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Francis E. Butler (January 30, 1847 (baptized) – November 21, 1926) was an Irish American marksman who performed in Wild West variety shows. He was married to sharpshooter Annie Oakley, and while his birth date is listed on his and Oakley's U.S. passport application as February 25, 1852, the obituary for Butler posted by the Associated Press in 1926 has his age as 76, which meant he was born in 1850.[1] According to baptism registers on file at the National Library of Ireland, Butler was baptized on January 30, 1847.[2][3] His parents were Michael Butler and Catherine Whelan.[4][5][2] He was the oldest of their five children.[4][6]

Frank E. Butler
Frank E Butler c1882.png
Butler c. 1882.
Francis E. Butler

(1847-01-30)January 30, 1847 (baptism)
DiedNovember 21, 1926(1926-11-21) (aged 79)
Ferndale, Michigan, United States
Cause of deathSuicide by starvation
Resting placeBrock Cemetery
Greenville, Ohio, United States
Occupationsharpshooter, show business manager, glass blower
Henrietta Saunders
(m. 1870; div. 1876)

Annie Oakley
(m. 1876; died 1926)
  • Edward F. Butler
  • Katherine E. "Katie" Butler
  • Michael Butler (father)
  • Catherine Whelan (mother)


Early lifeEdit

Frank Butler was born in County Longford, Ireland, and moved with his family to the United States at the age of 13.[4] He initially worked a series of odd jobs, including one as a glass blower, while living near Camden, New Jersey.[6] Butler married Henrietta Saunders around 1870; they had two children, Edward and Katie.[6][7] The two divorced a few years later. Sources mentioning Butler's first wife as Elizabeth are inaccurate. Elizabeth is actually his granddaughter, and her father was Edward F. Butler.[8][9]

Annie Oakley and the Wild West ShowEdit

Frank Butler eventually developed a shooting act and toured with variety shows. After meeting at a shooting competition in Cincinnati, Ohio, Butler married Annie Oakley on August 23, 1876, although he would later claim the date was June 20, 1882.[10] They developed their shooting act in 1882 when Oakley stood in for Butler's sick partner, John Graham.[11] In 1884, the Butlers joined the Sells Brothers Circus. From 1885 to 1901, they were a fixture on Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.[12] As Oakley became the star attraction, Butler became her manager and wrote articles and press releases. Oakley said that the financial part was always in her husband's hands.[13] Oakley returned to performing between 1911 and 1913, this time with Vernon Seaver's Young Buffalo Show, with Butler again as her manager.[14] Butler also worked as a representative of the Union Metallic Cartridge Company and as a salesman for the Remington Arms Company.[15]


After they retired, Frank Butler and Annie Oakley Butler had brief residencies in New York City and Nutley, New Jersey as well as Cambridge, Maryland, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, and then returned to Ohio.[16][17] Their house in Cambridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[18]


Annie died on November 3, 1926 in Greenville, Ohio. One biographer reported that Butler stopped eating after his wife's passing, leading to his own death from malnutrition and starvation 18 days later, on November 21.[19] According to another biographical source, the death certificate listed the cause of his death as senility.[20] Butler was living with Hulda Haines, Oakley's younger sister, in Ferndale, Michigan at the time of his death.[1]

In popular cultureEdit

The musical Annie Get Your Gun is based loosely on the lives of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. Ray Middleton originated the role of Frank in the musical with Ethel Merman as Annie. Howard Keel starred in the film version with Betty Hutton. Bruce Yarnell played Butler in a 1966 Lincoln Center revival, with Ethel Merman again as Annie Oakley. Tom Wopat played the role of Butler in the 1999 Broadway revival. In 1957, a television production starring Mary Martin and John Raitt was broadcast on NBC.


  • Riley, Glenda. The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley (2002), University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 0-8061-3506-9
  • Shooting Star Annie Oakley. Frank E. Butler: Credits Retrieved, Oct. 1, 2014.
  • Dayton Daily News (November 24, 1926), page 7. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2014.
  •, 1870 United States Federal Census. Frank E. Butler: Credits Retrieved Oct. 7, 2014.
  • Find-A-Grave, Henrietta Saunders Seitz. Frank E. Butler: Credits Retrieved Nov. 20, 2014.


  1. ^ a b Dayton Daily News (November 24, 1926), page 7. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2014.
  2. ^ a b, National Library of Ireland - Church Baptism Record for Francis Butler, Retrieved Apr. 5, 2017.
  3. ^ National Library of Ireland - Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Diocese, Templemichael and Ballymacormack Parish, Baptisms from March 1, 1829 to June 11, 1862, page 134, Retrieved Apr. 5, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c, 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Retrieved Oct. 8, 2014.
  5. ^, Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947 (William J. Butler, brother of Frank E. Butler), Retrieved Oct. 8, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c, 1870 U.S. Federal Census, Retrieved Oct. 8, 2014.
  7. ^ Shirl Kasper, Annie Oakley: The Peerless Wing and Rifle Shot, page 236, Retrieved Oct. 9, 2014.
  8. ^, 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Retrieved Oct. 7, 2014.
  9. ^ Find-A-Grave - Elizabeth Henrietta (Butler) Hall), Retrieved Apr. 5, 2017.
  10. ^ "Frank Butler. Annie Oakley.", accessed June 22, 2012
  11. ^ "Frank Butler, accessed July 14, 2009
  12. ^ Buffalo Bill Historical Center Archived 2008-12-16 at the Wayback Machine, accessed July 14, 2009
  13. ^ Riley, p. 55, 62
  14. ^ Riley, p. 62
  15. ^ Sayers, Isabelle S. Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill's Wild West (1981), Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-24120-3, p. 41
  16. ^ Kasper, Shirl (2000). Annie Oakley. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 196, 205–206. ISBN 0-8061-3244-2.
  17. ^, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Retrieved Oct. 9, 2014.
  18. ^ Stephen G. Del Sordo (June 1995). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Annie Oakley House" (PDF). Maryland Historical Trust. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  19. ^ Haugen, B., Annie Oakley: American Sharpshooter, Capstone, 2006, p. 88.
  20. ^ Kasper, Shirl (1992). Annie Oakley. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 243. ISBN 0-8061-2418-0.

External linksEdit