They Were All Sure Shots

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Aa showman, if not as a marksman, she was never surpassed. For shortly after the turn of the century the last of the shooting shows folded its tent. Various circuses, the firearms companies, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show absorbed the best of the shooters, but even Buffalo Bill’s great spectacle was paling as new and more sophisticated forms of entertainment —the touring play, the lantern-slide lecture, the embryonic cinema—began to invade all but the crossroads towns. The frontier was fading, and replacements for the acts were difficult to obtain. Wild Bill Hickok, Major Frank North, Doc Carver, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill himself—these had been living history. But the age that had created them was passing, and the new West, crisscrossed with barbed wire, was a far cry from that of the open range, the Pony Express, the buffalo hunter, and the Indian warrior. The trick shooters and riders who replaced the aging heroes were good, but they were performers and little more. They had no names. The great show declined, and in 1917, when Buffalo Bill died, it folded completely, although for a while its ghost lived on in the comparatively pallid “Wild West Show” that, almost as an afterthought, traditionally followed the feature performance at every circus.

When that happened, the shooters who had once thrilled America slipped off into obscurity. The deaths of Bogardus and Carver went practically unnoticed. Only Annie Oakley was remembered when she died, in 1926. To millions who had seen her in her prime, she was difficult to forget.