America’s Shooting Star

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The Trials of Annie Oakley.


Long before the name Annie Oakley was on the lips of every man, woman, child, and newspaper editor in America, the sight of the demure woman, whether in a courtroom or on stage, seldom failed to inspire enthusiastic approval.

From the beginning of her career with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show in 1885, audiences were captivated by the petite sure shot. Her entrance into the arena of the western show was always graceful. She never walked. She tripped in, bowing, waving, and wafting kisses. The first few shots she delivered with her twelve gauge shotgun brought forth a few screams of fright from spectators, but they were soon lost in cheers and applause. Annie set audiences at ease and prepared them for the continuous cracks of firearms which followed.

Annie posed with her guns for a variety of advertisements from festivals and circuses to weapons and ammunition. The armed woman had been a fixture of American life for several years prior to Annie Oakley’s image being used in posters promoting firearms for females. The firearms industry directed its first major ad campaign to women in the 1880s and Annie was a living, breathing promotion for shotguns and revolvers. By making shooting appear like something even a lady could comfortably do, Annie helped make the sport of shooting popular with women everywhere.

By 1904, women were being featured in ads with weapons less and less as regulations against guns were being drafted. The 1911 Sullivan Law, a band to prohibit the act of carrying and concealing firearms prompted antigun activists to request further ordinances to be placed upon weapons. Soon, licenses were required to possess firearms. Possession of certain weapons without a license was a misdemeanor and carrying them was a felony. Those opposed to such regulations, Annie Oakley being one of them, maintained that disarming good citizens put them at the mercy of thugs and crooks. Suffragists such as Alice Paul were outraged by what was perceived to be an impediment that would keep women from being able to protect themselves. “Not only did women not have the right to vote, but if they weren’t free to defend themselves they weren’t free at all,” Paul announced.

Annie Oakley weighed in on the subject in an interview with a Cincinnati newspaper in November 1904. “It’s reasonable that women should prepare to defend themselves when they are out alone at night,” she told an Ohio reporter. “Miss Oakley’s scheme is to have every lady provided with a .32-caliber revolver,” the reporter noted in his article, “which she is to wear in a pocket so large as to enable her to keep a proper grip on the weapon all the time. She advises that unless the person attacked is able to shoot first and hit the mark, the best thing is not to shoot at all.”

Annie Oakley

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To learn more about the famous sure shot read

The Trials of Annie Oakley.