When I Was Annie Oakley

Oakley circa 1899

the real Annie Oakley Image via Wikipedia

“Aim at the high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye of success.”   — Annie Oakley

One of our favorite programs on PBS is American Experience. If you are not aware of this program, let me highly recommend it for excellent, in-depth American history features.  During January 2012 the theme was The American West.  Some of the weekly shows included George Armstrong Custer, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and my childhood idol, Annie Oakley.

I discovered Annie in the early days of television.  The show Annie Oakley premiered in 1954, when I was seven.  I was crazy about her and believed everything portrayed on the show—that she was a deputy sheriff, had a younger brother, Tagg, and was a great sharp shooter.  I even had Annie Oakley pajamas!  My dad always claimed they would keep me up all night with all the horse ridin’ and guns a-blazin’.

Aunt Emily visiting from Illinois, with Beth and Mary Julia 1954 I believed I was Annie Oakley!

A few years later, a Sunday supplement to our newspaper featured an article about the REAL Annie Oakley. [see picture above] Was I horrified!  She wasn’t a cute lady with pigtails wearing buckskins!  She looked very plain—even ugly—compared to Gail Davis, the actress who portrayed her on TV.  That was the end of Annie Oakley for me!

Gail Davis as Annie Oakley

Fortunately, American Experience featured a wonderful biography of my forgotten heroine a couple of weeks ago.  It reignited my admiration for this woman.  Annie was born in 1860 to a Quaker family in Greenville, Ohio, and endured a poverty stricken childhood after the death of her father.  She was put out to work very early in life and suffered considerable rough treatment until she finally returned to her family and honed her sharpshooting skills.  She supported her family from the age of nine by shooting game.   Possessing superior eye-hand coordination and a sturdy grip, she could out shoot every man around her.

Annie was a petite 5 feet tall and only 15 years old when she went to Cincinnati to participate in a sharpshooting contest where she met and out shot Frank Butler, a well-known sharpshooter.  They were both attracted to one another, married and traveled the vaudeville circle as a shooting act.  Eventually they joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and traveled the world with horses, buffalo, American Indians, teepees, cowboys and other sharpshooters.

Approx. second half of 1880s poster showing An...

Wild West posterImage via Wikipedia

Annie was one of the featured members of the Wild West Show because she was so small, and feminine, yet amazingly competent with a gun.  Unlike some of the other acts with women, she always dressed conservatively in clothes that she made.  They covered her body and accentuated her ladylike personality, even though she could shoot better than anyone else, male or female.  She always had a star on her cowboy hat and shooting metals displayed across her bodice.

As her acclaim grew, she used her reputation to promote charity for young women, widows and orphans and advocated that women learn to handle guns and shoot straight.   She was quoted as saying, “I would like to see every woman know how to handle [firearms] as naturally as they know how to handle babies.”  So many women took her advice that she was able to offer President McKinley the services of “50 lady sharp shooters” should a war between Spain and America occur.

In 1902 Annie and Frank left the Wild West show for a quieter life.  Annie took up acting in a play written for her.  She continued to enter shooting competitions and winning.  In her later years she suffered two series injuries that could have ended her shooting career.   One was a spinal injury obtained in a train wreck, the other a leg injury in a car accident.  Both times she overcame the injuries and returned to sharpshooting in contests.

Annie cherished her hard earned reputation.  When the Hearst Corporation spread an untrue story about Annie Oakley being arrested for stealing to support her cocaine habit, she fought it in the courts.   In fact, an actress claiming to be “Annie Oakley” was arrested for this crime, but she had given a false name.  Annie took part in 55 court cases for libel to clear her name, which she did at considerable cost to her time and finances.

Annie Oakley continued her sharp shooting into her sixties.  She died in 1926 from pernicious anemia at the age of 66.  “After traveling through fourteen foreign countries and appearing before all the royalty and nobility I have only one wish today. That is that when my eyes are closed in death that they will bury me back in that quiet little farm land where I was born.”  Indeed, she was.

Annie Oakley, with a gun Buffalo Bill gave her

Image via Wikipedia

Annie Oakley is a relevant role model for today’s woman.   She took charge of her life and lived it with integrity and pride.  She encouraged women to be more than the role that had been defined for them.  She worked to improve the lives of women and children who were impoverished.  She gave encouragement and material help to young women who needed it.  She never compromised herself.  I was wise when I chose to admire her at the age of seven.  I wish I had not let a bad picture discourage me from finding out more about the real person behind the invented legend.

Annie Oakley

She actually was an attractive woman! Image via Wikipedia


The Code of the West

My family in 1925 in the mountain community of Indian Hills, outside of Denver. They shared a cabin there when they weren't in their Denver homes.

Last week I finally got my desk sorted–again, although it isn’t cleaned yet.  Eraser shreds, dust from the open windows, crumbs, cat hair, cottonwood fluff, bits of yarn, all still linger here.  What really bothered me was the stacks of paper everywhere–print outs, receipts, folders that I kept moving from place to place.  After the garage sale bust of last weekend–never again!–there was even more stuff to be sorted, stored or given away.   All this organization took time, but it was purging!  Now I know where everything is again as well as what needs to be accomplished.
One benefit was finding a folder where I stuffed newspaper clippings that I wanted to think about.  One of them was a profile about the granddaughter of a Colorado pioneer family who had just turned 100.  She was a truly amazing woman…I say was, because just the day before I had read her obituary in the newspaper.  She died at 101.  Synchronicity!  Another article I found inspired the title of this blog posting.

The Code of the West has inspired a curriculum unit developed by the Ann Moore of Cherry Creek High School and is available from the Cherry Creek School District, a suburban district in the Denver Metro area where my children and one son-in-law attended school, my grandchildren attend now and my other son-in-law teaches.  The curriculum is titled, “Making a Difference: Cowboy Ethics in the Classroom.”  It is intended for middle school and high school students.

The key principles are good for life on the range, in business and on Wall Street.  After watching several documentaries about the recent financial collapse around the world, including the Bernie Madoff debacle, maybe the code has worldwide applications!   See what you think.  It’s very simple:

  • Live each day with courage
  • Take pride in your work
  • Always finish what you start
  • Do what has to be done
  • Be tough but fair
  • When you make a promise, keep it
  • Ride for the brand
  • Talk less and say more
  • Remember that some things aren’t for sale
  • Know where to draw the line

Happy trails to you!

13, Rue Therese: A Puzzle Novel for the 21st Century

This new novel features a real box of historic artifacts that fascinate the author of this book, Elena Mauli Shapiro, a girl growing up in Paris.  The apartment upstairs, once occupied by Louise Brunet and her husband, is the source of the box that no one claimed after Louise’s death.   Fortunately for us, Elena’s family cared enough about history to absorb this box into their household.  It even accompanied them on their move to America.

Before I write anything else, I have to say that Elena Mauli Shapiro is  my kind of writer! Not only does the history of remnants from the past capture her, but she is as curious (nosy, perhaps?) as I am.  I also  commend her for the grace and beauty of her language.  I believed I was in France between the  two devastating world wars while I read this book. The use of these wonderful artifacts, as well as her magnificent command of the language, transported me completely.   Her writing was spare, yet on target throughout.  Having read far too many overwritten, unnecessarily wordy books recently, her economy charmed me.

Elena Mauli Shapiro’s debut novel, 13 Rue Therese, uses this box of real artifacts as a frame for the novel.  The photographs, letters, coins, gloves, postcards and small trinkets frame the imaginative story of Louise Brunet and her family.   Extensive research of the years between the devastating world wars of the 20th century provide a strong historical foundation.   The central characters of the novel are real, pictured in the abandoned photographs and ephemera.  History and imagination combine in a reminiscent mixture that ends in 1928.  We readers wish for more.

Shapiro uses an unreliable narrator as the modern transcriber of the artifacts.  He is definitely the weakest link.  As an older reader, I found his fever and distress irritating.   I would have preferred someone with more backbone, but maybe then he would have dominated the story and diminished the portrait of Louise.  Written as it is, he is merely a fly or a mosquito buzzing annoyingly in the background.

Images of the artifacts appear throughout the book.  You can find links to larger photographs with more detail on the book’s website <http://www.13ruetherese.com/about&gt; .  Even more conveniently, if you have a smart phone with the QR app, you can use it to fly right to the website as you read.  Each artifact has its own link,  many of them to You Tube or audio links, further enhancing your reading.  Three cheers for technologically savvy writers!  Although I don’t have a smart phone, when I finished reading the book, I went write to my computer and found the website.  I loved seeing more pictures of Paris and the real 13, Rue Therese, as well as finding out everything I wanted to know about the author. I even subscribed to her blog!

I love history, research and visiting the past through books, music, television and the cinema, so this book met every criteria I look for in a great read!   This book is a wonderful model for historic writing, a genre that appeals to my writing plans.

By the way, the cover of this book is wonderful.  I would like that portrait on my wall!

Here is the Amazon link to the book.  There are links to other book sites as well.  It is available in a Kindle edition too.


“Do the thing you think you cannot do.”

(June, 1970) This photo shows me at the summit of Mt. Vesuvius.  The guide is demonstrating the steam against my leg.  I wouldn’t be on Vesuvius if I hadn’t conquered my fear of riding the ski lift to the top.  I had to ask myself, “How can I NOT ride in this chair lift?  When will I ever again get the chance to be on Mt. Vesuvius?”  I was shaking the whole way up, and jubilant the whole way down.

Looking back over my life, several of  Eleanor Roosevelt‘s quotes have defined me.  The one  that applies most to my personal development is the following:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… do the thing you think you cannot do.”

As a child and young adult I was somewhat withdrawn and shy around strangers.  I didn’t do well when thrown into an unknown situation.  I didn’t recognize my strengths and I had low self-esteem.  Only when I really, really wanted something for myself did I achieve.  Achievement required that I swallow my fear and put myself in a place where I might suffer failure.

I was a good student in junior high and high school because I was interested in history, writing and anything involving literature.  Those were my strengths and I could count on them.  My skills in these academic areas gave me the opportunity to go to an excellent selective small liberal arts college about an hour away from home.

Even though the school was small, the challenge of the social scene there, as well as  being away from home took away all my confidence and focus.  I spent two years in that school and then transferred to another school where the social pressure was less.  However,  it wasn’t until I heard graduation practice at the end of my junior year that I faced down my fears.  I can still remember sitting in the library and saying to myself, “No matter what it takes, I am going to graduate from college!”  I made up my mind, swallowed my fears and did it.  (The fact that I struggled with severe depression during this time will be discussed below.)  I applied myself, completed every class in my minor of English by carrying an accelerated load of classes, graduating in December, 1969.

This has continued to be a pattern throughout my life.  When I lived abroad during my first marriage, I was often afraid.  Sometimes I would say to my husband or a friend, “This really scares me,” and that individual person would help.  Or, I would hear someone say, “It scares me to go off the base into town,” and I would think, “Wow, she is missing so many wonderful experiences.”  Slowly, through the years, I found that grit and determination were a requirement for success. Facing down my fears…

Throughout my working years as a teacher, I  had to swallow down my natural fears as a reserved, quiet person, in order to meet new students, parents and faculty members.  Grit, determination, facing the necessity of the moment have all played a part in my growth as an individual.

That doesn’t mean life has been rosy.  It hasn’t.  Sadness and grief come and go.  I have lost people in my life and gained others.  All of us have to endure in order to survive.

The greatest failures in my life have led to the greatest successes.  My first and second marriages failed.  Each time I have had to pick up the pieces and rebuild my life.  I remember a wonderful poem I read when my first marriage collapsed.  The poet imagined building a wind chime out of mud–which definitely seemed to be where I was.  My second marriage was making lemonade out of lemons.  Rebuilding my life, patching the wounds–they were all important to me.  Living alone while my daughters were in college was a wonderful life passage–missing them, being on my own, discovering that I could enjoy my own company…and then finally meeting my soul mate, were all acts of courage as I swallowed down my fears.  I knew I deserved more and was determined to get it.

The last big achievement in my life so far has been the ability to stand up for myself in the face of jealousy or disapproval.  When I remarried for the the third time, I overheard people commenting on my remarriage–some people saying I was brave, others saying “how could she?” I had to learn to accept that I was going to do what I knew was best for me, no matter what anyone else thought.  I learned to depend on my own judgment.  Other women would ask me  why I didn’t find someone younger, or richer.  I had learned, thought, that I had to trust myself and  live by my own rules.  I knew what was right for me by confronting my mistakes, correcting them and knowing what was right for me.

Late in my teaching career, a rather naive teacher  made a rude comment about people taking antidepressants (which have been a saving grace for me).  In the past I would have just been quietly angry, but this time I turned to her and said, “I have taken Prozac since it first came on the market and it has changed my life.  It has saved so many people who are depressed.  You have NO idea what a difference antidepressants make.”  (You go girl, I thought to myself.)

On that same faculty, I finally learned how to face down “the mean girls”–you know, those women who never do grow up!?  They just go on spinning their webs.  When someone was mean to me, usually through sarcasm, or treacly sweetness,  or a wink and a nod, I threw kindness in her face. I discovered I was never going to win them over, but I wasn’t going to allow them to make me feel bad about myself.

Other recent accomplishments that came about because I faced down my fears and doubts have been finishing a memoir about my parents (300 pages), winning two poetry contests, teaching myself to knit, teaching myself to felt,  and now I am ready to begin some other new project–and I’m ONLY 64!  Woo hoo!