History of the United States

Sharpshooter Annie Oakley Is Considered America's First Female Superstar

Annie Oakley is both the name of a legendary sharpshooter as well as a synonym for badass. Just consider one of her most famous quotes: "I ain't afraid to love a man. I ain't afraid to shoot him, either." Lucky for everyone, the gunslinger used her powers for good, not evil. And, boy, was she good.

Annie, Are You Oakley? Are You Oakley?

An account of the Wild West wouldn't be complete without Annie. Born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860, she gained fame for her unparalleled shooting skills. The little lady (literally, she stood 5'0" tall) cut her markswoman teeth surprisingly early. As her sisters played with dolls in the house, Annie was out with her dad hunting and trapping. At 8 years old, Annie shot the head clean off a squirrel, a deliberate move to preserve the meat for good eatin'. By selling the meat of the wild game she hunted to local grocery stores, Annie paid off the mortgage of her family's home.

In 1875, famed marksman Frank Butler rolled into Cincinnati, near Annie's little rural town, and put $100 on the line for anyone who could outshoot him. Reportedly, he laughed when a 15-year-old girl stepped up to the challenge. Joke's on you, buddy — Annie beat the 25-year-old big shot by one target. He didn't take the loss too hard, seeing as the two got married a year later. They took the stage together professionally in 1882 as a sharpshooting pair, the missus operating under her stage name, Annie Oakley.

I'm Ready My Close-Up, Buffalo Bill

Everything changed once the couple joined the legendary Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Annie soon became the star attraction. Frank scooted to the side to let the markswoman shine, eventually becoming her manager. Smart dude. Her name received top billing in the show for 17 years.

Some of her show stunts included shooting the ashes off a lit cigarette hanging out of someone's mouth, shooting cards thrown in the air, splitting a deck of cards in half edgewise with a shot taken from 30 paces away, and hitting targets by looking at them in a mirror. At the time, she may very well have been the most famous woman in the country.

After her career as a performer, Annie found other ways to use her skills. In 1898, she volunteered to coach a fleet of 50 sharpshooting women that would assist in battle during the Spanish-American War and later in World War I. President William McKinley declined her offer. So instead, Annie helped to raise money for the Red Cross with exhibition work at Army camps. As a hobby in her retirement, she taught other women how to shoot. She passed away on November 3, 1926 at the age of 66, with guns blazin'.

Can't get enough of Annie? Check out "Missie: The Life and Times of Annie Oakley" by Annie Fern Swartwout. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

The Legendary Sharpshooter Annie Oakley

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Annie Oakley was able to pay off her family's mortgage by the time she was 15 just by using her shooting skills. 00:31

  2. Annie Oakley's husband, Frank Butler, died three weeks after Annie did in 1926. 02:38

  3. Annie Oakley offered twice to train female sharpshooters for the United States military—but they turned her down. 03:01

Real Footage of Annie Oakley Shooting

A Short Biography Of Annie Oakley

Learn about the highlights of her life.

Written by Joanie Faletto August 13, 2017

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.