Historic Bear’s Mill

One of Ohio’s few working water powered mills is located in Darke County. It’s called Bear’s Mill and is a nice place to stop for local art, coffee, goodies and history.

The four story structure was built by a guy named Gabriel Baer in 1849 so they were in business when Annie Oakley was alive.

It’s built with fifty foot timbers and they use historic techniques and equipment to process grains and meals that they sell on site.

Today it’s owned and operated by a non profit organization.

I did not dwell here as it was awfully crowded for these pandemic days. I’ll go back my next trip and spend more time. Meanwhile, you might be interested in adding it to your Annie Oakley day trip or at least taking an armchair field trip. Find more information here.

The Garst Museum

Earlier this week we talked about the Annie Oakley exhibit at the Garst Museum in Greenville, Ohio. They do a nice job telling the story of this famous Ohioan but there’s a lot more to see at this museum.

The museum uses local artifacts and regional history to tell a much bigger story. For example, one large room of farm implements, vehicles and other technology consists largely of items donated by locals. It’s all part of a big picture narrative about how Americans farmed, cooked, sewed and got around in the nineteenth century. Their collection of sleighs and their horse drawn mail coach are wonderful.

It is even fun to look at some of the machines and try to guess what they are for – I especially loved the apple cider press and early gas generators.

They have a Main Street where you can catch a glimpse of nineteenth century businesses like the bank and doctor’s office. The same concept is used in showing home life in kitchens, parlors and bedrooms – both plain and elaborate.

There’s an exhibit about the Treaty of Versailles and another about Lowell Thomas. One of my favorite exhibits has military uniforms from the wars we’ve been in. There are many, including a uniform worn by a local woman who was an Army helicopter pilot. Another favorite of mine was memorabilia and the cape of a Gold Star Mother.

There are Scout uniforms, folk art, doll houses, Currier and Ives prints, antique dolls and more packed into this space. There’s something to appeal to most history buffs.

The Garst also has a local research room that is currently closed because of Covid. However, volunteers are still around to help with visitor research needs.

In terms of pandemic safety, they do a great job keeping things sanitized. There are clean restrooms and a nice gift shop. The ladies running the place were also helpful, providing directions to Annie’s grave and lunch advice when asked.

I have another story to tell from this museum- a special story about a young man. Stay tuned. It’s sad but inspiring and one I think we should all know.

Visit their website to find admission, hours and more. And, of course, don’t forget to look out for the Annie Oakley attractions while you’re in the neighborhood.

Little Sure Shot Barn And Birthplace

If you’re making the Annie Oakley pilgrimage to Darke County, be sure to seek out the Annie Oakley Barn mural.

It’s on private property, along US Route 127 and visible if you are traveling southbound. According to a 2016 news article from the local paper, it’s owned by Bob and Donna Peters who have farmed here since 1971.

It was painted by Scott Hagan, an artist who is well known for his Bicentennial Barn paintings. They were commissioned by the State of Ohio in all 88 Ohio counties as part of our birthday celebration in 2003 and he is something of a celebrity for this work.

It took just four days for Hagan to complete this remarkable painting.

Want to see it?

It’s just down the road from the cemetery where Annie and her husband Frank are buried. It’s also near a marker at her birthplace. When you leave the cemetery and head back to Greenville, you can’t help but see this striking artwork.

There is a side road that you can pull into. It’s far less tracked than 127 so it’s safer to stop for a picture or at least slow down for a better view. I continued on this road to a stop sign, turned left to go through a narrow old tunnel and then took another left to get back to 127 – or you can just find a place to turn around.

While you’re in the area, you might swing by her birthplace. The home is gone but there’s a marker and a place to pull over. Look closely at the above picture and you’ll see a large new private residence in the background.

Note that I was there in March and there was no foliage but summer pictures show pretty wildflowers so I’m guessing it’s much nicer at other times of the year. Speaking of flowers, there’s a big greenhouse across the road in case you like your souvenirs to be pretty little living things.

Annie Oakley And The Garst Museum

Did you know that Annie Oakley was from Ohio? She’s buried here too.

I made the pilgrimage to Greenville to visit the Annie Oakley exhibit at the Garst Museum Saturday. Afterward, I left flowers at her grave before winding my way through some small towns and backroads to come home.

The Garst Museum is a fascinating place, packed with all sorts of items related to local and regional history. I went for the Annie Oakley exhibit but thoroughly enjoyed the rest too.

We tend to think of Annie Oakley as a larger than life figure and remnant of the Wild West. In reality, she was just five feet tall and a true product of her Midwestern upbringing. She was a Victorian lady who appreciated nice things and who believed it important to behave like a lady.

She had a surprisingly tough start in life though. Born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860, she was about six years old when her father died. Since the family was already struggling, this loss pushed them further into poverty.

She picked up her father’s muzzle loaded rifle for the first time at age eight and was such an excellent shot she was able to hit small animals in the head to preserve the meat.

Sadly, when Annie was ten, her mother surrendered her to the county children’s infirmary. She was sent to live with a family that treated her cruelly, causing her to nickname them “the wolves.” She eventually ran away and was able to return home.

Annie went on strengthening her sharpshooting skills – most likely for the practical reason she needed to hunt for the family’s food. She also gained a reputation as an excellent sharpshooter.

I don’t want to recap her entire life story here. I would prefer you go to the museum and learn it for yourself. But I do want to mention a few things.

It was her reputation as a marksman that helped her meet her future husband, a man named Frank Butler who was a traveling champion marksman. She beat him in a competition. They spent much of their married life traveling the globe and performing together. He recognized her skill and star quality and quickly gave her top billing in their act.

Her trick shots are impressive- she could shoot a cigarette from her husband’s mouth and the cork out of a bottle. The list is long and pretty darn cool.

She saw the world, performing for royalty and heads of state across Europe and the United States as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This experience had to be an incredible one for a girl from such a humble Ohio background.

She left the Wild West Show in 1901 after a serious train wreck left her badly injured. It’s said that her hair turned snow white within 24 hours of that accident.

Annie and Frank spent most of their life together living out of trunks and traveling but they did eventually come back to Dayton before returning to Greenville where she died at the age of 66. Frank died just 18 days later. He had already been ill but stopped eating when he learned of her passing.

They are buried together at Brock Cemetery, just a couple of miles from her birthplace and not far from Greenville.

There’s an Ohio Historical Marker next to her grave, making it easy to spot. People have left bullets, coins, rocks and other assorted stuff. I took a small bouquet of cheerful yellow silk dianthus.

After all, she wasn’t just a rugged marksman- she was a lady who enjoyed nice things. You’ll see some of her pretty dishes, clothes and other personal items at the Garst Museum. I’m sure she would enjoy some cheerful old fashioned flowers.

It’s interesting to me that she wasn’t an advocate for women’s suffrage and was even against it. She believed women should all know how to shoot and she believed in equal pay. She also was out living the principles that suffragettes were fighting for but she never actually joined the movement. Obviously, that was her right but imagine the boost to the movement with Annie Oakley on their side.

Despite these choices, she was and continues to be an icon for women moving forward in a world and professions dominated by men.

Annie was a fascinating person – both as a legend and as a very real human. I sincerely hope you’ll be inspired to learn more about her. The Garst Museum is a great place to start.

This quote is another as it provides tremendous insight into her world view.

“Aim for the high mark and you will hit it. No, not for the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye of success.”

Want to learn more about Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show? There’s a museum near Denver which I recently wrote about. Want to visit the Garst Museum? You really should. Get your information here.