The Firearms of Sharpshooter Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley no doubt gained her shooting ability while hunting as a child. Some believe her father may have introduced her to firearms at a very early age.

One story is that Annie’s first shot taken at a squirrel with her father’s old Kentucky rifle. This probably would have been before even eight years of age. Shooting contests were quite popular when Annie was young and she entered many of them. The story there is that she won so many of these contests that many of the events began to bar her from entering. It was at one these popular events that Oakley met her future husband, Frank Butler.

Annie Oakley’s Firearms

So what were the guns that Annie Oakley liked?

Many people who try to find out what models of guns Oakley employed during her long career find out that the list was quite long. Annie Oakley, the famous sharpshooter and star performer in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, used a wide variety of firearms during her life.

In fact, years after her life, one such gun was sold for a mere five dollars by a relative in 1940. The gun sold was a Remington Beals. The Remington Beals was a very rare rifle. Supposedly only 800 hundred were manufactured during the two year period 1866-1868. Remington actually manufactured a few different models of the Beals, such as the Navy Beals and the Army Beals, however the model that Annie Oakley was known to use was produced in this small number. The rifle was a .32 caliber, single shot gun. This particular Remington model was used by Annie Oakley often in Cody’s Wild West.

As I mentioned above, if you’re trying to figure out what that “special rifle” was that Oakley used, it’s going to be difficult.

In addition to the Remington Beals model, Oakley used a large assortment of both rifles and pistols. These include both Smith and Wesson and Colt revolvers, a large assortment of shotguns including the Hibbard double barrel and several .22 caliber rifles.

As a side note, during her long career with the Wild West, one of Oakley’s more popular shooting demonstrations while performing with Cody’s Wild West was hitting a dime tossed ninety feet away. She generally used a .22 rifle for this one. Often she reportedly used a Marlin lever action .22 caliber rifle similar to the close-up photo below right. This photo is courtesy of In regards to shotguns, there’s a story that circulated that Annie was having trouble using the shotgun and supposedly was fitted with a better model in England. It is known that in addition to the Hibbard shotgun, Annie also at one time tried Lancaster and Francotte models.

Oakley was also known to give out some of her guns as souvenirs.

Whether it was a pistol, rifle, or shotgun, the legendary Annie Oakley was masterful with them all. Some of these guns have made it back over the years to the National Firearms Museum in Washington D.C. for public display. The Garst Museum in Greenville Ohio which features the Annie Oakley Center also has some of her authentic guns on display.

My understanding is that an Annie Oakley gun is also on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming.

Annie Oakley purchased a Model 3 Smith and Wesson handgun in 1888. This would have been while she was touring with Buffalo Bill. The Smith and Wesson design pioneered the use of sealed cartridges for quick loading and rapid firing. The Smith and Wesson Model 3 shown in the photo below is courtesy of There are also flyers that pop up every so often that point to Annie Oakley preferring this gun or that. Colt ran advertisements around the year 1913 regarding Oakley preferring that firearm during her daily performances. Although, by 1913 Annie had retired from the Wild West and was putting on demonstrations sporadically.

Below are links to our Trips Into History article regarding Samuel Colt, his repeating pistol invention and a family tragedy involving his brother. Also the article, The Woman Called Calamity Jane…

Samuel Colt, His Personal Successes and Trials

The Woman Called Calamity Jane

Another related and very interesting article is the story of Frank Butler and Annie Oakley, the sharpshooting duo. On our Western Trips site we also have an interesting article with photos about the 1800’s Frontier Firearms.

Annie Oakley honed here sharpshooting skills at an early age. Annie was born in 1860 and lived in poverty after her father passed away.

Annie actually began hunting and shooting at the age of eight. It was necessary in order to  support her siblings and her widowed mother.

The game she obtained from hunting around Greenville Ohio allowed her to bring in money by selling it to both restaurants and local townspeople. The story is that the proceeds from Annie’s hunting allowed her mother to pay off the mortgage on the farm. This all happened when Oakley was a mere fifteen years old.

Annie was quoted in a publication of hers “Powders I Have Used” as stating, ” When I first commenced shooting in the field in the Northern part of Ohio my gun was a single barrel muzzle loader, and as well as I can remember was a 16 bore”. She further states in ” Powders I Have Used” regarding her first guns, “My first real gun was a breech loading, hammer, 16-gauge made by Parker Brothers. I was proud of that gun. One hundred brass shells came with it. These I loaded with DuPont black powder, and continued to do so after I joined the Wild West Show, always using wads two sizes larger, so that the shot would not loosen in the second barrel”.

Concerning the various powders Annie used, she states that the first smokeless powder was called “Ditmar“. She then tested another from England which was named “Schultz“. In fact, while the Wild West was touring England, Annie’s husband, Frank Butler, went to the Schultz factory to learn more about using it. Annie Oakley was known however to try just about any new powder that came to market including a French powder when performing there. From my research it appears that the American Schultz powder manufactured by DuPont in the U.S. may have been Annie’s favorite.

Annie Oakley used many different firearms and powders during her career. There is not one firearm that Oakley used exclusively. It appears that she actually used or at least tried out almost every model gun manufactured. I’m certain she had favorites but with her sharpshooting skills she probably was a sure shot with just about any.

(Photos and images from the public domain)


Pawnee Bill and His Wild West Show

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was the most acclaimed entertainment troupe in the latter 1800’s and at the turn of the century. Old West shows were quite in vogue in the last part of the 1800’s. No other show of it’s kind, and most likely no other show period, had the world acclaim that the Wild West had.

The Buffalo Bill show was in demand. When traveling throughout England and the Continent during the 1880’s and 90’s, the Wild West performed for heads of state, royalty and influential people of all callings. There was never another group of entertainers quite like Buffalo Bill Cody assembled. Some of these entertainers grew famous during their years with the Wild West, most notably Phoebe Ann Moses, the sharpshooter with the stage name Annie Oakley.

Pawnee Bill

gordon lillie and may manningA man named Gordon William Lillie, born in 1860, was also a Wild West showman. Lillie was known by the name “Pawnee Bill” and there were several reasons for this. In 1879, Gordon was working on the Pawnee Indian agency in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

The photo left is of Pawnee Bill and May Lillie

In 1883, he was given the opportunity to work with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as the Pawnee interpreter. This work with the show would ultimately give him his nickname Pawnee Bill. The need for an interpreter accompanying the Wild West was real. As most people recall, the Wild West performers for the most part were the genuine articles. The Indians were genuine Native Americans, some not many years away from the warpath. Sitting Bull himself joined Cody’s Wild West for about four months. Nevertheless, Pawnee Bill’s association with William Cody would lead to opportunities in the future.

Pawnee Bill met May Manning, another western performer, who was known to many as the “Champion Girl Horseback Shot of the West.” May Lillie“, her soon to be new name, was quite a skilled female sharpshooter. The couple (pictured above) were married in 1886 at May’s parents home in Philadelphia. Gordon Lillie’s wedding gift to his bride was a pony and a Marlin 22 target rifle.

After the marriage in 1886 they started their own western show called, “Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West“.  Unfortunately, the first year didn’t go too well financially and they then created a smaller show called “Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show.” This new smaller operation fared much better and Lillie recruited Jose Barrera (pictured below), known to audiences as “Mexican Joe“. Barrera was only 15 years old when he joined Pawnee Bill. Even at that young age he was an expert equestrian and roper. He was called the greatest trick roper in the world. Mexican Joe along with other performers were also noted for their unique “Bailable a Caballo” in which both riders and horses danced in pairs to the music of a twelve piece band. During his lifetime, Mexican Joe toured throughout the United States and Europe. He performed with Pawnee Bill, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West and with the successful Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Show. Mexican Joe was a star in many old west shows.

mexican joeIn regards to the talented May Manning, she became very involved in Women’s Relief efforts, buffalo herd preservation as well as Indian culture. May also became involved in films starring in  “May Lillie, Queen of the Buffalo Ranch,” a film produced at the ranch. In 1936.

The image right is of Mexican Joe

In 2011, May Manning Lillie was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth Texas for her work during her Wild West Show career as well as her role in the preservation of the American bison. The Pawnee Bill Ranch was a refuge site for the buffalo.

The Wild West Shows

To give you a feel for Pawnee Bill’s show, the group included Mexican cowboys, Pawnee Indians, Japanese performers, and Arab jugglers. The show appeared to be part western show and part circus. Pawnee Bill featured boomerang throwers, Turkish musicians and freaks of all sort in his museum annex.

Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill Cody joined forces in 1908. This new show was called “The Two Bill’s Show“. Unfortunately, while traveling with their show in Denver Colorado, the Two Bill’s Show was foreclosed on and dissolved. “The Two Bills Show” didn’t enjoy the same fame as the Cody’s Wild West show. The photo below is of a cowboy around 1902.

Visit the Pawnee Bill Ranch Museum

1902 cowboyToday, you can still see an edition of Pawnee Bill’s show during the last three Saturdays of June. Tickets for these events can be bought at the Pawnee Bill Ranch Museum in Pawnee Oklahoma.

The ranch area containing the buildings is located on Blue Hawk Peak. The Ranch refers to it as “the hill” to differentiate it from the lower pavilion/picnic/arena area and the large pastures that comprise the bulk of the ranch.

These performances in Pawnee Oklahoma are not part of the Pawnee Bill shows that take place in Fort Worth Texas. The tickets for the Pawnee Oklahoma events cannot be purchased online, only at the Ranch Museum itself.

Visitors to the Pawnee Oklahoma ranch can now tour Pawnee Bill and his wife, May’s, 14 room mansion which is fully furnished with their original belongings. Today, Pawnee Bill Ranch consists of 500 of the original 2,000 acres. It also includes original outbuildings.

The ranch is now operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. The Pawnees Bill Ranch is open as a historic site dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of history as it relates to Pawnee Bill and May Manning Lillie. Many people who visit the Pawnee Bill Ranch combine it with a visit to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Both the ranch and the museum in Oklahoma City make good additions to your Oklahoma vacation planner. They fit in well for a low cast family trip.

The city of Pawnee Oklahoma is a very historic and an excellent place to visit when you’re in the area. Also a good place to add to your summer vacation road trip planner.

The splendor of the old west cowboys and Indians are still very much alive and well in Pawnee. The magnificent old buildings stand today as monuments of a time gone by. Pawnee is.located in the northern part of the state, about 50 miles northwest of Tulsa and about 75 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)