Dec 17, 2005

Annie Oakley of the Wild West

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I just finished reading Annie Oakley of the Wild West by Walter Havighurst. Havinghurst actually wrote this book in 1954, but it has been re-released several times over since the first edition. My reading taste has leaned toward books about the 1800's for some time now and Annie Oakley of the Wild West tied into so much of what I have been reading through her travels around the world during that period. The book starts out like a novel, telling the story of her childhood that began as Phoebe Ann Mosley on August 13, 1860, in Darke County, Ohio. I was surprised to learn that through a series of unfortunate incidents, she spent some time in an orphanage, and was "lent out" as a servant to a family who she reported both physically and mentally abused her. She was eventually reunited with her mother and a new stepfather and her life improved from that point on. Needless to say, her time in the orphanage colored the rest of her life, and made her particularly sensitive to children in less fortunate circumstances.

Annie helped to support her family by shooting quail, pheasant and other game birds and her prowess was such that she always shot the birds in the head, so that there was no shot to pick out while eating the bird. This might not have made much of an impression on me, but I ate game bird that was shot by a friend's uncle a few years back and it is very difficult to eat when the shot is peppered through the bird. Chomping down on shot is incredibly unpleasant and can break your teeth. Her talent allowed her to sell her birds to the finest restaurants and earned her a good reputation. Her reputation was so good in fact, that upon realizing that she was the "sure shot" that supplied his restaurant; a restaurateur paired her with Frank Butler, a professional target shooter for an exhibition. She won the exhibition, so impressing Mr. Butler that he became her manager and took her on tour. Their chance meeting would lead her into the world of the exhibition shooting, her marriage to Frank Butler, and into international travel touring with the Wild West Show with Buffalo Bill Cody. She transformed herself into Annie Oakley, the world famous markswoman that every American child learns of in elementary school.

Annie’s 46-year marriage to Frank Butler endured world tours with the Wild West Show and life threatening accidents. The couple met and formed relationships with fascinating people along the way including Sitting Bull, Queen Victoria, and countless European heads of state. She participated in Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and in the Columbian World Exhibition in 1893 in Chicago. Her life was full of adventure, but she never had children. She had quite a few nieces and nephews and she spent time and money helping orphans around the world. She became a role model for women and taught women how to shoot and she even taught gun safety classes to soldiers during WWI. I enjoyed Havinghurst's book and getting to know more about Annie Oakley, who has become more than just a fascinating historical figure, she's an American icon.

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