by Jim Supica, NRA Museums Director - Friday, December 1, 2017
Phoebe Ann Moses did not have an easy start in life.
Born to a poor family in Ohio, her father died when she was six, leaving her mother with six children on their own. Although the widow remarried, her second husband also soon died. At the age of 8, Phoebe Ann, known as Annie to her family, was sent to live at an infirmary which housed old and disabled folks and orphans. For years she helped care for other children there until returning to her family in her early teens.
Using her new stepfather’s old Kentucky rifle, she scoured the fields for game, selling her harvest to local grocery stores. Every shot was precious, and she became a deadly accurate shot. With this skill, she was able to earn enough money to also pay off the $200 mortgage on her mother’s home.
At this time, Frank Butler was one of America’s top showman-shooters. He traveled the country with his troupe performing amazing acts of trick shooting. To promote his shooting circus when he arrived in a new town, he’d challenge the best shooter in the region to a shoot-off to demonstrate his prodigious skills with a firearm.
(Photo courtesy/NRA Museums)
Around Thanksgiving at a small Ohio town, the locals met him at the shooting range with a 15 year old girl as his opponent. They each broke 24 aerial targets in a row. Frank missed the 25th. Annie hit her 25th target.
Two years later, Butler returned and married the girl who had out shot him. Eventually she became the star of the show, and he became her manager. Privately, she preferred to be called Mrs. Frank Butler, but she took the name of a nearby town as a stage name, and was billed as “Annie Oakley.” She was later nicknamed “Little Miss Sure Shot” by Sitting Bull who toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West at the same time as Annie and Frank.
In the late 19th century, Buffalo Bill Cody was probably the best known American in the world, and Annie Oakley was the star of his show. They toured America, England, and Europe, and Annie was known and idolized worldwide. She became an advocate of women’s shooting, of equal pay for equal work, and offered to raise a “company of fifty lady sharpshooters” to assist in both the Spanish American War and World War I. Although the offer was never accepted, Annie was active in supporting the war effort on the home front.
After fifty years of marriage, Annie and Frank died within three weeks of each other in 1926. The news saddened the nation and in turn brought forth a wave of tributes to honor her legacy.
Check out this segment from Curator's Corner featuring the very special Parker side by side shotgun Frank Butler gifted to his bride:
Check out this shotgun for yourself at the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri. You can also tune into Curator's Corner on NRATV airing Thursdays at 3:35pm ET for more segments on historical firearms!
(Main and marquee photo courtesy/NRA Museums)