Escapes: Cambridge, Md., honors legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley

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By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010

I raised the rifle to my shoulder, closed one eye, stared at the target and squeezed the trigger, trying my best to channel Annie Oakley, America's most famous female sharpshooter.

Never mind that my weapon of choice was a BB gun and my target three cardboard bull's-eyes, while Annie shot a .22-caliber rifle and an apple off the top of her dog's head.

I was paying homage to this symbol of late-19th, early-20th-century girl power on the 150th anniversary of the year she was born. And there was no better place to do it than in Cambridge, Md., the Eastern Shore town she called home from 1913 to 1915. The entire town is celebrating Oakley this year, with a two-day festival held earlier this month and a renewed sense of pride in the sort-of native daughter's accomplishments.

"It's great that someone that famous chose to live in Dorchester County," said Kevin Davidson, owner of Backfin Antiques, whom I met at a barn dance to kick off the Oakley festival.

Truth be told, not all Cambridge residents know much about Oakley's connection to their town. "I don't think we celebrate her heritage enough," said Amanda Bramble, owner of Jimmie & Sook's Raw Bar and Grill downtown. "There's a lot of strong people who are from this town." (Another example: Harriet Tubman.)

Oakley was originally from Ohio, but after 10 years of traveling with Buffallo Bill's Wild West Show, she retired and moved to Cambridge with her husband, Frank Butler. She had a house built on Hambrooks Bay off the Choptank River and was known to shoot ducks from the balcony of her bedroom window. She made sure that the two-story brick and frame Colonial Revival suited her needs, with a kitchen sink set low to accommodate her 5-foot frame and built-in bookshelves where she could display her trophies.

The house is thought to be the only surviving property in the country that she occupied as a primary residence. It's now a private home, owned by Carol Baker-Jones, a real estate agent who, appropriately enough, ran a shooting range for 13 years.

Baker-Jones told me that she and her husband have lived in the house for two years. She doesn't mind the tour buses that often stop in front to let visitors gawk at the place. (She was not too thrilled, however, when someone stole the sign marking the house as Oakley's former residence from her front lawn.)

Baker-Jones grew up in Cambridge and would occasionally walk by the house, a rather ordinary-looking brick and frame structure, to do some gawking herself. When she heard that it was for sale, she said, she "just had to have it."

The bookshelves remain, albeit filled with books and not trophies, but the rest of the house had been renovated by previous owners. (The countertops in the kitchen have been raised.)

On the front porch, we gazed out at the Chesapeake Bay. "To me, it's just special," Baker-Jones said. "Look at that view."

Frank Butler would have agreed with her. He once wrote a poem about Cambridge, calling it a "sportsmen's paradise." He and Annie spent their years there hunting and fishing. Annie gave shooting exhibitions at the county fair and encouraged women to learn how to handle guns.

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