The Fascinating Life of Annie Oakley in Photos

Annie Oakley was one of the most famous sharpshooters from the United States during the Wild West. Under Buffalo Bill’s tutelage, she performed in his Wild West show, becoming one of the first American female stars. From Hollywood films to Broadway musicals, actresses like Jamie Lee Curtis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Reba McEntire have immortalized Her. Let’s take a look at the life of Annie Oakley in photos. 

Her Early Life

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Mosey on August 13, 1860, in Darke County, Ohio. She was the sixth of nine children, born to Quakers who immigrated from England to Pennsylvania and then out to Ohio. 

The first known photo of Annie Oakley taken in 1880.
The first known photo of Annie Oakley taken in 1880.

Her father, Jacob Mosey, was a veteran of The War of 1812, who was quite a bit older than her mother. He developed a disability from hypothermia during a blizzard in 1865 and passed away from pneumonia less than a year later.

A promotional poster for Annie Oakley
A promotional poster for Annie Oakley

Jacob Mosey’s death drove the family deep into poverty. To support the family, she took up trapping and hunting, which lay the foundation that made her a star later in life. By the time she was 15, she had paid off the mortgage on her mother’s farm by selling hunted game to shops and restaurants in Northern Ohio.

Overall, her early life was tough. At one point, her mother had to give her up to the Darke County Infirmary. At the age of ten, a local family offered her work, raising their son for fifty cents per week. They never followed through and held her in virtual slavery for two years.  

The Start of Her Career

Annie Oakley’s hunting and shooting prowess made her a minor local celebrity in the area. In 1875 or 1881 (the accounts vary), the Baughman & Butler performed their shooting act in Cincinnati. They made a $100 bet with a local hotel owner that Butler, the act’s dog trainer, could outshoot any local during their stay. He put forth Annie Oakley and set up a shooting match between her Butler.

Annie Oakley and her husband, Butler
Annie Oakley and her husband, Butler

They had to shoot birds out of the sky before they hit a certain point in the match. The first one to miss would lose. On the 25th shot, Butler missed the bird. Butler was absolutely smitten with Oakley and began courting her. They were married a year later, in either 1876 or 1881.  

For a period, they stayed in Cincinnati, which is where Oakley took on her stage name. Oakley was either a part of the city where they lived or the name of a man who paid her train fare when she was a little girl.  

Joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West

 In 1885, Butler and Oakley joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The show advertised her as “Little Sure Shot,” a translation of the name “Watanya Cicilla” that Chief Sitting Bull gave her.  

Cards like this were handed out to promote the traveling show. This one features Annie Oakley in her full costume.
Cards like this were handed out to promote the traveling show. This one features Annie Oakley in her full costume.

Oakley was well known for her impressive and dangerous trick shots. She could shoot cards and coins out of the air and cigarettes out of Baughman’s mouth. With a mirror, she could shoot over her shoulder with amazing accuracy. She could even snuff out the flame of a candle with her gun. 

Over time, she became America’s first female superstar, earning more money than every performer except “Buffalo Bill” Cody. 

Putting on a show for 200 in 1917
Putting on a show for 200 in 1917

She toured Europe performing for heads of state like the Queen of England, France’s president, and the King of Italy. The story is that she even shot a cigarette out of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s hand. A foot to the right, WWI might not have ever happened.  

This 1889 portrait was taken before the Paris Exposition
This 1889 portrait was taken before the Paris Exposition

Annie Oakley’s Later Life

Even later in life, Oakley continued to set records well into her 60s. In 1922, she shot one hundred clay targets in a row during a North Carolina shooting contest. This showing was the start of a comeback tour, and she intended to follow up with it by staring in a silent movie.  

Annie Oakley posing during a shooting training.
Annie Oakley posing during a shooting training.

In 1922, she was in a car accident that put her in a steel brace. Even with the injury, she continued to set records a few years later. 

By 1925, her health was on the decline. She died that year of pernicious anemia, a disease where the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells because of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Oakley hunting later in life in North Carolina
Oakley hunting later in life in North Carolina

Bulter was so affected by her death that he quit eating. He followed her into the grave only eighteen days later.  

This is likely the last photo ever taken of Annie Oakley. It features her husband and her dog.
This is likely the last photo ever taken of Annie Oakley. It features her husband and her dog.
Alan Behrens

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