This Day in History – November 1st, 1894

Miss-Annie-Oakley-peerless-wing-shot“Miss Annie Oakley”, “Little Sure Shot”, “Watanya Cicilla”, “Phoebe Anne Oakley”, “Mrs. Annie Oakley”, “Mrs. Annie Butler” and “Mrs. Frank Butler” were the various names that Annie Oakley was known by during her career and stardom as a performing sharpshooter with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and other engagements.

Oakley’s career began before that, when at the age of 15 she participated in a sharpshooting bet in a Cincinnati hotel. Traveling show marksman and former dog trainer Frank E. Butler, an Irish immigrant, placed a $100 bet per side (worth $2,148 today) with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost, that he, Butler, could beat any local fancy shooter. The hotelier arranged a shooting match between Butler and the 15-year-old Annie saying, “The last opponent Butler expected was a five-foot-tall 15-year old girl named Annie.” After missing on his 25th shot, Butler lost the match and the bet. He soon began courting Annie, and they married on August 23rd, 1876.

annie-oakley__largeAnnie and Frank Butler lived in Cincinnati for a time. Oakley, the stage name she adopted when she and Frank began performing together, is believed to have been taken from the city’s neighborhood of Oakley, where they resided. They joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1885. At 5 feet tall, Oakley was given the nickname of “Watanya Cicilla” by fellow performer Sitting Bull, rendered “Little Sure Shot” in the public advertisements. During her first engagement with Buffalo Bill’s show, Oakley experienced a tense professional rivalry with rifle sharpshooter Lillian Smith. Oakley temporarily left the Buffalo Bill’s show but returned after Smith departed.

In 1894, Oakley and Butler performed in Edison’s Kinetoscope film, The “Little Sure Shot of the Wild West,” an exhibition of rifle shooting at glass balls, etc. Filmed November 1st, 1894, in Edison’s Black Maria studio by William Heise, it was about the 11th film made after commercial showings began on April 14th, 1894.

Oakley’s early movie star opportunity followed from Buffalo Bill’s friendship with Thomas Edison, which developed after Edison personally built, for the Wild West Show, what in the 1890s was the world’s largest electrical power plant. Buffalo Bill and fifteen of his show Indians appeared in two Kinetoscopes filmed September 24th, 1894.

annie-oakley-photoIn Europe, she performed for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, King Umberto I of Italy, President Marie François Sadi Carnot of France and other crowned heads of state. Oakley had such good aim that, at his request, she knocked the ashes off a cigarette held by the newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Annie Oakley Foundation suggests that she was not the source of a widely repeated quip related to the event: “Some uncharitable people later ventured that if Annie had shot Wilhelm and not his cigarette, she could have prevented World War I.” After the outbreak of World War I, however, Oakley sent a letter to the Kaiser requesting a second shot. The Kaiser did not respond

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