Did you know that Annie Oakley was a Leesburg snowbird? | Sumter County Shopper

Did you know that Annie Oakley was a Leesburg snowbird?  |  Sumter County Shopper

When the seasons change, Lake County begins to see a population swell as northerners escape the cold temperatures and settle for the winter. This has been going on for generations, and Annie Oakley was one of those snowbirds, snipers known as the Little Shore Shot, who spent their winters in Leesburg for more than a decade in the early 1900s.

One of the most famous women in the world, Oakley starred in Buffalo Bill Wild West Shows, which took the band around the world. The performers traveled to Europe, where they performed in front of kings and other dignitaries. In Jill Jonnes’ book, “Eiffel’s Tower,” which explores the construction of this famous Parisian landmark and the 1889 World’s Fair that led to its creation, you don’t necessarily expect to learn that Oakley once resided in Leesburg. But there was in the text:

“Annie Oakley and (husband) Frank Butler, financially comfortable from their glory days, are now settled into the good life at two trendy resorts – the Lakeview Hotel in Leesburg, Florida, and the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst, North Carolina.”

The servants and their English maker, Dave, spent several winters in the Lakeview Hotel, or Lake View Hotel, at the corner of Maine and Palmetto Streets in Leesburg.

Nearly 100 years later, a new public library in Leesburg has unveiled a bronze statue of Oakley with Dave, in tribute to her connection to the city. The installation took place in 2007 – in the place where servants used to live in the hotel – and was preceded by the publication of a short video recounting some of Leesburg’s years in Oakley.

“The shopkeepers in town knew Annie, and one of her guns was on display in the Boyd’s Furniture Store,” according to the narration in the Friends of the Leesburg Public Library video. To her preference, she was known as Mrs. Butler in the Leesburg area, but she exhibited shooting events that showed her prowess with a pistol.

She even included her beloved dog in her act, sitting with an apple on his head and then releasing her. “He knew he wouldn’t be shaken,” says the video narrator, adding that after Oakley crushed an apple, Dave would often eat a piece of it.

By 1912, the servants were spending several winters in Leesburg, researching with residents Dave Newell and George Winter, among others. When their dog Dave was hit by a car and killed on Main Street in February 1923, the couple held a funeral and buried him under a tree at their Winter Lake County farm, as shown in the various photos.

News of the dog’s death spread across the country, and Frank Butler later wrote and published “Dave’s Life, as Told by Himself,” which can be considered a fitting conclusion to a dog who once sent annual Christmas cards.

Dave’s death was preceded by a car accident in November 1922 near Daytona Beach that left Oakley with a leg brace that she would wear for the rest of her years. While this limited her activity, she did not give up shooting.

In Cheryl Casper’s autobiography “Annie Oakley,” an account of a shooting gallery begins at the 1923 Philadelphia Phillies spring training event in Cook Field, “Everyone in Leesburg knew Annie Oakley, and her sighting had stopped playing baseball that day. She was carrying crutches, But she seemed unafraid as she took Frank Butler’s hand and slipped out of the car.”

The novel continues, “Annie gave up her crutches, bent down completely on her left leg and began an exhibit he described as ‘a little miracle.’ I threw winged pennies into the air twenty feet high and sent them spinning through a diamond (baseball) … Then she threw five eggs in the air with her hand left and broke it all before it hit the ground.”

Snowbirds so much enjoyed most of their time in Leesburg, by all accounts, that Butler called it an “athlete’s paradise” and the pair hunted turkeys, quail, deer, and other wildlife throughout Lake County. Oakley even shot a seven-foot-long rattlesnake in one outing, according to Casper’s bio.

Annie Oakley, the inspiration for the 1940s musical “Annie Get Your Gun”, was born in 1860 in Ohio. She died in her home state in 1926, and three weeks later her husband and partner Frank Butler died. Their remains are interred in Darke County, Ohio, where Oakley lived as a child.

Interested in learning more? Check out Casper’s biography from the Lake County Library System and read this great article in the journal Reflections of the Orange County Regional History Center on

www.thehistorycenter.org/annie You can also see Thomas Edison’s 1895 film Oakley at the Rifle Show at the Library of Congress website: www.loc.gov/item/00694108.

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