Did you know that Annie Oakley was from Ohio? She’s buried here too.
I made the pilgrimage to Greenville to visit the Annie Oakley exhibit at the Garst Museum Saturday. Afterward, I left flowers at her grave before winding my way through some small towns and backroads to come home.
The Garst Museum is a fascinating place, packed with all sorts of items related to local and regional history. I went for the Annie Oakley exhibit but thoroughly enjoyed the rest too.
We tend to think of Annie Oakley as a larger than life figure and remnant of the Wild West. In reality, she was just five feet tall and a true product of her Midwestern upbringing. She was a Victorian lady who appreciated nice things and who believed it important to behave like a lady.
She had a surprisingly tough start in life though. Born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860, she was about six years old when her father died. Since the family was already struggling, this loss pushed them further into poverty.
She picked up her father’s muzzle loaded rifle for the first time at age eight and was such an excellent shot she was able to hit small animals in the head to preserve the meat.
Sadly, when Annie was ten, her mother surrendered her to the county children’s infirmary. She was sent to live with a family that treated her cruelly, causing her to nickname them “the wolves.” She eventually ran away and was able to return home.
Annie went on strengthening her sharpshooting skills – most likely for the practical reason she needed to hunt for the family’s food. She also gained a reputation as an excellent sharpshooter.
I don’t want to recap her entire life story here. I would prefer you go to the museum and learn it for yourself. But I do want to mention a few things.
It was her reputation as a marksman that helped her meet her future husband, a man named Frank Butler who was a traveling champion marksman. She beat him in a competition. They spent much of their married life traveling the globe and performing together. He recognized her skill and star quality and quickly gave her top billing in their act.
Her trick shots are impressive- she could shoot a cigarette from her husband’s mouth and the cork out of a bottle. The list is long and pretty darn cool.
She saw the world, performing for royalty and heads of state across Europe and the United States as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This experience had to be an incredible one for a girl from such a humble Ohio background.
She left the Wild West Show in 1901 after a serious train wreck left her badly injured. It’s said that her hair turned snow white within 24 hours of that accident.
Annie and Frank spent most of their life together living out of trunks and traveling but they did eventually come back to Dayton before returning to Greenville where she died at the age of 66. Frank died just 18 days later. He had already been ill but stopped eating when he learned of her passing.
They are buried together at Brock Cemetery, just a couple of miles from her birthplace and not far from Greenville.
There’s an Ohio Historical Marker next to her grave, making it easy to spot. People have left bullets, coins, rocks and other assorted stuff. I took a small bouquet of cheerful yellow silk dianthus.
After all, she wasn’t just a rugged marksman- she was a lady who enjoyed nice things. You’ll see some of her pretty dishes, clothes and other personal items at the Garst Museum. I’m sure she would enjoy some cheerful old fashioned flowers.
It’s interesting to me that she wasn’t an advocate for women’s suffrage and was even against it. She believed women should all know how to shoot and she believed in equal pay. She also was out living the principles that suffragettes were fighting for but she never actually joined the movement. Obviously, that was her right but imagine the boost to the movement with Annie Oakley on their side.
Despite these choices, she was and continues to be an icon for women moving forward in a world and professions dominated by men.
Annie was a fascinating person – both as a legend and as a very real human. I sincerely hope you’ll be inspired to learn more about her. The Garst Museum is a great place to start.
This quote is another as it provides tremendous insight into her world view.
“Aim for the high mark and you will hit it. No, not for the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye of success.”
Want to learn more about Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show? There’s a museum near Denver which I recently wrote about. Want to visit the Garst Museum? You really should. Get your information here.