Annie Oakley was an American markswoman whose talent for sharpshooting propelled her to stardom as an exhibition shooter and member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Born Phoebe Anne Moses in Patterson Township, Ohio in 1860, she was the sixth of seven children of Quaker parents. Her mother became unable to care for her when her father died of pneumonia and sent her to live in the county poor house at the age of 9.
Oakley spent approximately two years working in near-servitude for an abusive family before running away and returning to her family. She acquired shooting skills by having to hunt food for the family and learned to shoot pheasant and quail through the head, thus leaving the body free from buckshot and edible.
Oakley met her husband Francis “Frank” Butler after beating him in a shooting contest arranged by a hotel keeper. Butler was a local celebrity marksman who earned money by challenging locals to shooting competitions. The couple met Buffalo Bill Cody while performing in a circus in New Orleans in 1874 and joined his traveling show, beginning a relationship that would last for 16 years. Oakley performed such feats as shooting the cork from a bottle at a distance of 90 feet.
Cody’s show gained notoriety and enormous popularity when he contracted with Sioux leader Sitting Bull to tour with the show. Oakley accompanied the show for a hugely successful three-year tour and she returned home as a major celebrity and the highest paid member of Cody’s show. By rising from poverty and gaining such success and notoriety in a field dominated by men, Oakley serves as a folk hero and inspiration to modern women.