August 13

This Day in History

Old West

Aug 13, 1860:

Annie Oakley is born

Annie Oakley, one of the greatest female sharpshooters in American history, is born in Patterson Township, Ohio.

Born Phoebe Ann Oakley Moses, Oakley demonstrated an uncanny gift for marksmanship at an early age. "I was eight years old when I made my first shot," she later recalled, "and I still consider it one of the best shots I ever made." After spotting a squirrel on the fence in her front yard, the young Oakley took a loaded rifle from the house. She steadied the gun on a porch rail, and shot the squirrel through the head, skillfully preserving the meat for the stew pot.

After that, Oakley's honed her sharpshooting talents. She was never a stereotypical Wild West woman who adopted the dress and ways of men. To the contrary, Oakley prided herself on her feminine appearance and skills. She embroidered nearly as well as she shot, liked to read the Bible in the evenings, and favored gingham dresses and demure sunbonnets.

In 1876, a Cincinnati hotelkeeper that heard of Oakley's marksmanship set up a Thanksgiving Day shooting match between Oakley and a traveling exhibition sharpshooter named Frank Butler. Annie managed to outshoot the professional by one clay pigeon. Oakley's skills and attractive appearance impressed Butler, and he continued to correspond with the young woman while he traveled. By June, the couple had married, and Oakley joined her husband's act as "Annie Oakley" the "peerless wing and rifle shot."

In 1885, the couple joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and Oakley soon became one of the most popular acts. A typical show consisted of Oakley shooting a cigarette out of her husband's mouth or a dime from his fingers. She also did backward trick shots where she sighted her target only with a mirror. Her ability to shoot holes through playing cards led Americans of the day to refer to any free ticket to an event as an "Annie Oakley," a reference to the holes that were often punched in the ticket for validation. When the great Sioux war chief Sitting Bull briefly traveled with the show, he grew fond of Oakley and gave her the nickname Watanya Cicilia—Little Sure Shot.

Oakley stayed with the traveling show for more than 15 years, giving performances around the world. In 1901, a head-on collision with a freight train injured Oakley's back. She returned to performing after a year of rest and toured with several shows for the next decade. In 1913, Oakley and Butler retired, though they continued to give occasional demonstrations for good causes.

In 1921, a devastating auto accident permanently crippled Oakley. She and Butler moved to Greenville, Ohio, her home county, and she lived the remaining years of her life in the quiet countryside. She died there in 1926 at the age of 66.

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