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Comparing Annie Oakley

Published Caption: Dave Price

So, who is the greatest female athletes of all time? You could make a good case for Babe Didrikson Zaharias … Annika Sorenstam … Mia Hamm … Jackie Joyner-Kersee … Althea Gibson … just to name a few.

What about Annie Oakley? That would be very arguable, however, it is worth looking at this legend whose 156th birthday is this Saturday.

Of course, given the changes in technology and just about anything else, comparing athletes in any sport from past to present is like comparing apples and oranges. However, I remember a quote Ty Cobb gave in 1960 when he said he thought he could hit .300 against the modern-era pitchers: “You’ve got to remember, I’m 73,” he said.

In her prime, if the legends from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show are accurate, I suspect we’d see her on ESPN and quite possibly in the Olympics.

Phoebe Ann Mozee was born on Aug. 13, 1860 in a log cabin in Darke County, Ohio — she later took on the stage name Oakley, reportedly for the town of Oakley, Ohio — and began shooting at age 9 to bring home food to support her widowed mother and family. And the 5-foot tall “Little Sure Shot,” as she was called by Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, was definitely a dead shot. Consider these feats:

■ At 90 feet, she could shoot a dime in mid-air. From that same distance, a playing card could be tossed in the air, with thin edge facing her and she would hit the card five or six times before it came back down to the ground.

■ In one day, with a .22 rifle, she hit 4,472 of 5,000 glass balls tossed in the air.

■ Part of the act involved shooting ashes off a cigarette her husband, Frank Butler, held in his mouth. In another of her celebrated achievements on tour in Europe, Germany’s Crown Prince Wilhelm invited Annie to shoot a cigarette held in his own lips. She shot the cigarette out of his hand (some historians suggest that World War I would have been avoided if she had missed that shot).

No wonder she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall Of Fame and the Cowgirl’s Hall of Fame.

The “Butler and Oakley” act joined the Wild West Show in 1885. While there is no record of her ever appearing in Nevada, local history buff Chic Di Francia said he has found documentation of Buffalo Bill appearances in Virginia City, Carson City and Reno. Two shows in Austin with Coles Circus & Menagerie in August of 1884 attracted about 1,500 people for each performance.

By the way, she continued to perform on a regular basis until she was injured in a 1901 train wreck. Annie recovered, however, she toured less frequently after the wreck. Even so, she continued to shoot in charity events to benefit orphans, widows and underprivileged women before her death of pernicious anemia on Nov. 3, 1926, in Greenville, Ohio.

Maybe it is a stretch to compare Annie Oakley with the greatest female athletes ever? Then again, try shooting a dime out of the air sometime.

Editor’s note: This Dave Price column originally published on Aug. 13, 2005 in the Nevada Appeal