Annie Oakley (August 13, 1860 – November 3, 1926), born Phoebe Ann Moses, was an American sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. Oakley's amazing talent and timely rise to fame led to a starring role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, which propelled her to become the first American female superstar.
Without Annie Oakley's widespread influence, such early rodeo stars as Annie Shaffer of Arkansas and Lucille Mulhall of Oklahoma would have encountered far less acceptance by audiences and the media. These and other women who began to perform in circuses, Wild West shows, fairs, and ranchers' conventions and expositions began to enter rodeos during the mid-1980's, had Annie to thank for establishing the model of an athletic woman who rode and shot in public. As a result of Annie challenging what she called "prejudice" in Wild West arenas and on shooting and rodeo grounds, as well as actively campaigning for women as shooters, a wide variety of other cowgirls also found places on the circuit.
Believing that women were just as capable as men, she firmly insisted that they should strive to achieve any goal or occupation that interested them. Her motto was...
“Aim for a high mark. Eventually you will hit it...Practice will make you perfect. Eventually you will hit the Bulls eye of success.”
The first season, Annie began her act by shooting clay pigeons sprung from a trap, then shot pigeons from two traps at a time, picked up her gun from the ground and shot after the trap was sprung, shot two pigeons in the same manner, and shot three glass balls thrown in the air in rapid succession, the first with her rifle held upside down upon her head, the second and third with a shotgun. To achieve these and other feats, Annie exercised every morning. Annie filled her afternoons with rehearsal followed by "a rub of witch hazel and alcohol." After a 5 o'clock dinner, she "was ready for the nights performance."
It must irritate the National Organization for Women to no end that the two most important inventions that led to female equality are the gun and the washing machine.
Interestingly enough, Oakley’s talents and unique background made her more valuable to the show than the men. It was reported that she actually made more money than her fellow male performers, which undoubtedly strikes a blow to the modern purveyors of the gender “wage gap.” Capitalism has a way of creating natural equality and decreasing prejudice.
In London, Buffalo Bill's Wild West-- and Annie Oakley with it--marked the beginning of what was to be fifteen years of enormous popularity...She did so well that Prince Edward called her up to the royal box to congratulate her. As she approached, he extended his hand over the box, expecting a handshake. But Annie, in a move so characteristic of the resolute woman she was, ignored it for a moment. She turned instead to Princess Alexandra and shook her hand first. "You'll have to excuse me, please," Annie said to Edward, "because I am an American and in America, ladies come first."
After retiring with her husband in the 1910s, Annie Oakley stepped out of the spotlight and pursued such hobbies as hunting and fishing. She died on November 3, 1926. The news of her death saddened the nation and brought forth a wave of tributes. Part of her lasting legacy is the Irving Berlin musical Annie Get Your Gun (1946) based on her life story.
She was never a stereotypical Wild West woman who adopted the dress and ways of men. To the contrary, Oakley prided herself on her feminine appearance and skills. She embroidered nearly as well as she shot, liked to read the Bible in the evenings, and favored gingham dresses and demure sunbonnets.
In eighteen eighty-two, Annie took the name Oakley. She and Frank Butler started putting on shows together, demonstrating their abilities to shoot a gun. Frank Butler was the star of the show and Annie Oakley was his assistant. However, sometimes she did her own shooting. Two years later, Annie Oakley met the famous Native American chief, Sitting Bull, at a performance. The chief liked her skill in shooting and also her personality. They became friends. He gave her the name "Little Sure Shot" because of her shooting ability and because she was only one and one-half meters tall.
Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses—called Annie by her family—on August 13, 1860, in Darke County, Ohio. This unassuming woman, who would perform before royalty and presidents, came from humble beginnings. When Annie was 6, her father, Jacob Moses, died of pneumonia—leaving her mother, Susan Wise Moses, with six children and little else. Annie's mother remarried but her second husband, Dan Brumbaugh, died soon after, again leaving her with a new baby.
From 1954 to 1956, television's Annie Oakley (played by actress Gail Davis) competed and won effortlessly in a rough-and-tumble man's world that valued skilled shooting, riding, and toughness of mind. A spunky, pigtailed young blonde woman in a fringed buckskin outfit, Annie was fearless, truthful, unflirtatious, and determined to oppose law-breakers, immorality, and selfishness wherever they arose.