Internationally renowned sharpshooter Annie Oakley once called Cambridge home
Written by Joe Willey
Some people leave the shores of the Delmarva Peninsula to make a name for themselves. Some come famous and look to the Shore to provide a relaxed charm that the stresses of fame cannot offer. One of Cambridge’s most renowned citizens who longed for rest was a person whose name is woven into the fabric of the legends of the rough and tumble American West — Annie Oakley.
She was born in Ohio in 1860 as Phoebe Ann (“Annie”) Mosey. After her father’s early death, she began trapping and hunting to help support the family. She had such skill with a rifle that a few years later, she entered a shooting competition and beat sharpshooter Frank Butler. The two had more than marksmanship in common and were soon married.
In 1885, both Oakley and Butler joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a circus-like touring troupe. Her skill was uncanny, but the pace was grueling, so in 1912, Oakley and Butler moved to Cambridge, looking forward to a time away from the spotlight and free of the pressures of travel.
They built a house on Cambridge’s scenic Bellevue Avenue, overlooking the Choptank River. The spot was also a popular location for resting flocks of waterfowl. The house has a unique front roofline, which tradition says was designed to let both Oakley and her husband move easily from the second-floor rooms to the flat balcony and shoot the birds floating a short distance from their front door. But the couple soon grew restless and left Cambridge after five years. They never returned. Oakley died in November of 1926. Her husband died just 18 days later. The house, affectionately known as the “Annie Oakley House,” is now on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Annie Oakley is an American legend, but when she and her husband looked for a place where they could escape the frenetic pace of show business, they found the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Just as she was attracted to the charm and beauty of the area, many are still being drawn today. Her name may be synonymous with the soul and bravado of the West, but because of a few restful years, it is also synonymous with the relaxed pace of Delmarva.