Annie Oakley

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Annie Oakley, around 1899

Annie Oakley (born August 13, 1860 near Willowdell , according to other information at North Star , Darke County , Ohio ; † November 3, 1926 in Greenville , Ohio; actually Phoebe Ann Mosey , according to other sources Phoebe Ann Moses Butler ) was an American art shooter . She became internationally famous for her appearances on the Wild West show by Buffalo Bill . To this day she is considered the most successful woman in this profession worldwide. In the US, she is considered the national icon and prototype of the all-American girl and the first female superstar of pop culture . Their saying Aim at a high mark, and you will hit it ( aim at a high mark and you will hit it ) has become a household word .

Live and act


Annie Oakley was the fifth of eight children from an impoverished Quaker family originally from Pennsylvania who had run an inn there. The family lived in a rural area of ​​western Ohio in poor conditions in a log cabin , a kind of large log cabin, in the wilderness. Since they did not belong to any of the communities listed above, the place of birth can only be given approximately. The Mosleys cultivated barren leased land with grain, which barely provided a livelihood. When she was six years old, her father died, leaving his wife and children destitute. As a result, Annie first came to a county-owned so-called poor farm, where she had to do child labor for a living . Some of her siblings were also given to foreign families by their mother. Annie did not get a school education. She was eventually loaned out to a farming family as a maid in a slave-like relationship. There she was according to her stories mentally and physically abused, u. a. exposed barefoot in the snow in the freezing cold. Oakley later always refused to pronounce this family's name, calling them only "The Wolves". She ran away several times and lived again as a seamstress on the poor farm. When her mother remarried and was able to run an economically secure household, Annie returned to her family. Her mother married two more times after the death of her second husband. Oakley had a half-sister from her mother's second marriage.

Early years as a professional hunter and marriage to Frank E. Butler

The petite girl, who was only 1.52 m tall as an adult, developed an above-average talent for shooting, which she taught herself with her father's old rifle . From the age of eight, Annie Oakley hunted rabbits and other animals for the saucepan and also worked as a trapper . She hunted so successfully that she eventually made money and became the main breadwinner of the family. Soon she was professional hunter , supplying grocery stores, hotels and restaurants in the area with wildlife . After five years she was able to use her income to repay the mortgage on her stepfather's farm. Her reputation as a marksman spread beyond the borders of her home region across Ohio. She participated in shooting competitions and became a local celebrity.

When she defeated the art shooter and dog trainer Frank E. Butler , a native Irishman, in one of these shooting competitions , he fell in love with the ten years younger woman. There are contradicting information about the place and the exact date of this encounter. Some sources state Thanksgiving 1875 in Cincinnati , according to which Oakley would have been 15 years old when they met. Other biographers point out, however, that according to the sources, Butler's career as a marksman did not begin until 1876. The couple later always stressed that they met a year before the wedding. The only marriage certificate in existence shows the wedding date of June 20, 1882 in Windsor, Canada; therefore she was 21 years old when she married. The Annie Oakley Foundation of their descendants also contradicts the Cincinnati thesis and refers them to the realm of "legend": In newspaper interviews Butler always referred to the first meeting a year before the wedding in a small town near Greenville, "18 miles from the next." Train station ". In her biography Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill's Wild West , author Isabelle S. Sayers describes the marriage certificate issued by a Catholic clergyman as not the certificate of the first marriage. At the time of their first marriage in Ohio in 1876, the father of two Butler may not have been legally divorced, and the couple wanted to legalize the illegitimate marriage during their first tour together with the church wedding in 1882. There is also a letter from Butler to Annie from 1881 in which he calls her "my little wife". Ultimately, neither the exact location of the meeting nor the circumstances of the marriage can be clearly established.

First steps on the show stage and world career

The duo "Butler and Oakley"

Butler taught Oakley to read and write, and later attended school and tried to fill her educational gaps. At first she continued to live with her mother, while Butler went on tour with changing male partners, initially with a dog training number and later with a number as an art shooter with show troupes and circus companies . Oakley made her first joint appearance with her husband on May 1, 1882 in Springfield , Ohio, when she stood in for her husband's sick partner on a show. She gave herself the stage name "Annie Oakley" (after a suburb of Cincinnati, according to other sources the maiden name of her paternal grandmother) and from then on appeared with her husband as the duo "Butler and Oakley". First, she and her husband toured the United States and Canada with the Sells Brothers' circus. They not only showed shooting tricks, but also continued to show a dog training number; Annie also appeared as an art rider .

Oakley presented itself as very feminine and valued all the virtues of a woman of the Victorian era . This image was necessary in order to be able to practice her arts as a woman with a gun, but without being perceived as a threat. She made her own stage costumes and designed a kind of wild west outfit with chaps and a short skirt.

Meeting with Sitting Bull

In this time a fateful encounter that in later years (although they lived in the eastern US always) should contribute significantly to the creation of legends Annie Oakley and her role as an icon of the Wild West falls: During a show in St. Paul in Minnesota visited her the famous Sioux chief , Sitting Bull , in her cloakroom after the performance and met with her several times in the period that followed. Sitting Bull is said to have been very impressed by the appearance of the art shooter and rider because of her ladylike and dignified appearance on the show stage ") have given. Conversations and "adoption" are only attested by statements from Oakley itself and cannot be proven by other sources. During the years of Annie Oakley's greatest international fame, the nickname would become her trademark, with which she advertised and which remained inextricably linked to her name in the consciousness of the American public. It is documented that Sitting Bull and the Butlers (Annie Oakley always appeared privately as Mrs. Frank Butler) each took an engagement in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in 1885. Her work for the Sells Brothers Circus had ended abruptly after a season: Oakley had criticized the poor working conditions and inadequate safety precautions of the circus company and organized a sit-in because of the poor living conditions for the employees.

World fame with Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show

At Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley starred as the only non- Native American woman in the troupe in an otherwise male-dominated show area, art shooting; Husband Frank Butler largely withdrew from the show stage and from then on acted as his wife's assistant and manager. Over the course of 17 years, Oakley toured the world as its main attraction with the Buffalo Bill Show and became an international star. She hit dice thrown in the air and small glass balls from 30 paces away, punctured playing cards thrown into the air at lightning speed, hit the edges of the cards precisely and shot the burning cigarette out of her husband's mouth. In addition, while looking in a mirror, she aimed over her back at distant targets. According to eyewitnesses, she always met. Colleagues report that Oakley acted like a precisely adjusted machine on the show stage as soon as it picked up a rifle. To this day, canceled tickets in the USA are referred to as "Annie Oakleys" because of the punched holes.

Her reputation reached Europe, where she toured several times: Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde were among her admirers, as were the King of Italy and the Tsar of Russia . The Prince of Wales , Edward VII , presented her with a medal of honor with a personal dedication and introduced her to the London Gun Club as the first woman in the club's history. It is falsely claimed that the future German Emperor Wilhelm II , as Crown Prince, had her shoot a cigarette out of his mouth. It is more likely that Annie shot the cigarette out of his hand. After the outbreak of World War I , she wrote a letter to the German Kaiser asking for a second shot. The emperor did not answer. The existence of this letter is denied by the Annie Oakley Foundation and assigned to a scattered rumor; There is no evidence of its existence. There is also no evidence that the then Crown Prince actually attended the performance. Archived, however, is the letter that Oakley wrote to President William McKinley on April 5, 1898 , in which she offered him a force of 50 female snipers trained, equipped and led by her for the impending war with Spain ; but that did not happen.

In 1894 she and other artists from Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in Thomas Alva Edison's Black Maria studio in one of the earliest films in film history in front of the camera. The film was called The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West and later became known by her name. The short film was shot for the kinetoscopes that were fashionable at the time .

Last years and death

In 1901, Annie Oakley was seriously injured in the spine in a railroad accident. She retired from the Buffalo Bill Show. As a result, she remained partially paralyzed, but recovered so much after several operations that she was able to set a few records, take part in shooting competitions and appear in plays tailored to her and her shooting skills.

Oakley tried to keep her private life largely away from the public. However, incorrect press reports from 1903 ruined her image, so that her further appearances were no longer possible. A 28-year-old burlesque dancer who went under the stage name Annie Oakley had stolen from a customer in Chicago to pay for her cocaine addiction. She was arrested and served a 45-day prison term. Newspapers from William Randolph Hearst's media empire related the conviction to the actual Annie Oakley and reported in detail. Other newspapers jumped on the bandwagon and spread the news across the United States. Annie Oakley fought back and led 55 defamation lawsuits against newspapers, including Hearst Corporation . The proceedings lasted until 1910, she won 54 of them and won the then one-time damages totaling $ 27,500.

On the other hand, Oakley was politically committed to women's rights. She advocated paying women the same wages for the same work, and advocated the right of women to carry weapons for self-defense. She taught firearms courses for women and during World War I offered President Woodrow Wilson to train women snipers for the army. The government never responded to this suggestion. From today's perspective, it is difficult to understand that at the same time she rejected the right to vote for women . Biographers discuss whether she advocated conservative principles or behaved tactically so as not to appear threatening.

In 1922 she and her husband had a car accident from which she could not recover. She died four years later at the age of 66. The cause of death is given as pernicious anemia . Her husband Frank died of natural causes 18 days after her.


Oakley became a living legend in her active days. It appeared pulps with wild west stories about her figure. In 1935, Barbara Stanwyck was the first actress to portray her on screen (in Annie Oakley by George Stevens ). In 1946 Irving Berlin honored Annie Oakley with his musical Annie Get Your Gun , which is based very freely on her life story; In 1950 the material was filmed with Betty Hutton and Howard Keel as Oakley and Butler and was also shown in German cinemas under the title Duell in der Manege . From 1954 to 1957, Gail Davis played 81 episodes long Annie Oakley in the American television series of the same name. Even after the turn of the millennium, the USA regularly made feature films, television films and plays in which Annie Oakley played a role as a character. In 1976 she was played by Geraldine Chaplin in Buffalo Bill and the Indians , in 2006 by Elizabeth Berridge in Hidalgo - 3,000 Miles to Fame . In addition, numerous biographies about Annie Oakley have appeared.

She also appears as a comic figure in Chapter 6a of the Uncle Dagobert series - His life, his billions by Don Rosa and in Volume 76 ("A Wild West Legend", "La légende de l'ouest" Volume 70 in Belgium) of the Lucky Luke series in appearance. The Playmobil company brought it out as a toy in the Western set 3804. She is also represented as an action figure on the American toy market . Oakley has now also arrived in the computer world: in the first-person shooter Smokin 'Guns , she can be selected as a character or one of the opponents.


  • Marcy Heidish: Secret Annie Oakley. New Amer Library, 1984, ISBN 0-452-25514-7 .
  • Shirl Kasper: Annie Oakley. University of Oklahoma Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8061-3244-2 .
  • Robert M. Quackenbush: Who's That Girl With the Gun? A Story of Annie Oakley. Simon & Schuster, 1988, ISBN 0-13-957671-1 .
  • Isabelle S. Sayers: Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill's wild west. Dover, 1981, ISBN 0-486-24120-3 .

Web links

Commons : Annie Oakley  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Biography with reference to the localization of the place of birth
  2. ^ Shooting Star from North Star, Ohio
  3. Annie Oakley, National Cowgirl Hall of Fame
  4. About superstar Annie Oakley at American Experience
  5. The Colonel and Little Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and tht Beginning of Superstardom in America (book review)
  6. The full text of the quote from Bess Edwards, Oakley's great niece ( January 25, 2016 memento in the Internet Archive )
  7. Darke County Historical Society  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  8. American Experience
  9. Biography by Trapshooting Hall of Fame
  10. Eric V. Sorg at History Net
  11. a b Annie Oakley Foundation Archive ( Memento from October 15, 2002 in the Internet Archive )
  12. a b c d Isabelle S. Sayers: Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill's Wild West
  13. Garden of Praise
  14. ^ Transcript of the documentary film Annie Oakley by Riva Freifeld
  15. a b c Jess Right Hand: How Annie Oakley, "Princess of the West," Preserved Her ladylike reputation ( Memento of 3 November 2013, Internet Archive ), Smithsonian Magazine, August 12, 2010
  16. a b Caroline Kim-Brown
  17. ^ Obituary in TIME magazine from November 15, 1926
  18. encyclopedia2.the free
  19. David Clay Large: Please no cigar . in Robert Cowley: What If If? Turning points in world history. Droemer Knaur, 2002, ISBN 3-426-77609-X
  20. ^ Letter from Annie Oakley to President McKinley in the US National Archives
  21. Women in history ( Memento from July 13, 2012 in the web archive )
  22. Gail Davis as Annie Oakley
  23. Published in: Don Rosa: Onkel Dagobert - His life, his billion , Ehapa Comic Collection, Cologne 2003, pp. 313–336 as Chapter 6b: The Avenger of Windy City .