To survive he took on numerous jobs, driving a milk wagon, cleaning up horse manure, selling newspapers, and tried blowing glass. He even managed an on-stage dog show. He then developed a shooting act where he and his partner would become part of a variety show along with ventriloquists, jugglers and magicians. At some point in his early career he married, fathered two daughters and was divorced.
In November 1875, while the show was in Cincinnati, Frank threw out a challenge to any local sharpshooting champions. Someone accepted and Frank was told there would be a match nearby on Thanksgiving Day, with a prize of one hundred dollars.
Frank was surprised to find his opponent was a five foot tall fifteen year old farm girl named Phoebe Ann Moses, who scored twenty-five hits in twenty-five attempts. Frank missed his last target and the match. “I was a beaten man the moment she appeared,” Frank later said, “for I was taken off guard.”
He gave Annie and her family free tickets to his show, and started courting her. Annie’s Quaker mother approved of Frank for he never drank, smoked, or gambled. They were married August 23, 1876.
Frank continued to perform with his partner until May 1, 1882 when his partner was sick and Frank asked Annie to hold the targets. When Frank missed his shots, someone in the audience yelled. “Let the girl shoot.” Annie took the stage name of Oakley from Oakley, Ohio and the team of Butler and Oakley was born.
Gradually Frank spent less time on stage and more time dealing with the finances, logistics and acting as Annie’s press agent. Annie joined a vaudeville act with Sells Brother’s circus. Frank never begrudged Annie’s success and was content as her manager.
In the spring of 1885, Annie and Frank joined “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.” Over the next seventeen years the Butlers toured the United States, Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. As her manager, he built her up into one of the greatest shooting stars the world has ever known.
Then in the early morning hours of October 29th, 1901, the specially chartered Buffalo Bill train crashed into a a freight train near Lexington, South Carolina. Annie was one of the few injured.
The Butler’s were forced to leave the show while Annie endured months of hospitalization.
She was soon back on stage in a melodrama, The Western Girl. While Annie became involved in a complex libel suit with William Randolph Hearst, Frank took on the bread-winner role as a representative for the Union Metallic Cartridge Company. She joined another Wild West show after 1910 and performed until 1913.
They wintered in North Carolina, hunted together and went on automobile trips. They became involved in orphan charities, took care of Annie’s mother and Frank’s daughters, and raised money for the Red Cross during World War I.
In 1922 the Butlers settled in Leesburg, Florida, but a few years later Annie wanted to return to Darke County, Ohio and in 1926 the Butlers moved to Dayton.
Then on November 2, 1926, Annie Oakley passed away. Broken hearted, Frank died on November 23, just eighteen days after his beloved wife. Their marriage had been a happy one, lasting fifty years.
Frank, who enjoyed writing poetry, once wrote about Annie, “Her presence would remind you, Of an angel in the skies, And you bet I love this little girl, With the rain drops in her eyes.”