American Experience: Annie Oakley
Airs Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV
Originally published January 27, 2012 at 2:18 p.m., updated May 13, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.
In 1926, just a few months before Annie Oakley's death, Will Rogers described her as "the greatest woman rifle shot the world has ever produced." As the star attraction of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, she thrilled audiences around the world with her daring shooting feats. Her act helped fuel turn-of-the-century nostalgia for the vanished, mythical world of the American West.
In 1885, Annie Oakley began an association with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show -- despite some hesitation on Cody's part about hiring a woman. The five-foot-tall sharpshooter's star was on the rise -- that season, she performed in front of 150,000 people in 40 cities. The following year, the show entertained almost 360,000 people at its summer location on Staten Island, New York, and soon Oakley's fame was known far and wide. She would be a top attraction with the Wild West for 17 years. View a selection of posters promoting Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.
The Life of Annie Oakley
View at timeline of Oakley's life, from her childhood in Ohio to her world tours with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show.
Over time she became an American legend -- the loud, brassy, cocksure shooter celebrated in the musical "Annie Get Your Gun." But that legend had little to do with the real Annie Oakley.
Although famous as a Western sharpshooter, Oakley lived her entire life east of the Mississippi. A champion in a man's sport, she forever changed ideas about the abilities of women, yet she opposed female suffrage. Her fame and fortune came from her skill with guns, yet she was a Quaker.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents "Annie Oakley," the story of a five-foot-tall sharpshooter who pulled herself out of the depths of poverty to become known the world over as a symbol of the Wild West.