Annie Oakley Gravesite & Birthplace Photo Essay

By Mike Johnson
Photos by Margie Johnson

Annie Oakley, (Phoebe Ann Moses, Mosey or Mozee) was born on August 13, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio. Her father died when she was six years old, throwing the family into severe poverty. The family struggled financially so badly that Phoebe's mother turned Annie over to the county orphanage because she could not afford to feed all her children. Here, Annie learned to sew and gained an education. But the severe poverty left a permanent mark. Despite her fame and riches, Annie would remain frugal her entire life.

Upon returning home from the orphanage Annie helped feed her still-poor family by learning how to hunt. Ammunition cost money so Annie was motivated to make every shot count. She was soon shooting more game than the family could eat and began selling the excess to local restaurants. Restaurants preferred buying from Annie because her clean headshots left the meat in perfect condition.

Before long, Annie was considered the best shot in the area. Her sale of game was so successful that at the age of 15, was able to pay off the family farm with her hunting proceeds.

A restaurant owner in Cincinnati knew of Annie's skills and invited her to enter a shooting contest against well-known marksman Frank Butler. Butler was traveling with several other marksmen and had a standing challenge to compete against local shooters. Butler is said to have laughed when he learned that a girl had paid the $50 entry fee to challenge him in a contest.

Annie won that contest hitting 25 of 25 targets while Butler only hit 24. The two began a relationship and were married in 1876. By 1882 the pair had formed a shooting act and were traveling around the region. Annie then took the stage name of Annie Oakley, (some think the name was inspired by the nearby town of Oakley, Ohio) but in private, she always called herself Mrs. Frank Butler.

It didn't take Frank Butler long to realize that the novelty of a woman shooter was the better attraction and Frank was man enough to step back and let Annie get top billing. From that point on, Annie was the star of the show and Frank became her manager and did all the legwork to get things ready for Annie's performances.

The pair were signed by Buffalo Bill's Wild West in 1885 and Annie & Frank traveled with that world-famous show for 17 seasons. "Little Sure Shot," as Annie was known, soon became one of the most famous women in the world.

Annie died at the age of 66 on November 3, 1926 at her sister's house in Greenville, Ohio and is buried in Brock Cemetery near Willowdell, Ohio. She died just three weeks before Frank. Her body was cremated and the urn was then placed in Frank's casket which is buried next to Annie's grave marker.

We visited the cemetery on a rainy day in November, 2004 and had the place to ourselves. Located on a quiet two lane road in the middle of Ohio farms, it is a simple and no-frills resting place befitting Annie's no-nonsense approach to life. This is a significant contrast with Annie's great fame and fortune.

Click here to view Annie and Frank's Gravesite

Click here to read Gravesite Historical Marker Side One

Click here to read Gravesite Historical Marker Side Two

Click here to view Gravesite Headstones

The house where Annie died still stands today in the old part of Greenville. The three story Victorian home is now a rental dwelling. Those with serious interest can get the address from Greenville's Garst Museum which displays a nice room full of Annie Oakley possessions and memorabilia that we greatly enjoyed viewing.

Click here to visit the Garst Museum.

Finally, we tracked down the historical marker that points out Annie's birthplace. It is located on Spencer Road outside the little town of Willowdell. This is located within about six miles of the cemetery. The marker is about 1,000 feet from the original location and no dwelling remains. Today, the spot is near a large farmhouse and out buildings. Still, it was electrifying standing there, looking at the nearby woods and realizing this was where Little Sure Shot learned her shooting skills.

Click here to see the birthplace marker