In her lifetime Annie Oakley was idolized for her skill as a sharp shooter. Since her death in 1926, the life has become legend, as Oakley became the embodiment of the "archetypal western woman: daring, beautiful and skilled."1
Annie was born August 13, 1860, in Darke County Ohio, the fifth child of a very poor Quaker farm family. She helped her parents with household chores and farm work, and contributed to the family's diet, even at the age of 6, by setting traps and catching small birds and quail. Later as a young teenager, she shot game in the woods, not only providing her family with fresh meat, but selling the surplus to a local shopkeeper who in turn shipped her produce to hotels in Cincinnati. She was known as a good shot, always hitting her game in the head and "thus supplying meat untainted by bits of lead shot."2
One day one of the Cincinnati hotel owners who bought her fresh meat arranged a shooting contest for her. Shooting matches were a popular event in Cincinnati at the time. Her opponent was Frank Butler, an accomplished shooter who could "shoot the center spot out of a five of spades"3 Frank reportedly laughed when he learned that a 15 year old girl from the countryside would be his opponent, but his smile soon faded. Frank and Annie shot even until the last shot which Frank missed; he had scored 24 out of 25. Annie made her last shot and won, walking away with the $50 prize. Butler was impressed and gave Annie some tickets to his Cincinnati show. After attending the show, Frank's poodle, George, brought her a piece of apple that Frank had shot from his head and laid it before Annie. Annie was impressed and later sent George greetings; "George" sent her a box of candy.4 A courtship and a career had begun.
Annie later married Frank and the two of them went on to star for many years in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, playing to standing-room-only crowds in open air arenas throughout the United States and Europe. The timeless appeal of Oakley goes on. Her story and her shooting and riding skills have been touted in live drama, comic books, numerous biographies, movies and videos, book and cassette packages, web sites and a tv series. It is the story of a young girl who, out of necessity and with hard work, polished her skills which carried her out of poverty into the adulation of fans around the world.
1 Riley, Glenda, p. xv.
Riley, Glenda, The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley, Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.
Copyright © 2002, Rita Smith
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