Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A True Love Match

Born in Ireland, Frank Butler made his way to America and arrived in New York City in 1863, when he was thirteen.

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.”


  1. Sweet love story, Kathy. One I hadn't heard. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. What a wonderful romance! Thanks for sharing their love story with us, Kathy.

  3. Ah, that's a sweet love story. I love the ending quote. Great post, Kathy. It's surprising they never had any children.

  4. Hi Linda,
    Thanks for stopping by. In doing the research for this, I found lots of things I never knew, such as Frank's enjoyment of poetry.

  5. Hi Lyn,
    Appreciate your leaving a comment. There is much info out there on Annie, but not much on the relationship between the two. But they met so young, and spent their entire lives together, 24/7 for fifty years, to me it had to be a love match.

  6. Hi Linda,
    I wondered too, why they never had children. I thought at first that maybe there was a problem on Frank's end, but he had two girls before he and Annie met, so maybe it just wasn't meant to be. I did see pictures of them with dogs, one of whom was named Dave, and Frank did start out with his dog act, so maybe their dogs were their babies.

  7. I love his poem you put at the end, Kathy. It sure sounds like they were a perfect match. Loved reading your accounting.

  8. I love this lovely tale, Kathy, especially that he obviously couldn't life without her. My uncle Johnny died right after losing Auntie Grace...a broken heart!

    I knew some of this but your fine-tuned details were delightful. Good job.

  9. Lovely take on this love story, Kathy. They are a famous couple, but you presented a new side.

  10. Hi Paisley,
    I thought the poem was sweet too. He really seemed to love her.

  11. Hi Tanya,
    There is a lot of information about the two of them, but I was going for the Valentine's Day theme, so I only picked out bits from their lives.

  12. Hi Caroline,
    Appreciate you always stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post. :)

  13. Great story. My daughter is getting her masters in museum studies visited the Annie Oakley museum. They were allowed to go behind the scenes and she got to hold her wedding ring.

  14. Hi Debra,
    Wow, that is so cool. I can't imagine holding something that Annie Oakley actually wore on her finger for fifty years! So ama zing.

  15. What a wonderful love story, Kathy. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  16. Thanks for sharing this. It's nice to know that some people really find their heart's companion. :)

  17. That's so sweet! Thanks for sharing, Kathy!


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