Annie Oakley’s talent came to light at the age of 15 when she won a shooting match against Frank E. Butler, whom she later married. They both traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which brought an international fame to Oakley through the performances in front of heads of state and royalty.
Annie was born in 1860 as the 6th child of Jacob and Susan Oakley. During her childhood, she didn’t attend school regularly, though she did later in her adulthood. When Annie was nine, she was admitted to the Darke County Infirmary along with her sister Sarah Ellen.
In her autobiography, she claimed to had been put into the care of the Samuel Crawford, the infirmary’s superintendent, along with his wife, Nancy. At the beginning of the spring of 1870, she worked in a family as a nanny, deceived by the family’s initial promises of earning 50 cents a week and an education.
The couple had actually hoped for someone that was older so they could pump water and cook. She lived with these people for almost two years, suffering physical and mental abuse. Once, when Annie had fallen asleep while doing a chore she was forced to stand outside in the freezing cold without shoes.
Annie even called the couple “the wolves” but had never actually named them in her biography, while her biographer, Glenda Riley, said that “the wolves” might have been the Studabaker family. However, the 1870 census suggests that they were actually the Abram Boose family.
In 1872 Annie finally ran away from the family and went to live with her mother at the age of 15.
Soon, Annie became popular in the region after The Baughman & Butler shooting act which happened at Thanksgiving in 1875.
Frank E. Butler participated in the show and placed a $100 bet with the Cincinnati hotel owner, Jack Frost, stating he could beat any local shooter in the trick shot contest. Jack Frost, who later set up the shooting match between Frank and Annie, said: “The last opponent Butler expected was a five-foot-tall, 15-year-old girl named Annie”.
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Butler missed his 25th shot, lost the match and his bet, but a year later he started courting Annie. They didn’t have any children.