Annie Oakley, Little Sure Shot, was born in Darke County, Ohio on August 13, 1860. Her family was of poor Quaker stock and Annie – who’s real name was Phoebe Anne Mozee – soon developed her shooting skills by shooting the heads off of running squirrels to help feed the family. In fact she became so successful at hunting game that it is said she was able to earn enough income from her rifle to pay off the family mortgage.
Annie’s rise to prominence began in 1875 when she won a shooting match in Cincinnati.. The man she bested was vaudeville promoter Frank E. Butler. The two struck up a professional as well as a personal relationship. They were soon married and began a life of touring to give shows of their remarkable marksmanship. It was at this time that the name Annie Oakley came about, apparently being inspired by a suburb of Cincinnati.
As the years passed and Annie’s skills were further honed, she became more and more well known. In 1885 she came to the attention of Buffalo Bill Cody and was soon recruited into his Wild West extravaganza. Her skills with a firearm, combined with the ingenuity of the ways devised to display them made her a star attraction. One memorable feat had her breaking a small glass ball which was whirled on the end of a string while she sighted it in a mirror, shooting backward over her shoulder. From thirty paces she could split a playing card held on edge.
One of Annie’s most persistent admirers was Sitting Bull, the famed Hunkpapa Sioux War Chief who toured with the show for a time. Sitting Bull adopted Annie as his daughter and would never miss her show, shaking his head at her uncanny shooting ability.
When the Wild West Show travelled to Europe in 1887, Annie was once again a star performer. She performed in front of Queen Victoria – a rare privilege indeed – and was honoured when the Monarch told her that she was ‘a very clever little girl.’
When the show moved on to Paris, the ebullient French were ecstatic over Annie. They would shout from the terraces “Viva Annee Oaklee!” repeatedly as she performed her amazing feats. In Berlin she delighted the locals by shooting the tip off of a cigar that was placed in the mouth of Crown Prince Wilhelm. Years later, at the outbreak of World War One, Annie would quip that she should have shot off the other end.
Annie’s career with the Wild West show ended in 1901 when she was injured in a train accident. She would continue using her incredible skills with a rifle however, giving demonstrations and teaching thousands of women to shoot, free of charge. She would continue to use her fame and financial resources to help young women. In all, Annie helped 20 girls from impoverished backgrounds through to a college education.
Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926 at Greenville, Ohio. She was 66 years of age.