Published on July 10, 2016
Annie Oakley Butler (born Phoebe Ann Mosey; August 13, 1860 – November 3, 1926) was an American sharpshooter and exhibition shooter. Her “amazing talent” first came to light when the then 15-year-old won a shooting match with traveling show marksman Frank E. Butler (whom she married). The couple joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show a few years later. Oakley became a renowned international star, performing before royalty and heads of state.
Oakley also was variously known as “Miss Annie Oakley”, “Little Sure Shot”, “Little Miss Sure Shot”, “Watanya Cicilla”, “Phoebe Anne Oakley”, “Mrs. Annie Oakley”, “Mrs. Annie Butler”, and “Mrs. Frank Butler”. Her death certificate gives her name as “Annie Oakley Butler”.
Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann (Annie) Mosey on August 13, 1860, in a cabin less than two miles (3.2 km) northwest of Woodland, now Willowdell, in Darke County, Ohio, a rural western border county of Ohio. Her birthplace log cabin site is about five miles east of North Star. There is a stone-mounted plaque in the vicinity of the cabin site, which was placed by the Annie Oakley Committee in 1981, 121 years after her birth.
Annie’s parents were Quakers of English descent from Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania: Susan Wise, age 18, and Jacob Mosey, born 1799, age 49, married in 1848. They moved to a rented farm (later purchased with a mortgage) in Patterson Township, Darke County, Ohio, sometime around 1855.
Born in 1860, Annie was the sixth of Jacob and Susan’s nine children, and the fifth out of the seven surviving. Her siblings were Mary Jane (1851–1867), Lydia (1852–1882), Elizabeth (1855–1881), Sarah Ellen (1857–1939), Catherine (1859–1859), John (1861–1949), Hulda (1864–1934) and a stillborn infant brother in 1865. Annie’s father, who had fought in the War of 1812, became an invalid from overexposure during a blizzard in late 1865 and died of pneumonia in early 1866 at age 66. Her mother later married Daniel Brumbaugh, had one more child, Emily (1868–1937), and was widowed for a second time.
Because of poverty following the death of her father, Annie did not regularly attend school as a child, although she did attend later in childhood and in adulthood. On March 15, 1870, at age nine, Annie was admitted to the Darke County Infirmary, along with elder sister Sarah Ellen. According to her autobiography, she was put in the care of the infirmary’s superintendent, Samuel Crawford Edington, and his wife Nancy, who taught her to sew and decorate. Beginning in the spring of 1870, she was “bound out” to a local family to help care for their infant son, on the false promise of fifty cents a week and an education. The couple had originally wanted someone who could pump water, cook, and who was bigger. She spent about two years in near-slavery to them where she endured mental and physical abuse. She would often have to do boys’ work. One time the wife put Annie out in the freezing cold, without shoes, as a punishment because she had fallen asleep over some darning. Annie referred to them as “the wolves”. Even in her autobiography, she kindly never revealed the couple’s real name. According to biographer Glenda Riley, “the wolves” could have been the Studabaker family. However, the 1870 U.S. Census suggests that “the wolves” were the Abram Boose family of neighboring Preble County. Around the spring of 1872, Annie ran away from “the wolves”. According to biographer Shirl Kasper, it was only at this point that Annie had met and lived with the Edingtons, returning to her mother’s home around the age of 15. Annie’s mother married a third time, to Joseph Shaw, on October 25, 1874.
Annie began trapping before the age of seven, and shooting and hunting by age eight to support her siblings and her widowed mother. She sold the hunted game to locals in Greenville, such as shopkeepers Charles and G. Anthony Katzenberger, who shipped it to hotels in Cincinnati and other cities; as well, she sold the game herself to restaurants and hotels in northern Ohio. Her skill eventually paid off the mortgage on her mother’s farm when Annie was 15.