By Susan Mellish
GREENVILLE, Ohio — The Year of Annie will be celebrated throughout 2010 at The Annie Oakley Center at Garst Museum, part of the Darke County Historical Society.
This year marks Oakley’s 150th birthday, and the Garst Museum plans to pull out all the stops.
Named Phoebe Anne Mosey — dubbed Annie by her sisters — was born August 13, 1860 in a log cabin in Darke County, Ohio.
Annie grew up on a small farm where at the young age of nine she began shooting game to feed her widowed mother and siblings. Still, seven years would pass before the country became aware of her marksmanship skills.
Annie’s parents, Jacob and Susan Mosey, were Pennsylvania Quaker innkeepers up until a fire destroyed their tavern. After the fire, the family moved to a rented farm in rural Darke County, Ohio, where Annie was born in 1860.
Jacob fought in the War of 1812, but later died in 1866 of pneumonia and overexposure to the bitter winter weather. At the time of Jacob’s death, the couple had seven children.
Susan Moses remarried, had yet another child, but her second husband also died. After this tragedy, Annie was placed with the superintendent of the county poor farm to help ease the strain on her family.
Later she suffered physical and mental abuse while acting as a servant for a local family.
When she finally moved back home, her mother had married a third time. It was no wonder Annie was ready to venture from home and used her prowess with a gun to do so.
She realized her talent, took on the stage name “Oakley” (supposedly after Oakley, Ohio) and began entering contests. As a 16-year-old, Annie traveled to Cincinnati and entered a shooting match against Frank E. Butler (1850-1926).
Butler was known for his marksmanship skills and his sharp-shooting vaudeville act. Annie won the match by one point and fell in love with Frank.
They married and Annie joined Butler’s traveling shooting show working as his assistant. Butler soon realized his wife’s marketing potential and let her take center stage, becoming Annie’s assistant and manager.
Annie’s shooting performances were so popular people would come from miles around to witness her marksmanship skills. Word traveled fast and when the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody found out about Annie in 1885, he asked the couple to join his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
Paul Fees, an Annie Oakley authority interviewed for the PBS American Experience episode on Oakley titled In A Man’s World feels Buffalo Bill Cody knew he had a winner when he hired Annie for his show.
Fees said in an interview on the topic on http://www.pbs.org, “Before Annie Oakley was hired for the Wild West Show there were no acts that incorporated women. There were no narrative elements that featured women … Annie Oakley paved the way.
“The presence of a strong woman — that is, a Western woman, a self-reliant woman — allowed the show to begin to experiment with narrative elements such as the attack on the settlers’ cabin, to make use of one of the strongest American narrative myths, the myth of captivity, and to allow women to begin to show themselves as strong, self-reliant, Western, to begin to show themselves as capable of competing with and working with men.”
Oakley remained with Cody’s Wild West show for 17 years and was the main draw. According to the Women in History Web site at http:// www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/oakl-ann.htm, “At 90 feet Annie could shoot a dime tossed in midair. In one day with a .22 rifle she shot 4,472 of 5,000 glass balls tossed in midair.
“With the thin edge of a playing card facing her at 90 feet, Annie could hit the card and puncture it with five or six more shots as it settled to the ground. It was from this that free tickets with holes punched in them came to be called “Annie Oakleys.'”
Annie was so accomplished with all types of firearms that Chief Sitting Bull, after seeing this petite 5-foot-tall young lady perform, gave her the nickname “Little Sure Shot.”
In 1901, Annie was seriously injured in a train wreck, hurting her spine, which left her partially paralyzed for a time. She did recover, but toured less, though she continued to enter contests.
In 1922, at the age of 62, Annie entered a shooting contest in Pinehurst, N.C., where she hit 100 clay targets in a row from 16 yards away.
Annie would die just four years later in 1926, succumbing to pernicious anemia. She died in Greenville, Ohio, back in the state where she was born.
Twenty years later, her sharpshooting skills and her life story were celebrated in Herbert and Dorothy Fields musical Annie Get Your Gun.
Today the Garst Museum in Greenville, Ohio, is home to Annie’s legacy. The museum is filled with “the finest exhibition of Annie’s belongings anywhere,” according to Fees.
The Year of Annie will include several special events, including the Little Sure Shot Gala on May 22, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Darke County’s Garden Clubs will present a flower show June 26-27 at the museum titled Annie, the Pride of Darke County.
Annie’s weeklong birthday party celebration will be August 10-15 and will include special events, tours of the exhibit, birthday cake and surprises.
The Year of Annie will conclude in December when the museum, decorated by the flower clubs for the holidays, will feature trees and decorations with an Annie Oakley theme.
Garst Museum and the Annie Oakley Center is located at 205 N. Broadway in Greenville, Ohio. For information call 937-548-5250 or visit http://www.garstmuseum.org.