Annie Oakley was the darling of Victorian London, New York and Paris. She was "adopted" by Indian chief Sitting Bull, charmed the Prince of Prussia and entertained the likes of Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria. And for many years, Annie Oakley, the world-famous sharpshooter, managed the Pinehurst Gun Club.
Every October, she's back, the Pinehurst Harness Track dotted with hay bales and old-fashioned tents. Cowboys (and girls) gallop on horseback, firing pistols loaded with black powder at balloon targets. Hunting dogs preen. A rare parade of wagons, carriages and coaches goes by. Annie herself puts on a show, trusty Frank Butler by her side. It feels like 1915 all over again, minus the shooting demonstration on the front lawn of the iconic Carolina Hotel.
Phoebe Ann Moses (or Mosey) grew up poor in Greenville, Ohio, so destitute she was sent to a neighboring farm as a live-in helper. Her widowed mother could not afford another mouth to feed. Instead of school, Annie taught herself to shoot. By 8, she was hunting and selling the game to restaurants. By 12, she earned her family's living with her gun.
It was only a few years later that a young sharpshooter named Frank Butler challenged the petite teenager to a contest for $100, an encounter that later would become famous in the movie and Broadway musical "Annie Get Your Gun."
She beat him, won the prize, and they married.
Annie joined her new husband on his sharpshooting tour, but it was soon clear that she was the star. At a theater in Springfield, Ohio, Annie filled in for Frank's assistant, John Graham. A jeering spectator shouted, "Let the girl shoot!" Annie did and never missed.
Even the colorful Buffalo Bill Cody couldn't resist her. His traveling Buffalo Bill Wild West show - part circus, part rodeo - offered spectators a tantalizing taste of the old frontier, a frontier rapidly disappearing as the industrialized 20th century approached.
Annie joined the show and became as famous as Buffalo Bill, maybe more so. Sitting Bull, the old Sioux, named her Watanya Cecilia, "Little Sure Shot," and proposed adoption after watching her shoot the ace of hearts out of a playing card at 30 paces, one of her signature tricks. The French president offered "la belle Américaine" a commission in the army. The king of Senegal tried to buy her for 100,000 francs - "to destroy the vicious lions who devastate my country's villages," he said. It was said she saved the life of the prince of Bavaria, throwing him to safety as he was about to be trampled by a bucking bronco. Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia even insisted that he be in her show, so she shot a lit cigarette out of his mouth.
"If my aim had been poorer," she later said, "I might have averted the Great War."
But her aim was never poor. Which made the end all the more abrupt.
In the fall of 1901, at the height of the show's popularity, Cody's train left North Carolina bound for Virginia. It never made it. A head-on collision with an onrushing freight train killed much of the show's livestock. The passengers escaped with their lives, but Annie's spine was injured, requiring surgery.
She and Frank made their way to Pinehurst, lured by the mild winter climate and welcomed by the Tufts family who had created the village as a New England style resort designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. In Pinehurst, Annie would remain for the longest stay she'd had in one place. The Given Memorial Library's Tufts Archives still has a memento of her time there - a playing card with a bullet hole at its center.
She managed the Pinehurst Gun Club until 1922, teaching 15,000 people to shoot, including many women. She drew large crowds at Fort Bragg and in Fayetteville, and when she famously demonstrated her prowess on the front lawn of the Carolina hotel, a performance perhaps surpassed only by the recent U.S. Open golf tournaments.
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