I can still remember my first ever biography I had to write in school was about Annie Oakley. I think we were supposed to find someone in history from an approved list and I picked her just because I liked her name. But by the time I was done with my report I was a fan. She spoke to my tom-boy, competitive little self and I felt a connection to all the stories of her out-shooting all the boys, including her future husband, Frank Butler at the age of 15.
Annie Oakley, born, Phoebie Mosley in 1860, grew up poor in a small town in Ohio. Her mother a widow at a young age, was left with very little so after being sent off to various families, Annie at 14 escaped back home to help her mother.
In order to help support her family she would go hunting in nearby forests for wild game and then sell her catch to local traders and merchants. She was so well known for her hunting and shooting skills that when a traveling marksmen duo Baughman & Butler came to town offering to challenge anyone in a shoot out, that local hotel owner, Jack Frost, nominated Annie for the bet, which she won. Butler who lost to her, quickly became impressed with her, courted her and they were married a year later.
Oakley began traveling the country with the sharp-shooting duo and one day on tour, after Annie filled in for one of the partners because he was sick that they realized that Annie was a big crowd pleaser. She quickly became the main attraction and wooed and impressed audiences across the country and even across seas.
Some of the biggest names she impressed were Queen Victoria of the UK, famous Native American, Sitting Bull, who gave her the nickname "Little Sure Shot" and German Kaiser Willhelm II who supposedly let her shoot the ashes off his cigarette butt inches from his face. She was a sensation and was one of the highest paid performers of her time.
Something that was personally very important to Oakley was that every woman learn how to use a gun. Her ideal was, "I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies." She is believed to have taught over 15,000 women how to use a gun.
She was also had a big heart and donated to many good causes, especially orphanages. She was an advocate for women's rights and education. She believed that women, if given the chance were capable of doing anything a man could and she was a strong influence for the definition and image of the hardworking cowgirl.
Oakley and Butler performed together all over the country and had a remarkable arsenal of fancy shooting tricks. Some examples are, shooting backwards through a mirror, shooting coins tossed in the air, cigarettes in mouths and snuffing out candles with the whiz of a bullet. They stayed married for over 50 years and when she died in 1925, he died just 18 days later.
Annie Oakley's story inspired me at a young age and still her life paints a vivid picture of a female hero for me now. I imagine qualities that she must have possessed to develop such amazing skills with guns had to be that of control, calm and self discipline. She will always be one of my childhood heroes and can hopefully be the same for even your littlest ladies.
click the picture to shop the Oakley baby set.