Friday, February 24, 2017

Lillian Francis Smith---Sharpshooter and The California Huntress

Lillian Francis Smith (3 Feb 1871– 3 Feb 1930)  PBS Bio

Lillian was born in Coleville, California, six years after Annie Oakley. At the age of seven, she became bored with dolls and asked her father for a little rifle instead. She was performing in San Francisco by age 10, and her father offered a $5000 wager that no one could beat her. She challenged Doc Carver, one of the era's best-known marksmen, to a competition in St. Louis, and he never showed up. Buffalo Bill Cody discovered her while touring in California, and she joined the his Wild West show in time for its summer 1886 run on Staten Island. The 15-year-old Smith became billed as "The champion California huntress."
As you can imagine, the younger Smith brought out the claws in Annie Oakley. Mote @ Legends of Jim Kid
The two women were experts in different weapons, Oakley favored the shotgun, while Smith preferred the rifle. But relations between the two quickly went south. One reason was Smith's personality, she liked to brag and could be heard declaring "Annie Oakley was done for" now that Smith was part of Cody's show. Smith spoke coarsely and wore flashy clothing, this was appalling to the more conservative Oakley. In addition, Smith was apparently a bit of a flirt, perhaps promiscuous. Smith was also younger, and that may have threatened Oakley. Her actions certainly suggested that Oakley felt some pressure, that summer she started telling people that she was born in 1866, chopping six years off her real age and narrowing the gap with 15-year-old Smith. She also had a flashy new outfit made for the Wild West's opening parade, one that said "Oakley" on both sides.
The growing feud between the two intensified when Cody's show went to London in the spring of 1887. Oakley was criticized in the press for shaking the hand of Prince Edward's wife first, while Smith, who had done the same thing, was not singled out. Can we say "Meeoow"?
Because of the rivalry and Cody's reluctance to moderate it (He probably thought it good for the show)The relations between Buffalo Bill and Oakley soon deteriorated to the point that Oakley decided she could no longer go on with the Wild West show, and she left it at the end of the London season.

After Oakley departed, Smith was married to Jim 'Kid' Willoughby. Her fortunes began to decline. After a disastrous shoot at Wimbleton, the fickle papers began to criticize her and mock her speech. Allegations also surfaced that Smith was cheating in her Wild West act. This was rejected as false by Cody and he would snub Oakley and talk up Smith in his later account of the meeting with Queen Victoria. But, he must have realized that Smith would never be the draw that Oakley was. Smith left Buffalo Bill's show just in time for Oakley to rejoin it in 1889.

Smith turned up a year later, in "Mexican Joe's Wild West" show with her skin darkened and her stage name changed to "Princess Wenona, the Indian Girl Shot." She and Oakley did meet once more, both competing in the 1902 Grand American Handicap. Oakley out shot Smith that day, and then they went their separate ways, Oakley onward into historic fame.

The few records that still exist concerning Lillian Smith states that she performed her sharpshooting act for various other western touring shows that sprang up after Cody's success. These included the 101 Ranch wild West Show and Pawnee Bill's Wild West. History also shows that Smith was involved with a few more romances and marriages in the early 1900's. Ultimately, Smith sank down into obscurity. So much so that most of us reading this have never heard of her.

A tintype portrait of a woman identified as Lillian Smith, the celebrated California sharpshooter, armed with a Stevens Tip-Up Rifle, ca 1875-1885, 2.5 x 3.1 in. Smith was hired by Cody to appear with his troop in 1886. Almost immediately, she was seen to be Annie Oakley's rival. During Cody's tour of Europe the following summer, the rivalry became public over perceived slights by European royalty. Smith left the show in 1889, and faded into obscurity.


A share from Historum
 Find a Grave

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