Chasing Annie Oakley

Photo: Phoebe Ann Mosey (Annie Oakley)

By Mike Johnson

Phoebe Ann Mosey was born in 1860. Called “Little Sure Shot” by Indian chief Sitting Bull, she stood just 5 feet tall. She was born, died and buried near Greenville, Ohio.
In between, she traveled the world, including 17 years in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
She remains one of the world’s most known sharpshooters.

Annie’s father died when she was six, throwing the family into such poverty that Annie’s mother had to give her to an orphanage because she could not afford to feed all her children. Upon returning home from the orphanage, Annie shot game to feed the family. Ammunition was expensive so she learned to make every shot count. She sold excess game to local restaurants, learning they preferred headshots to keep the meat undamaged. Before long she’d earned enough money to pay off the family’s $200 farm mortgage.

The best shot in the area, Annie met a traveling sharpshooter named Frank Butler during a contest. Annie won the contest and then won Frank’s heart. The two married and created a traveling act. Frank soon saw she was the real draw and stepped back to let her be the star. Annie took the stage name Annie Oakley. In private, Annie preferred to be called Mrs. Frank Butler.

Some of her tricks included shooting ashes off the cigarette in her husband’s mouth, hitting a target shooting backwards by looking in a mirror, and shooting glass balls with pistols in both hands. A truly stellar shot, she’s inducted in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame.

Because she was affiliated with Buffalo Bill Cody, we told a short version of her story on our Cody Trolley Tours. So during the 2004 off-season, we drove our RV to her old stomping grounds to learn more.

It was difficult to find where she was born. Her family's farmstead is long gone but there is a small marker along rural Spencer Road (just outside the small town of Willowdell) pointing to the location 1028 feet away.

The Brock Cemetery where her and her husband Frank are buried is six miles away.

Not far from that is Greenville, which boasts the Garst Museum with an Annie Oakley wing. The town is also the site of the three-story Victorian house where Annie died in 1926 at age 66.

Annie had earned many gold medals during her shooting days. She was a frugal saver too. They said she could hit a dime from 50 feet, but she’d never spend one.

When World War 1 broke out, she volunteered to join the military. But they declined because she was old and female. So instead, she melted her gold medals and used the money to travel from military base to military base, teaching our soldiers how to shoot. Only one medal remains and is on display at that Garst Museum.

Annie died just 18 days before Frank. She was cremated and her urn was placed in Frank’s casket next to Annie’s grave marker.

Researching historical figures and locations is a fascinating way to add spice to life. Having a business reason to do it (and pay for it) makes it all the sweeter. Because we’d physically immersed ourselves into all things Annie, we could easily answer any tour customer questions.

This love and enthusiasm for the tour topics converted us from selling, to sharing.

It made all the difference.


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