Biography of Sharpshooter Annie Oakley Part 1

About the female sharpshooter Annie Oakley, biography and history of the cowgirl.


From: LINA ACCURSO (Port Chester, N.Y.)

Annie Oakley, the greatest sharpshooter of all time, was born Phoebe Ann Moses on Aug. 13, 1860, in a log cabin in Darke County, O. At birth she was nicknamed Annie. Her father, Jacob, died after a blizzard when Annie was four, and her impoverished mother, Susan, was forced to send most of her eight children, including Annie, to various homes and orphanages. At one orphanage, the other children taunted Annie by calling her "Moses Poses," and she grew to hate her surname. (After she became famous, she tried to have her only brother, John, legally change his name to a French version, "Mozee." When he refused, she changed Moses to Mozee in her family Bible, had the monuments in the family plot carved with "Mozee," and gave that name to all interviewers. Her name still appears as "Mozee" in most encyclopedias and biographies.)

For two years Annie lived at a foster home, where her life was a chronicle of hard work, too little food, and constant beatings. The foster parents refused to send her to school, so she could not write to her mother about her mistreatment. She managed to escape by hitching a train ride back to Darke County. There she found that her mother had remarried and was as desperately poor as ever. Annie decided to take matters into her own hands-literally. She secretly left the house with her father's shotgun and went into the nearby woods, where legend says that she "blew the head off a running quail" with her first shot. From then on, her family never starved. She soon had so many extra birds that she sold them to Cincinnati hotels, enabling her to pay off the mortgage on the family farm within two years. Other sources of income were shooting contests (in which she invariably defeated all her stunned male opponents) and trick shooting for her neighbors, who passed the hat after each performance.

Annie was visiting an older married sister in Cincinnati for Thanksgiving in 1875 when her brother-in-law coaxed her into a shooting match with a champion marksman, Frank E. Butler. She defeated the 25-year-old Butler by one point on the last shot. Contrary to later Broadway and movie versions that had Butler jealous and resentful of his loss, Butler immediately fell in love with the still illiterate 15-year-old girl and married her on June 22, 1876. He taught his new wife to read and write, and encouraged her shooting by training her in showmanship and trick shots. This paid off when Butler's stage partner, Bill Graham, became sick and left the act. Annie took his place, using the name of a Cincinnati neighborhood called Oakley.

The 100-lb, 5-ft.-tall girl rapidly became an audience favorite with her wide smile and her way of making almost impossible shots while vaulting tables and turning cartwheels and somersaults. Butler, sensing his wife's crowd appeal, took himself out of the act and became her agent and manager. For several years they traveled with circuses and shooting shows, until they finally joined an outfit where, according to Frank, "shooting meant something"-Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

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