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Between 1954 and 1957, actress Gail Davis portrayed famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the television series of the same name. Known as the “Queen of the Wild Frontier,” Davis was only five foot two and the pigtails she wore in the show were her own. Her father was a surgeon in McGehee, Arkansas, which was a little town with acorns on the trees. And that, she claimed, was the secret of her whole success.
When she was eight years old, her father gave her a rifle and she discovered she had a talent for shooting acorns. By the time she was nine, she could hit an acorn at sixty yards backwards. According to her memoirs, she had a warm, happy childhood. At the age of three she was named the Most Beautiful Baby in Arkansas and was given a horse as a prize in the contest. By the time she was six she was an exceptional rider. Like other little girls, she yearned to go out into the world and try her hand at shooting and riding horses.
While attending the University of Texas at Austin (where she studied drama and dance) she met cowboy singing star Gene Autry. Gail was competing in a rodeo when the actor saw her. He was impressed with her riding technique and invited her to look him up if she was ever in Hollywood. Gail drove to California right after she graduated and contacted Autry during a visit to Los Angeles. Autry secured a job for the cowgirl working as an extra on various western television shows. After a couple of years helping ambush rustlers and playing damsels in distress on the Gene Autry Show, she was cast as the lead in the Annie Oakley series. “The moral of the story,” Gail noted later in her life, “is that tiny acorns make mighty Oakleys.”
A skilled rider and crack shot, Gail did most of her own stunts. Annie Oakley was the first western to star a woman. It ran for four years and continued into the 60s in reruns. Davis stayed with Autry’s western show tours for many years before retiring. In 1994 she received the Golden Boot award in recognition of her contribution to westerns.
Gail Davis died of cancer at the age of seventy-one in March 1997. Seven years after her death she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.