By Amy Larsen, Wyo4News feature writer
There’s no business like show business.
When I was about seven my Grandparents took me on a trip with them up to Yellowstone and Jackson. I am sure that several of my memories of that area have blurred with later trips, but there are two memories that stand out. First, my Grandmother was in all her glory as we enjoyed dinner at the Wort Hotel, well kind of enjoyed dinner. There may have been a bit of a meltdown over a hamburger, but it somehow got resolved. Then following dinner they took me to see my first musical, Irving Berlin’s, “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Pink Garter Theater. I sat on the edge of my seat the whole performance. I was so in awe of the music, the actors and began my lifelong fascination with Annie Oakley.
When I returned, my uncle found the record from the original cast and I played it so often even my family had the songs memorized having never actually seen the musical. For many years later when anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I would say “Annie Oakley on Broadway!”
Well clearly I was not destined for Broadway, in fact, I have actually yet to make it there even for a visit! Becoming Annie Oakley? Well, 40 years later I finally had my chance while part of an event at the Ranch at Ucross in Northern Wyoming. Three weeks later and I am still as in awe of the experience as I was that night I first encountered Annie herself.
Anything You Can Do
Annie Oakley was of course known as the first famous markswoman and a star alongside her husband Frank Butler in Buffalo Bills Wild West Show and other performances. However, before that, she was Phoebe Ann Mosey, “Annie” a girl from a poor family in Ohio. Annie’s dad passed away when she was really young, and while her mom remarried a few times, her family remained poor. At 15 she started using her dad’s rifle to hunt small game as a way to support her family by selling it to a local grocer. Her marksmanship was so accurate that she not only was able to put food on the table for her family but cover the mortgage as well! The grocer encouraged her to enter a local shooting contest against Frank Butler while he was in town. As we all know she won, they fell in love and traveled the world performing together. In later years she actually volunteered to teach marksmanship to the troops during World War I. She and Frank died 3 weeks apart, both of natural causes. She was an incredible woman, leaving an incredible and inspiring legacy.
Doin’ What Comes Naturally
I was able to harvest my first Antelope as part of the Wyoming Women’s Antelope hunt a few weeks ago. This incredible event was “founded in 2013 by the Wyoming Women’s Foundation (WYWF) as an opportunity for mentoring and developing camaraderie between women.” (https://wywf.org). When I found out in May I had gotten into the hunt, I was overwhelmed with excitement and honestly had no idea what all that really meant. I prepared hard for it as I knew this was an incredible opportunity and that I had one shot to make the most of it.
There were 45 women that gathered that weekend, each one there for their own reason, each with their own story. Some were avid hunters checking off a bucket list item to hunt an antelope in Wyoming. Some had never held a rifle before that weekend and were challenging themselves to step out of their comfort zones. Others were battling illnesses, healing from losses, and others just celebrating life. I am not sure what my ultimate reasons for being there were, it was overwhelming to be included in a room with such accomplished and ambitious women. I knew I wanted an opportunity to go on a hunt, to embrace this tradition that I have grown up around, and be a strong, confident outdoor woman. I craved the social aspect of it, the opportunity to embrace a new experience and network. Much like Annie Oakley, I recognized an opportunity to experience a new part of the world, discover and embrace a part of who I am.
I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning
Like Annie Oakley, I had my dad’s gun with me, although I fired my one shot with the one he bought for me. It was a surreal moment, a moment of awe and empowerment, confidence and humility. I felt the pride of my dad, family, and friends at that moment, even though they didn’t know I had filled my tag yet. I sat in the moment in the field, taking it all in, as it really was unbelievable. The circle of life is a crazy beautiful thing.
When I returned home from the hunt, as I was closing the lid on my freezer, I actually had to take a moment to catch my breath as I realized I had not only harvested but also processed, wrapped, and now would be able to prepare that meat for myself and others. Not going to lie, it was a pretty cool feeling. Who knew so much was held in just one shot?
In 1946 Ethel Merman sang “There’s no business like show business” for the first time in “Annie Get Your Gun”. She may be right, I’ll never know as I never made it to Broadway. However, on the last night of the hunt, the hunters that were able to take their antelope in one shot were recognized by being awarded the “Annie Oakley”, and given a special ring. As you can guess, that ring has not come off my hand yet and the soundtrack plays nonstop in my head! I did it! I finally became Annie Oakley and there is definitely no feeling greater than doing it on the stage I love the most, the outdoors of Wyoming!