The newspaper about the West

Annie Oakey: Dead — Again!

From Out West #40, October 1997

By Chuck Woodbury, editor
Out West

I have some sad news. Gail Davis is dead.

She played Annie Oakley on the Annie Oakley TV series. If I close my eyes, I can visualize her. I really loved that show and Gail Davis, too, who played a good Annie Oakley.

Gail Davis as Annie Oakley
In real life, Gail Davis was Betty Jean Grayson. She died March 15 in Burbank, Calif., at age 71. I learned about her death in American Cowboy Magazine. I stopped in Sheridan. Wyo., today to meet the editor and publisher of the magazine. We ended up going to lunch at the Sheridan Inn, where Buffalo Bill hung out. Buffalo Bill, of course, was a friend of Annie Oakley’s.

American Cowboy editor Jesse Mullin and publisher Bill Bales gave me a few issues of their beautiful magazine. I was pretty surprised to read in one that Gail Davis had died.

All the good TV cowboys and cowgirls are dead. Only Roy and Dale are left, and Clayton Moore — the Lone Ranger (I think he’s still alive) — and the great Gene Autry, who just turned 90 in case you didn’t know. Hoppy’s gone, and the Cisco Kid, Poncho, Tonto, and even Kingman, Arizona’s very own Andy Devine. And now Gail Davis.

I was reminded of how much I liked Annie Oakley just the other day at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody. There’s an exhibit about Annie there, with her gun and picture. Gail Davis didn’t look anything like her, but who cares?

A few years ago, after visiting Annie Oakley’s home in Ohio, my wife got irritated with me over a picture I had bought of Annie Oakley. In it, Annie looked very beautiful. I stared and stared at the photo. My wife thought I was lusting over Annie, which was simply not true. I just liked the picture. That’s all. Really.


And now here’s something pretty darn interesting: Did you know I shared a scary experience with Annie Oakley? It’s true. Sort of, anyway...

It was a couple of years, when I was on a four-month road trip with my wife and daughter. We had stopped in Greenville, Ohio, to visit Annie's home. Afterwards, we went to her grave a few miles away. I wanted to spend a few moments with Annie, to tell her that I had visited her house and that I admired her life, thanks, of course, to Gail Davis.

The weather that day was terrible. As we drove to the cemetery, it started raining cats and dogs, and there was very big lightning bolts, too. Bam! Bam! They were hitting all over the place. It was S-C-A-R-Y!!

After looping around the cemetery road a few times, we finally fou
Annie's headstone is on the left.
nd Annie’s grave, to my great delight. Nobody else was around, only my wife Rodica, my daugther Emily (then 2) and me. We pulled up a few yards from the grave, and I got out even though it was raining hard. Lightning was hitting all around, but far enough away that I didn’t feel in danger. And so there I stood at Annie’s grave feeling very privileged to be in the presence of a Western legend. I touched the wet headstone and said, “Hi, Annie.” It was hard to believe I was standing right on top of the famous Annie Oakley.

I took a picture of the headstone. About five seconds later, a lightning bolt struck really, really close — so close, in fact, that the light and sound arrived in the same instant! I was one scared dude. So I raced back into the motorhome, where I huddled (and prayed) with Rodica and Emily.

Annie, of course, didn’t have a clue about what was going on, which, I suppose, is one of the few benefits of death.

In a few minutes, the storm lightened up. Rather than remain for the next round, we hit the road. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to Annie.

And now Gail Davis is gone.

It doesn’t seem right.

What I didn’t learn until later was that Annie Oakley isn’t actually buried in her grave. Her cremated ashes are buried a few yards to the right, in the coffin of her husband Frank Butler, who died three weeks after Annie.

According to the book Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, nobody would be more surprised at the continuing romance associated with Annie Oakley’s life than Annie herself, who “endured incredible hardships on the road,” according to author Isabelle Sayers.

Annie died in 1926, but she continued to perform nearly to the end of her life, even after being seriously injured in a car accident in 1922.

It's hard to imagine Annie in a car, isn't it?

Read about Big Nose George, the only Wild West crook to be turned into a shoe after his death!

©2008 by Out West Newspaper



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