Biography of Sharpshooter Annie Oakley Part 2

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


The year was 1885. Buffalo Bill (Col. William F. Cody) was convinced that he could draw audiences with historical representations of the West rather than with circus acts, and he employed real cowboys and Indians. The Wild West's finances had always been shaky, but fortune took an upward turn immediately after Annie's arrival. Originally, Annie's act was placed at the opening of the show because her good-natured presence accustomed the women and children in the audience to the sound of gunshots and the smell of powder and smoke. But soon she was accorded top billing, because she was the undisputed star of the show. She shot out the flames of revolving candles while upside down on horseback. Turning her back and using the reflection in a bowie knife, she'd smash a ball that Frank swung over his head on a string. She sliced thin edges of playing cards and shot perfect holes in their middles. (Punched tickets are, to this day, called "Annie Oakleys.") She shot dimes from Frank's fingers and the tips from cigarettes he held in his mouth. She "drew" profiles of famous people on canvas, with bullets. She ended her act with a little dance step and a flash of her famous smile, before disappearing on her little spotted pony. She'd made Wild West fans of the entire audience.

She acquired another important fan during her first year with the show-Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, who adopted her as his daughter into the Sioux nation and gave her her most famous nickname-Little Sureshot.

In 1887 the Wild West show traveled to England and performed before the royal family, Prime Minister Gladstone, the renowned actress Ellen Terry, and the prominent Churchill family (including a 12-year-old redhead named Winston). Though the entire show was lionized, Annie received the most publicity, and Buffalo Bill became embittered and jealous. After one particularly unpleasant argument, Annie and Frank quit the show and conducted a European tour of their own. Annie got still more publicity in Germany, where the crown prince insisted that she shoot a cigarette from his lips instead of Frank's. Of course Annie did it successfully, while the entire audience blanched and gagged. (This young man grew up to become Kaiser Wilhelm of W.W. I fame.)

Annie and Frank returned to America, where she won shooting matches, toured in vaudeville, and starred in her own Broadway show. But she missed the Wild West show, and Buffalo Bill missed her. He asked the Butlers to return, and they did in 1889.

These were the years in which the names Wild West, Buffalo Bill, and Annie Oakley became part of the American folklore and heritage. Annie and Bill toured America and Europe triumphantly throughout the 1890s, achieving special success at the Chicago World's Fair. Millions saw them, and they became an indelible childhood experience for thousands. Annie was many a little boy's first love.

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