Annie Oakley of the Wild West, by Walter Havighurst

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“An appetiser rather than a main course, that diverts from the topic far too often.”

Annie Oakley was one of the earliest “girls with guns”. In her role as a sharpshooter, performing with the likes of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, she travelled the globe, appearing in front of Presidents, Kings and Emperors. She shot a cigarette held by the future Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany (accuracy later deplored by American newspapers, after the nations went to war in 1917). At 90 feet, she could shoot a dime tossed in midair, or hit the edge of a playing card, then add five or six more holes as it fluttered to the ground. In seventeen years and 170,000 miles of travel, she only missed four shows, and even in her sixties, could still take down a hundred clay pigeons in a row.

So why is this book unsatisfactory? Largely because much of it isn’t actually about her. Originally written in 1954, Havighurst uses Oakley as a key to write about…well, everything else connected to her, and you’ll find half a dozen pages passing without any mention of its supposed subject. The author goes off the track with alarming frequency: Buffalo Bill, a.k.a. William Cody, is the main beneficiary, and someone unschooled in the topic will learn almost as much about him as Oakley. There are some effective moments, particularly when Havighurst depicting the loving relationship between Annie and her husband, Frank Butler, whom she met while outshooting him in Cincinnati. Married for over fifty years, they died less than three weeks apart. But such passages are few and far between; the actual Oakley-related content of the book is disappointing, though I’m now keen to track down a better work on the topic.

By: Walter Havighurst
Publisher: Castle Books [$8.98 from HalfPrice Books]

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