Annie Oakley, Part Two
Oakley’s only female rival was Lillian Smith, brought into the Wild West show by Cody to spark interest with two competing sharpshooters. Cody comes across in what’s been written about him as never at ease with Oakley’s fame and ability to speak her own mind. It could be said that Oakley had the confidence to do so because of her husband’s (Frank Butler) support, but Oakley had developed a staunch character after surviving a rugged childhood. She was firm in her beliefs and didn’t mind expressing them when asked.
Cody made the mistake of enflaming the competition between the two women at the 1887 London exposition. He openly favored Lillian Smith, who was the opposite of Oakley. Smith was an experienced sharpshooter and well-known in California. She was also much younger, something that must have bothered Oakley, because it was during this time that Oakley, or Butler, who handled her publicity, cut six years off her age.
Youth might not have been the only reason Oakley didn’t care for Smith, who was a loud-mouthed, dedicated flirt. She wore flashy clothes and used coarse language. Female performers were looked down on, but Oakley never had her reputation or her morals questioned. Ladylike behavior was her hallmark. Smith was everything Oakley avoided.
Imagine her frustration when Cody threw Smith into the mix and purposely stirred up a feud. Smith wanted Oakley gone from the show and bragged that she could out-shoot her. Oakley proved that wrong at a Wimbledon shooting exposition, but something happened that conquered her patience. Oakley left the Wild West show at the end of the London tour and returned to the US, where she found herself famous. After Lillian Smith quit Cody’s show, Oakley returned for a three-year European tour. Smith, other than her connection to Oakley, sank into obscurity.
Oakley’s popularity continued to grow. In Munich, she tackled a Bavarian prince to save him from being run over by an escaped bronco. The Prince thought the wild horse was part of the show. The president of France offered her a commission in the army and the King of Senegal tried to buy her. She overwhelmed the French audiences, met the pope, and made sightseeing jaunts across Italy. When she returned to the US she found her fame had increased to what we would call today super-stardom. Newspapers adored her, a book had been written, everybody knew about Little Sure Shot, Sitting Bull’s pet name for her.
Cody had brought Sitting Bull into his show long before Oakley came on board. The Sioux leader had seen her in exhibition years before and was fascinated with her skill, giving her the name of Watanya Cicilla, Little Sure Shot. While he was part of the show, they enjoyed a friendship. Cody was on his way to free Sitting Bull from incarceration, and to ask him to rejoin the show, when the Sioux leader was killed by Indian police. Cody, who had an uneasy but successful relationship with Sitting Bull, said that he wished he could have made it there in time to save him. Oakley, with her usual honesty, stated that if Sitting Bull had been a white man, someone would have hung for his murder.
Next week: Scandal and a smear campaign by William Randolph Hearst. Guess who wins.
Please check out my interview on Judith Post’s blog. She has a new work coming out this week: Demon Heart (check out the uber-yummy cover)
aka: Julia Donner