Biography of Sharpshooter Annie Oakley Part 3

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


This happiness was destroyed once and for all on Oct. 28, 1901, when the Wild West show train collided head-on with another train and burst into flames. Dozens of animals died, some people were killed, many others were critically injured. Annie was carried out unconscious by her husband. Upon awakening 17 hours later, she discovered that her brown hair had turned completely white from shock. She could not walk. It would be two years and five operations before she could do so. At this low point of her life, she received another cruel blow.

In 1903, a female drug addict arrested in Chicago told police she was Annie Oakley. Within hours, newspapers across the U.S. trumpeted the news that the American idol had hit the skids. The real Annie was recuperating at her home in Nutley, N.J, and quickly demanded a retraction of the stories. But the "yellow press" of that day, reluctant to drop a sensational story, not only ignored her but added insult to injury by continuing to run interviews with the fraudulent "Annie."

Annie responded with a legally unprecedented libel suit against 53 newspapers across America. Despite the presence of Clarence Darrow for the defense, Annie won 51 of the 53 suits, $800,000 in punitive damages, and a retraction. This expensive case was the beginning of the end for haphazard reporting and the yellow press.

Once fully recovered, Annie dyed her hair brown and began to tour again in shows and circuses. But it was no longer the same. The Wild West show-and Buffalo Bill-had tragically disintegrated after the accident. Cody had made many unwise business decisions, and the entire outfit was bought out by eastern business interests, including P. T. Barnum, who added sideshow attractions and carnival rides to make more money. In doing so, they destroyed the atmosphere that was uniquely the Wild West. Buffalo Bill, now bankrupt, was forced to stay with what was left of his once proud show. When he died in January, 1917, he was a broken and all-but-forgotten man.

Annie, in the meantime, had decided that traveling was too much for her. She and Frank settled down to a quiet life as shooting instructors at a fashionable resort in Pinehurst, S.C. But they began traveling again with the onset of W.W. I, because the U.S. government asked them to train and entertain soldiers, and the Red Cross asked them to raise money. They accomplished all of this with their usual spectacular success.

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