An Annie Oakley Pilgrimage
& Wild West Adventure
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
Annie Oakley is one of the most admirable characters in American history, a five-foot-tall, larger-than-life woman from Darke County, Ohio who was self-reliant and never stood down from a challenge or fight.
She has been called the first American woman to become a Super Star, achieving international fame as a sharpshooter and performer in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is said that she never missed a shot. She could shoot accurately with both hands, over her shoulder looking through a mirror and while standing on top of a horse. She could hit six moving targets in succession, pennies thrown in the air, and the hearts on playing cards held at a distance in the hand of her faithful husband and assistant, Frank E. Butler. She outshined any competitor she faced, both male and female, including her husband, and she did it with her own style and grace.
As part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show she performed before millions of people around the world, including royalty. She famously shot the ash from a cigarette held in the mouth of Fridrich Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia who helped ignite World War I. Annie later regretted not moving her rifle a little to the left.
When that war did eventually break out, Annie wrote to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and offered to fully fund and raise a regiment of women volunteers to fight. Not only this, she also offered to teach American soldiers how to accurately shoot. Unfortunately for history, both of her offers were turned down by the Secretary.
She also once wrote to President William McKinley and offered to lead a team of 50 women sharpshooters to fight in the Spanish American War. This offer also was turned down.
Along with overcoming a tragic childhood, later in life Annie survived a train crash and a car crash, not to mention having her good name slandered in one of William Randolph Hurst’s newspapers. The slanderous article, which reported that Annie stole a man’s trousers to sell in order to support a cocaine habit, was picked up by 54 other newspapers across the United States. It was, of course, false news. Like the strong-willed person she was, Annie spent seven years suing all 55 of the newspapers who ran the false story. She won 54 of the cases. However, she ended up spending more money on her lawyer fees than she earned from the lawsuits. But money never was the goal, standing up to injustice and returning her good name were.
Hurst actually sent a detective to Greenville to look into Annie’s past to dig up any dirt, but there was none to be found. He ended up paying her $27,500 in restitution. Today, that would be equal to about $400,000.
Another noble act performed by Annie came at the end or her career. She melted her numerous gold medals from sharpshooting and donated the money to charity.
The stories of her valor and grace go on.
After traveling around the world and living at various locations in the United States, (spending much of her time hunting) Annie eventually ended up back in Darke County, living her final years near downtown Greenville with her husband of 50 years.
Today it is possible to visit many sights related to Annie Oakley by taking a driving tour of Greenville and northeast Darke County.
Along with being adored the world over, the residents of Darke County have celebrated her remarkable life with a museum, a statue, paintings, historical markers and plaques, and even two annual festivals—the Annie Oakley Festival and Gathering at Garst, both held on the same weekend in July.
The following tour connects a number of these points of interest and also includes a number of other stops un-related to Annie Oakley, but that are equally fun, such as the Maid Rite Sandwich Shoppe in downtown Greenville, the Winery at Versailles and Historic Bear’s Mill. At the end of the tour, have dinner at Buffalo Jacks in downtown Covington, which has a Wild West theme that fits well with Annie’s life and includes exotic game on the menu and Native American artifacts on the walls.
Stops on the tour include Annie’s birthplace marker, the National Annie Oakley Center at the wonderful Garst Museum, a beautiful barn mural with Annie’s likeness on it, her gravesite, and numerous historical markers and statues dedicated in her honor.
Starting and ending at Historic Bear’s Mill, this 57-mile tour not only provides a chance to learn more about Annie’s amazing life, but also to visit a beautiful and interesting part of western Ohio, and some very special places. Enjoy!
(Note: If you have a chance, before taking this tour, go online and watch the PBS American Experience program about Annie Oakley on YouTube. Watch it HERE.)
Let's Get Started!!!
Historic Bear's Mill
Bear’s Mill is one of the few operating water-powered mills in Ohio today and would have been in full swing during Annie’s lifetime. It was built in 1849. Annie was born in 1860 just 15 miles to the north of the mill. Visitors to Bear’s Mill can take tours of the building and property, enjoy a short hike along Greenville Creek, see the Veterans Memorial Covered Bridge walkway and memorial, and shop in the Mill Store, which features local pottery, ground flour, artwork and other items.
DIRECTIONS: From Bear's Mill on Bear’s Mill Road, return to U.S. 36 and turn left (west) to reach Greenville, a distance of about 5 miles. At the interchange of U.S. 36 and U.S. 127, continue west on State Route 571. This will lead to Annie Oakley Plaza, located at the intersection of 571 and State Route 121 in downtown Greenville. (Parking for the plaza is limited, so it is best to find a spot along Broadway and walk).
Annie Oakley Plaza in Downtown Greenville & Maid Rite Sandwich Shoppe
View a powerful bronze statue of Annie overlooking downtown Greenville at this quaint plaza and then stroll the historic downtown, which maintains its 19th century appeal through its architecture and layout and includes plenty of places to shop, sightsee and dine. Also, just before the next and longest stop at The Garst Museum, is the famous Maid Rite Sandwich Shoppe. It’s open for dine-in and drive-thru service.
DIRECTIONS: From Broadway, continue west through the downtown and traffic circle. After passing the Maid Rite Sandwich Shoppe, take the second right onto State Route 118. The Garst Museum will be on your right.
The Garst Museum & National Annie Oakley Center
At the National Annie Oakley Center at Garst Museum, visitors can get to know Annie and see the two sides of her life—the personal side and the professional side. Exhibits include historic photos, items from her childhood, her tiny shoes and clothing, several of her guns, memorabilia from her days with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West tour, and many other fascinating displays. Additionally, the Garst Museum houses more than 300,000 artifacts in 35,000-square-feet of exhibit space. It includes exhibits on early American and Native American history, a Currier & Ives collection, early agriculture and domestic equipment, period furnishings and more. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults; $9 for seniors; and $7 for youth 6-17. For more information, call (937) 548-5250.
DIRECTIONS: From the Garst Museum, return to downtown Greenville on Broadway. After the traffic circle, turn left on Third Street. The Zemer-Broderick Boarding House is located on the second block on your right.
The Zemer-Broderick Boarding House
This private home is located across the street from the beautiful St. Clair Manor (available to rent as a B&B) and features a plaque commemorating the building as the last residence of Annie in 1926. It was then known as the Zemer-Broderick Boarding House. Although not open to the public, the plaque can be seen by parking along Third Street.
DIRECTIONS: Follow Third Street until it dead-ends into Tecumseh Street and turn left. Tecumseh will dead-end into Main Street. The Home of Fred and Hazel Grote is located on the southeast corner of the intersection, or to the right of your vehicle when facing Main Street.
The Home of Fred & Hazel Grote
Located on the southeast corner of the street, this is the former home of Fred and Hazel Grote, where Annie’s funeral was held on Nov. 5, 1926. It is not open to the public.
DIRECTIONS: From Tecumseh St., turn right on Main Street, which is also State Route 121 and follow it across Greenville Creek. Shortly after the river, turn left on Wagner Ave. (also known as the U.S. 127 Business Route) and continue on U.S. 127 until you reach the Annie Oakley barn painting, which is located at the intersection of Greenville St. Marys Rd. This is a total distance of about 8 miles.
Annie Oakley Barn Painting
Completed in 2016, this beautiful mural depicts Annie wearing her famous outfit and firing her gun at a target. Next to this is one of her many famous quotes, “Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it.” The barn is located on private property but can be seen by pulling onto Greenville St. Marys Rd. The mural is also located near The Winery at Versailles, located at 6572 St. Rt. 47.
DIRECTIONS: To reach the gravesite of Annie Oakley, continue north of U.S. 127 for 3 miles. Brock Cemetery will be to your right and signs lead to Annie’s gravesite. The address is 11775 Greenville St. Marys Rd, Versailles.
Annie Oakley & Frank Butler’s Graves
Many people stop by Brock Cemetery to pay their respects to Annie, as is evidenced by the numerous mementos that people leave behind on her tombstone. She and Butler are buried next to each other in this very quiet and peaceful country cemetery, just like Annie wanted.
DIRECTIONS: To reach the Annie Oakley Birthplace Marker, continue north on U.S. 127 for 4.6 miles and then turn right on North Star Fort Loramie Rd. After 3.4 miles, turn right on Spencer Road. The marker is located about 4,000-feet on your left.
Annie Oakley Birthplace Marker
Located near the small village of Yorkshire, this historical marker stands near the log cabin where Annie was born (it’s no longer there) and near where she would have hunted for game and learned how to shoot. There’s not much room to park, but there’s also very little traffic, so it is possible to pull off on the side of the road for a closer look at the marker, pictured below.
DIRECTIONS: Continue south of Spencer Road, then take your first right on Foote Road and then the next left on Reed Road. This will lead into downtown Versailles.
Along with shopping and dining, take time to view the statues in downtown Versailles, as well as the period architecture and small town charm.
DIRECTIONS: To reach Buffalo Jacks, continue south of State Route 185, passing through the picturesque town of Webster and along the corridor of the Stillwater River and then turn right (south) on State Route 48. The restaurant is located 4 blocks on your right.
Centered around a Native American and Western theme, Buffalo Jacks is decorated with historic maps, arrowhead displays, old photographs and relics, and even a few animals from the old frontier, including a buffalo and a very tall polar bear. Also keeping with this theme is a unique section on the restaurant’s menu, which offers guests a chance to try alligator, elk, buffalo, wild boar and venison. These wild game items come in the form of steaks, sausages and chops. You can try all five for $20.95.
DIRECTIONS: From here, either end the journey, or make a full circle back to Bear’s Mill for an evening stroll by the spillway, pictured below...