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The Real Annie Oakley

By Gerri Gribi

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Everyone knows the story of Annie Oakley. As the cocky sharpshooter and country bumpkin of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, she fell madly in love with the sophisticated Frank Butler. He was attracted to her, too, but when she defeated him in a shooting match, he assuaged his bruised ego in the company of more feminine companions.

Their rivalry kept them apart until Annie's adoptive father, Chief Sitting Bull, explained the facts of life to her: a man can't tolerate a woman who can best him. (Or, as they sing in the musical, "You can't get a man with a gun.") The only way for Annie to win Frank's heart was to forfeit the next match.

She did, and lived happily ever after in Frank's shadow.

We know this story through the musical, "Annie Get Your Gun." It starred Ethel Merman on Broadway in 1946, went on to become one of MGM's great musicals in 1950, and is a favorite today with professional and amateur theater groups around the country. A revival in 1999 won two Tony Awards.

But that story is a myth! The real story, compiled from sources predating the musical, reminds us truth is more interesting than fiction. The image of Annie Oakley as a docile female content to play the supporting role was created 20 years after her death, at a time when post-war America needed to remove women from the workforce to free up jobs for returning GIs. Read the real story of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. (You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download free. )