Today, August 13, is the birthday of history’s most famous marksperson, Annie Oakley (1860-1926). While I’m not a fan of firearms, Ms. Oakley truly used them for survival, teaching herself to hunt at age 9 to feed her widowed mother and six siblings living in poverty in a log cabin in Ohio. When her mother was widowed a second time, she turned Annie over to the county poor farm as an orphan. Working for a local family, the girl endured abuse as practically an indentured servant.
A shooter of superhuman precision, Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler, the world’s second most acclaimed marksperson at the time, joined up with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West traveling show as a gun tricks team in 1880. Until the turn of the century when she suffered a spinal injury in a train wreck, Oakley was the star of the show that embedded the still persisting romantic representation of the American West to the Eastern U.S., Europe, and by extension, the world.
Note that to Victorian audiences, The West meant West of the Mississippi. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West centered around the cultures of the geographically North-Central United States, such as the Great Plains, and particularly the Northern territories such as the Dakotas, as opposed to the later romanticized Southwest or the Pacific Northwest. In honor of Annie Oakley, this rare woman of her time and place–down to earth and gutsy while pointedly dignified, here’s a collection of postcards, not all geographically accurate, but exuding the feel of the West represented in Buffalo Bill’s show, which Oakley helped make legendary.
O.G. Dining Rooms, ‘Ocean Grove’ near Pinon, Colorado, 1897. Photograph by Thomas McKee, courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Department. The signs say “O.G. DINING ROOMS 16 TO ONE” (anyone know what they meant by that?), “Ocean Grove,” “Tourists without Baggage must pay in advance,” and the best: “Ladies without Bloomers not allowed on the Beach.”
Oddly, I did not find this postcard in Pinon, or even in Colorado, but at San Francisco’s legendary City Lights Bookstore.
I learned from the Denver Public Library’s Western History Digital Collections (cool stuff! http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/), that Tom McKee was the first photographer in Montrose County, in far-west Colorado where Pinon is located. Most of his photographs of Pinon feature workers of the Cottonwood Placer Company. They called themselves klondikers, or “Klondykers” as they wrote on a wooden board in one picture, leading me to think Cottonwood was a silver mining company. It seems likely that the men in my postcard were also employed Cottonwood Placer Co.
After finding these photographs and this information, I then sought a picture of Tom McKee, who is said to have been friends with Ute Chief Ouray, for whom the county southeast of Montrose is named, and with Ute chief John McCook. The photograph I found of him was with McCook’s sister: http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15330coll22/id/19403/rec/4 (Another of McCook’s sisters had married Chief Ouray.)
Crystal Mill, Colorado
Wyoming pack trip