Little Sure Shot
June 11, 2012 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Annie Oakley's 12 gauge shotgun sold for $143,000 at a western memorabilia auction yesterday. Oakley grew up a poor farm girl in Ohio, far from the romanticized west she came to represent. Her prowess with a gun came from shooting for food to feed her poor family. Her nickname "Little Sure Shot" was given to her by Sitting Bull, a man she revered.
posted by Isadorady (30 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
An early film by Thomas Edison of her shooting was one of the first films shown publicly
posted by Isadorady at 12:58 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Tom Slater, Director of Historical Auctions for Heritage, would not identify the gun's buyer, but said he was a private collector of Oakley and Buffalo Bill items and had purchased a number of Sunday's auction pieces."

I'd say this is weird, but if I had enough money to make a habit of buying famous dead peoples' things at auctions, I'd probably have a weird-ass memorabilia collection, too.

Either that or a wing of my mansion would house an fully-realized and impeccably detailed reconstruction of the Charles in Charge set.
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

It breaks my heart that things like this don't find their way into museums.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:01 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

That's amazing. I've been fascinated by Annie Oakley since I was a kid. My grandfather actually saw her in the Wild West show when he was a small child. He said Buffalo Bill was a fat old man who didn't impress him, but he was mesmerized by Annie Oakley, and said she was the real thing.
posted by OolooKitty at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

How many museums actually want this stuff? I recently took a tour of the Kentucky Mega Cavern (A++ Would Tour Again) and then just had crates upon crates of Museum Shit down there, as the conditions are perfect for keeping the stuff intact (also there was a lot of space.) Some of it will certainly get taken up for an exhibit, but how often? I mean, I'm not making a case that Uncle Pennybags' rumpus room is the ideal place for Annie Oakley's gun, but is it that much worse than a crate in a museum's basement?
posted by griphus at 1:10 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry it's the Louisville Mega Cavern.
posted by griphus at 1:11 PM on June 11, 2012

I highly recommend the American Experience documentary about Annie Oakley. The period of her heyday is such an intriguing mix of sensibilities -- you can see one world coming to an end and another one being born.
posted by briank at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2012 [10 favorites]

Annie Oakley reportedly as badass as her reputation precedes her. News at $143,000. Gawd bless ya, Annie.
posted by pyrex at 1:15 PM on June 11, 2012

That seems really cheap to me.
posted by MegoSteve at 1:16 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

A man may be hot, but he's not, when he's shot!
posted by Melismata at 1:17 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was planning of making a post about Sitting Bull, so here is a photo of him as hipster, and one with Buffalo Bill instead
posted by growabrain at 1:20 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Worth pointing out, too, that she was a celebrated markswoman in an era when a very large fraction of the population used guns on a daily basis. Impressing those people would not be an easy thing.
posted by Malor at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2012 [13 favorites]

I thought she was from Nutley, NJ. Really.
posted by Sassenach at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2012

I mean, I'm not making a case that Uncle Pennybags' rumpus room is the ideal place for Annie Oakley's gun, but is it that much worse than a crate in a museum's basement?

That really, really depends on Uncle Pennybags, and on the museum.

The world's museums not only have more artifacts than they can display, they have more than they can keep safe. So a competent collector is a Good Thing even if only he and his chums get to view his collection.

But an incompetent one can do something like putting a Poussin painting in Phillip Johnson's Glass House where it gets sun-bleached.
posted by ocschwar at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Stagger Lee: "It breaks my heart that things like this don't find their way into museums."

Indiana Jones: That belongs in a museum.
Panama Hat: So do you.
posted by mkb at 2:03 PM on June 11, 2012

I thought she was from Nutley, NJ.

Oakley lived in Nutley in her 30s.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:04 PM on June 11, 2012

And so it would seem that you can get a man with a gun.
posted by Twang at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Annie Oakley as a pretty blond with pigtails. For those too young to remember, which is just about everyone online, back in the fifties there was an Annie Oakley TV western for kids.
posted by Huplescat at 3:16 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

By the time of her death, Annie Oakley had given all her money away to the causes she believed in. What would she have thought of someone who'd drop a cool $143,000 on her gun?
posted by grounded at 4:00 PM on June 11, 2012

An excellent source of more money for her causes?
posted by Malor at 4:13 PM on June 11, 2012

I thought she was from Nutley, NJ.
There is an excellent museum in her hometown, Greeneville, Darke County,Ohio, although with the economic realities of Ohio today, I doubt if they could have bought any of the auction.
posted by Isadorady at 4:23 PM on June 11, 2012

Garst Museum
posted by Isadorady at 4:24 PM on June 11, 2012

I bet the shotgun has one of those beautiful Damascus barrels. Before we had the technology to drill a long hole down the length of a steel rod, we had a more elaborate way of making gun barrels involving twisting and wrapping the steel. The process leaves a pattern of steel grain like on a katana blade.
posted by foobaz at 5:31 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd say this is weird,

I'm a huge Annie Oakley aficionado and if I had the kind of money it takes, I would absolutely, without question, assemble a collection of things related to her.

It breaks my heart that things like this don't find their way into museums.

Sometimes this is exactly how they find their way into museums...through the winding road of private sale. At least this one went through an auction; that generates some publicity and may get the object and the owner onto the radar of museums who might be in a position to approach him about one day acquiring the object later, or securing it by deed of gift as part of his estate.

That said, there is a LOT of Annie Oakley stuff out there. That's one reason this price probably didn't rise so high.

I made a pigrimage several years ago to the They do have an absoltely phenomenal collection of her stuff, which is indeed amazing to see in what amounts to a large, but small-time, county historical museum. The museum itself is clearly full of kind people, but its current mission is to tell the entire history of Greenville County, and only part of that includes Annie Oakley. But they have her Bible, her embroideries, things Sitting Bull made and gave to her, original posters, her traveling trunk, her boots, much much more. It's incredibly comprehensive. One could make the argument that the collection belongs somewhere like the Smithsonian - but it's a good point that, except for a few objects or a special show now and then, it would probably spend most of its time in storage. For those willing to go to Greenville, it's accessible any time.

I think the greater pity with the Garst Museum is that the collection is so unpublished, and has just about no web presence. Each object is full of context and story - it would make a fantastic online experience to present it digitally. It's not even well published in terms of scholarly research.

Western topics don't always get major shrift in the scholarly world of American history - the whole realm suffers from a lot of romanticization and it makes a lot of thinkers just want to stay away from it. Annie Oakley herself is a personality who comes loaded down with layers of mythology and pop-culture dilution. I find it all pretty interesting, and so do American Studies and Popular Culture scholars, but it'd be hard to get the right kind of interest going - NEH grants and the like - to make the collection really sing. Maybe the next folks in leadership there will figure out a way.

But I did walk away with kind of an interesting perspective on Greenville, which for a little settlement ended up being part of some big historical stories. Annie is certainly my favorite, but many would say more significant is the Treaty of Greenville, the first document to establish the construct of "American states and Indian lands" and to call for no encroachment into either by the other party. The treaty was the first signed document between whites and Native Americans, and it was almost immediately breached by both parties, leading eventually to the Indian Wars and the election of Andrew Jackson, making it a portentuous document that foreshadowed Native-White relations for much of the century. I was quite blown away with it, particularly the signatures of many of the tribe leaders who signed having written in pictograms.
posted by Miko at 5:46 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oakley is a likable figure in many ways. She lived well with her fame, had a long and happy marriage to Frank Butler, another trick shooter, and was friendly with the Indians in the Wild West. I tuaght a course about Buffalo Bill a couple of years and by the end the students came away mostly disliking Cody, but loving Annie Oakley.

We watched the 1950 musical Annie Get Your Gun, which has not aged well. In a key scene at the end, Annie realizes that to win Frank's love she has to let him win a shooting contest, which she does. Then the Broadway revival of the play came through town and some of the students went to see it. They told me that the ending had been rewritten so that Oakley wins the shooting contest. so that is progress.

Also, there is an NRA commercial out there somewhere that presents Oakley as an early advocate of women owning guns for self-defense, which is true.
posted by LarryC at 7:21 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm just amused that she would have a shotgun, what with her being such a great shot and all. Shotguns are for people like me that couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2012

I'm just amused that she would have a shotgun

Calling it a "shotgun" doesn't mean it's the same thing as a contemporary skeet-shooting or duck gun. I wouldn't extrapolate from that terminology that anyone with a shotgun could shoot as well as she could, because that's very far from true.

She had all kinds of guns. Many of her most famous tricks - shooting glass balls, shooting the ace out of a playing card - were done with rifles, and she also shot revolvers. But for a number of her tricks she did use a shotgun (her first gun as a girl, as well), though by "shotgun" they meant essentially a smooth-bore rifle that projected a cartridge of tightly packed shot instead of a solid single shot.

There wasn't much difference at the point of impact. During the years of the Wild West Show, she was asked to use the packed-shot shotguns because there was a (reasonable) fear for audience safety if solid bullets were used. If something went awry, loose shot offered less liability of fatality. But these weren't sloppy duck-hunting guns - they created shot patterns no more than an inch or so wide at 100 feet. Using solid bullets in the same guns would not have made the shooting task significantly easier, and the fact that essentially no opponent could outshoot her across her repertoire of challenges using the same equipment is testament to the level of difficulty.

Even with the shotgun performances, she didn't just aim and hope. When she was providing for her family as a young girl, she didn't just hunt meat for them to eat -- she bagged and sold game to high-end city hotels on the railroad line. The reason her product commanded a good price was that she was such a clean shot - she didn't scatter shot throughout the body, ruining a lot of the animal, she managed to place most of it in the animal's head for a quick kill and good quality meat appropriate to a hotel restaurant presentaiton.
posted by Miko at 8:35 PM on June 11, 2012 [10 favorites]

I'm just amused that she would have a shotgun, what with her being such a great shot and all. Shotguns are for people like me that couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat.

For an amateur sporting clays shooter like me, unfortunately hitting things with a shotgun is far from easy....
posted by lstanley at 6:16 AM on June 12, 2012

Yeah, me too! I don't mean to downplay it...even when my shot spreads across a 4-foot square it doesn't help me a lot.
posted by Miko at 6:29 AM on June 12, 2012

> I'm just amused that she would have a shotgun

There's plenty of place for skill in shotgun shooting. Try hunting quail or dove with a .410, or even a 20 gauge. It's a great way to burn up lots of expensive shotgun shells, spend the afternoon making BOOM noises out in a pretty meadow, and come home without having so much as dislodged a feather. The typical dove hunter's dinner is a pb&j sandwich.
posted by jfuller at 10:30 AM on June 12, 2012

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