By Paul Fees, Former Curator
Buffalo Bill Museum
Annie Oakley was one of the most admired women of her era. She was small, pretty, and gentle. She was also one of the best shots of all time with rifle and pistol.
She was born Phoebe Anne Moses on August 13, 1860, in Darke County, Ohio. For a time her family lived in a poor house where she learned to sew and embroider her own clothes. Many years later, fashionable women copied her homemade dresses because of their beauty and freedom of movement.
Annie learned to shoot in the woods around her home in Ohio when she was eight years old. She was soon so good that she helped earn the family’s living supplying restaurants with fresh game meat. By this time she called herself Annie Mozee because other children made cruel rhymes with the name Moses.
When she was just fifteen, Annie was challenged to a shooting match with Frank Butler, a professional sharpshooter. When she beat him, he was so surprised he continued to see her. They were married in 1876 and remained together happily for fifty years. In 1882 she joined his shooting act. She decided to adopt the stage name Oakley, apparently after the name of a park near Cincinnati where she and Frank Butler had met. Before long she was famous, and her husband quit performing to become her manager.
Annie herself said later, “It was uphill work, for when I began there was a prejudice to live down. It was not considered proper for a lady to compete in a man’s sport.”
When she joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1885, she was the only female performer. The famous Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, nicknamed her “Little Sure Shot” and adopted her as a daughter. Her audiences were charmed by her personality and were so awed by her skill that she quickly became a star. Within a few years, other women joined the show as riders, shooters, and ropers.
She remained with Buffalo Bill until 1901 when a serious train accident forced her to retire. During her years with the show she had met kings and queens in Europe, many of whom gave her jewelry to express their appreciation for her talents.
Until her death on November 3, 1926, she and Frank Butler toured the country and gave demonstrations of marksmanship. Annie particularly wanted to teach women and girls how to shoot. Her husband died within a few weeks of her and is buried beside her in Greenville, Ohio.
You may also enjoy these other books on Wild West shows.
- Cooper, Courtney Ryley. Annie Oakley: Woman of Arms. New York: Duffield & Co., 1927.
- Flynn, Jean. Annie Oakley: Legendary Sharpshooter. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1998.
- Graves, Charles P. Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.
- Havighurst, Walter. Annie Oakley of the Wild West. New York: MacMillan Co., 1954.
- Kasper, Shirl. Annie Oakley. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.
- Riley, Glenda. The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.
- Sayers, Isabelle S. Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1981.
- Swartwout, Annie Fern. Missie: The Life and Times of Annie Oakley. Blanchester, Ohio: The Brown Publishing Co., 1947.