Born in Darke County, Ohio on August 13, 1860, Annie Oakley’s birth name was Phoebe Ann Mosey. After the death of both her father and eventually step father, she would come to know poverty at a young age. Annie developed skills to trap and hunt animals out of necessity. She helped support her widowed mother and six surviving siblings by selling the game she captured and killed. She would sell to local grocers and hotels.
This rare footage captures a bit of the essence of Annie Oakley and her sharp shooting skills:
For a stint of time Annie performed a sort of slave labor with a family she coined as “The Wolves.” She would escape from them and return to her mothers home at the age of 15. It was then she was able to use her hunting skills to completely pay off her mother’s mortgage.
Because of limited records and conflicting arguments, most notable dates in Annie’s life are not necessarily accurate. It is said that same year, she made a name for herself. It was at age 15 that she first came to the limelight, winning a Marksmanship competition in 1875 against Frank E. Butler. At the time, it was uncanny for a woman to even enter such a contest let alone at such a young age. She would go on to marry Frank E. Butler, 13 years her senior.
It was when she began performing with Mr. Butler that she adapted her stage name Annie Oakley. Most believe she choose the name after the neighboring town she and Butler resided in. The two of them would join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1885. She became a national and eventually international celebrity.
Oakley traveled the world as a performer. She was hired to perform shows for the leaders of many different countries. She had a long lived career as a performing marksman. That career was interrupted in 1901 by a train accident that left her with temporary paralysis. From there, she took a more mellow route, performing in plays that depicted her life and skills.
Along the way, Annie was responsible for teaching thousands of woman how to shoot. She felt passionately that women should know how to handle a gun. She is quoted as saying, “I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies.”
Annie and Butler lived a long and happy marriage. They were a team. One of their signature stunts was Annie shooting the ashes off a cigar that her husband held in his lips. They made homes for themselves in a few different places over the years. Assuming their marriage date is correct, they were wed for just more than 50 years. Annie died first of pernicious anemia at the age of 66 on November 3, 1926. Her husband, heartbroken and refusing to eat would succeed her in death just 18 days later.