Down the grandstand gangway -bounded a tiny young woman. With a toss of her flowing brown hair, she waved and blew kisses. Then Annie ran to a table covered with rifles and shotguns. Annie picked up a gun, and her husband Frank began slinging clay birds from spring-loaded traps. Lightning quick, Annie aimed and shot one, then a pair, and finally four at once. Amazed at Annie's sharpshooting, people jumped to their feet clapping.
Annie's best trick was last. One by one, Frank tossed eleven glass balls into the air. In ten seconds, Annie shot and shattered all eleven! Finished, she raced like a frisky colt across the arena. But before she ducked behind the curtain, she gave a little kick and threw a kiss to the cheering crowd.
As an adult, Annie Oakley was a big success. But her early life had been hard. She was born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860, to a poor family in Darke County, Ohio. When Annie's father died, her mother was left with no way to feed her eight children.
To help out, nine-year-old Annie left home to care for children in the county poorhouse. But the people in charge were cruel, and the work impossibly hard. Annie left the poorhouse after two years.
Back home, Annie discovered she was good at shooting ruffed grouse, quail, and rabbits with a single-barrel muzzleloader. She sold the game to a local shopkeeper. The money she earned helped her struggling family.
Annie began to perform at neighborhood turkey shoots. When she was fifteen, she went to Cincinnati to stay with her older sister. There, at a sharpshooting contest, she beat a young Irishman named Frank Butler. The two met and fell in love. They married in 1876 and formed a traveling act.
Calling his wife the finest rifle shot in the country, Frank Butler became her manager and made her the star of their act. She took the stage name of Annie Oakley. Frank arranged her appearances and interviews, set up her targets, and took care of her guns.
Life on the road was hard, and Annie had to get used to living in a tent. But she loved the work and knew how to make an audience laugh. If Annie missed a shot, she'd stamp her foot and frown. Sometimes she'd prop her gun in the dust, and with her hand on the barrel she'd circle around it for good luck. When she made a shot, she'd give an excited kick.
Annie sewed all her own costumes. Her trademark full skirts and neat blouses were trimmed with ribbon, fringe, embroidery, or feathers. She wore wide-brimmed hats, pearl buttoned leggings from her knees to her ankles, and low black shoes.
At a show in St. Paul, Minnesota, Annie met the Sioux chief Sitting Bull. He gave her the nickname "Watanya Cecilia," or "Little Sure Shot."
Not long after that, Annie and Frank became part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, a group headed by William F. Cody. Cody was a popular Army scout, actor, and western folk hero. The performers in his traveling show gave roping, riding, and shooting exhibitions. They sometimes played 130 towns in one year.
Frank and Annie traveled with the show for the next seventeen years. Annie's fame spread, and she was soon performing for world loaders.
Wherever she performed, Annie shot so well people wondered if she was cheating. Sometimes she missed on purpose bust to show she wasn't.
Annie could shoot left-handed or right-handed. She shot lying on her back or with a rifle held upside down over her head. She could hit targets while riding a bicycle or standing on a running horse's hack.
But her mirror stunt was the crowd's favorite. Annie turned her back on the target and placed her rifle across her shoulder. Then, looking in a hand mirror she aimed and fired. She never missed.
Even though Annie Oakley worked in the world of men, she wanted people to know she was a lady. She didn't smoke, swear, or drink hard liquor. She read the Bible regularly.
Although Annie loved children, she had none of her own. When she met poor children, she hired their mothers to do her washing and ironing. She talked Buffalo Bill into holding "Orphan Days." Orphans were admitted to the show free and were treated to ice cream and candy.
Near the end of her life, Annie had her many gold and silver sharpshooting medals melted down and sold. She then donated the money to a children's hospital.
After a lifetime of performing, Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926. Near Greenville, Ohio, a sign on the highway honors Annie Oakley, "Little Sure Shot."
Nearly seventy years after her death, people still remember Annie Oakley as a spunky sharpshooter, a skilled performer, a folk hero-and a lady.
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|Title Annotation:||Faces in Sports; sharpshooter from the late 1800s|
|Author:||Josephson, Judith P.|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1996|
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