Monday, July 4, 2011

Annie Oakley

The Awesome Woman of the Day is Annie Oakley (1860 - 1926). She was an American sharpshooter whose talent in this traditionally male sport led her to become a long-time star in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. She was the first coast-to-coast famous American woman, famous of her own accord and not via marriage or birth circumstances.

Born Phoebe Ann Mosey in Pennsylvania to Quaker parents - her mother was 18 and her father was 49 -  Oakley was put into a "poor farm," where she was taught to sew and decorate, after her mother was twice widowed and could no longer care for all of her children. But she was not to remain confined to this classic female employment for very long!

Annie had begun hunting at age 6 and sold the game to help support her mother and siblings, and by age 15 had paid off the mortgage on her mother's farm. She had a natural gift for marksmanship, and by the age of 21 had won serious props for her shooting talent, helped a hotelier win a high-stakes bet, and met her soon-to-be husband, the man who lost the bet, all in one day. From Wikipedia:
During the spring of 1881, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was being performed in Cincinnati. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer Francis E. Butler (1850–1926), an Irish immigrant, placed a $100 bet per side (roughly equivalent to modern US$2,000) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost, that he, Butler, could beat any local fancy shooter.

The hotelier arranged a shooting match between Butler and the 21-year-old Oakley, to be held in ten days in a small town near Greenville, Ohio....

After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet. He began courting Oakley, and they married on June 20, 1882.
Annie Oakley, for all the stature and respect she earned during her many years touring and becoming increasingly famous, stood only five feet tall. She had a long and very successful career as a performer, traveling abroad to many countries and even performing for the Queen Victoria. She was truly an almost super-human sharpshooter. Her most famous trick was to repeatedly split a playing card, edge-on, and put several more holes in it before it could touch the ground, while using a .22 caliber rifle, at 90 feet.

In 1894 Oakley's fame led her to star in one of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope films, The "Little Sure Shot" of the "Wild West," an exhibition of rifle shooting at glass balls, etc. that can be viewed on this Wikipedia page.  In 1901 Oakley was injured seriously in a train wreck, and endured temporary paralysis and five spinal operations. She tamed her career down for a bit, left Buffalo Bill's traveling show and began starring in a play that was written especially for her, The Western Girl. Oakley played the role of Nancy Berry and used a pistol, rifle and rope to outsmart a group of outlaws.

Oakley set a new kind of role model for American woman and did her share of work to promote self-respect and equal recognition in society for the country's females.
Throughout her career, it is believed that Oakley taught upwards of 15,000 women how to use a gun. Oakley believed strongly that it was crucial for women to learn how to use a gun, as not only a form of physical and mental exercise, but also to defend themselves.
She also had written to President McKinley when the war with Spain was on the horizon,  "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." Oakley continued to perform here and there, and to set records, into her 60s, but she also was known for her philanthropy and support for women's rights. At age 62 she hit a hundred clay targets in a row from 15 yards. After a bad car accident soon thereafter, which forced her to wear a brace on one leg and to spend a year and a half in recovery, she again set records at age 64 in 1924.

In 1925, Annie Oakley died of pernicious anemia. It is said that her husband (Butler still!) was so crushed by her death that he stopped eating. He died 18 days later. It is also said that it was discovered after her death that she had given her entire fortune away to her family and to charities.

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