Annie Oakley: The Truths Behind The Legend

June 20, 2022

Annie Oakley, who was born Phoebe Anne Moses, lost her father when she was not yet six. After her father’s death, her family was left destitute. Her mother then sent her to the county poor farm, where she was hired to a work as a live-in helper. Here, with a family she referred to only as the “wolves” for the rest of her life, she was nearly worked to death, and she was physically abused. When she was 12, she ran away and found her way back to her mother’s house, where her mother was still unable to support her. She was then sent back to the poor farm. This time, she remained at the poor farm and worked as a seamstress until she was 15. She once again returned to her mother, who had remarried but was still poor.

Vintage American history photo of American sharpshooter, Annie Oakley. - stock photo. Source: (Getty/colorized).

Oakley did not have a formal education, but she did teach herself a valuable skill: shooting. She took her father’s cap-and-ball rifle and learned to hunt. She became so skilled that she was able to sell enough of the quail she killed to pay off her family’s mortgage. She started to get a reputation for her ability. During the time period, sharpshooting contests were popular, and one of the best shots was Frank Butler. When he encountered farmers in Cincinnati, they told him someone from their county could out-shoot him, but did not tell him she was a 15-year-old female. When they competed, she won. They married, and she started to accompany him on his tours, although she didn’t perform for six years. When Butler’s partner was sick, she had her chance; she was a hit and soon replaced Butler’s partner, performing under the stage name of Oakley, her paternal grandmother’s name.

Vintage American history photo of American sharpshooter, Annie Oakley. - stock photo. Source: (Getty).

Her Husband Became Her Assistant

Because the variety shows they toured with were often bawdy, and Oakley did not want to be considered a “loose” woman, she dressed conservatively. She made her outfits herself, and her long sleeves, leggings, and long skirts covered her completely and helped to develop her presence. As the star of the show, Butler became her assistant, but Butler did not seem to mind.