Saturday, January 28, 2012

Western Hero Annie Oakley

I have always admired Annie Oakley. Her story is one of survival, and I do like survivors. Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses, one of seven children in a Quaker farming family in Ohio. When Annie's father was caught in a blizzard and died of pneumonia, the family was devastated, and poor. Annie taught herself to shoot and hunt with her father's rifle to help feed the family.

Annie's mother sent her to live with another family, hoping she would learn a skill such as sewing to help support herself and her siblings, but the family who took her in did not treat her well and Annie ran away. She knew she was needed at home. She resumed her hunting habits and also sold game animals to other families in the neighborhood. Soon, she was able to use her hunting skills to help pay the mortgage, as well.

In 1875, Annie made history by participating in a Thanksgiving Day shooting contest against Irish immigrant Frank Butler. Butler was so impressed with the bold young woman that he proposed marriage. She eventually became part of his traveling show, and the two joined Buffalo Bill Cody's show.

In her later years, Annie endured a tremendous amount of criticism and she fought hard for her good reputation, filing numerous lawsuits to protect her name. It was a stressful and painful struggle, but Oakley was always stronger than her opponents and eventually won the battle.

Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler, remained madly in love with each other their entire lives and died within two weeks of each other, a true Wild West love story. For more information on the life of Annie Oakley and her relationship with Frank Butler, you can read my biography of Annie Oakley at

American Experience is also showing a biography of Annie Oakley on January 31 and I highly recommend this show, as well. There is always a tremendous amount of detailed historical information available on the American Experience website to help you prepare for the show. American Experience also has a Facebook page where you can interact with other Wild West fans to discuss the program before and after. Tune in and enjoy!


Samantha K said...

I have heard of Annie Oakley before, but knew almost nothing of her story. One question though. How did she get the name Oakley? Was it just a stage name?

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I have read three theories on her last name. One biographer suggested it was the name of the couple who brought Annie into their home for a short time before she ran away to return to her family. In Annie Oakley's biography, she pointedly does not mention their name. I have also read that Oakley was her paternal grandmother's family name, and I have read that Annie took the name from Oakley, Ohio.

Unknown said...

I have heard of Annie Oakley before,and she really a great woman.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Annie Oakley is one of my favorite Wild West heroes. She is sometimes criticized because she never actually lived in the West, but she represented the bravery, the boldness of those who explored the West with her approach to life, her dedication to her family, her determination to learn how to shoot and trap so she could feel her family, her bravery in the face of adversity--that was Annie Oakley. In her older years, she fought to protect her good name, took on some of the most powerful newspaper men in the country, and she won! An amazing woman.

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...