This brassy Californian emerged as Annie Oakley’s only serious female rival in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. Oakley eventually prevailed, but at a price; she lopped six years off her age to compete with the younger shooter.
Lillian Frances Smith was born in 1871 in Coleville, Mono Co., CA. At the age of 7, she became bored with dolls and asked her father for a "little rifle" instead. She performed in San Francisco at age 10, and soon her father offered a five thousand dollar wager that no one could beat her. This was not an idle boast; 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 Wild West in time for its summer 1886 run on Staten Island. The 15-year-old Smith became The Champion California Huntress.
This was nonsense; Oakley still received the lion's share of praise in the press and from British sportsmen. But Cody declined to reply, leaving the task to Oakley's husband Frank Butler and the Wild West's announcer Frank Richmond. Oakley had the last laugh where it counted, on the nearby shooting field of Wimbledon. Two days after Smith had embarrassed herself with a poor showing, Oakley arrived and shot so well that Prince Edward stepped forward to congratulate her. Still, relations with both Cody and Smith had 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.
Smith would never work with Cody again, but she tried to remain in the public eye, challenging Oakley to a shooting match. Oakley declined. Smith turned up a year later, in Mexican Joe's Wild West with her skin darkened and her stage name changed to Princess Wenona, the Indian Girl Shot. The two female shooting stars did meet once more, both competing in the 1902 Grand American Handicap. Oakley out shot Smith that day, and then they went their separate directions, Oakley upward and onward into general acclaim, and Smith down into obscurity.