Little Miss Sureshot

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1884 and was an instant sensation. Soon she was an international star. Her repertoire included shooting from a running horse; shooting over her back, using mirrors and even from a bicycle. She could split cards, snuff out candles, and shoot the cork off the top of a bottle. Chief Sitting Bull, one of her greatest admirers gave her a name that would define her for rest of her life, “Little Miss Sureshot.”

Next to Cody she was the highest paid performer on the show and worked without a contract.

Working with a contract, next to Cody she was the highest paid performer with the show. She was also the first white woman to travel with the show paving the way for those who came later.

When she was just fifteen she had a contest with tour champion Frank Butler and just like in the movies she outshot Frank then married him. Annie and Frank were married for fifty years and both died in 1926 within a few days of each other.

Off stage Annie was quiet and soft spoken. She was also a lady of high character who had no tolerance for having her name scandalized. In 1903 a Hearst tabloid-style newspaper claimed she was in jail for stealing money to support a cocaine habit. She sued and won.

In 1883 Annie offered to shoot the cigar out of the mouth of someone in the audience. Nobody was supposed to take her up on the offer and her husband-manager, Frank Butler would step up and volunteer. But in Europe, a young member of the royalty, Wilhelm volunteered and insisted on being allowed. Annie shot it out.

In 1917, during World War I, she made the offer again in a letter to the man who was now Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. He didn’t respond.

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu