Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

How Ohio’s Own Annie Oakley Became America’s First Female Superstar

Long before social media influencers and reality TV stars, there was a sharpshooter from Ohio who captured America’s imagination. Meet Annie Oakley, a pint-sized powerhouse with a gun, whose aim was as sharp as her wit and who rose from humble beginnings to become a global icon.

Born Phoebe Ann Moses in 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Annie Oakley learned to shoot out of necessity. By the age of nine, she was helping support her impoverished family by hunting game for the local grocer.

Her skill with a rifle was unmatched, and she quickly transitioned from survival shooting to showbiz, turning her prowess into profit and spectacle.

annie oakley
Annie Oakley posing for a photo at Baker’s Art Gallery in Columbus.

Annie’s big break came when she won a shooting match against traveling-show marksman Frank E. Butler, whom she later married. The couple joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, where Annie dazzled crowds with her incredible feats.

She shot apples off her poodle’s head, snuffed out candles with a bullet, and, in a true display of her sharpshooting precision, could split a playing card edge-on and puncture it with holes before it hit the ground—all while using a .22 caliber rifle at 90 feet.

an annie oakley poster
A poster featuring Annie Oakley.

Oakley traveled the world with Buffalo Bill’s show, performing for royalty and commoners alike.

She was a favorite of Queen Victoria and even entertained the German Kaiser Wilhelm II—allegedly shooting a cigarette from his mouth (a feat she later joked about having the opportunity to prevent World War I by missing slightly).

In the video below, you can see Annie Oakley in action.

What made Annie Oakley a figure of such enduring fascination wasn’t just her skill with a gun; it was her pioneering spirit for women’s empowerment. She believed strongly in the importance of women learning to handle firearms for their own protection and was an advocate for women’s rights at a time when the idea was still novel.

Oakley often said that “aiming for self-defense” was not just a literal idea but a metaphor for women aiming for independence and self-sufficiency.

Annie Oakley’s legacy goes beyond her shooting.

She left an imprint on popular culture, inspiring books, movies, and even a Broadway musical. Her Ohio roots were always a point of pride, and today, her life is celebrated at the Annie Oakley Festival held annually in Greenville, near her birthplace.

annie oakley in 1922
Annie Oakley, with a gun Buffalo Bill gave her in 1922.

So next time you think of Ohio’s historical figures, remember Annie Oakley, the woman who never missed a shot or an opportunity to show that a girl from Ohio could captivate the world, not just with her sharpshooting skills but with her sharp sense of self.

In the heartland of America, she was a trailblazer in every sense, proving that sometimes, the most impactful shots are the ones fired in the face of convention.