In the musical Irving Berlin based on her life (Annie Get Your Gun) she’s the gal who sings, “Anything you can do, I can do better!” She was considered one of the world’s greatest sharpshooters, who performed with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Chief Sitting Bull gave her the nickname “Little Sure Shot.”
Depending on the source, Annie Oakley was six or nine years old when she started shooting game to help feed and support her twice-widowed mother and seven or eight siblings. When she was sixteen or twenty-one, she entered a contest against Frank Butler, an accomplished marksman ten years her senior who was also a vaudeville performer. She won. They were married the next year, and he set aside his career to serve as her manager and assistant.
Though only 5 feet tall, there was nothing small about her talent. Annie was equally adept with pistols, rifles, and shotguns, and she dazzled crowds around the world with spectacular stunts. She could shoot a dime tossed into the air 90 feet away. She shot holes through playing cards. She shot the ashes off her husband’s cigarettes. She smashed records, and she wasn’t shy about wearing her many medals and ribbons.
Annie was also a trailblazer for and promoter of women. In 1898, she wrote to President McKinley to offer the services of 50 “lady sharpshooters” for the war in Spain. (He declined.) It’s possible she taught as many as 15,000 women how to use guns, for physical and mental exercise and for protection.
Annie Oakley was feisty, skilled, generous, talented, entertaining, legendary, and inspiring. And she was childfree.
Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.