The Love Behind the Legend

Cincinnati, Ohio

Thanksgiving Day, 1875


Frank Butler was a professional trick shooter who showed off his skill in traveling stage shows.  When a $100 prize was offered to the winner of a shooting match, he was confident the money would soon be his—especially since he’d be shooting against a pint-sized 15-year-old girl. 

     Young Phoebe Ann Mosely, known as Annie, had been hunting game to feed her family for years.   $100 was a fabulous sum, and she was determined to win it.  The two competitors took turns firing 25 shots each.  Annie hit the target 25 times.  Frank missed his last shot.  He lost the match, and his heart in the bargain.  “I was a beaten man the moment she appeared,” Frank later said, “for I was taken off guard.”

     A gracious loser, he gave Annie’s family tickets to his show.  Soon he was courting her.  An Irish charmer, older than Annie by ten years, Frank had been married before and fathered two children, but he was a kind man with no bad habits, so Annie’s mother gave her blessing.  The couple was married August 23, 1876 (a date later given as 1882, perhaps because of Annie’s age or because Frank may not have been legally divorced at the time).   

     A  man with a poetic soul, Frank would write of his wife, “Her presence would remind you/Of an angel in the skies, /And you bet I love this little girl/With the rain drops in her eyes.”   

     In the early years of their marriage, Frank performed with a male partner.  On May 1, 1882, his partner took sick.  Annie had to go on stage to hold the targets.  Frank wasn’t having his best night.  When, after some misses, the audience clamored to “let the girl shoot,” Annie gave a spectacular exhibition.  Soon the team was performing as Butler and Oakley.  But Frank soon realized that Annie was the real star of the act.  Some husbands wouldn’t have taken kindly to having a celebrity wife.  But as Annie’s fame grew, Frank became her manager, handling finance, bookings and promotions.  It was a happy partnership that would last for the rest of their lives. 

     In 1885 the pair joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, touring and performing with them for 16 years.  Annie Oakley became one of the most famous women in the world.  But in private life she was always Mrs. Frank Butler.  

In 1901, after suffering injuries in a train wreck, they left the show to rest and recover.  Frank took a job as a representative for the Union Metallic Cartridge Company.  They continued to tour and perform on their own, finally retiring in 1913.   Even then they did charity work, raising funds during World War I.  In 1922 Annie was planning a comeback when both of them were seriously injured in an auto accident.  Annie never fully recovered her health.   On November 3, 1926, at the age of 66, she passed away.    After 50 years of marriage, Frank was unable to go on living without his Annie.  He stopped eating and died 18 days later, on November 21. 

     Can you think of other couples who’ve had inspiring love stories?  My own mom and dad come to mind.  They were married sweethearts for 63 years.  I like to think they’re still together somewhere. 

Clicking on one of the small books below will take you to  My new story, THE BORROWED BRIDE will be available November 1.



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35 thoughts on “The Love Behind the Legend”

  1. Aww, Elizabeth! I mentioned Annie on Stacey’s blog yesterday, so yours today brought a huge smile. I didn’t know so much about Annie though. What an amazing love story she and Frank had.

    I think of my parents, too. They met in 1973 thanks to a blind date my uncle set up. My uncle was dating my dad’s ex-sister-in-law and my dad had gone through a divorce and the death of his ex-wife in a train/car collison. My mom always joked it was not really a blind date- at least not on her end, cause she had peeked out the window and saw my dad before their date.

    My dad was 20 and my mom was 24. She thought he was young and immature, but she agreed to go out with him anyway. Their first date was to a drive-in movie and she didn’t eat before they went, so she snuck off to get a burger during the movie, saying she had to use the bathroom. My dad, who didn’t/doesn’t smoke- smoked a pipe to try to make himself seem older and more sophisticated to impress her.

    After their date, he asked if he could call her and she said sure, though her first thought was that she’d never hear from him again, but true to his word, he called her mid-week and they dated for quite some time. I believe he asked her to marry him about 3 months after they started dating and she turned him down. He might’ve asked more than once…Several more months went by and my grandfather told her to stop wasting the boy’s time and either marry him or not. LOL

    They got married in May of 1974 and they’re still together.

    There’s so many inspiring love stories- both real and fictional- (the love story in Far and Away for one- traveling all the way from Ireland, struggling and hoping to lay claim to land in the West). I like to believe that it’s more the real love stories than just the “fairytales” we grew up on that inspire us, not only in what we read but in our own lives.

  2. Reading your post was a beautiful way to start my day, Taryn. I was smiling all the way through your story. And congratulations to your parents. In this day and age a long, happy marriage is a real accomplishment. Thanks for sharing.
    My own parents met when Mom was just fourteen and out for some fun with her girlfriends. Dad was four years older, out with his friends, too. They didn’t marry until she was 21 and they had both finished college.

  3. Today is my 33rd anniversary of being married to my husband, Robert, and reading the story of Frank and Annie was inspiring. My dad’s parents were married 72 years before grandpa died. At one time they were the longest married couple in our city. My mom and dad were married 54 years. There still are folks who hang on to their marriages, even in these crazy days.

  4. Congratulations, Vickie! You are an inspiration. It sounds like long marriages run in your family. 72 years–that’s unbelievable! Here’s wishing you and your sweetheart the same.

  5. Elizabeth, I found the story of those train wrecks so fascinating that I used one for the opening of one of my first books, Rain Shadow. That’s how my h/h met, he is helping bury and burn dead buffalo. She is in the Wild West Show to compete with Annie Oakley.

    Great info today.

  6. Happy Anniversary, Vicki!!! My hubby and I hit 20 years in February—if we survive the house remodel *lol*

    Elizabeth, what a beautiful post!! I just love their love story–a blessing after Annie had such a hard childhood. I’m a firm believer in love at first sight and I’m alway impressed by a man who finds pride in watching his wife shine 😀 And that poetry—**heart throb**

  7. Cheryl, I fell in love with Rain Shadow when I saw the cover. Was it the real train wreck in your story? I need to find and read it. And such a beautiful title. I just got marketing’s decision on the book I called “Suddenly in April.” It’s coming out as HIS SUBSTITUTE BRIDE.

  8. Congratulation to your parents, Pam. I used to think people celebrating their golden wedding anniversary as really, really old. Not any more. Wishing your mom and dad many more happy years.

  9. My uncle Win and Auntie Elaine hit 53 years before she, sadly, passed from a lingering stroke. They were just adorable, always cuddle muffins…dressing in vintage clothes and parading in their Antique Car Club.

    They were kinda like hubby and me…friends as teens but didn’t fall in love until some years later.

    Hubby and I wanna hit the half-century mark and beyond ourselves. 34 years this year after an extremely difficult health challenge for him last spring. But we made it, and he’s doing great!

    I just love this post, Elizabeth. Nonfiction can sure be romantic, too, huh. The Borrowed Bride is beautiful also.

  10. Hi Elizabeth,

    What an interesting post! I’m always learning something new on here. I never had heard what happened to Annie Oakley so it was a surprise to learn she was in a car accident. Guess I always thought she died of old age.

    The couple that sprang to mind when you were talking about long marriages was Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. They were so much in love. It broke my heart when he recently passed away.

    My parents were married for 53 years and had a wonderful marriage. They loved each other deeply and I think that love is what got them through the Depression years. They certainly had their share of trials but they weathered them all with strength and love.

    Thanks for the memories, Elizabeth! 🙂

  11. Hi Elizabeth,
    I have to tell you every time you post your cover, it takes my breath away. I really love it!

    My parents had a great marriage and they were role models for me. They were married 53 years, starting off very late in life because of WWII. My dad took a 3 day leave and married her then had to go back. They didn’t have children for eight more years. They struggled in those years, but they always told stories of how it brought them closer together. I wonder if todays families have that strong sense of committment, thru bad times and good.

    Vickie- Happy Anniversary!!

  12. Hi, Elizabeth, I just love this story! Frank sounds like he had enough self-esteem to step back and let Annie be the star. Now that’s true love!

    My grandparents, too, had a deep love for one another. They were immigrants from Italy and lived many of the old country ways. She waited on him hand and foot; he refused to let her work outside the home. He felt it was his place to always take care of her and their 5 children, and he did.

    Happy Anniversary to you, Vickie! Doug and I celebrated our 33rd just last June!

  13. I loved reading about Frank and Annie! My grandparents were married 64 yrs and my parents were married for 50 years. My husband and I will be hitting 40 next year so here’s hoping we make at least another 10!! Happy Anniversary Vickie.

  14. Congrats on your anniversary Vickie – I know 33 yrs goes fast but can seem like forever at times. (In just a couple months, I’ll hit the 32 mark of glorious bliss.)

    Elizabeth – thank you for the post. Annie was my nickname when I was growing up and it was always fun to take my brothers’ toy guns and pretend that I was her. My teen daughter did Annie and the song ‘You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun’ in a music festival a couple years ago, too. But even in both those instances, I only thought about Annie as a Wild West Show performer.

    It’s so nice to read how she joined the show and of her love life. sigh. I love happy endings.

  15. Tanya, I wish you and your husband many more happy years together. You’re a lucky lady.
    And there’s nothing sweeter than two old people who are still in love. Romance knows no age limit.

  16. What an inspiring story about your parents Charlene. My dad was in the Navy in WWII. I have very faint memories of his being gone and Mom reading his letters.
    I hope the fact that you’re posting today means you’re safe from the California fires!

  17. Glad you like the cover, Linda. I love it, too.
    Just to clarify–I didn’t put this in the story, but I remember reading that Annie died of something called pernicious anemia. It may or may not have been related to the car accident, but the accident did weaken her health and made her more susceptible.

  18. Anita, I’m glad somebody else remembers the musical. I loved the Hollywood version with Betty Hutton as Annie and adorable Howard Keel as Frank. The story wasn’t exactly true to life but so much fun. Their performance of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” was just a classic–even though Annie and Frank weren’t rivals in real life.

  19. Oh, and your bringing up Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Linda…right on. They were the perfect couple, defying all those awful Hollywood stereotypes.
    Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn also come to mind. In a late-life interview they announced they were getting a divorce. Then, while the reporter went into shock, they broke into giggles!

  20. Hi Elizabeth:
    Loved the story of Annie Oakley and her soul mate. My grandfather worked for Buffalo Bill.(I never heard if he met Annie Oakley.) Nothing grand, just taking care of the corrals and such. He had run away from home when he was a teenager, and took odd jobs. He later met my grandmother at a sugar factory in Sugar City, Idaho and fell in love. After they married, they had nine children. My mother was one of them.
    In the YA time-travel I’m writing now, which is set in Rome during Augustus Caesar’s time, enduring love was not the name of the game. However, for my heroine and hero it certainly is.
    Thanks for the refreshing love story!

  21. Thanks for your post, Kathi, and welcome to P & P. What a story about your grandfather and his connection to the Buffalo Bill show. Can’t wait to read you YA book.
    Come back again soon.

  22. What a beautiful story, Elizabeth! I never knew the story behind Annie Oakley. I think Doris Day played her once in a TV movie…I used to love those oldies!

    Wow, Frank stopped eating and passed away. So sad, but I’ve often heard of soulmates doing that type of thing. Your thoughts about your own parents touched me, too.

    Great blog!

  23. Wow, I didn’t know that, Elizabeth–thanks for the great story, and all of you posters, congrats on your own fabulous stories.

  24. Annie has always been a favorite of mine. She could do all the things I thought I wanted to do as a child.
    My husband and I have been married 45 years this year. He is so super to have stuck with me that long!
    I am inspired by the love story of my niece. She was from Minnesota, met someone on E-harmony from Hawaii. After many months of corresponding they met and volcanos eruped and ice melted. The marriage was a beautiful blend of the two diverse cultures on the Isle of Maui. Yes, through the generasity of a family member and my best friend, I got to attend the wedding! He is an associate Pastor and she has a degree in youth ministrys. Remember the volcanos and ice, they now have the cutest little slushie, a darling little dark eyed beauty. They are so wonderful together.
    Elizabeth, I read your book, On the Wings of Love and I so loved it. Those with whom I have shared it have also praised it. Thank you for a beautiful story.

  25. Didn’t we hear some wonderful stories, Fedora? It’s good to know that lasting love is alive and well.

    And congratulations on your 45 years, Connie. Bet your husband thinks he’s a lucky man. Loved your description of your niece’s romance–the erupting volcanoes and the melting ice and the little slushie. That’s priceless!
    So glad you enjoyed Wings. That book was a labor of love, and I’m thrilled when a reader responds to it. Hugs.

  26. A nice romantic story.But is it the correct story.I Have been trying to prove this story for many years.But as crazy as it seems what if i told you frank e butler was not his name.he had two researching this now and if im correct and i hope i am wrong it will show frank e butler in a different light.

  27. Thanks for your very interesting comment, Pete. For this post I just rewrote what I found on the internet, so I didn’t dig into the real story, as you have.
    There often seems to be more to history than popular stories tell. Good luck in your search.

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