The amazing Annie Oakley, expert shot (1890s)

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Annie Oakley portrait - Philadelphia

Annie Oakley Cabinet Card 1880s

Annie Oakley writes the bulls-eye

Bullseye writing is common among crack shots. Annie Oakley, whom Buffalo Bill took with him to England, was especially clever at it. She would stand a few paces from a target and perforate the outer rim with shot so neatly that her name would appear quite distinctly designed by a series of clear-cut holes.

On one occasion when Annie Oakley was practicing at a target, she sent a shot right through the center of the bullseye. Someone standing by offered to wager her that she would not send a shot through the hole she had thus made.

Shouldering her rifle, she fired four shots with great deliberation, and it was found that three of these must have actually passed through the hole. Slightly enlarging it, and the fourth had gone the eighth of an inch off the mark. Five successive shots hitting within an area of half a square inch of the bullseye was certainly a very creditable performance.

1894 - Annie Oakley shooting from a horse

Annie Oakley: Little Miss Sure Shot

No woman has ever reached the degree of perfection with firearms that Annie Oakley has. She stands peerless as the greatest shot in the world of her sex, and I know no better way to show her successes and accomplishments than to reproduce here what I wrote of her while the World’s Fair was in progress:

Annie Oakley at the Wild West Congress, World’s Fair, Chicago (1893)

Sitting, as I did, in the grandstand at the Wild West Congress of the rough riders of the world, and noting the flashing colors of the costumes of the many people who represented different nations, I marveled at that unique display and watched the last rider as he made his exit. Then a vision appeared; a woman’s form passed gracefully into the arena, hundreds of hands clapped their applause, and Annie Oakley, dressed in a tan-colored suit, smiled and bowed and modestly tipped her broad hat to admiring thousands.

She stood in the presence of that assemblage the empress of her art — the most skillful exponent of expert marksmanship of her sex in the world. The rapidity of her shooting, and her wonderful accuracy in hitting the objects fired at, astonished and captivated all. Round after round of applause greeted every shot.

Then the audience were stilled by the announcement that she would break eleven balls thrown into the air, using five different guns in accomplishing the feat, and that this would all be done in ten seconds. The 12,000 people sat with bated breath; the crack of a gun broke the stillness; this was followed by repeated reports with astonishing rapidity and regularity, and in the time announced, the last ball was flying into a thousand fragments, her smoking gun lay upon the table, and she, the most expert shot of her sex in the world, stood for an instant bowing her appreciative thanks for this recognition of her skill, and then she fled to the exit like a frightened deer, pursued by the applause and cheers, and encouraged by waving hats and handkerchiefs of those who paid tribute to such wonderful skill.

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While Miss Oakley has shown such marvelous work with the shotgun, she is equally at home with a rifle or revolver, and whether in the exhibition of fancy shots with a rifle at small objects thrown into the air, at stationary targets, or in the field, she can successfully compete with any man.

Annie Oakley with medals

Oakley’s skill with a revolver

As a revolver shot she has few equals. If she has any superiors, it is because she is so occupied with her professional duties that she can not find time for practice. I saw evidence of her skill with a revolver, where she had, just prior to my coming, tested a beautiful Smith & Wesson 44-caliber, and at eleven paces she had put four out of five balls into the center of the ace of hearts.

Many of her sex are experts when firing at hearts, but I question if there is another woman in this fair land who can pierce the heart aimed at four times out of five, especially if they will keep twelve paces away from the object of their aim. The revolver used by Miss Oakley is a beautiful one, gold-mounted, highly chased, with pearl handle.

MORE: Annie Oakley: Why women should shoot (1894)

Many fine guns

Shooting as much as she does, it is necessary that she have a great many guns. The inference is that she uses guns of one particular make. This is not so. She is exceedingly impartial in this respect.

I was permitted to examine many of the fine guns used by Miss Oakley in exhibition shooting, and noticed among them one Charles Lancaster ejector, one Charles Lancaster nonejector, a Cashmore hammerless, a magnificent Smith ejector with a gold figure of herself inlaid, a Parker hammerless, a Scott Monte Carlo, a Scott ejector of highest quality, and an exquisite little Francotte ejector with Whitworth barrels. The value of the guns mentioned is $2,500.

The rifles shown were Lancaster oval-bore .360 double-barrel, Holland hammerless .32-caliber double-barrel, a magnificent Marlin repeater, and a couple of handsome Winchesters. She also showed me two single-barreled pistols made by the celebrated maker, Gastinne Renette of Paris. These pistols have 14-inch barrels, and are made expressly for pigeon shooting. With them Miss Oakley has scored nine out of ten pigeons from two traps, using one-half ounce of shot. She shoots binocularly.

Her shotguns weigh about six pounds each, the right barrels being bored modified, and the left full choke. Her load for targets is 2 drams of nitro powder and one ounce of shot. For live pigeons, she uses three drams of powder, but the shot charge is unchanged; an ounce of shot is used on all occasions and for all kinds of game. Miss Oakley has demonstrated time and again the wonderful efficacy of the loads she uses. With her the scoring at no time is the result of a scratch or an accident. The center of the charge strikes the object fired at.

Many remarkable shots

That her position is correct is shown by the remarkable scores she has made. Using one ounce of shot, she was offered a purse of $200 if she could kill forty out of fifty selected birds, Hurlingham rules. This event was shot at Gloucester, N. J., July 30, 1888, and she won by scoring forty-nine out of the fifty. And again, on October 5th of the same year, at Trenton, N. J., in a match against Miles Johnson, at the State Fair, and in the presence of 31,000 people, she again scored forty-nine out of fifty, defeating Johnson, who killed forty-three, and a purse of $300 was awarded her.

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Annie Oakley portrait - Philadelphia

The challenge and rewards of greatness

Were I to write of her successes in her chosen profession, enumerating the remarkable scores she has made, this article would partake of an advertisement, which Miss Oakley would not approve of, and I am sure I have no intention of intruding. “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

This is equally applicable to women. Annie Oakley was not born great. The little house which nestled in the forest in Ohio, the place where she was born, where she spent her childhood days, and where the woods and streams were ever beckoning her to visit them, were the inspirations which in later years aided her to achieve greatness, and having achieved that greatness the sequence was natural, for then greatness was thrust upon her. She has traveled nearly throughout the world; and this modest and deserving woman, who is loved most by those who know her best, has had greater honors conferred on her than has any other American woman.

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She is not a champion shot as the world recognizes champions. She does not desire that title; she has no ambition to vanquish rivals, and when new stars appear ambitious to excel her she ever has a kindly word for them. Her skill is a gift, enlarged and cultivated by assiduous practice until nearly perfection has been attained.

Her life is a living example of the nobility of pure womanhood, and an example for American women to join their husbands and brothers in pursuit of game and fishes. I can conceive of nothing more charming than a huntress, skilled as is the sterner sex in the habits and resorts of game, clothed in a pretty suit which would have made their goddess Diana envious, enjoying the delights of nature which can best be found in forest and on stream.

Heads less equally-balanced than that of Annie Oakley would have long since been turned by the unsought honors which she has received, but she is of a retiring nature, and when she modestly complied with my request and showed me the jewels and mementoes which princes, potentates, and nobility had presented her with, there was not in her words or actions aught that would lead one to think she felt she was entitled to them, but rather that those who honored her with jewels and curios of rarest worth were unusually kind and generous.

Annie Oakley Little Sure Shot cabinet card

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