Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Mosey in a log cabin in western Ohio in 1860. By the time she was 12, she was already trapping and hunting animals, selling the skins and meat to shopkeepers, hotels, and restaurants. She was becoming a real sharpshooter. Some of the boys were embarrassed to admit she was better than them.
A few years later, a travelling show marksman named Frank Butler came to Cincinnati to place a bet with a local hotel owner that he could beat any local fancy shooter. He was amused when he saw a 5’ tall, 15-year-old girl named Annie appear with a Parker Brothers Double Barrel slung over her shoulder.
You shouldn’t be surprised to know that she beat him, but you may be surprised to know that Frank became her husband soon after. Together, they performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and moved to Oakley, Ohio, where she adopted her official stage name. They tramped the world with Buffalo Bill, dazzling royalty and their courts in places like Italy and France; they even performed for Queen Victoria of England. The travel was exhausting, so when they got back to America they looked for a nice, quiet place to live. In 1892, they settled in the quaint town of Nutley, NJ.
A few years earlier, a circus performer named Eaton Stone had also settled in Nutley. Eaton was considered one of the greatest bareback horse riders in the world. He built a practice ring on his farm, right across from the Oakley. Annie used to rehearse her circus and shooting skills there. She could shoot the flames off moving candles and the hearts off poker cards from horseback, earning her the moniker “Little Sure Shot” from none other than Sitting Bull.
Annie was a great believer in women’s rights. She encouraged the service of women in combat operations for the U.S. Armed Forces. She had even written a letter to President William McKinley on April 5, 1898, “offering the government the services of a company of 50 ‘lady sharpshooters’ who would provide their own arms and ammunition should the U.S. go to war with Spain.” He didn’t accept her offer, but over the years, she taught thousands of women how to use a gun.