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Girl with a Gun: The Annie Oakley Story

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 2, 2022 3:01 am

Girl with a Gun: The Annie Oakley Story

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 2, 2022 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, at a time when women were only expected to fire up the oven, Annie Oakley fired her way to fame as the world’s greatest sharpshooter. In her personal life she was a sharpshooter as well. She was devoted to her marriage and to her faith.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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Talk to an agent today. And we continue with our American Stories. Annie Oakley was a shooting star, a magician whose magic wand was a gun. Right-handed, left-handed, on a horse, through a mirror. She couldn't miss. In a time when women were only expected to fire up the oven, Annie Oakley fired her way to fame as the world's greatest sharpshooter. In her personal life, she was a sharpshooter as well.

She was devoted to her marriage and to her faith. Here to tell the story is Ashley Lubinsky. Ashley is the former co-host of Discovery Channel's Master of Arms, the former curator in charge of the Cody Firearms Museum, and president of the Gun Code LLC.

Here's Ashley. One of the most famous women in American history has become the subject of legend and speculation and adoration. Annie Oakley, who is a famed markswoman that lived in the late 19th through the 20th century, is known for a lot of different colorful history. And she actually comes from really humble beginnings.

She was born Phoebe Ann Moses in 1860 in Dart County, Ohio, and pretty much tragedy followed a lot of her younger life. Her father passed away around the time she was eight, and as a means to support her mother and her siblings, she started hunting. And she would be so successful with the hunting that at some point she would pay off her mother's mortgage. So she definitely had a lot of skill, even for a very young woman. But as she's doing this, there are a lot of other things that go on in her life that aren't talked about. And one of them is that she suffered from pretty extreme abuse. When she was a little bit older, in 1870, she and her sister were actually sent off to go to a school. And she was kind of, it's almost like indentured servitude without being indentured servitude. She was basically put into this family so that she could work and make money and that they would educate her.

It would have been great had those people not been incredibly abusive and not really held up their end of the bargain for the educational component. So fortunately, she was reunited with her family years later, and she continued to support the family through the means that she knew how, through hunting. And it's that sporting part of her life that would ultimately make her famous.

And the story goes that in the 1870s, although there are some people that claim it could have been 1881, when she was 15 years old, a famed marksman came into her town and was basically challenging people all over the country, peacocking, if you will, to try to see if people could beat him. You know, he was well known. Everybody knew Frank Butler. And it's kind of ironic that people knew Frank Butler then. And now we don't really remember Frank Butler, and we only know Annie, and partly because she won.

As a teenager, she did accept the challenge, and she beat Frank Butler. And while you might think a lot of men would be a little bit upset about that, he found it very attractive. And he ultimately courted her, and they got married about a year later. And they started traveling together, and he already had a partner that he was doing kind of shooting exhibitions with.

And so she started kind of traveling along there, and she got her start shooting with Frank. But she quickly got involved with a man named William F. Cody that people tend to know better as Buffalo Bill. And Butler, too, was a part of all of this, you know, kind of world for Buffalo Bill's Wild West. And he did serve as kind of her manager of sorts, in addition to continue being a world record-setting shooter. And so they decide that they're going to join the fanfare and the real movement that becomes Buffalo Bill's Wild West. Now, if you're not familiar with that, it is what we would call a Wild West show, although it's important to note that Buffalo Bill did not call his Wild West ever a show, because he argued that it was a specific reenactment of how the West truly was.

And now they did do stagecoach scenes, they did do different recreated different military battles, but obviously it was a little bit more glamorized than it really was. But he also employed a huge number of people that he traveled around the world with. So Annie gets to basically see the entire world by the time she's in her early 20s. And she makes a name for herself doing a lot of different things. She does shoot shotgun, which she's super well known for, but she was a pistol shooter and she was also a rifle shooter.

And so the versatility of what she did is really pretty impressive. One of the things that she would do is she would ride a bicycle. So she did do mounted shooting on a horse, but she would actually ride a bicycle. She was really well known for riding her bike everywhere.

It was kind of synonymous with her image. And so she would ride a bicycle and use a shotgun or a smoothbore lever action rifle. A smoothbore lever action rifle is kind of an oxymoron because it basically is a quote unquote rifle that's been converted to not have any rifling so you can fire a shotgun shot out of it. It's a little bit safer than using an actual projectile when you are in an arena full of people. So one of the things that she would do, she would do it on horseback, she would also do it on the bike, is that they would launch glass balls into the air and she would shoot them out of the sky. And this type of firearm was actually really important because there's this great, potentially apocryphal story that the reason they switched from solid bullets to shot with these iconic Western firearms was that during a performance in an arena, they actually, the bullet went beyond the arena and broke a greenhouse window.

Now we don't know if that's true, but it's not without the outside the realm of possibility. She also carried several revolvers with her and did a lot of tricks with that. But really some of the most impressive things she did was with a 22 caliber. So it's a really small caliber lever action rifle.

So it's something that's specifically geared towards target shooting. And one example that I'll give you is on March 10th, 1893, Annie put on a very memorable display where she fired 25 shots in 27 seconds from this 22 caliber lever action rifle, punching one ragged hole in the middle of an ace of hearts. So pretty accurate and also awesome.

And this kind of became synonymous with getting into their performances that people would basically have these playing cards and it was the ace of hearts and it was almost like your free ticket to the theater. So she was able to do speed. She was able to do accuracy. And even though you might not be familiar with all of the different firearms and weapons that she utilized, a lot of people know and have seen the images of her holding a rifle backwards, looking through a mirror and splitting up playing card in half at distance. She also snuffed out candles and did a whole host of other things. But she wasn't without some difficulties. Now you would think everybody loved Annie and they did for the most part. And nowadays she's basically, you know, her demure attitude or femininity. That's something that is, you know, totally iconic to so many people.

But what people don't know is that even though she was all these things, wholesome, pure, talented, there was a lot of speculation about whether she was as good as she was. And there's a meme that goes around a lot of times. It's a photo of Annie Oakley and it says, when a man hits a target, they call him a marksman. When I hit a target, they call it a trick. I never really liked that very much.

So this is shared everywhere by pretty much everyone. It's a great, you know, statement on the talent of women maybe being subverted by a male dominated culture. However, we don't think she actually ever said that, even though, you know, don't believe everything you read on memes, but there's no evidence that she ever said that direct quote. Although we do know from an interview she did with the Rod and Gun and Country House Chronicle, that the interviewer said, you know, do people ever insinuate that there is some trickery about your shooting? Insinuate, she cried. On one occasion, the audience became so persuaded that the targets contain some explosive, which broke them as I fired, that they appointed a committee to investigate the matter. So she might not have said that really kind of beautifully rounded up quote, but she did know that people sometimes doubted her abilities.

And so much so that I haven't found the evidence of the committee, but I believe her that there was one. And we're listening to Ashley Lebinski tell the remarkable story of Annie Oakley. And when we come back, more of Annie's life story here on Our American Stories. swag and amazing prizes by joining their pass the ball challenge. Just grab a specially marked bag of Lay's Cheetos or Doritos scan the QR code and look for the golden world soccer ball. Be part of history by adding your picture to the golden ball. Explore the ever growing soccer community, find friends on the ball and receive a one of a kind collectible NFT. Then pass the ball to fellow soccer fans and play daily games for a chance to score custom swag like limited edition jerseys, duffel bags, scarves and balls. Visit Frito Lay or scan the QR code on specially marked bags of Lay's Cheetos or Doritos to pass the ball and you can win amazing Frito Lay prizes.

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Visit to find out more. And we continue with our American stories and the story of Annie Oakley. Let's pick up with Ashley Lebinski. Ashley is the former co-host of Discovery Channel's Master of Arms, the former curator in charge of the Cody Firearms Museum and president of the Gun Code LLC.

Here's Ashley. The other thing that she entered a lot of conflict was, was there was another very talented shooter in the Buffalo Bills circuit. And her name was Lillian Smith. She went by the California Huntress as Annie Oakley went by Annie Oakley and Little Shore Shot. And Lillian could not have been more different than Annie Oakley. She was brash.

She swore. She wore, quote unquote, provocative clothing for the time. And she was younger than Annie.

And there's a lot of speculation around the rivalry that they had. But there is a belief that Annie did change her age because she was 11 years Lillian Smith senior when Lillian Smith came onto the stage with Buffalo Bill. And believe it or not, Buffalo Bill really favored Lillian Smith.

And the media did too. And that's not to say they didn't like Annie, but they really were fascinated by this different type of woman that was also very skilled. And a good example of that actually goes to a performance that Annie Oakley and Lillian Smith did in England. Basically, there was a lot of double standards that were put on to Annie and Lillian. And Annie really felt like the press was kind of cruel to her when she saw Lillian Smith as someone that was boastful, prideful, kind of too out there. And one example that's really interesting was on a tour of England, Oakley was actually vilified for shaking the hand of Prince Edward's first wife. The funny thing about that was the press kind of they were all over it.

How dare you? That's so, you know, disrespectful. Lillian Smith also shook her hand. And she received no press on the subject matter. And the feud kept getting worse and worse. And what some people may not know is that Annie actually left Buffalo Bill's Wild West for a period of time while Lillian Smith kind of continued on. She was tired of the favoritism with Buffalo Bill. And she just she had had enough for the time being and she was talented.

She didn't really need them to some extent. But she did have some great times during that initial run. And one of the things was she actually, well, this is according to the story, it sounds mildly mortifying, but I believe she could have done it. But she performed for Queen Victoria, King Umberto of Italy, and then the president of France.

And the story goes that she allegedly shot the ashes off of a cigarette held by the newly crowned Kaiser Wilhelm II, which in some dark humor, you feel like maybe she could have missed. And it would have got better for history, but she was too good for that. And so if the story is true, she definitely showed off her abilities for everyone. Annie Oakley does ultimately go back to Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and she's a part of the performance until 1902. For so many different reasons, Annie Oakley was really ahead of her time. And throughout her life, she would actually be a fierce advocate for women's right to self-defense. And there's a lot of images and stories depicting Annie Oakley training women in shotguns and target shooting and self-defense. And it's believed that she actually taught over 15,000 women during her lifetime. There's images of her at different firearms clubs with, you know, lines of women learning how to shoot shotgun.

Because according to Annie, she said, quote, I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies. Now that might be controversial today, but it was certainly something that she was trying to advocate for safety. And that's something we should always remember that even though it might not be something other people agree with in the culture of the time, this was something that she believed in and worked really hard to teach women to basically take care of themselves in a time when that was a very progressive concept. And I would say it's fascinating too, because the firearms market really kind of got behind her on that and were marketing to women for self-defense. They were marketing to women to be target shooters in their own culture of the time way. But she really believed that women should be strong.

They should be able to protect themselves. And she did so to the point where she wanted women on the battlefield. And she believed that that's that they could do it. And she supported it, even if the government wasn't ready for that. She also tried to get women more involved in the military. And the first time she did that was she wrote to President McKinley in 1898, and she offered the government the services of 50 lady sharpshooters who would provide their own arms and ammunition, which is pretty impressive, should the US go to war with Spain.

So we do know that the US did go to war with Spain, the Spanish American war, but the name that we associate with that war is Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, although Theodore Roosevelt was also a fan of Andy Oakley. So her initial attempt to get women on the battlefield was denied by the president. And unfortunately, that would come into play during World War One, where she would make a similar offer to have women come and, you know, be a part of the military. And that was denied once again, there's this kind of, if you look at World War One, World War Two history with the involvement of women, a lot of times women would work the communication lines during World War One, and even by World War Two, when women were actually a part of marksmanship units, that was really downplayed.

And other parts of their roles were, you know, what the government wanted to focus on. So she was ahead of her time in that, but she made the offers, even though they were rejected. And she kind of continues to set world records for the rest of her life. But she is very much impacted by a train accident in 1901, where she is greatly injured. There are a few other things that kind of happen around this time period that weaken her ability to continue on as a performer. She was actually locked in a public bathhouse and almost died.

And then the other one was that people argued that perhaps, you know, being around so much ammunition from that time period might have caused a lot of lead poisoning. And so she was wearing wigs towards the end. But one of the things that I really like about the Annie Oakley story is that she and Frank Butler truly loved each other till the very end. You know, you've got a strong, successful man and a strong, successful woman who supported each other throughout their whole lives.

And they end up dying really close together, which is kind of romantic when you think about it. But since her passing, there have been so many popular culture renderings of Annie Oakley, Annie Get Your Gun, which is, I haven't seen it in a long time, but it definitely obfuscates a little bit of Annie's importance in terms of the shooting competition where she does let a man win. But that kind of took off still popular today. There was a television series that was called Annie Oakley. And nowadays it's kind of interesting because while, you know, our culture is very divided about a lot of firearms things, Annie Oakley is probably a name that everybody knows regardless of their involvement with firearms or target shooting. And so she really did bridge that gap between a male dominated community in the late 19th century and then being someone that people did respect and that she was a fierce advocate and that that didn't hurt her reputation when she decided to fight for women's rights. You know, she just was this wonderful character in history that while there's a lot of legends about who she was and what she did, and there's a lot of, and a mythology surrounding the image that Annie portrayed in the time period and how we kind of see her today, she was truly a force to be reckoned with. And we haven't really found other than a rivalry with Lillian Smith, we haven't really felt a lot bad about her. I think the only thing you could possibly say is there's this crazy story about basically she got accused by 55 newspapers of having a cocaine habit where she was seen in Chicago trying to steal someone's pants, I think, to sell for cocaine. But nobody is going to do that to Annie Oakley.

And it was actually some woman who was using her name with a different spelling and she sued all of those newspapers in 154 out of 51 of those trials. So perhaps it was her fierce ability to stand up for her reputation and who she was, why that's who we remember, and not any gossip that could have happened during the time period in the papers. And a terrific job on the production by Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Ashley Lebinski. And she is the co-host of the former co-host of the Discovery Channel's Master of Arms and what a classic American story of rising above your circumstance.

Born Phoebe Ann Moses in rural Ohio, her dad dies at the age of eight, and she uses her shooting skills to feed the family. And of course, that leads to that epic challenge where gunslinger Frank Butler comes to town and Annie beats him. And interestingly, Frank finds that attractive. And still to this day, that's a quality that's sort of rare.

But back in the day, almost impossible. Butler became her manager. There was time at Buffalo Bill's Wild West. What Annie became known for was not only her skill sets with a gun, but her fierce advocacy for women's right to self-defense. She taught 15,000 women over her lifetime. As Lebinski said, she wanted women to handle guns as confidently as they handle babies.

A true women's empowerment story, Annie Oakley's story, here on Our American Stories. Hey guys, want to know how to be the best gift-giver this holiday season? Spring for something unexpected, like beauty from Estee Lauder. Surprise her with a fresh floral fragrance like Estee Lauder's best-selling Beautiful Magnolia, or give the gift of glowing skin. Estee Lauder's advanced night repair offers seven skincare benefits in just one bottle. You'll find something for every beauty lover on your list at Estee Lauder, plus free gift wrapping and free shipping.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-02 04:18:13 / 2022-12-02 04:27:43 / 10

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