Saturday, January 18, 2014

Annie Oakley, A Real Western Heroiine

Sarah McNeal is a multipublished author in several genres including her western stories based around the Wilding family of Wyoming.

I heard about Annie Oakley when I was a kid. I thought she was a fictional character and not a real person, but all the same, it made me feel pretty dang good to be a girl because I could have my own lady hero. Still, I thought she was just a story book person. So while I strapped on my toy six shooters, put on my cowgirl hat and scarf and pretended to be Annie Oakley I had no idea she was a real person.

So who was Annie Oakley and how did she come to wield her gun with the skill of a sharpshooter? Well, let me share with you what I found about her.

She was born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860 to Susan Wise Moses and Jacob Moses or Mozee as Annie later claimed. She was born in a log cabin in North Star, Ohio. Her parents were Quakers from Pennsylvania who rented a farm in Ohio until they purchased the property. She had a younger sister, Sarah Ellen, and five older siblings. Her father, who fought in the War of 1812, died of pneumonia and exposure to freezing weather at age 65 in 1866. Her mother remarried sometime later to Daniel Brambough and had one more child.

On March 15, 1870 at age 9, Annie was admitted to an infirmary along with her sister, Sarah Ellen and was cared for by the infirmary’s superintendent, Samuel Crawford Edington and his wife, Nancy who taught her to sew and decorate. I don’t know what her illness was, but obviously she recovered. From there she was “bound out” to a local family to help them care for their infant son. It was not clear what happened to Annie’s parents when this occurred or if they had any authority in making the decision. She was promised 50 cents a week and an education, but the promise turned out to be false and she spent two years in near slavery to this family. She did work usually carried out by boys and suffered physical and mental abuse. Once, as punishment for dozing off while darning, she was turned out into the freezing cold and snow without shoes. Can you imagine what would have happened to these horrible people in our world today? She referred to them as “the wolves”, but graciously never told anyone their real names. She returned to her family and her mother who had married for the third time to Joseph Shaw. After her father died, the family had fallen into poverty and Annie was unable to attend school regularly.

By the time Annie was eight, she was trapping and shooting to help support her siblings. She made money by selling her hunted game to hotels and restaurants  and eventually made enough money to pay off the family’s mortgage. I was so impressed by this astounding information. While I read this biography I kept thinking what the heck was her mother doing and all those older siblings—what were they doing to contribute to their own welfare? It still amazes me. I can even imagine a kid her age doing that today. She certainly had some skills and an iron will.

In 1876, An Irishman named Francis E. Butler came to town with a traveling show marksman and dog trainer  came to town and made a $100.00 bet (worth about $2,126 today) that no one could surpass his shooting skill. Well, lo and behold, little five foot, fifteen year old Annie took up the challenge. I sure would have liked to have seen the look on Butler’s face when she stepped up with her gun to take his challenge. After he missed on his 25th shot, he lost his bet to Annie. She must have really impressed him because he began to court her and they married on August 23, 1876. They never had any children.

Frank and Annie began to perform marksman shows and Annie adopted the stage name of Annie Oakley. It is believed the name originated from the city’s neighborhood of Oakley  where they lived. The couple joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show where the famous Sitting Bull also performed. Because of her diminutive height, Sitting Bull nicknamed her  "Watanya Cicilla", which meant “little miss sharp shooter. Apparently, there was some intense rivalry with a rifle sharp shooter, Lillian Smith. Annie left the show and only returned after Lillian departed.

Annie traveled all over Europe performing and once, at his request, she successfully shot the ashes off the cigarette of newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Later, when World War I began, she wrote Wilhelm requesting a second shot. He did not reply. Some said later that she may have prevented World War I if she had missed that first shot.

Annie supported women in the service of the armed forces of the United States. She even wrote a letter to President William McKinley offering the service of 50 female sharp shooters who would provide their own guns and ammunition in the event that the United States might go to war with Spain. McKinley was assassinated in office later that year in 1901. We did go to war with Spain—the Spanish-American War, but President Theodor Roosevelt did not accept her offer. He named his volunteer cavalry the “Rough Riders” in honor of "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World" where Oakley was a major star.

Just before Annie’s train accident, The Athens Messenger ran a story about a local 9 year old girl who was goaded into challenging Annie at shooting and won. Years later that little girl, Ethel Bell Nice, went on to marry Thomas Gilbraith and taught soldiers at her husband’s military base to shoot rifles.

Annie suffered temporary paralysis and had five back surgeries following a train accident in 1901. Although she never returned to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, she did act on stage in a play written especially for her, The Western Girl. Her legend continued to grow into her 60s. It is said that she taught 15,000 women how to shoot a gun. Annie believed that women should learn to defend themselves by shooting a gun as naturally as holding a baby. She supported women’s rights and was a philanthropist for women’s rights and other women’s causes. At age 65 Annie went to Pinehurst, North Carolina and successfully shot 100 clay pigeons.

Annie and Frank suffered debilitating injuries in an automobile accident in 1922. Even so, she recovered and continued shooting, setting records in 1924. Unfortunately, her health declined in 1925 and she died of pernicious anemia at age 66 on November 3, 1926 in Michigan. She was buried in Brock Cemetery in Greenville, Ohio. Frank was so grieved at her death that he stopped eating and died just 18 days later. He is buried beside his beloved Annie.

Fred Stone wrote her biography and discovered that all Annie’s entire fortune had been spent on her family and charities. Annie was inducted into the National Museum and Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. I wish I had known about the museum when I was there because I would have loved seeing it. I loved the cow girl, Annie Oakley, when I was a child, but now that I know what a wonderful person she truly was, I hold her in the highest regard. She was a great American.
You can find me at the following places:
My Amazon Author’s Page:
My regular blogs
Smashwords Author Page:
I hope you'll check out HEARTS AND SPURS the Valentine anthology by Prairie Rose Publications in which I have another Wilding story about Sam Wilding, Banjo's oldest son and an orphan of the Great Depression. The anthology includes 9 veteran authors with great western stories to tell.

How do you capture a cowboy's heart? HEARTS AND SPURS is a collection of nine stories by some of western romance’s best—just in time for Valentine's Day! Following up their Christmas collection WISHING FOR A COWBOY, these ladies have done it again with new stories of handsome cowboys and the women who captivate them in HEARTS AND SPURS.

HEARTS AND SPURS features nine sensual Valentine's Day love stories of the old west that will leave no doubt--Cupid is a cowboy, and he's playing for keeps!

THE WIDOW’S HEART by Linda Broday
Desperate and alone, Skye O’Rourke finds courage and a love she thought she’d lost when a man from her past emerges from the shimmering desert heat.

GUARDING HER HEART by Livia J. Washburn
Outlaws threaten a Valentine's Day wedding!

FOUND HEARTS by Cheryl Pierson
An enemy from the past threatens Alex Cameron’s future on the day he’s set to wed mail-order bride Evie Fremont. Can they survive their wedding day?

OPEN HEARTS by Tanya Hanson
A woman living as a man to practice the law she loves must guard her identity--and her heart--from a handsome sheriff, who discovers her secret and must decide whether to turn her in or fall in love.

HOLLOW HEART by Sarah J. McNeal
Lost love and the hope for possibilities…

A FLARE OF THE HEART by Jacquie Rogers
Celia Yancey heads west to marry a preacher her father picked for her. Bounty hunter Ross Flaherty has traded his guns for a pitchfork and is content to be a farmer, but Celia brings his nemesis right to his door. Can Celia and Ross shed the past and forge a new beginning?

COMING HOME by Tracy Garrett
Sometimes it takes two to make dreams come true. When a man who believes he’ll never have a home and family finds a woman who has lost everything…It takes a lot of forgiveness and a few fireworks to realize that together, their dreams can come true.

The wildness of a tumbleweed and the sweetness of chocolate bring Amanda Love the love of a lifetime.

A washed-up Texas Ranger. A failed nun with a violent past. A love that will redeem them both.
Madeline folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. Her heart ached as she put the envelope back into the box. Reverently, she placed it on her dresser beside the picture of Sam and her, laughing into the sun on that beautiful summer day, years ago. She twisted the gold ring with the little heart-shaped ruby around her left ring finger. Sam had given it to her the day he left for deployment to Europe. He said it was a promise ring. The ring would remind her of his love, his promise to return, and his pledge to wed her when the war ended. A sigh escaped her. None of his promises had come true.
Amazon Kindle
 Amazon Paperback
 Ebook at B&N
And to be released in the very near future is my story about Robin Pierpont and Lilith Wilding in the days of Prohibition in the Great Depression, FLY AWAY HEART, under the Painted Pony imprint for Prairie Rose Press. 

The Great Depression…Rum Runners and Old Fears…Love Against the Odds
Lilith Wilding can’t remember a time when she didn’t love the English born Robin Pierpont, but she knows he loves another so she hides her feelings beneath a hard veneer of self-protection.
Robin Pierpont dreams of flying airplanes and winning the heart of the one he loves, but when he gets involved in illegal rum running to help a friend, those dreams seem to turn into just a fantasy. When he is called upon to face his worst fear to save Lilith’s life, his fate may be sealed in death.


  1. Sarah, I didn't know all this about Annie Oakley. Your post brought tears to my eyes. What an astounding woman she was! Thank you so much for sharing her inspiring story with us. The story should be told more often.

    And speaking of stories... I'm completely enthralled with your Wilding series. I believe I enjoyed "Hollow Heart" in HEARTS AND SPURS even more than I enjoyed your story in WISHING FOR A COWBOY. Can't wait to read Robin's story, which is due for publication soon, right?


  2. Kathleen, you are so gracious and kind. I really appreciate all your supportive words. You make me feel so wonderful. I love your stories and your quirky sense of humor. I haven't begun reading the stories in HEARTS AND SPURS yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I hope you're going to submit a story in the summer anthology.
    Thank you so much for coming by and commenting so I wouldn't be lonesome.

  3. Sarah, I am neither gracious nor kind. Am truthful, though. :-)

    Unless a posse catches up with me between now and then, I plan to have a story in at least one of the summer anthos. (Darn posses. I only BORROWED the horse. Sheesh.) You will, too, right?

  4. I am so glad to find that you're going to be in the summer anthology. I better look at Cheryl's message because I didn't realize there were 2 of them. Yes, I'm going to have a story in it. I'm working up the outline for Juliet Wilding's story. When last I saw her, Harry hadn't shown up at the Valentine Ball. Her feelings were hurt.So now I have to figure out what the heck happened to Harry. He better have a good excuse and an apology.

  5. Hi Sarah! Excellent blog.

    The practice of placing children outside the family after the death of a parent was common. If the surviving parent had to be out working a farm all day, they couldn't care for children too young or sick to be out there with them. These children were "given" to other families to raise, or hired out until the parent remarried. It happened in my family a few generations back.

  6. Amazing information, Sarah. I knew some of it but certainly not all. She was an amazing woman. You know, he shooting game to provide for her family reminds me somewhat of the Hunger Games.

    Thanks for all the info.

  7. What terrific insight into Annie Oakley, Sarah. Wow,what a life she led. I am not into guns but did some shooting at the gun range in Bandera TX while on the Wild Rose Press retreat, and was terrible with the rifle. The Colt, I did several kill shots LOL on my little green poster man.
    Sounds like her hubby was super devoted. I like that about a man!

    Best wishes with your writings! You are so talented.

  8. Hey Tracy. Boy that sounds like such a bad idea to put kids out of the family. I felt sorry for Annie that it happened to her. Do you ever write about that happening back in your family history? It must have been emotionally very traumatizing to these displaced kids.
    Thank you so much for coming by, Tracy. I really appreciate it and thank you for the compliment.

  9. Linda, ya know, I didn't think about it sounding like the Hunger Games having Annie shoot to provide for her family, but you're right--it does sound like it. She had such a strong sense of family she gave them so much. I hope they appreciated her.
    Thank you for coming by and commenting.

  10. Tanya, I agree, Annie had a great husband. He was completely devoted and in love with her.
    I didn't know you shot guns at all. When I was 13, my dad gave me a BB gun that looked like an old western peacemeaker. He had a pellet gun. We'd go into the backyard and shot at a tin can on a string that we'd swing back and forth. I still have that gun--and my dad's old pellet gun, but I never shoot them any more.
    I really appreciate you dropping by and commenting.

  11. What a great post, Sarah! That is amazing. I never knew all that about Annie--especially about being a slave to that family like she was. AWFUL people! I used to practice shooting with my dad's pellet gun, too. I had it, but it got stolen out of my house. Loved that old thing! I really thought I was like Annie Oakley, and I had a little western outfit I called my "Annie Oakley outfit" when I was about 5. Thanks for a wonderful post, Sarah. Loved it!

  12. I was a manna-be cowgirl as a kid. Pop bought my sister and me these really cool cowgirl boots when I was 3. I loved them so much I wore them to bed.
    Until I did the research on Annie, I didn't know she went through all these hardships either. I guess that's part of the fun doing research.
    Thank you so much for coming. You're always so supportive.

  13. Wonderful post, Sarah! Annie Oakley was indeed a great American and a model for women everywhere. I admire her tremendously.

  14. Now I see Annie Oakley in an entirely new light. Much of the information about her growing up years I'd never heard, so thanks for writing this enlightening post. She was really something.
    I saw the cover for your next release set during the Depression. Now, there's an era with many stories, I'm sure. Good for you to move into new territory. This makes me more determined to finish my WWI story--or rather, after the war.
    Good job--I truly enjoyed it.

  15. Lyn, I wasn't even certain that Annie Oakley was a real person until I researched her.
    Thank you for coming.

  16. Celia, thank you for mentioning my upcoming release that takes place in the Depression era. It was so much fun to write.
    I didn't realize you were writing a WWI story. Now that is a favorite era of mine. I look forward to reading it. What is the title for it?
    Thank you for coming here and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.