Annie Oakley is known across the United States as not only an amazing sure-shot, but one who could out-gun even the most skilled men who dared challenge her.
Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Mosey in 1860 outside of present-day North Star, Ohio. She was the last of six children born to her parents. Her mother would marry and be widowed three times and have three more children.
Between the ages of 6 and 8, Annie hunted to feed her family as well as earn extra money from local restaurants and hotels. Accounts vary, but it seems she may have trapped small game, only shooting a rifle once, and getting into serious trouble from her mother after doing so.
Annie was put in the county poor farm for a time when she was 8 years old, then reunited with her mother and second stepfather at age 13. Her hunting skills, now aided by the rifle, helped pay off the farm’s mortgage a few years after that.
Oakley’s skill became well-known throughout the region.
During the spring of 1881, the Baughman and Butler shooting act visited nearby Cincinnati, and 21-year-old Annie responded to Frank Butler’s challenge that he could outshoot any local “fancy shooter.”
A local hotelier arranged a shooting match between Butler and Oakley. Oakley bested Butler, and he became enamored. The two married the next year and lived in the Oakley neighborhood of Cincinnati, from where it is believed she took her stage name.
Butler and Oakley joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1885. At a mere 5 feet tall, Oakley was given the nickname of “Watanya Cicilla” by fellow performer Sitting Bull, rendered “Little Sure Shot” in the public advertisements.
Oakley became the star of the Wild West show, her most famous trick being splitting a playing card edge-on, then firing several holes into it before it hit the ground.
Annie performed for kings and queens and heads of state, and even volunteered her services and those of 50 other lady sharpshooters for the Spanish-American War effort.
Annie survived a train wreck and an auto crash. She dabbled in acting. She continued to set shooting records well into her 60s.
Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. Although she never believed in women’s suffrage, Oakley felt it was crucial for women to learn how to use firearms.
Annie died in 1926, but not before earning a reputation as the best shot in the country, a skill, it is said, that never diminished as she aged.