Born Phoeby Anne Mosey on August 13, 1860, became an incredible target shooter and an expert marksman. Her talent was so good that she toured as a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Because of her showmanship and her ability to handle a gun, she became known as the very first women in the United States to be known as a superstar. Oakley also was variously known as “Miss Annie Oakley”, “Little Sure Shot”, “Watanya Cicilla”, “Phoebe Anne Oakley”, “Mrs. Annie Oakley”, “Mrs. Annie Butler” and “Mrs. Frank Butler”.
But Annie was a gunslinger, a gun fighter, just as good as any man was, if not better. This was proven when she won a contest against Frank Butler who bet a Cincinnati hotel owner he could out shoot any fancy shooter. Annie, only fifteen years old at the time, did so with ease. It wasn’t long after that Butler began courting Annie, and they were married in 1876 (it should be noted, Annie was only 16 years old, and that’s kind of creepy by today’s standards).
Annie Oakley wasn’t the only woman to wield a gun and be branded a trick shooter. Martha Jane Canary, who wasn’t involved in a traveling wild west show, became known as Calamity Jane.
Jane’s bigger claim to fame was he claim of being an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok. But she was a professional scout and frontierswoman, and helped Wild Bill fight against the Indians. While many may have heard stories of a brutal nature, Jane is said to have been best known for her kindness and compassion, especially to the sick and needy.
While Jane was older than Annie Oakley, Jane’s exploits didn’t begin until Annie began her life in the showman’s circuits in the east. Jane was already in Wyoming and South Dakota by this time.
The point is, we often hear stories of women like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane and the first thought is that they are trick shooters. When in fact, they do exactly the same thing that men are already doing (in Annie’s case, even better). These two aren’t the only gunslingers of their kind; Belle Starr, Pearl Hart, Harriette Tubman, Kitty Leroy, and Sally Scull just to name a few (to read more about some of these women, click here).
For the longest time, the only gunslingers that were taken seriously were men. This was even reflected in the media we consumed. From books to television to movies (and even radio serial series) gunslingers, or the heroes of the story were always men and the women were there only to be saved or the love interest. It`s taken a very long time, and there`s still a great deal of resistance, to portray women as gunfighters in their own right.
The Quick and the Dead starred Sharon Stone as `The Lady” and she co-produced the movie that came out in 1995. The premise was a reversal of the old story of the gunfighter who would roll into town looking for the man who shot his family. Instead of it being the lone gunman it was a woman who lost her family as a child, and came back seeking revenge in a contest of quick draw between combatants in a lawless town.
Bandidas starred Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz as two Mexican women who sought revenge against a cruel gunman who worked for a New York bank (played by Dwight Yoakam). The gunman used intimidation and murder to get his way to have a rail line built through farmer’s lands. Hayek and Cruz’s characters go onto a series of bank robberies to thwart the efforts of this gunslinger.
True Grit that came out in 2010, is based on the novel of the same name, written by Charles Portis in 1968. The book was adapted to film in 1969 and starred John Wayne. The 2010 version includes Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. The story is another about revenge, where Mattie Ross hires the assistance of Marshal Rooster Cogburn in hunting down the man who killed her father. Mattie is an intelligent and even stubborn young woman who tries to dictate the hunt for the killer.
This CBC series is being released shortly in October of this year. Strange Empire is a story who’s heroes are women. Set in the 1860s along the Alberta-Montana border, three women set to act out revenge when the men in their town are all killed and the women forced into whoring. It stars Cara Gee, Melissa Farman and Tattiawna Jones.
The trope of revenge is used in each of these examples, but it’s a familiar one when it comes to westerns. The difference is that when the trope is used it’s used for men who want revenge against a cutthroat gunfighter. It takes on a different light when it’s women who are the ones seeking revenge. Often when it’s women thrust into the roll of a gunfighter seeking revenge, it’s treated more like a comedy (such as the feel from Bandidas) than an actual drama. This idea needs to change.
Women are just as capable of seeking revenge as men are. They are just as adapt at gunfighting as men.
Annie Oakley wasn’t a trick shooter. She was a gunfighter.