Annie Oakley: Sharpshooter. Gunslinger.

historical woman

I don’t like guns. I don’t like the sound they make when they go off, and I don’t like what they tend to stand for politically. I also don’t like that a man who killed a teenager with a gun can be found innocent of manslaughter and then walk away with the same gun.

But before I digress. I do like Annie Oakley.

Maybe it’s because she kicked ass with guns, but there’s something empowering about Annie Oakley’s whole image. Poufy ‘80s (1880s, that is!) dark hair crammed under a cowboy hat, silk bandana, Old West petticoat, giant rifle. Spontaneous idea: let’s revive the Old West genre with her biopic! It would definitely be better than The Lone Ranger.

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses in Ohio in 1860, to Quakers from Pennsylvania. Her father died when she was very young, and then her stepfather died not long after, so she learned early on how to hunt, trap, and shoot to support her large family. In no time at all (here’s where I picture our new biopic’s training montage—maybe set to Mumford & Sons?) she was a sharpshooting expert.

When she was fifteen, Annie entered a shooting contest against Francis “Frank” Butler, a 25-year-old Irish immigrant and former dog trainer, and won. A year later, they were married, and then they began performing together as professional markspeople. So romantic!

In 1885, the gun-happy lovebirds joined Buffalo Bill’s famous traveling show, performing for adoring fans across the United States as well as European royalty (Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm, and the King of Italy, among others).

In 1898, Oakley wrote to President McKinley to suggest that women would make a great addition to the U.S. Army, should hostilities break out with Spain (they did): “a company of fifty female sharpshooters” was ready to be committed to the service, Oakley wrote. McKinley probably never wrote back, the jerk. Side note, women weren’t allowed in combat situations in the U.S. armed forces until this year.

Another interesting anecdote about Oakley (that might make it into our movie, and would definitely ensure that it passes the Bechdel Test): she had a rivalry going with another female sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s show named Lillian Smith. Lillian was younger than Oakley and may have attracted more attention because of this. Oakley even left the show for a short period over the tiff. You could write this all off as cattiness, but it was probably equally a function of tokenism; what, audiences couldn’t accept two female sharpshooters in one show?

Speaking of movies, Annie Oakley was in the eleventh movie of all time. Think about that: the eleventh. (After commercial showings began in 1894.) Thomas Edison shot a short film called “The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West,” starring Annie and Frank. In the film, they shoot various objects against a black background for about twenty seconds. Must have been pretty exciting, considering there, you know, weren’t movies yet. You can view it online.

Oakley continued to perform and shoot to the end of her life. She died in 1926 at the age of sixty-six. Her longtime husband and performing partner died just eighteen days later. Frank and Annie were then buried next to each other. So. Romantic.

If anyone wants to volunteer to write a script for Annie Oakley: The Movie (a reboot, if you will; there have definitely been Annie Oakley movies in the past), let me know. Just try not to make it anything the NRA could use.