|Annie Oakley as "The Western Girl"|
AP picked up the story and it ran in dozens of newspapers before it was revealed that the person arrested was a burlesque dancer posing as Oakley. Annie got her (legal) guns and sued 55 newspapers—the largest libel suit ever—even though most had printed retractions or apologies. She won 54 of the cases, including a $27,000 suit against Hearst, but the six-year struggle lost her money and career opportunities in the end.
Oakley was born in Greenville, Ohio to a Quaker family with five children. Her father died when she was six and she was sent to a poorhouse, then to a family she called "the wolves" as a servant. When the "wolf" mother locked her out of the house in the snow for falling asleep while darning, Oakley looked up at the moon and prayed for help. She ran home and learned to shoot, and never missed, aided by keen eyesight, athleticism, balance and possibly divine intervention. At the age of 15, she fed her family by hunting, selling hampers full of quail to local stores.
|Annie and her husband, Frank Butler|
After a train accident injured Oakley's spine, she retired from the Wild West Show and began an acting career at the age of 42, appearing to rave reviews in "The Western Girl," a play written for her. But her fledgling second career was squashed when the Hearst article appeared, and her focus shifted to clearing her name. Hearst fought the suits, even hiring a detective in a vain attempt to dig up dirt on her. His lawyers tried to smear her on the witness stand as having an "insatiable" desire for drugs, and for being an exhibitionist. "That terrible piece nearly killed me," she said. "The only thing that kept me alive was the desire to purge my character."
Hearst was instrumental in the smear campaign against marijuana in the 1930s, publishing stories with headlines like, "Hasheesh Goads Users to Blood Lust."