke County, Ohio in 1860. Her father died when Annie was only 6. Her mother remarried, but was widowed a second time.
In order to help feed and supplement the family, Annie began trapping at a young age. By eight years old, she began shooting and hunting. She sold the hunted game to individuals, restaurants and hotels in southern Ohio.
From age nine, Annie and one of her sisters spent a couple of years in near slavery. They had been admitted to Darke County Infirmary, who “bound” them out to a local family to help care for their infant son. During this time Annie endured mental and physical abuse. When she was reunited with her family in 1872, her mother had married for a third time.
Her skill continued to grow, so much so that she paid off the family’s farm mortgage when she was 15. By 21, Annie was well known throughout the region. In 1881 she challenged Francis E. Butler to a shooting match. Mr. Butler was part of the Baughman and Butler shooting act. After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match. He began courting Oakley and they married on June 20, 1882.
In 1885 they joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Fellow performer Sitting Bull nicknamed Annie “Little Sure Shot” because she was only five feet tall. They performed around the world for queens and kings and other heads of state.
In 1901 Oakley was badly injured in a train wreck, but she fully recovered after temporary paralysis and five spinal operations. She left the Buffalo Bill show and began an acting career in a play “The Western Girl” which was written for her.
Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. She strongly believed that women needed to know how to defend themselves and thought that the skill was a form of physical and mental exercise.
In 1915 the Butlers built a home (the last of two that they owned) along the Choptank River near Cambridge. She designed the house so that she could exit her second floor bedroom and hunt from this vantage point. Although they weren’t in Cambridge long (selling the house in 1917), they made an impression.
Once, when Annie was in the middle of one of her shows in Cambridge, her horse named Moonlight went lame. Rather than stop her show Annie switched to her stand by horse. Blacksmith Mr. Gillis was in the audience and offered to tend Moonlight. Weeks later, when Mr. Gillis had healed the horse and tried to return it, Oakley suggested that Mr. Gillis give the horse to his daughter. Moonlight began taking the Gillis girl to and from school, attached to a cart.
In 1912 Oakley and Butler were in a terrible automobile accident, after which Annie wore a steel brace on her right leg. Yet, after recovering, she again performed and set records in 1924.
Her health declined in 1925 and she died of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio at the age of 66 in 1926. She was buried in Brock Cemetery in Greenville, Ohio. Butler was so crushed by her death that he stopped eating and died 18 days later.
During her life, Annie Oakley had engaged in extensive philanthropy for women’s rights and other causes. After her death it was determined that none of her wealth remained- it had been spent on her family and her charities.