Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Annie Oakley - What a woman!

I've been enamored with the American Old West since my early teens. My first stories were about pioneers and Conestoga wagons, cowboys and Indians. Back in the late 70’s my CB handle was ‘Annie Oakley’. She was my hero. As a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and unused to guns, my arms would waver while I forced myself to hold the 7 lb FNC1 rifle on target out on the weapons range. My arm strength was non-existent.

And yet Annie Oakley who stood a diminutive 5 feet tall and only weighed 110 lbs could easily hold a 7 lb rifle, shooting forwards and backwards, over 2 performances daily with a degree of accuracy which turned experienced marksmen into lifelong fans.

Born Phoebe Ann Mosey on August 13, 1860 in Darke Country Ohio, Annie taught herself how to shoot out of necessity, with her late father’s old 40-inch cap and ball Kentucky rifle when she was only 8 yrs old. Soon after, she was sent to work at the county poor farm where she received her education and learned how to sew. She lived there for several years. However, according to her autobiography (1), around the age of 10, she was ‘lent out’ to work with a local farm family who abused her both physically and mentally until she ran back to the county home. At 13, Anne went back to her poor family and took up hunting to feed them. Due to her skill with the rifle and business sense, she sold excess game to local hotels and restaurants. By the age of 15, Annie gave her mother the $200 to pay off the farm mortgage.

A hotel owner in Cincinnati who served Annie’s game in his restaurant invited Annie to a challenge against marksman Frank Butler. Word is, Frank laughed when he saw his competition. But he soon became amazed at her skill when she made 25 perfect shots to his 24. Some accounts say he fell in love with Annie on the spot. Others say she amazed him. And that he was enthralled by her. We know they courted over the next year and then in 1876 at the age of 16, Annie became Mrs. Frank Butler. I get a warm fuzzy feeling just thinking about their love story.

After several years, Annie took on the stage name Annie Oakley when they started performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Annie Oakley is a paradox:

- Annie was born in an age where women worked at home and yet even after marrying Frank, she was the money earner and he stayed in the background as her business manager.

- Annie was only 5 ft tall and yet she shot straighter than most big men.

- Annie shot a 7 lb rifle – clearly a masculine object – while parading around in shorter than normal skirts. She also left her hair long and unpinned much like a little girl.

- Annie once shot the ashes off the kaiser’s cigar and yet she’d pout and give a little tantrum kick when she purposely missed.

- Annie sewed her own clothes, always wore skirts and leggings and never showed a bit of skin and yet her clothes were form-fitting and showed off her womanly figure.

- Annie would sit in her tent with her embroidery hoop between shows and yet she was surrounded by her guns and powder bins.

- Annie encouraged women to get out there, learn how to shoot and become self-reliant and yet at the end of the day she went home to Frank.

- Annie was a proper Victorian lady and always dressed in skirts and yet she made her mark as an athlete in a man’s world.

- Annie was reserved and demure and yet projected a bold vitality which showed she was in control.

- Annie argued for women’s equality insofar as equal pay for equal work and yet she explicitly argued against women’s suffrage.

- Annie was always perfectly turned out and yet she’s reported as saying ‘I went all to pieces under the care of a home’ and Frank once said she was ‘a rotten housekeeper’.

Annie and Frank performed before European royalty while travelling with the Wild West show. Annie commanded $700 a week in earnings while on tour in Europe and yet she lived a frugal life remembering the poverty of her childhood. She sent money home to her mother and family, and gave money to orphans, widows and young women who wanted to further their education. Records show she provided funding and professional training for at least 20 young women

Over the years, Annie taught over 2,000 women and girls in firearm safety and shooting.
When the U.S. joined WWI in 1917, Annie offered to raise a regiment of women volunteers to fight in the war – much as she had during the Spanish-American war. She also offered to teach marksmanship to the troops. She was ignored on all counts. And yet she freely gave her own time to hold shooting demonstrations to raise money for the YMCA, the National War Council, War Camp Community Service and the Red Cross.

Annie performed until she was 62 yrs old and that was after a debilitating train crash put her in the hospital for a year, and a car crash gave a permanent a brace. After a 50 yr marriage, Annie died on Nov 3, 1926 followed by Frank 18 days later. Both died of natural causes.

Annie Oakley was a role model for today’s young people. She proved women can be feminine and athletic. She showed that women can do a job in a man’s world without appearing threatening. And that a woman could be paid the same as a man if she practiced and became good at her job. Her life was an example to other women who wondered if it was possible to have a fulfilling life out of the home and still remain happily married. And most of all, Annie showed that women can show strength, be self-reliant and protect themselves if need be but still be pure and sweet while holding the gun.

So, what I'd like to know is:
- Did you ever role play as a youngster like I did with our 'Cowboys and Indians' and our Roy Rogers and Annie Oakley guns?
- If not, what games did you play?


  1. Great post Anita! Back in grade school, I had bought a biography of Annie Oakley from the school book fair. It was a skinny paperback, but I read it over and over. I was fascinated by Annie (and Helen Keller, the subject of another biography I got at the same time). What a unique, strong woman she was.

    I grew up in the heart of Hollywood, California, so my role playing was a little different than most kids. The one person I remember pretending to be was The Bionic Woman... not a historical role model, but someone who had all the abilities I longed for!

  2. When I was youger I always played cowboys and Indians with my brothers that was some fun back then.

    I recently read a book that had a character similar to Annie Oakley the book was Drew by Leigh Greenwood loved it too.

    Nice Post :)


  3. Lovely post, Anita Mae, about another amazing woman!
    I wanted to be a cowboy when I was little and I can't tell you the number of black and whites of me with a holster, twin silver pistols and a cowboy hat. I even had a vest for awhile. I don't recall wanting to be Annie Oakley in particular, I just knew I was meant to ride horses and shoot at bad guys. I finally took 'recreational shooting' in college (in my 40s) and that's where it ended. I had a hard time finding that place on my shoulder to prop that rifle butt without hitting a bruise each time!

    She certainly was an amazing woman and proves that we should never judge what someone can't do based on our expectations of them.

    Your enthusiasm for her shines through here. Great choice for you, Anita! I love the graphics, too. thanks!

  4. Hello, Anita Mae! This has to be one of my all-time favorite posts. Annie Oakley was one of the most amazing people who ever lived! She was larger than life in every way. Her love story with her husband, Frank Butler is extremely touching. I love the Old West. My whole family watched shows like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, Maverick, The Cimmaron Strip and so many others! The great thing was that we watched them together. My mom and her brother and sister and cousins used to watch the old Western movie serials. They would go the movies and then come and ride stick horses and play "Cowboys and Indians". My mother adored The Lone Ranger!

    By the way, my middle name is also "Mae". My handle was "Sunflower" (still one of my nicknames).

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  5. Great post about yet another fascinating woman!
    Did I role play? NO!!!
    A little-known fact about my bio is that I assisted Nancy Drew with her caseload and groomed Black Beauty's stable brother...


  6. You had a CB Handle? How cool. Always wanted one of those.

    I wanted to be Wonder Woman. I'm all about super powers. A warrior princess... ladylike but also a tough butt-kicker.

    I like this post about Annie. She sounds like she possessed some super powers of her own - ladylike but tough too. Quite inspiring!

    Thanks! Write on!

  7. Yeah I pretended all through childhood and teenhood really. Now I write, and all my pretend gets poured out on paper.

    I was, at different times, Laura Ingalls, Wonder Woman, Nancy Drew, Daphne or Velma from Scooby Doo, Cheetara from the Thundercats, the girl on Voltron, Anne Frank, Jo March, Viola from the Boxcar Children, I could go on and on and on. Make believe was and still is a big part of my life. One of my favorite things as a mom is watching the kids pull out costumes and inhabit a realm of fantasy that is vivid to them.

  8. Fun post, Anita! Annie was truly amazing. I tried to shoot a shotgun once. Or maybe it was a rifle. I don't really know. My husband was trying to teach me to shoot clay pigeons. It knocked me down. After hurting my shoulder. Needless to say, it was my first and last attempt.

    It appears more than one of us was Nancy Drew. LOL!

  9. Oddly enough, I really didn't play many imaginary games as a child. I don't think they could possibly live up to the things I made up in my head. I did however like to "play" school with my younger brother, execpt that I really would spend hours teaching him and give him breaks for lunch and drinks. Mostly I liked playing outside and doing art.


  10. Hey Jen, you mean normal people live in Hollywood? Now that's a new concept. :)

    I really liked the Bionic Woman and especially the way Lindsay Wagner portrayed that character. She was strong yet vulnerable, sweet yet hard when she needed to be. I wonder if the writers had Annie Oakley in mind when they wrote it - sort of a futuristic Annie, eh.

    Thanks Jen.

  11. Hey BookJunkee... did your brother ever try to choke you while playing? My brother was 3 yrs younger than me but had a mean streak. I remember once when I was 6/7 and we were pretending I was driving a conestoga wagon so I sat on the end of my bed with my legs hanging over the low footboard. Bro was supposed to sneak up and 'take me out' except we didn't use that phrase. I had imaginary reins in my hands and was saying things like 'Giddyap'. I didn't even feel the bed move and then suddenly, his arm was around my throat and he was pulling me backward! I couldn't breathe! I remember kicking and screaming and finally getting away from him. He just kneeled on the bed and said something about me wanting to play. Well, I never played that game with him again!

    Although I haven't read one of Leigh Greenwood's books, he's on my list of wanna read authors. I actually posted about him and other male authors who write romance on my Prairie Chicks Write Romance blog. When I started the research, I didn't know how many males actually did. And then I couldn't believe my discovery that one of my favorite romance authors was actually a male!!! LOL

    Thanks for stopping BookJunkee.

  12. Hey Deb, one of the first things the male weapons' instructor told us (an all female platoon) was to take our berets, fold them into thirds, and tuck them under our bra straps. I was 17 yrs old and so mature that I giggled because he mentioned a bra. But I did what I was told and was so thankful for it. Because even with the extra padding, I still developed huge purplish yellow bruises around my whole right shoulder area. The instructors said to tuck the rifle in the natural valley between your shoulder and armpit and hold it pressed there. But I couldn't seem to make my rifle understand I didn't like its kickback. Ouch.

    You know, I thought you were a cowgirl when I first met you in Denver. I don't know if you remind me of someone I've seen in a western ad or magazine. Or maybe it's the graceful way you move or your gentle spirit. Whatever, that's the image you portray to me. And I would love to see you as a little girl in your cowgirl outfit with the silver pistols.

    Thanks Deb, I do have a lot of respect for Annie. (And it's what my sister's always called me. Heh)

  13. Thank you, Virginia. You reminded me of something I didn't put in the post... many consider Annie Oakley the best sharpshooter of all time. Considering that she worked with powder, that's saying something.

    Speaking of powder, as you can see on the badge I posted, Annie was the spokesperson for Schultze powder and wrote her first autobiography about the problems she had obtaining quality smokeless powder while in Europe. According to her, her shooting skills suffered when she had to use a 'poorer' powder. You can read Annie's experiences here: http://www.traphof.org/roadtoyesterday/march2001.htm

    See you around, Sunflower. (That's a good one!) :)

  14. Good one, Patti, but I know you're fibbin' because Black Beauty came out in 1877 and Nancy Drew was released over 50 yrs later in 1930.

    So I might believe one or the other but not both! LOL

  15. Fun post, Anita! She definitely was an amazing and gifted woman. I did sometimes pretend to be her, as well as the Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, or one of the Ingalls girls.

  16. Hi, Anita: Interesting take on Annie Oakley. I've heard different stories and like this more positive one the best.

    I was always Dale Evans (Rogers)and I rode Buttermilk all over the neighborhood! :-))

  17. Hey Lori, Wonder Woman is a great handle.

    Actually, Warrior Princess is another.

    Those were the days, eh.

    And you're right - both women dislayed that ladylike butt-kicker form.

    I like to think I'm that way, too but I've always had problems with the ladylike part. :)

    Thanks for visiting.

  18. Hey Lisa, it sounds like you haven't gotten over it, you've just channeled your imagination in another direction. Good job!

    For years, CBC TV carried Mr. Dressup who was Canada's answer to the US Mr. Rodgers. My favorite part of Mr Dressup was when he opened the Tickle Trunk and took out costumes for himself and Casey and Finnigan, his supporting puppet cast as well as his guest. Oh, the adventures we went on. It took me years before I realized Mr Dressup must change the clothes in the Tickle Trunk often because really, there was no way hundreds of costumes would have fit in there!

    Lisa, thanks for reminding me about the late Ernie Coombs who played the wonderful artist known as Mr. Dressup.

  19. Hey Suzie, I know what you mean. Hubby took me bird hunting with his shotgun once and I asked to fire it just to see how it felt. I aimed at a tree and let 'er rip. Can't remember if it was the sound or the kickback but I never asked him again.

    Sleuthing seems to be the game of the day today. :)

  20. Dina, I did that, too. I would corral my brothers (and my 2 best friends if they didn't run fast enough) and I'd give them homework. I remember kitchen chairs in a row or two in the livingroom. I think my favorite part, though was actually thinking up the math questions for their homework.

    And yes, pretend school is still a role playing game especially if you were the teacher. :)

  21. Susanne, it's strange but I didn't know about Laura Ingalls at that time. I believe I was in Grade 10 the first time I read one of her books - The House in the Big Woods or something and it didn't have much of an impact on me. Well, not until I saw the TV series and then I saw what I was missing so I went out and bought the books for my daughter.

    Hmmm... maybe I should suggest Annie Oakley to the Disney Co for their next animated feature. LOL

  22. Hey Connie... what do you mean this was more positive? Do you mean someone dared write something negative about my sweet Little Annie? I can't imagine what.

    We never saw Roy Rogers or Dale Evans on TV. However, we did see the Lone Ranger and Zorro but of course, they were lacking adventurous partners like Dale. :(

  23. Hi Anita,
    What fun! I was kind of "lent" to my extended family and grew up on a farm in Pa. and although it wasn't the experience Annie had I did scoop a lot of poop.:)

    The good side of that was that I rode horses in 4-H and although I never learned how to shoot a gun I got pretty good at bobbing for apples while the horse drank the water out of the tank. :) None of us ever wanted to be the last one.

    And just think. I'm in Cincinnati and walking around in the steps of Annie Oakley! Didn't Doris Day play Annie? I wonder if the fact that Doris was a Cincinnatian had anthing to do with her accepting the role?

  24. I loved reading more about Annie Oakley, one of my girlhood heroines! I always role played Dale Evans and the older boy in the neighborhood was Roy Rogers! Happy Trails again!

  25. This has been a delightful day. Like a lot of us, I grew up on Westerns and I still love them.

    Anita I think the idea of Annie for a Disney movie is pure genius. Shall we do a letter writing campaign?

    Patti, Black Beauty was my all time favorite make believe when I got too old to wear those silver pistols around the yard. I got to play in an abandoned barn. Perfect!

    Love all your comments today ladies!
    Good to see you Virginia (Mae), and Rose. Lori I agree about the CB handle . . . picking the name would have been half the fun.

    Book Junkie. Nice profile picture!

    Anita, you've really got us all enjoying childhood memories today.

  26. what a wonderful history lesson on Annie Oakley...I never knew. A beautiful post. I learned a lot. I never played 'cowboys and indians' when I was little...don't know why.

    karen k

  27. My daughter loves Annie Oakley. (I do, too, but she's the bigger fan.) She did a biography book report on her in 5th grade where they had to dress up as their person and tell about them to the younger students. She made a perfect Annie Oakley! And we have to watch Annie Get Your Gun (I know, some fictional license taken on that one) every year or so.

    As for role playing--I'm there with most of the rest of you: wonder woman, bionic woman, Charlie's angels, the Ingalls family.

  28. Hey Jill, very glad your farm experience was a - uh - experience. (Not sure if you'd count poop and scoop fun.)

    My kids were involved with 4H Horse Club for several years. I think it's the best thing going for youngsters to learn how to care for horses and learn to ride. Achievement Day was always hectic and long but satisfying.

    Did Doris Day play Annie? I've been trying to get the facts ever since I read your comment but can't seem to click in on it.

    But I did find out that there was a 3 season TV series about Annie Oakley and they're selling the DVD's now. Hmmm... haven't given hubby my Christmas list yet this year. :)

    Thanks, Jill.

  29. Rose, you said, I always role played Dale Evans and the older boy in the neighborhood was Roy Rogers!
    Really? Ooh - you must've had an exciting childhood. :O

    LOL - thanks for joining us today, Rose.

  30. Karen - Thank you. I guess some games were played more in the smaller towns than in the city. I say that because we moved to the city when I was 8 and the games were all different. All the kids had roller skates and bikes! So much cement! Hide and seek between the houses and along the back alley was the local game. So I think it's like language where you get your regional differences.

    And thank you for reading my post. If I've introduced this wonderful American woman to someone else then my post was successful.

  31. D'Ann, that would have been a special class to watch when those kids gave those reports. Hope you were able to tape it.

    My daughter sang 'You Can't Get a Man With a Gun' at the Regina Music Festival a couple years ago. Her music teacher and her decided on her costume and I helped her gather the items. I even bought chaps off ebay for her to wear. And that's because we were using the movie, 'Annie Get Your Gun' as the reference because that's where the song was from. But looking at the pictures here on my post, that movie just seems plain wrong.

    Because except for her little kick, I don't think the real Annie would galivant around the room with knees bent out and fist pumping down between them either. So undignified. :)

    Thanks, D'Ann.

  32. Hey Anita,
    The more I think about it the more I think Doris Day played Calamity Jane, not sure if she played Annie, but she would have been perfect for it.

  33. Anita, this was great! I learned a ton of things I never knew, even though my mom and dad used to call me Annie Oakley whenever I'd go out to shoot my .22.
    As an only child I spent most of my childhood in some sort of role playing. I remember "being" Laura Ingalls, Nancy Drew, Julia Child (when I had to do dishes)... and then I discovered writing. Haven't left yet!
    Thanks for such a fun post! What an inspirational woman for us all... and who's gonna write that historically based romance novel about Annie and Frank?

  34. Jilly, yes, Doris Day did play Calamity Jane. Do you really think Doris would have been perfect for Annie? I don't know... Doris always had short blond hair and Annie's was long and brown. But yes, her temperment would have matched.

    Awh Niki - your dad let you shoot his .22? That's such a nice father/daughter memory. Actually, I remember my dad took me out hunting with him once. I was about 5 yrs old and the only thing I remember is looking in the back of the pickup and seeing if full of still, warm partridge. I believe it was my first experience with death. And yet, it wasn't a bad experience, ya know?

    Speaking of Annie and Frank, the book... when I was trying to find out who played Annie in the movie, I found out that Howard Keel played Frank. I simply loved Howard Keel in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and his classic good looks carried him through into the TV show Dallas. I'm going to have to get that Annie movie now, too. LOL.

    This Annie's gonna have an Annie Christmas. :)

  35. Betty Hutton played Annie in the movie. (But they did keep her a blonde for whatever reason)

  36. Y'know, I think this is one of THE most interesting articles about Annie that I've read.

    Wonder what Reba MacIntyre would say about this, seeing as she played Annie in real life! LOL

    Excellent post, Anita!

  37. Wow! I didn't know lots about Annie Oakley. Thanks for a great post! Yes I definitely played Cowboys and Indians when I was a child raised on a farm. I used to gallop all over the place too! :)

  38. What a great post, Anita. Of course, I had heard of Annie and knew she was a sharpshooter with the Wild West Show but beyond that I didn't know much. What an amazing woman to have as your alter ego!

    I spent a great deal of time imagining myself as Anne Shirley from the Anne books written by Lucy Maud Montgomery. If I was going to pick an alter ego it would be Anne.

  39. Hello, again! I have to say that Howard Keel remains one of my heart-throbs!!! That voice and those looks, OH, MY! SHOW BOAT (1951) with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson is my favorite movie of all time! When Howard joined the cast of DALLAS, I was in heaven. He made all those other men on the show pale in comparison!

  40. Hey Loree, that's right - Reba played/s the Broadway version of Annie Oakley. Oh, I just know she'd be perfect for that role considering how Annie herself was a contradiction between serious and fun. Thanks.

    Thanks also for your nice words. :)

  41. Martha - my brother had a spring horse but I was too big for it so yeah, I galloped around the yard, too... on a broomstick.

    Please - no comments. LOL

  42. Hey Karyn, now that I know you better, I can see you as Anne Shirley, too. You seem so sweet and innocent and then I read one of your paranormal exerpts and wow ... where did that come from. I think your imagination would put even hers to shame. :)

  43. Nice to see you back, Virginia - it's funny that you mention that because when he first joined Dallas, there was something about him that appealed to me which was odd because that never happened with an older guy on a TV show before. So I did some checking and when I found out who he was then it just all fell into place. Of course my first response was 'he's old and overweight'. Shame on me, eh. But it only lasted a second and then he smiled at something Barbara Bel Geddes (I think it was) said and I could've swore his eyes twinkled just like in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers.

    I never did see Showboat but if it came on my TV, I'd watch it or anything else that Howard Keel was in.

  44. Now, THIS is exciting! So many cool new peeps!!!


  45. I grew up in a family of shooters. Guns are still part of every day life in most parts of the South. One of my dad's friends nicknamed me Annie Oakley because I rarely miss.

  46. Hey Rachel, that's cool. Knowing how to fire a weapon safely is something everyone should know. It's the ones who are uneducated in proper firearm use who do the most damage.

    I always hit most of the targets at 25 yds but it was hit and miss after that.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  47. found your site today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later ..


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