Annie Get Your Gun
Words: Herbert & Dorothy Fields
Music: Irving Berlin
Written in: Authored Date:

The true story of Annie Oakley

Annie Get Your Gun is set between 1875 and 1885, the height of the Wild West era. We know this because Annie’s alleged shooting match victory over Frank in Cincinatti is supposed to have taken place on Thanksgiving, 1875. Some say this was just a myth created by the promoters of the Wild West Show, but other versions confirm that she did beat him in a shooting match. Whichever version is true, we know the then married couple did not in fact hook up with Buffalo Bill until 1885. It was then that a great seventeen-year long tour started which took the show to Europe.

The Wild West Show itself was truly amazing and sported 97 Indians, 18 buffaloes, 181 horses, 10 elk, 4 donkeys, 5 longhorn Texan steers, 2 deer and a Deadwood stagecoach. The popularity of the show peaked in Chicago in 1893 when it attracted literally millions of visitors and grossed over $100,000. Born on 26 February 1846, William Frederick Cody began his illustrious career as a Pony Express rider, before turning his hand to army scout, buffalo hunter, and finally settling into showmanship in 1883. Bill and his financial manager, Nate Salsbury (the model for Charlie Davenport?), attracted many big names including Chief Sitting Bull. Buffalo Bill sold his entire interest in the show to Pawnee Bill in 1908 (some say 1913) and retired.

Sitting Bull was born in 1831 and became Chief (warrior / spiritual leader / politician) of the Hunkpapa in 1866. He did for Lt Col Custer in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 before retreating his forces to Canada. He was captured in 1881 and held in atrocious conditions as a POW and then released in 1883. In 1884 he met Annie Oakley and really did adopt her as his daughter. In 1885 he turned his infamy into money and joined Buffalo Bill on tour. Sitting Bull was not the rich oilman which the script suggests (certain native American groups have been quite scathing of the version we are performing). Sitting Bull was murdered by Red Tomahawk, an agent for the US Army, in 1890. Two tribes left their reservations in protest. Thirteen days later, on 29 December 1890, over 200 Indians, mainly women and children, were needlessly slaughtered in a hail of Hotchkiss gunfire in the Massacre of Wounded Knee.

Born Phoebe Ann Oakley Moses on 13 August 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Annie Oakley (later known as Little Sure Shot, the name Sitting Bull had given her) was not a Western girl at all. Annie was the fifth daughter of Quaker parents. After the death of her father when she was only six, Annie was sent to live on the local poor farm where she was educated after a fashion and learned to shoot. She remained there, until the age of thirteen, when she returned home and became the main breadwinner of the family, using her father’s old Kentucky rifle (the guns used in this show are authentic period replicas of the actual guns Annie and Frank would have used) to shoot game and, thanks to her efforts, when she was fifteen they were able to pay off the mortgage. That same year she met the famous exhibition sharpshooter Frank Butler. Frank had never lost a shooting match before Annie (only five feet in height) bested him 25:24. They were married in 1876 and it was Frank who brought Annie into the limelight when his existing partner fell ill in 1882. When they joined the Wild West Show, however, it was no longer Mr and Mrs Butler (and George, their dog) on the billing, but just Annie Oakley; Frank became her assistant and manager.

After Sitting Bull went back to full-time politics in 1886, Annie soon became the number one attraction of the show and when on tour in Germany, she famously shot the ashes off Kaiser Wilhelm II’s cigarette. Two unfortunate accidents in 1901 (one involving a train, the other a hot bath) left Annie with a troublesome back and white hair, but she and Frank continued with the Wild West Show until 1911. They retired to Cambridge, Maryland, but came out of retirement after the death of Buffalo Bill in 1917 with a new dog, Dave, from whose head Annie was wont to shoot apples. They died within weeks of one another in November 1926.

Annie Get Your Gun, January 2003, Nuffield Theatre

 Sister Act poster

Sister Act

30th January - 2nd February 2019, NST Campus (Nuffield Theatre), Southampton

Performances 7:30pm. Saturday Matinee 2:30pm. Tickets: From £10

Family and group discounts available

Box Office: 023 8067 1771 or purchase online