August 13th marked the birthday of one of the most celebrated women in Ohio history–world-famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Phoebe Anne Mozee (referred to by some scholars as Phoebe Anne Moses) was born in Darke County, Ohio, in 1860. Though she was the daughter of Quakers, a religious group noted for their pacifism and opposition to violence, Annie learned to shoot at a young age and was soon hunting wild game which she sold to help pay for her family’s farm.
By her mid-teens, she was already a crack shot, making a name for herself in sharpshooting contests. In a 1875 contest held in Cincinnati, she defeated marksman Frank Butler, who was ten years her senior. He convinced her to join his traveling act performing feats of marksmanship, and the two were soon married on August 23, 1876. They performed in vaudeville acts and with groups like the Sells Brothers Circus over the next decade, during which time Annie impressed Sitting Bull, the Native American warrior who fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He dubbed her “Watanya Cicilla,” translated as “Little Sure Shot”–did we mention Annie only stood 5 feet tall?
In 1885, the couple joined “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show, which they would be involved in for the next 17 years. Annie became known as “Miss Annie Oakley, the Peerless Lady Wing-Shot,” taking her stage name from the Oakley neighborhood in Cincinnati where she had previously lived. In her act, she routinely split a card in two edge-wise with a single shot from thirty paces, shot cigarettes out of her husband’s mouth, and shot dimes thrown into the air. During an 1889 European tour with the Wild West show, Annie was allegedly invited by the president of France to join his nation’s army, and offered 100,000 francs by the King of Senegal to come eradicate the dangerous tigers in his country. She politely declined both of these offers.
Some of Annie’s other notable achievements include:
- Becoming a spokesperson for allowing women to serve in the armed forces, including in combat positions
- Performing for Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales during the American Exposition in London, 1887
- Starring in one of the first kinetoscope films in history–Thomas Alva Edison’s “The “Little Sure Shot” of the “Wild West,” exhibition of rifle shooting at glass balls, etc.” in 1894
- Serving as the inspiration for movies, TV series and musicals based on her life
She continued setting records and awing audiences into her sixties before succumbing to pernicious anemia on November 3, 1926. Butler, her husband of 50 years, died just 18 days later. The two are buried side by side in Darke County’s Brock Cemetery, which you can still visit to pay homage to one of Ohio’s most notable women.
Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!