Daddy and I arrived early and wandered the park for a while, looking at all the animals and props. Buffalo Bill’s show used several hundred animals, mostly horses, but also some mules and burros, American bison, and even longhorn cattle. Near the entrance gate sat a stage coach, several rough- looking wagons, a surrey, and three Prairie Schooner wagons, all of which looked very out of place in New York state. We watched as various cowboys, Mexican rancheros, American Indians, buffalo hunters, dance hall girls, pioneer women, and soldiers passed by. Nearly an hour had passed with us gawking about when Daddy reached in his pocket and pulled out a cardboard pass reading “Press” with St. Louis Herald printed below.
“So, ready to meet Annie Oakley?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, it’s all arranged. Come on. Let’s find her tent.”
I knew all about Annie. Born in Ohio, in 1860, Phoebe Ann Oakley Mozee, called Annie even as a young girl, had grown up in an extremely poor family. Living in a log cabin, her parents and the seven siblings, all girls except one, struggled to survive. When Annie was only four, her father, returning from selling their grain and other farm produce at the market, was caught in an early winter ice storm and returned home frozen. He never walked again and died in March of the following year. In subsequent years, Annie’s mother moved her children to a smaller cabin and tried to make ends meet. She lost one daughter to tuberculosis, and the others often went hungry until Annie learned to wander the surrounding forest with her father’s Kentucky long rifle, hunting for game. Soon Annie provided all the meat for the family’s table.
After her mother remarried and they moved yet again, Annie was removed from the home and taught to read and write and do needlework at the County Infirmary, which was kind of like an orphanage. From there, Annie moved to a homestead to help a young family, where she was imprisoned, made to do all the household work, and starved. They wouldn’t allow her to contact her family. Her story of hardship continued, even after she escaped and returned to the County Infirmary. Only as a young teen did Annie finally return to her family, where she once again provided for their welfare. Annie’s shooting abilities and understanding of hunting strategies bagged so much game that she created her own little business, shipping great hampers of quail and such game to market and to hotels in Cincinnati.
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