I Remember Annie

I remember Annie Oakley. I wish I could say I knew her, but that would be stretching the truth a bit. However, I did have the honor of being in her presence on one occasion, when I was sixth-grade spelling champion from Jackson Centralized School competing in the Darke County Spelling Match. The famous sharp-shooter had moved from Florida to Dayton, and in 1924 she paid a visit to friends in Greenville, among them Charles A. Wilt. Mr. Wilt was County Superintendent of Schools for twenty years, beginning in 1914.

I got the impression he was giving his celebrated guest a conducted tour of points of interest, and one of their stops happened to be Memorial Hall where the county spelling match was being conducted. I remember he introduced his "dear friend Annie Oakley" to the group of contestants, of which I was one.

This happened seventy-five years ago, and time has a way of making our memories a bit foggy—but I remember that Annie walked with a cane. I was told later she had suffered severe injuries earlier in an auto accident down in Florida from which she never fully recovered. I don't recall that she spoke a word—merely smiled and nodded her head. Following the lead of our teachers, we students applauded generously, and Mr. Wilt guided his visitor out the door, perhaps toward the next point of interest.

To an eleven-year-old schoolboy, Annie Oakley, in spite of her diminutive size, was a striking figure, a reserved lady with impeccable—even aristocratic—bearing. Mr. Wilt was by no means a large man, but he stood nearly a head taller than his guest, who measured a little less than five feet. In her mid-sixties at the time, Annie was no longer in her prime, but her name was still a household word.

There is no doubt that she was a sharpshooter of remarkable skill, although some of the tales of her prowess have been embellished with the telling and retelling until they are unbelievable. For example, how about Frank Butler holding a dime between his thumb and forefinger while Annie shot a hole through it? Aw, c'mon now! Ever since the world began, spectacular feats by great performers have been blown out of reason until they strain the credulity of their most ardent admirers. Annie Oakley doesn't need that kind of magnification to make her great—she stands in a class by herself. How many other female sharpshooters can you name who came anywhere near reaching her stature?

After moving from Florida to Dayton, it was convenient for her to pay a visit to friends in Greenville. The inter-urban tracks ran right in front of her home on Salem Avenue, and for about forty cents she could ride to within a block or two of the home of one of her childhood friends, Cora Belle Knoll.

Annie's mother, Susan, married Joseph Shaw in 1874, and the family moved into a new home south of North Star. Cora lived a couple of miles to the southwest, toward Rossburg, and the two girls spent many hours together hunting and fishing. It was in this area of northern Darke County that Annie developed and perfected her skill with a rifle.

The two friends parted when Annie met and married Frank Butler, but their friendship continued until Annie's death in 1926. At this time, Cora was married to Albert Knoll and lived on Wayne Street near the north side of Greenville almost adjacent to the Palais Gardens—a dance pavilion and skating rink. Their son, also named Albert, was a favorite of Annie's; she called him "my little man," and Al still has vivid memories of Annie Oakley's visits to their home.

His father bought him a little red wagon for his fourth birthday, and he recalls how Annie pulled him around the neighborhood in it and how they would rest in the shade of a huge white oak tree near their home while she told him nature stories or read to him. He remembers her teaching him how to tell the difference between a red oak tree and a white; the leaf lobes of the red oak are pointed, like the arrows of the red men, while those of the white oak are rounded like the bullets of the white men.

Annie sat beside little Albert at the dinner table, and she filled his plate with mashed potatoes, bread and gravy and encouraged him to eat all of it so he could grow up to be a big man like his father. Her "little man" eventually grew up to be a two-hundred pounder and was manager of the Greenville Park for many years until a stroke forced his retirement.

Annie was a very religious person, and during her short stay on East Third Street, she would sometimes walk the mile or so to the "tent church" near the Palais Gardens to attend a revival meeting being conducted by a traveling evangelist. No doubt some of the preachers invoked the wrath of The Almighty upon the Devil's House across the way, and who can say their crusade was in vain? The Gardens burned to the ground in 1937.

During and after the first World War, a feed mill stood at the corner of Third and Walnut streets and sometimes, when Mr. Knoll drove his horse-drawn wagon there to get a load of feed for his livestock, Cora and their son would ride along to pay a visit to Annie. In late 1926, Annie could no longer walk across town to the Knoll home on Wayne Street. Her husband, Frank, was terminally ill in a nursing facility in Michigan. Annie passed away Nov. 3, and Frank followed eighteen days later. They had been married a little more than fifty years. His body and her ashes were buried together at Brock Cemetery.

The never-ending controversy concerning Annie's ancestral family name will not be continued here. Whether it was originally Moses, Mozee, Mosey or Mauser, it ended up being Moses—and that's all that matters. I recall an interesting story told to me by one Jefferson Mosey, who claimed to be a third or fourth cousin to Annie. According to his version, the name used to be Mosee, but when Jacob Mosee moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, he changed it to Moses.

Furthermore, according to Jeff, Mr. Moses proposed changing his first name from Jacob to Israel as his Biblican namesake had done; however, Mrs. Moses refused to endorse the idea, so for the rest of his life he was known as Jake Moses.

I cannot vouch for the veracity of Jeff Mosey, because he also told me he had an uncle down in Alabama who was a farmer and he raised two hundred acres of horseradish. But I'll say one thing for him—he could make a five-string banjo talk!