- Legend has it that Annie Oakley passed her future husband Frank Butler in a competition in North Fairmount, but it was never recorded at the time.
- When she was a young girl, Annie Oakley hunted quails that were sold to Cincinnati hotels.
- Annie Oakley was born and is buried in Darke County, Ohio.
“When the legend becomes a reality, print the legend.” – “The man who shot Liberty Valance”
The picture of Annie Oakley as a cowgirl sniper “Little Sure Shot”, like many old west stories, is a jumble of truth and legend. Aside from her expert marksmanship, that was – that was real.
Born near North Star in Darke County, Ohio, about 95 miles north of Cincinnati, Annie had never been to the west before joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
She had many connections with Queen City, especially the shooting competition when she defeated her future husband Frank Butler, as dramatized in the Irving Berlin musical “Annie Get Your Gun”.
Putting together an accurate portrait of Annie’s life is challenging due to a lack of documentation and conflicting data. Of the many biographies on her, Shirl Kasper’s “Annie Oakley” is the most thorough when it comes to examining records and Annie’s own scrapbooks.
She was born as Phoebe Ann Mosey or Moses. Several variations were used in records, and Annie preferred Mozee, written as it sounds. Everyone called her Annie.
The date of birth listed on her death certificate was August 13, 1860, although Annie insisted it was 1866, perhaps to shave a few years during her showbiz career. The court records were destroyed in a fire in 1867.
Her parents were Quakers, pacifists who only used weapons for hunting. To help her family, Annie hunted game for shop owner Charles Katzenberger at GA Katzenberger & Bro. General store in nearby Greenville. He then sold the birds to Cincinnati hotels, including Bevis House, which is run by JB “Jack” Frost.
Hotels liked the birds she tended because while diners were used to getting a shot from their meals, Annie knocked quail down with a single shot in the head.
“Anything you can do, I can do better.”
Part of Annie Oakley’s appeal was the disagreement with her as “a cute little girl – and yet a sniper with unparalleled ability,” wrote Kasper.
That shows in her shooting competition against Butler. History was never documented at the time, which has puzzled historians.
The legend of the contest, as featured in most Oakley biographies, is largely based on Annie’s autobiography “The Story of My Life,” which was published in newspapers shortly after her death.
Hotelier Frost suggested a $ 50 bet that would involve his unknown shooter against Frank Butler, a sniper who was named at the Coliseum Opera House at 437 Vine St. (now 1221 Vine St.) in Over-the-Rhine Headlined. Butler agreed.
Legend has it that the competition took place on Thanksgiving Day 1875, even though Annie hadn’t given a date on her own account.
“The ground was picked two miles outside of Fairmount,” wrote Annie. “My oldest sister lived there and mom and I went there to stay. It was the first time I saw a real city.”
The location of the competition is believed to be the Schützenbuckel, or Shooter’s Hill, where there was a shooting club. The location is now St. Clair Heights Park in North Fairmount.
Butler was shocked to discover that his opponent was a 15-year-old country girl. He won the coin toss and was the first to shoot live pigeons released from traps.
“We used two traps, a gun under the elbow and a barrel,” wrote Annie. “I shot a muzzle loader, but it was a good one. …
“The scores stayed the same. Mr. Butler’s 25th … fell dead about three feet beyond the line.” (Other reports say he missed.)
“I had to hit my last bird to win. I paused for a moment before I undressed my gun. I saw the faces of my mother and aunt. I knew I was going to win!”
Kasper calls this “pure fiction”. She supports Butler’s version of the story told in interviews in 1903 and 1924. He said the competition was about 18 miles from Greenville in the spring of 1881, which could have been North Star.
“She licked me fairly and directly,” said Butler. “I was amazed – and intrigued. Well, I fell in love with her – and a year later we were married.”
She married Annie’s autobiography on August 23, 1876, a year after the traditional competition date. There is no marriage certificate. According to Kasper, Annie gave her niece a marriage certificate for Frank Butler and Annie Moses dated June 20, 1882 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Where and when did the competition take place? Has it even happened?
There is no concrete evidence of this, but some parts of the story fit and others do not.
The correct date is most likely 1881. Research into census records, city registers, and newspapers reveals some facts:
Butler first appeared in The Enquirer in 1880 as part of the sniper act Baughman & Butler and signed with the Sells Brothers’ Circus in 1881. That year they performed at the Coliseum.
Annie’s sister Lydia married Joseph Stein in 1877 and first appears in the Cincinnati city directory in 1880. He lives in Fairmount.
In 1878 Frost took over Bevis House on Court and Walnut Streets.
So details of the Cincinnati version of the story are being checked, but only if the date is 1881, making Annie 21 instead of 15.
Other sources cite the place as Oakley and are likely trying to trim the neighborhood as the source of their stage name. The origin of the name Annie Oakley has never been recorded.
“There is no business like show business”
Annie took the stage with her husband in 1882 and insisted on shooting too. The Oakley & Butler Act toured with the Sells Brothers’ Circus, and Butler eventually stepped aside and became their manager.
In April 1885, Annie spent a month in Cincinnati practicing clay pigeon shooting, invented here by George Ligowsky in 1880, before joining Buffalo Bill Cody in Louisville, according to her autobiography.
She toured the world with Buffalo Bill’s Show for 17 years, astounding audiences and kings with trick shots like spotting with a mirror to shoot over her shoulder or shooting glass balls while on the back of a galloping horse. Chief Sitting Bull adopted her as Watanya Cicilla, “Little Sure Shot”, into the Lakota tribe.
On January 2, 1891, The Enquirer reported that “Poor Anne Oakley … dies in a land far away – the greatest female shot,” based on erroneous cable grams from Buenos Aires. The news reached her mother in North Star. Ten days later the newspaper corrected: “Miss Oakley is said to be alive and well and perfectly satisfied with her obituary.”
Annie died in Darke County on November 3, 1926. Her body was sent to Cincinnati for cremation, and her ashes were placed in a trophy cup that she won. Butler died 18 days later.
Her remains are buried in Brock Cemetery near Greenville near US 127, known there as the Annie Oakley Memorial Pike.
Luann Gibbs contributed to this.
WHEN YOU GO
What: Annie Oakley Festival
When: 6pm Thursday: Annie Oakley Shooting Contest finals; Friday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: York Woods, north of Greenville, at the intersection of US 127 and Ohio 242, about 80 miles north of Cincinnati
Cost: $ 3 for the weekend
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Thomas Edison made a kinetoscope film about Annie Oakley in 1894.