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ICON: 11 Things You Didn't Know About 'Little Sure Shot' Annie Oakley

The woman, the myth, the legend.

1. Her real name was Phoebe Ann Moses. She was born August 13, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio. Her sisters called her Annie (she was the fifth of seven surviving children). She chose her alias "Oakley" after the name of a nearby town.

"My mother was perfectly horrified when I began shooting and tried to keep me in school, but I would run away and go quail shooting in the woods or trim my dresses with wreaths of wildflowers." -Annie Oakley

2. Even as a child, Annie was a crackshot. "I was eight years old when I made my first shot," Annie recalled. That occurred when she shot a squirrel's head off with her father's old muzzleloader balanced on a porch railing. "My mother was so frightened when she learned that I had taken down the loaded gun and shot it that I was forbidden to touch it again for eight months."

"I aim to misbehave." -Annie Oakley

3. Annie's hunting helped pay the family mortgage. Annie's father died when she was six. Her mother sent her to work for a family in exchange for her education, but when the situation turned out to be abusive, Annie came home and turned to hunting to help make ends meet. "My mother and sisters thought my prowess with the gun was just a little tomboyish," she said. But her skillful shooting helped her family survive. She sold game she harvested to a nearby grocery store, eventually saving up the $200 necessary to pay off the mortgage on her widowed mother's home. "Oh, how my heart leaped with joy as I handed the money to mother and told her that I had saved enough to pay it off."

4. She beat Frank Butler in a shooting match, then married him. When she was 15 Annie competed against the Irish-American Frank Butler, a professional sharpshooter, in Cincinnati, and won. Frank was impressed and apparently in love. They were married the following year and stayed married for 50 years until Annie's death in 1926 (Frank passed away just 18 days after his wife), even performing together for many years in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as a sharpshooting duo. Their love story was immortalized in the musical and 1950 film Annie Get Your Gun.

"For me, sitting still is harder than any kind of work." -Annie Oakley

5. She was the adopted daughter of Chief Sitting Bull. The great Lakota Sioux chief who beat General George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn was a big fan. He sent $65 to her hotel with a request for a signed photo. Annie said: "I sent him back his money and a photograph, with my love, and a message to say I would call the following morning. The old man was so pleased with me, he insisted upon adopting me. He even gave her the moccasins he had worn at Little Bighorn. The two remained lifelong friends, and Annie greatly admired him. "The contents of his pockets were often emptied in into the hands of small, ragged little boys, nor could he understand how so much wealth should go brushing by, unmindful of the poor," she said of the legendary chief.

'Annie Oakley' by Andy Warhol
'Annie Oakley' by Andy Warhol

6. She was just 5 feet tall. Chief Sitting Bull gave her a nickname when they first met that stuck for the rest of her career: 'Watanya Cicilla' or 'Little Sure Shot.'

"Aim at the high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you'll hit the bull's-eye of success." -Annie Oakley

7. Annie took William Randolph Hearst to court, and won. This story is rather insane. Apparently two of Hearst's Chicago newspapers accused Annie of stealing a man's trousers to pay for cocaine (what?!) when in fact, a burlesque dancer posing as Annie stole the pants (I told you this whole story is insane). Most papers printed retractions, with the exception of Hearst. Annie (who was neither a drug addict nor a thief) was pissed. For the next 6 years she sued 55 newspapers in the largest libel action in the United States to date, and either won or settled 54 of those cases. Her suit against Hearst resulted in a $27,000 judgment, but costly legal fees meant she ended up losing money in the effort. In Annie's opinion, the cost was worth it. "The terrible piece...nearly killed me...The only thing that kept me alive was the desire to purge my character."

"When a man hits a target, they call him a marksman. When I hit a target, they call it a trick. Never did like that much. -Annie Oakley

8. She performed for royalty. During her European tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Annie made quite an impression. Queen Victoria called her "a very clever little girl" while the king of Senegal asked if she would move to his country and help manage the tiger population.

9. She was not exactly a feminist. Annie championed equal pay for equal work. She also wanted women to be able to fight in the military. But voting rights? Not so fast. "If only the good women voted," was Annie's take.

"God intended women to be outside as well as men, and they do not know what they are missing when they stay cooped up in the house." -Annie Oakley

10. Annie wanted to fight for her country. During the Spanish-American War, Annie wrote a letter to President McKinley offering to lead 50 female sharpshooters who would provide their own arms and ammo in the fight. He didn't write her back. Not to be deterred, she later reached out to the U.S. Secretary of War during World War I with a similar offer. Again, no response. Annie was still part of the war effort, raising funds for the Red Cross, volunteering for military charities, and visiting army camps.

"Even in the best and most peacefully civilized countries many occasions arise when a woman versed in the knowledge of use of firearms may find that information and skill of great importance." -Annie Oakley

11. Annie was an actress. She had a role in a 1888 play called Deadwood Dick. Then in 1894, she met Thomas Edison in New Jersey and demonstrated her marksmanship for his Kinetoscope. The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West featured Annie shooting glass balls with a rifle. Later she starred in another play in 1902 and 1903 called The Western Girl.

"Any woman who does not thoroughly enjoy tramping across the country on a clear frosty morning with a good gun and a pair of dogs does not know how to enjoy life." -Annie Oakley


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