1830 to 1930
The years between 1830 and 1930 were a time when sharp shooters were well known either because of their outlaw activities, they were a person of the law, or part of a wild west show. There are still sharp shooters in our communities, but they do not participate in the same activities. On the east coast the sharp shooters of that time were usually in the military, but in the Midwest and the west coast life was lawless and civilians took arms to defend themselves and the sharp shooters became known for their activities.
Life in the Midwest and West
Life in the Midwest was saloons and gambling dens springing up overnight as they following the railroad. The boom towns attracted millionaires, as well as hustlers, poverty and crime. The trail of tears was taking place at the Arkansas River beginning the first steps in the U. S. campaign to remove Native Americans from their homes on the east coast. A marker regarding Wild Bill Hickok in Springfield, Missouri states; “Nothing better describes the times than the fact that dangling a watch held as security for a poker debt was regarded as a justifiable provocation for resorting to firearms.”
Martha Jane Cannary
A girl of thirteen, Martha Jane Cannary, accompanied the hunting party daily as she and her family moved from Missouri to Montana. She liked being outdoors and was a great shot. Her father passes away before they reach Montana. Being the oldest daughter she works many jobs to help provide for her family. She becomes a Pony Express rider, a scout for Custer, a prospector, a gambler, a rustler, a horse thief, a bootlegger and eventually a sharpshooter for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Later, she met “Wild Bill Hickok” and was attracted to him, but nothing becomes of this friendship. It seems no matter what she did or where she went calamity followed her. That is how this sharpshooter came to be known as “Calamity Jane.”
Myra Maybelle Shirley
Myra “May” Maybelle Shirley grew up in Missouri with the Younger’s and the James’ and was a cousin to the Hatfield‘s of the infamous feud. May would ride side saddle, shoot and became a crack shot. The Shirley family moved to Texas and her father, who ran with the Younger and James gangs, was killed. May married outlaw, Jim Reed, who ran with the Quantrill, James and Younger gangs. They moved to California and hooked up with a Native American gang by the name of Starr. Jim gets shot and May marries one of the Starr’s. Mrs. Starr was a very verbal person, many of her statements are recorded such as; “next to a good horse there is nothing like a fine gun,” and “a pair of six-shooters beats a pair of sixes anytime” are just a couple of her sayings. She becomes known as the “Petticoat terror of the plains” and the “Bandit Queen.” She is better known as “Belle Starr.”
Phoebe Ann Mosey
Phoebe Ann Mosey started out at a really young age trapping, she was shooting and hunting by the age of eight. Then at the age of fifteen she won a shooting match with a traveling show marksman. Phoebe became well known throughout the region. She won several more shooting matches and then joined up the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Her famous quote is “I ain’t afraid to love a man…I ain’t afraid to shoot him either!” She carried many titles, but she is best known as “Annie Oakley,” although she was called by those who knew her well as “Mrs. Butler” and her death certificate reads “Annie Oakley Butler.”
May E. Manning
May E. Manning was born on the east coast to a well to do family of physicians. She married Gordon William Lillie. As a wedding present he gave her a pony and a Marlin .22 rifle and they went on the road with a Wild West Show. They eventually settled on a ranch in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Her husband soon became known as “Pawnee Bill.” They created the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show. May being a natural with the rifle became known as the “World’s champion woman’s rifle shot” and “May Lillie Princess of the Prairie.” She would shoot target cards, sign them and give them to audience. She became best known as “May Lillie.”
Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst
There many more interesting people known throughout the Midwest who were not sharp shooters, but known for there heroic acts.
Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst was a orphan from Vermont. At the age of twelve she ran away from the orphanage and found work as a stable hand. She soon became the best groomsman in the area. She began driving the stage coaches and became known as “Cock-eyed Charley” and “Six-horse Charley.” It thirty year later at her death the her secret was known. At the age of twelve she had changed her name to “Charley” and dressed as a boy. The livery stable owner thought she was a boy, from that time on she lived as a male. In 1868, as a man, she became the first woman to vote. It was upon her death that they discovered that Charley or Charlotte had given birth and was really a woman.
James Butler Hickok
It was a hot day in July 1865 when lawman James Butler Hickok lost his cherished pocket watch in a poker game to an old friend, Davis K. Tuff. The next day Tuff came to the square and was showing off the watch. James told him “Don’t come around here with that watch.” Tuff left for a while, then returned to the square later and began showing the watch. Davis and James took the duel stance, Davis drew first, but was not fast enough for James Butler Hickok. The rest of the story goes like this…There was three days of trial and James Butler was acquitted of manslaughter by a jury. This sharpshooter whose weapon of choice was a custom colt .45 pistol, who had a trigger finger, is better known as “Wild Bill Hickok.”
William Henry McCarthy
William Henry McCarthy was born in New York. His father dies and his mother remarries. His mother gets sick about the time she remarries and his stepfather takes over caring for him and his brother, eighteen months later his mother dies. Exactly one year from the time of his mother’s death he has his first run in with the law for stealing clothes. He then graduates to stealing horses. He gets a bounty on his head and he starts killing people. He is a sharp shooter and for a season he always wins. The saying goes that for the twenty-one years of his life he killed twenty-one men. He had several alias throughout his short life; “William H. Bonney,” “Henry Antrim” and “Billy the Kid.”
We do what needs to be done
In the name of survival we will do what needs to be done whether it is becoming a sharp shooter, a premium rider, or dressing and acting as a man.