March 29, 2010
Bourjaily: Annie Oakley and Female Snipers
By Phil Bourjaily
Thanks to editorial assistant Kristyn Brady, who sent me a link to this short movie of Annie Oakley and a copy of her letter to President McKinley volunteering her services in the Spanish American War.
The movie, by the way, was filmed in the very first movie studio, Thomas Edison’s Black Maria, in 1894. Oakley, by all accounts, was an exhibition shooter at least the equal of today’s Tom Knapp and Tim Bradley, and she did her shows without the benefit of a semiauto. When she threw four targets in the air and broke them, she used two double guns. Granted, Oakley doesn’t do anything especially jaw-dropping in this clip, probably due to the constraints of having to film inside Edison’s studio, which was little more than a shack in New Jersey. However, I am very impressed with Oakley’s assistant – possibly her husband Frank Butler – who scarcely flinches as she shoots over his head. He is either fearless, supremely trusting in his wife’s shooting skill, or completely deaf from too many muzzle blasts already.
Whether Annie Oakley and a company of female sharpshooters could have ended the Spanish American War even more quickly is a question to which we will never know the answer. What we do know about female sharpshooters is that the Red Army – which did win – employed as many as 2,000 women as snipers in WWII, as seen in this video interview with veteran Lidyia Gudovanatseva: