Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Sharpshooter, Chameleon, and Rival

Years ago, I wrote a short story featuring Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank. I had a great time reading about her and the life she led, and it was fun imagining and penning a tale where Annie’s shooting skills dazzled a crowd of onlookers.

Annie Oakley preparing for an over-the-shoulder shot. I’m betting she didn’t miss her target. (Bettmann/Corbis)

In the course of gathering information, I ran across a young woman who was a major competitor of Annie’s named Lillian Frances Smith. With my focus on Annie, I didn’t pursue any in-depth facts on Lillian. I finished my story and moved on to other things, forgetting all about Annie’s rival.

Until a few months ago.

I discovered a new biography – in fact, the only biography – on Lillian Frances Smith, America’s Best Female Sharpshooter, written by Julia Bricklin. I couldn’t resist it, and ordered the book.

Lillian turns out to be a fascinating character in her own right.

Known as “The California Girl”, Smith amazed crowds at the age of fourteen, performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. As time changed circumstances, she was shrewd enough to reinvent herself in the public eye, becoming “Princess Wenona”. Chameleon-like, she used dark makeup and wore Native American dress, to bill herself as a Sioux sharpshooter. While she invented her Sioux heritage, her sharpshooting skills were real. Records credited to Lillian by the time of her death included such accomplishments as: breaking 71 of 72 glass balls thrown in the air while on the back of a running horse, hitting 300 swinging glass balls in 14 minutes and 33 seconds, and making 24 of 25 8-inch bull’s-eyes at 200 yards. Not shabby shooting at all.

A publicity shot of “Princess Wenona”. (Library of Congress via

This biography not only brings Lillian Smith to life, but discusses the rivalry between Smith and Oakley in a way that helps us understand the differences and similarities between these two women. A look at how the Old West shows were operated by Buffalo Bill and other such entrepreneurs is a bonus.

Julia Bricklin is certainly qualified to tell Lillian’s story. She’s written for Wild West, Civil War Times, Financial History, True West,, and She edits California History.

If you’re looking for a well-researched biography about a strong woman from America’s past, I’d suggest picking up a copy.

Attention historical novelists! Wouldn’t “Princess Wenona” make a fabulous heroine for your next book?

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  1. She sounds like a good follw-up for a novelist with a great book about the wife of Jesse James!

  2. Donna Volkenannt

    June 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Isn’t research fascinating? Oh, the things you can learn and the people you can meet who come to life!!

  3. Fascinating story. History is populated with such amazing people we’ve never heard of.

  4. Pat–I’m with Sarah. It sounds like a great book idea for YOU. If Bricklin’s book is for adults, have you thought about a YA novel about this sharpshooter?

    By the way, you WILL let us know when you have a book signing, won’t you? (I can’t wait. 😉

    • Pat Wahler

      June 18, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      Sioux, I’m not sure Lillian’s story would be suitable for those under the age of eighteen, if you know what I mean. 🙂

      As far as a book signing goes, it’s far (far, far) in my future.

  5. It’s strange that some people become famous and others who are often more skilled are not. I was watching Packed in a Trunk (on Netflix) about Edith Lake Wilkinson who they discovered was the first to paint in a specific style, but was never recognized as a painter nor recognized as the one who began white line block prints. Apparently the men in Provincetown were allowed to show their paintings all the time, but women could only display them on Sundays! A man was heralded as the first white block painter but his prints were dated a couple of years after hers.

    • Pat Wahler

      June 18, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      Ann, you are absolutely right. Women had a tough time of it on so many levels in the past. Unfortunately, they do now sometimes, too.

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