StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116241176321589.jpg’, ‘Image courtesty of www.pbs.org’, ‘This famous 1901 poster of Annie Oakleys legendary shooting feats is from the period at the end of her career with Buffalo Bills Wild West Show. Some of her feats included riding a bicycle or standing on a galloping horse while shooting, and sighting her target in a mirror.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116241227324582.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.traphof.org’, ‘Annie Oakley’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116241233221568.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesty of www.traphof.org’, ‘Annie Oakley and her husband of 50 years, Frank Butler (left) with J.A.R. Elliott at Pinehurst, N.C. Elliotts caption of the photo reads: The smiles that wont come off. James Albert Riley Elliott (1854-1924), was one of Americas celebrated live-bird and trap shooters in America from the late 1880s until he retired in 1915.’);
During the years from 1904 to 1913, Annie and Frank traveled with various shows and exhibitions, including taking part in the Young Buffalo Wild West Show. It was during her tenure with this last venture that she performed at the Williamson County Fairgrounds in Marion, Ill. On the bright Saturday morning of Oct. 4, 1913, Annie Oakley came to Marion. The townspeople got out of their beds before dawn to go down to the railroad tracks and watch the mighty show come to town. There were cowboys and Indians, gauchos and Cossacks, desert Arabs and Chinese acrobats. There were wild animals from all around the globe. Bands played, and the elephants plodded around the Square as the colorfully-costumed circus performers waved to the crowd.
At the Fairgrounds, the locals watched in awe as the tents rose and a small city now stood where a vacant field had been. The circus commissary fed the hundreds of hungry workers and animals their noon meal. And then it was Show Time! The main tent filled with excited children of all ages hoping to see sights that most rural Americans had never beheld before. Seventy-four riders rode around the arena in The Massing of the Colors, carrying every national flag, representing all of the people of the world. Riders rode, wranglers wrangled, and Indians whooped. Colorado Cotton, billed as the worlds greatest lasso thrower, threw a loop around an entire group of performers and playfully dragged them out of the ring.
Annie Oakley, as usual, was the star of the show, demonstrating her incomparable skill with the rifle, pistol and shotgun. The audience cheered as she performed seemingly miraculous shots. It was easy to see why this petite charmer had captivated audiences around the world. When the evenings performance closed that night, it is said that this had been Annie Oakleys final performance in a wild west show. After 28 years, an era in American show business had passed.
In 1924, the Butlers moved back to Ohio and lived in Greenville, not far from Annies childhood home. On Nov. 3, 1926, Annie Oakley died of pernicious anemia at the age of 66. Frank was so distraught over her death that he died 18 days later. They were buried side by side in the Brock Cemetery nearby. They had been married for 50 years.
Many years later, her story was retold in the Broadway musical and motion picture, Annie Get Your Gun. Ethel Merman played Annie for 1,147 performances on the stage, starting in 1946, and Betty Hutton was the diminutive sharpshooter in the 1950s movie. An early television series called Annie Oakley ran from 1954 through 1956 starring Gail Davis as the title character of some fictional western adventures.
For 50 years, the real Annie Oakley won awards and prizes from all over the world. Her collection of medals, trophies and presentation firearms is said to be the largest of any entertainer ever. Portions of this collection can be seen in various museums, including the Garst Museum in Greenville, Ohio; the Nutley, N.J., Historical Society; and the Dorchester County Library in Cambridge, Md. Many other items pertaining to Annie and the Wild West show are in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wy. One of Annies residences, a home in Cambridge, Md., was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Of all the legendary figures that have been associated with the American West, none can match the decency and integrity of Annie Oakley. Beloved by millions, her natural skills and hard work, her modesty and beauty represented all that was the best in Americas womanhood.
This article was provided by the Illinois State Rifle Association. For more information about the association, call 635-3198 or visit www.isra.org.
From the Nov. 1-7, 2006, issue