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That Time Annie Oakley Offered to Put Together an All Female Sniper Team


Phoebe Ann Moses, better known as “Annie
Oakley,” made a name for herself as one of the best sharpshooters in the world throughout
her lifetime. In the process, she overcame a childhood filled
with abuse and adversity to become not only an enormously successful entertainer, but
a role model for women and young girls. Born in 1860, Annie’s father, Jacob, died
of pneumonia when she was six years old. Her mother, Susan, briefly remarried, but
her second husband likewise died shortly thereafter. Struggling to provide for her seven surviving
children (she had nine total up to this point), Susan sent two of her children, the 8-10 year
old Annie (her exact age at this time is not definitively known) and Sarah, off to the
county “poor house,” called the Darke County Infirmary. From here, Annie was sent to work for a family
she would later refer to simply as “the wolves.” During her time in the wolf-den, she was severely
abused and functioned as a virtual slave for the family. After two long years of this, she decided
she’d had enough and fled back to the infirmary. Supposedly the numerous scars on Annie’s
back convinced Nancy Edington, the wife of the superintendent of the infirmary, to see
to it that Annie was not sent back when the “he-wolf” came to collect her. After he was sent away and told in no uncertain
terms Annie would never be given back to him, Oakley later stated, “That night I slept
untroubled for the first time in long months.” Annie remained with the Edingtons for an unclear
amount of time, learning to sew and make clothes until her mother married one Joseph Shaw,
and she was able to return home. Not a financial burden at all, as it turns
out, Annie almost immediately began supporting her poverty-stricken mother, step-father,
and six surviving siblings by utilizing her talents with a gun. Beyond putting food on the table via shooting
and trapping various game, she was also able to sell some of it to certain local businesses,
earning enough money to pay off the approximately $200 mortgage (about $4500 today) on her mother’s
small farm by age 15. Due to the somewhat unorthodox (particularly
for the era) role the young teen took on as her family’s provider, Annie was forced
to put her education on the back burner, rarely attending school. Perhaps because of this, later in life she
made countless donations to charities that helped orphans and women in need get educated. It was around this time (the exact date is
disputed, either 1875, when Annie was 15, or 1880, when she was 20) that Annie entered
a Thanksgiving Day shooting competition, going up against famed marksman Frank E. Butler,
13 years her senior. One by one Butler outshot the local competition,
until he went up against Annie. She hit all 25 of her targets, while he only
managed 24 of 25. Rather than be sore about losing to the young
lady (and losing a $100 bet in the process, about $2200 today), he went the other way
and started courting her. Less than a year later, the pair married,
either in 1876 or 1881. In 1885, the happy couple joined Buffalo Bill’s
Wild West show. A small-time star on the vaudeville circuit
up to this point, her time with Buffalo Bill’s show ultimately vaulted her into superstardom
across the U.S. and parts of Europe, with her staple tricks including things like shooting
a playing card edge on at great distance, then putting several bullet holes through
its face as it flew wildly through the air to the ground; shooting out candle flames;
and shooting cigarettes and cigars from her husband’s lips. This brings us to 1898. Although women were making small strides toward
equality, they were still a long ways off on countless fronts. Most pertinent to this article, women were
forbidden to join the military in any potential combat role. That’s not to say none of them tried. By the 20th century, a handful of women, disguised
as men, had joined U.S. war efforts in combat roles under false names. Once the disguised women were found out, however,
they were immediately discharged, usually dishonorably. The fact that women were highly discouraged
from engaging with the enemy did not deter Annie Oakley. When it appeared that the United States was
on the brink of war with Spain around the turn of the century, Annie offered her services
to train a team of female sharpshooters for the war. In her letter to President McKinley, she wrote: Dear Sir, I for one feel confident that your
good judgment will carry America safely through without war. But in case of such an event I am ready to
place a company of 50 lady sharpshooters at your disposal. Every one of them will be an American, and
as they will furnish their own arms and ammunition, will be little, if any, expense to the government. Very truly, Annie Oakley Whether or not Oakley received a response
from the President or whether her offer went completely ignored is unclear, but the President
certainly didn’t enlist Oakley’s help. Annie_Oakley2Oakley extended the same offer
to the government during World War I, but again, the services of one of the greatest
sharpshooters in the world were declined. Undeterred, Annie and her husband helped the
war efforts by joining the National War Work Council of the Young Men’s Christian Association
(YMCA) where the sharp-shooting couple held exhibitions and presented lectures at Army
posts to help soldiers hone their shooting skills. Despite her advanced years and being seriously
injured in a car accident in 1922, Annie continued to perform and set various sharp shooting
records almost up to her death in 1925 at the age of 66, dying of pernicious anemia. Her husband of approximately a half a century,
Frank Butler, died just 18 days after her, supposedly refusing to eat anything after
his wife’s death. The pair left behind almost nothing of the
small fortune they’d accumulated in their lifetime, having previously donated the bulk
of it to support various charities, particularly those focused on helping women and orphans. Annie Oakley was exceptionally careful with
her public image throughout her lifetime. Whereas other female sharpshooters tried to
make a name for themselves by altering their appearance to please their male admirers,
Annie very purposefully made her own modest costumes, striving to look attractive while
still maintaining a sense of dignity in her appearance. Needless to say, in the early 20th century
when William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers reported that Annie Oakley was serving time
in prison for “stealing the trousers of a negro in order to get money with which to
buy cocaine,” she was less than pleased. Of course, she never did anything of the sort;
a burlesque performer who called herself Annie Oakley was supposedly the real culprit. The facts didn’t stop newspapers across
the nation from publishing the false, sensationalized story. Furious, Annie filed 55 libel suits against
the newspapers and ended up settling or winning 54 of them. However, the amount she was awarded, while
significant, reportedly didn’t even cover her legal bills. While nobody took Oakley up on her offer to
put together a team of sharp shooting women to fight in a war, other women managed to
get into combat more discretely. One such was Deborah Sampson who spent 17
months disguised as Robert Shurtliff, a male Continental Army soldier who fought in the
Revolutionary War. While fighting alongside her male counterparts,
Sampson was seriously wounded. In order to keep her true identity hidden,
she was forced to cut a musket ball out of her own leg so no doctor would discover her
secret. A second musket ball was too deep for her
to remove, so she simply stitched herself back up. When her true identity was found out after
she became severely ill near the end of the war, expecting a severe reprimand of some
sort, she was surprised to find that she was given an honorable discharge and enough money
to make her way home.

100 thoughts on “That Time Annie Oakley Offered to Put Together an All Female Sniper Team

  1. Why is it ok to say oh instead of zero like double 'oh' 7 for james bond and general other time 'oh' is used when it is actually a letter and not a number, but just looks the same. Like 'eye' isnt used when you say 1. Or is 'oh' just used for both and its ok?

  2. Geez. I've heard a lot of stories about 19th/early 20th century women being sent to work for abusive families because their birth families were too poor to provide for them. Thank goodness that sort of thing isn't as common today! (Though the times it does happen tend to hide themselves a lot better…)

  3. Question: What is the curse of Tuscomsa? The supposed curse placed on the USA presidents for one of them to die every twenty years by a Indian warrior.

  4. Annie Oakley is one of my favorite historical figures thank you so much for doing something for a woman who was an amazing pioneer

  5. Concerning the cigarette shooting: She once commented that, if her aim had been just a little off, there might not have been a WW I ! It was Sitting Bull who named her "Little Sure Shot". They were close friends. He gave away his own money and then borrowed from Annie to give to poor children. Annie used some very expensive shotguns. It was Charles Lancaster who first fitted her with one. Lead poisoning may have been the true cause of her anemia.

  6. Hey today I found out….my friends and I were playing skyrim and we got into a debate that maybe you folks can solve. Ready? Did knights in medevil times get struck by lighting? Did they put fighting on hold during thunderstorms? If not how many met their fate by being struck by lightning. Thank you love your channel

  7. rather controversial video considering the Americans are in the middle of the gun debate…does this mean you support the right to bear arms rather than the right for children in your country to not to be slaughtered in their schools?

  8. i get the man. strong women are hot. also seems likem this would make a great movie. still a better love story then twilight.

  9. I like the first bonus fact (6:03). Many women dress like trash to get attention but that just hurts all women. The feminist movement says women should be allowed to dress however they want and I agree they should, but don't expect me to have respect for you if your boobs are hanging out. Yes some guys like that but not the kind of guys you want (unless you like trailer trash).

  10. Exactly the same thing happened in World War One a soldier called Bob who turned out to be female tried to get past captain Blackadder dressed as a male. Classic

  11. Oh, so women want to help with the war? But our beliefs about oppressing women is more important than winning

  12. I would be embarrassed to tell you how much time I spend watching your channels.They are very entertaining and informative and almost hypnotic for me. You do a wonderful job in a very clean and specific format. Thanks

  13. I would argue that for at least a time, Annie was THE best sharpshooter, man or woman, of her day. Great video.

  14. How are female snipers' breasts not get in the way whenever the go prone?
    Or is it a requirement for female snipers to be no more than a B–cup?

    Breasts are the best

  15. Annie Oakley was a great American, as was her husband, Frank Butler, and her story follows the classic Horatio Alger line of overcoming great adversity to achieve success. I only know of two movies about her life, neither of which stuck too closely to the facts, the musical "Annie, Get Your Gun" (1950), starring Betty Hutton and Howard Keel, and "Annie Oakley" (1935) starring Barbara Stanwyck. A proper treatise on her life and times would make a great contribution to American entertainment lore, but I imagine very few directors or writers today could master the subject without resorting to darker themes and motives. Such is the current state of the American dream.

  16. Great productions like this has gotten my subscription. Your delivery is very good and witty without trying too hard, I find some other presenters come across more stupid than funny when trying to add wit but for you, Simon, it seems natural. Bravo!!!

  17. May I just say that DANG no Christians here. I am Christian but Larry. You are misunderstanding the Bible the only thing that allows you into heaven is believing in the Lord. If your rich you don't automatically go to Hell just for not donating to others. My final comment to keep this short, WHAT CHURCH DO YOU GO TO! I MEAN DANG GOING TO HELL JUST FOR BEING RICH AND FOCUSING ON YOUR FAMILY INSTEAD OF STRANGERS!?!?!?!?!??!

  18. All female sniper team undefeated until……….. they had to decide what they wanted for dinner , then nothing happened, ever.

  19. Man loses shooting contest to a woman. Immediately thinks, "I just met my future wife." Stays married for 50 years until she dies. Literally can't live without her and dies himself 18 days later. If that isn't love at first sight, and true love, I don't know what is.

  20. i LOVED her when i was a kid. i had no idea what she died of. how the hell does someoen die of ANEMIA in 1922?

  21. It's stories like this…every one is like another strike from a tinderbox, reigniting the spark of hope that slowly dies over time.

    Thanks for this one, Simon. Loved it.

  22. Women generally make excellent shots – if they shoot at all. I knew of one that hit every time with a submashine gun on 150 m.

  23. Now don't get me wrong, I would NOT want to be on the opposite side from Annie in a shootout, but doing the sort of shooting she did is a far cry from shooting at people while they are shooting back at you.

  24. FUNNY YOU SHOULD USE THE WORD "DIGNITY" WHILE DESCRIBING ANNIE, AS I WAS THINKING IF ONE WORD COULD SUM THE LADY UP IT WOULD BE THAT VERY WORD, A FINE LADY, AND ROLE MODEL, BUT MOST OF ALL A GREAT HUMAN BEING [YES AND A BAD ASS] THOUGH UNLIKELY SHE WOULD LIKE THE MONIKER TOO MUCH

  25. all those amazing things in her life and they turned it into "annie get your gun"?!? lol old hollywood had no idea what made a good storyline obviously

  26. Did you find this video fascinating? Then check out another video and find out about Gravy Stockings and TNT Hair Dye: The Fascinating Fashions of WW2:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHoAPNBYz8M

  27. Shame on you! You left out the part about Kaiser Wilhelm the Second.
    When Annie was touring Europe and Kaiser Bill was still a prince, Annie offered to shoot a cigarette from any gentleman in the crowd.
    Wilhem, ever the attention-seeker, volunteered, over everyone's objections.
    Sure enough, Annie shot true, knocking off the tip off the cigarette.
    Later, during the First World War, just after sinking of the RMS Lusitania by German U-Boat, resulting in the loss of life of over 1000 civilians, including 148 American citizens and many children, Annie wrote to the now-Kaiser.
    The letter read something like this:
    Dear Kaiser Wilhelm
    May I please take another shot?

  28. You might have mentioned that once, Keiser Wilhelm was doing a tour over here, and he stood, with a cig in his mouth while Annie shot it out.  She later said, during the war, that if she had leaned in 3 inches she could have saved the world from WW 1

  29. Another female soldier, but not American, worth mentioning would be Milunka Savic (spelling check needed), a Serbian woman who served in the 1st and 2nd Balkans war and WW1. When she was discovered, she was instead given command of her squad and sent back in. She was said to prefer carrying a sack of grenades to throw rather than a rifle, but was still a better shot with a pistol than a French soldier who challenged her to a match after Serbia fell in WW1.

  30. Really like the editing and narration in these videos, but you should do different captions. The quotes are ok, but when you just write what you say it’s kind of repetitive and boring (font style really nice though)

  31. Two people in history stand tall for me. Sir Winston Churchill (the only man I would ever call "sir") and Annie Oakley. He was the Last Lion, she the Last Lioness. I have read much of her life, a truly great woman. Her and Frank would spend many winters here In NC, at Pinehurst.
    She taught thousands to shoot here. I have gone through a few boxes of their papers here at
    the Tuft Archives and held her gun. She was only 5 feet tall. Sitting Bull called her
    "Little sure shot".
    Regards,
    Death Valley

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