August 13: Annie Gets Her Gun

Annie OakleyWho could shoot holes into the pips of a playing card? Who shot the ashes off Kaiser Wilhelm’s cigarette?  Who, at age 62 could still hit 100 consecutive clay targets from 16 yards away? Who was born on this day in 1860? Friends, it’s the one and only “Princess of the West,” the “Little Sure Shot” herself, Miss Annie Oakley.

Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Moses, began her adventurous lifestyle at an early age. As a child she was a skilled trapper and at started hunting at the age of eight to help support her siblings and widowed mother, selling game to neighbors, restaurants and hotels. Young Annie was so good and so in demand, that she was able to pay off the mortgage on her mother’s farm when she was just fifteen.

That same year, Irish sharpshooter Francis E. Butler was performing in Cincinnati when he made a $100 bet (worth over $2,000 today) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost, claiming that he could beat any local sharpshooter that Frost could produce. Suffice to say, Butler was shocked when Frost introduced his challenger, “a five-foot-tall 15-year old girl named Annie.” The two gunners went 25 rounds until Butler missed a shot, losing both the match and the bet. Butler and Moses would later marry and join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

As part of Buffalo Bill’s troupe, Moses (now performing under the name Annie Oakley) performed in front of the royal courts of Europe and at the 1896 Chicago World’s Fair. During the lead up to the Spanish-American War, Oakley offered President William McKinley the services of herself and fifty other “lady sharpshooters” who would go in to battle against the Spanish. The offer was rejected.

However, Oakley’s biggest victory came without firing a shot. In 1903, the headline “Famous Woman Crack Shot. . . Steals to Secure Cocaine” ran in two of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. The story claimed that the retired Wild West star Annie Oakley had been arrested in Chicago after stealing a man’s breeches so she could pay for cocaine. The story soon spread nationwide, mostly in Hearst’s newspapers, There was just one problem with the story: Annie Oakley was actually at home in New Jersey, and the woman who was arrested was actually a burlesque performer who used the stage name “Any Oakley.”

Now, the real Oakley was a fierce protector of her image, and so she engaged in a seven year long series of libel suits against the newspapers that printed the story. Many settled out of court, quickly admitting their mistake. Others, including those owned by Hearst fought and lost. Out of the 55 libel suits, 54 ended in a settlement or a victory for Oakley. Although she actually lost money on all the legal fees, Oakley thought it was worth it to preserve her reputation and good name. Amusingly, before getting defeated in court, Hearst sent investigators to Oakley’s hometown to dig up any gossip that might cause damage to Oakley’s image. The investigators found absolutely nothing.

Today, let’s raise a glass to Oakley with a drink named in her honor. The Annie Oakley was created by the folks at Peacemaker American Whiskey and its a good strong hit of whiskey with a bit of the licorice flavored liqueur Anisette. Whiskey and licorice? Sounds like the Old West to me.

Annie Oakley

  • 1 1/2 ounces American Whiskey
  • 1 teaspoon Anisette
  • 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Stir all ingredients together with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: A wild and crazy guy.

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