Pictured: Oakley demonstrates her famous feat in which she shoots at a target behind her back with the aid of a small hand mirror.Bettmann/Getty Images
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"She reportedly once shot the ashes off the cigarette of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II — while he was holding it. She later remarked that, had she missed, she could have prevented World War I."Library of Congress
In 1884, Oakley met legendary Native American warrior Sitting Bull, who adopted her as a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota and gave her the nickname "Watanya Cicilla," or "Little Sure Shot."American Stock/Getty Images
Oakley competed at Wimbledon — before the London suburb hosted the famed tennis tournament. She was part of the rifle competition at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee there in 1887.Wikimedia Commons
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Her diminutive stature helped her stand out in the world of sharpshooting — she was only 5 feet tall.Bettmann/Getty Images
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She sued newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst for libel, forcing him to pay her $27,000. Hearst had printed in the Chicago papers that a broke Oakley stole a pair of men’s pants as a means to buy cocaine.Wikimedia Commons
27 Annie Oakley Facts That Prove She Was The Wild West’s Biggest Badass
Born Phoebe Ann Mosey to Quakers in rural Ohio on August 13, 1860, Oakley endured a rough childhood in which her father died of pneumonia, leaving her mother then unable to support the children financially. Oakley was then sent to the Darke County Infirmary for the poor before being shipped to an abusive family she later referred to as "the wolves."
The family treated Oakley as if she were a slave and even reportedly locked her out of the house during snowstorms. However, at the age of 12, she ran away and landed back in the infirmary for a short time before reuniting with her mother.
All the while, Annie Oakley's rough childhood put her in a position to fend for herself and learn how to trap and, moreover, how to shoot. Oakley's reputation for astounding feats of marksmanship soon spread throughout the region and she was able to earn money killing game. She even claimed she was able to earn enough to pay off the family farm.
Soon, Oakley's reputation attracted the attention of traveling sharpshooting acts. On Thanksviging Day 1875 (although some dispute that date), Oakley bested famous marksman Frank Butler in a shooting match, cementing her lofty status.
Butler and Oakley married not long after and eventually joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show (alongside the likes of Lakota leader Sitting Bull). Oakley, as she was now calling herself, then saw her shooting career grow to even greater heights, and the rest is history (and included in the gallery above).
All in all, Oakley (a.k.a. "Little Sure Shot") parlayed her gift for handling and firing guns into a career while serving as an inspiration for women who scoffed (either inwardly or outwardly) at traditional pioneer roles. Today, Annie Oakley's legacy as a cultural icon lives on, with films, books, and even a well-known Broadway musical all dedicated to the huge impression that she left on United States history.
Next, see rare footage of Annie Oakley in action thanks to this Edison Manufacturing Co. film from 1894:
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.