Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book Spotlight: Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley's World by Jeffrey Marshall

Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley's World 
by Jeffrey Marshall

Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 5, 2014)
Amazon Paperback Link

Kindle Edition
File Size: 504 KB
Print Length: 149 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1495450600
Publisher: CreateSpace (May 15, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Amazon Kindle Link

About the book:

Little Miss Sure Shot is a fictionalized account of the life of Annie Oakley, drawing heavily on the real timelines and events of her life. However, the book is not a biography - it invents situations, people she meets, and a myriad of conversations. Moreover, while the book is presented chronologically, apart from the prologue, it skips certain periods and attempts to focus on those that are especially vital, such as the early years Annie spent with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, including the tours through Europe. 

A special feature of the novel is the framing of Annie's loving marriage to fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler, whom she married at sixteen and remained married to for 50 years until her death. Frank was far more than just her husband - he was her manager (he gave up his own shooting for that role) and her constant companion. 

The novel closes with an epilogue in Frank's voice, presenting an overview of their lives together and the circumstances of her death in 1926.

Book Excerpt:

The 1913 season with the Young Buffalo company proved to be Annie’s last in a traveling show. It was a long haul, and the repetition got to her by the time autumn rolled around; it also had been more than a decade since she had been on tour, and she felt more fatigued now. From Illinois the show meandered through Indiana and Ohio before rolling east into Pennsylvania. Early May was cool and wet, and on a few very rainy days, the mud was a constant annoyance, especially in the dirt arenas where the show performed. By the end of May, the show had landed in the middle of New York State, where the trees were bathed in light green and the Finger Lakes were a delightful blue.

Colonel Bogardus and Annie got along famously. Earlier in her career, she probably would have resented his presence, but she found that she admired his persistence and good humor, which he kept despite an occasional bout with gout. The two of them still could shoot awfully well, her with shotgun and pistol and him mostly with rifles, the shots echoing above the cheers of the crowds.

Annie was still jogging from one gun stand to another and blasting targets, but some of the feats of her earlier days were just beyond her. No more hopping on and off a pony, or vaulting over a gun stand to pick up another rifle as the balls were still in the air. But she did add another wrinkle: twirling a rope with her left hand while she shot with her right. The audiences loved it.

Annie never sensed any jealousy or animosity from the colonel. A man who seemed more of the East than the West, he’d make small talk and wink at her with his rheumy eyes as they waited their turn to perform. The shows were mostly staged in late afternoon, when the townsfolk and local farmers had largely finished their work for the day. They’d bring their families, and the children were fidgety, often holding their ears when the shooting started. If there were any horses nearby, they were moved to keep the gunfire from spooking them.

“A nice crowd out there today, Missy,” Bogardus would say. “We need to be sharp.” With his cutaway jacket, checkered vest, and Western boots, he fit the part of a gentleman shooter, even if his white beard and limp gave away his age.

“Oh, I think I will be, Colonel. I had a good night’s sleep,” she’d say then smile at him girlishly before he was called into the arena, his rifle slung through the crook of his arm.

June of that year took the show into Vermont, a patchwork of small towns with pristine white churches and village greens, neat and spare. The nights were still cool but getting milder, and fireflies winked from the tall grass as darkness fell. But the crowds were smaller, and smaller still when they arrived in Quebec. Annie wasn’t surprised. In Canada, where the majority of the crowds were French speaking, there was a language barrier along with the fact that audiences didn’t know much about the American West, just as she’d encountered in Paris many years earlier. But the Young Buffalo Show plowed on regardless, and Annie accepted the polite applause—hardly the heartier cheering she got from audiences in Pennsylvania and New York—for what it was.

One evening in early July, in Bath, Maine, Annie was soaking in the claw-foot tub in their hotel room after the show. Her shoulder ached, and she was nursing a bruise on her thigh from having bumped hard into one of the gun stands. She called to Frank from the bedroom.

“I think this may be my last season,” she said, and sighed. “It’s a long slog, and it isn’t as rewarding as it used to be. You see how tired I get at times. It’s one thing to do this at twenty-five, and another to do it in your fifties. If I were a bird, you could put salt on my tail.”

“I know, I know, Missy. We look out ourselves in the mirror now, and it’s a far cry from what it used to be.” Frank was walking more slowly these days; his hair and mustache, once so dark and rich, were now almost completely gray, and the lines on his handsome face had deepened. “We need to look seriously at spending more time farther south, where the winters aren’t so harsh. I mentioned Pinehurst in North Carolina some time ago. We should go down there and investigate. I understand it’s something of a grand place, and there’s a lot of shooting there.”

“Yes, that does sound interesting. Perhaps we can do it after the show ends. It should still be quite mild there, shouldn’t it?” She set down the bar of soap in its dish and reached for her towel.

“I think so, absolutely. I don’t believe they have much cold weather until after Thanksgiving.”

Annie emerged from the bath and went back to her book, The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. She enjoyed reading about New York society from what she considered a safe distance. As confident as she was in her field, and as many celebrities as she had rubbed shoulders with – Mark Twain, Lillian Russell, architect Stanford White, even President Theodore Roosevelt, who loved her shooting - she couldn’t imagine having been born into society or going through the trials and the heartaches the women in the novel went through.

Electricity was present in the hotels where they stayed, a far cry from a generation earlier, when oil lamps had provided the lighting. Many nights Annie sat in an armchair, her long hair pulled up on her head, and read from her favorite book, the Bible, especially the Old Testament. There was something in the language of the great book that Annie found inspiring. She’d been raised as a Quaker, and the Bible was the first book she’d ever known.

In fact the Bible was her primary contact with religion. Frank had been raised as a Catholic in Ireland but had abandoned the church and its rituals when he had come to America at age 13; he had horrible memories of his days as an altar boy and the unwelcome advances of a fatherly parish priest. They’d resolved early in their marriage that churchgoing was something they really wouldn’t indulge in. When Annie was reading the Bible, Frank usually read Colliers or The Saturday Evening Post or another popular magazine.

Early in October 1913, the show ended in Marion, Illinois, and with it Annie’s entertainment career. A year later the world would be embroiled in the Great War, whose contagion eventually would spread across the Atlantic and bring America further onto the world stage.

Annie’s fame and skill as a markswoman never really translated into large numbers of women taking up the sport, and it troubled her that the great passion in her life was so foreign to many women. Indeed almost all the opponents she ever faced in exhibitions and various contests were men. Annie met many women who professed great admiration for what she did, but they rarely asked questions or took any action to get more involved. Many seemed to regard her as something of a freak of nature, and her skills as unapproachable as those of a high-wire artist.

She made it her mission to prove that shooting was something women could not only do well but also enjoy and benefit from. In Annie’s mind shooting provided fine outdoor exercise and developed good traits such as composure, self-possession, and self-confidence—altogether very good qualities for women in a world she knew was effectively controlled by men. Moreover—and hers was distinctly a minority view—she felt self-defense was something that shouldn’t be left entirely in the hands of the male of the species.

Whenever Annie taught women about shooting, she emphasized a few important things: resting the rifle against the shoulder in a comfortable way, sighting the target, and using a light load until the shooter got used to the recoil. She showed them how to maintain the correct stance, how to swing the rifle, and how to lead a target and squeeze the trigger while the rifle was still moving. She’d walk up and down the line of shooters, gently offering advice or demonstrating technique. A few became quite good at it, but most seemed be put off by the noise and the recoil of the rifle and stopped coming. Still, over the years, she taught thousands of women how to shoot.

As Annie’s fame had grown over the years, she had become someone of great interest for rifle and ammunition makers. Their representatives courted her and Frank for their advertisements, and they paid well. Invariably they were well dressed and well spoken and passed as “sportsmen,” precisely their target audience. Annie and Frank signed many different contracts over the years, but Annie loved Colt revolvers for their simplicity and accuracy and stood by them. The rifles were different. By the time she was touring with the Young Buffalo show, she was using Schultze shotguns and Lesmok rifles, two modern arms she truly liked; they were lighter and more precise than what she’d used a generation earlier.

At one time Annie was using Lancaster and Francotte shotguns as well as Marlin and Winchester rifles—excellent arms she felt had served her well for years. They were well made and accurate. The thought of trusting one’s life with a cheap gun frightened her, which was one reason she and Frank spent so much time with the representatives, testing new firearms and judging their action and accuracy.

For nearly all of Annie’s life, she was blessed with a gift from above: the ability to shoot with superb accuracy, even from a galloping horse. When people asked her about it, which they always did, she told them the truth—she didn’t really focus on her aim but on feeling the target and sensing how she had to swing the rifle to hit it. A calculated aim just wouldn’t work. It was her special skill, and she’d had it when she was eight years old and shooting squirrels and rabbits in Darke County, Ohio. She had no idea then, of course, that it would make her a household name across the country—and parts of the globe as well.

Excerpted from Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley’s World by Jeffrey Marshall. Published by Jeffrey Marshall. Copyright © Jeffrey Marshall 2014. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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