Fast Draw at the Annie Oakley Event: What the world looks like out in God’s country

For me, the western arts is a religion of sorts, it’s something I think about every day, and I work with some aspect of it several times a day in just about everything I do. And for context, the white hat I wear so much came from my favorite hat shop in Jackson, Wyoming, on an extraordinary pilgrimage I made there with my entire family. I’ve traveled worldwide and seen many of the world’s best things up close and personal. And I’ve been to rodeos they have out West, specifically the one at Cody, Wyoming, which is fantastic and about as good as it gets. A rodeo experience out to Cody, Wyoming, is in itself worth a vacation just to do that. But I will say that the Annie Oakley Festival they have every year in Darke County, Ohio, in the town of Greenville, is one of the best displays of Americana on planet earth, and I never get tired of attending. I look forward to it every time they have it, and when they do, I usually am involved in some aspect or another in the shows they put on. This year I was in the bullwhip competitions, as I usually am. But additionally, I was able to be in the Ohio Fast Draw Association’s competition, a two-day event that I have always thought brought the Annie Oakley Festival into the realm of uniqueness that establishes it as a vacation destination all its own. For people looking to get in touch with America again, I would recommend everyone to mark the last weekend of July on their calendars and make the trip to the Annie Oakley Festival when it’s happening in Greenville and to put the noise of life aside for a few days and experience the festival in all its glory.

I’ve been participating in the Annie Oakley Festival for a few decades. During that entire time, I worked with my friend Gery Deer at the Western Showcase to put on Saturday bullwhip competitions that are always crowd pleasers. I started working with whips on my grandparents’ farms when I was very young, so they have always been a part of my life. When I learned that my great grandfather could crack a fly off the wall with a bullwhip, I decided that was something I was going to do, and over the years, it has become my own version of a martial art. In my recent book, The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business, I take many of the concepts I have been thinking about over the years from the Annie Oakley Festival and apply them to the ways of the world that have influences from everywhere. I have thought of the Annie Oakley Festival as a kind of unique American philosophy that shows what all people, no matter where they come from, gravitate to when they have the freedom to be away from government and go to God’s country without a lot of United Nations influence. And from the showman side, I have watched the audiences and come to some very definitive understandings that are unique to the Annie Oakley Festival. The Buffalo Bill Wild West show has always been a definitive presentation of what America uniquely is. Without Annie Oakley, it would never have become the global phenomenon it was. And I find that Greenville festival every year to be the embodiment of that definition, more so than in places like Cody, Wyoming, which is the authentic real deal cowboy life, right in the middle of a desert in the traditional way people think; of the “West.” But it’s the swagger that came from the Buffalo Bill show that Annie Oakley specifically brought to the whole exhibition that I have always loved so much. It’s why that event is a yearly reset period for me, where I clear my thoughts and push the noise aside for a few days and just soak up the American flags and the smell of gunsmoke.

After the bullwhip competitions, I always used to go over and watch the fast draw guys. But I couldn’t make fast draw part of my life for a long time. Getting the equipment to participate was a bit expensive, but more than anything was the time. Many of the shoots last entire weekends and are all over the place. You can’t just show up at Annie Oakley once a year to commit to the sport and compete. It has only been over the last few years that I finally have had the time to commit to it, so it’s something pretty new for me. But it was always their shoot at the Annie Oakley Festival that I looked forward to watching. So, it was really enjoyable to be able to attend as a competitor, and I made the most of it. This was the first year I did both events, the Ohio Fast Draw Association shoot and the Western Arts Showcase, so it was a very busy weekend for me. So busy that I didn’t even have time to look at my phone and answer the many text messages that were adding up due to the news of the world. I was able to get caught up after the festival, but the time off was well worth it. I have provided several pictures and videos of the event to capture a bit of the atmosphere, which I never get tired of.

That’s what makes my Gunfighter’s Guide to Business such a unique book on business and life in America in general. The Annie Oakley Festival has always given me a unique opportunity to see America for what it is and get to know people as spectators wanting to get a piece of that old Buffalo Bill Wild West show that so clearly defined our young country to a world perplexed by it. That challenge is still very true and even hostile at times. But when you are there, you can clearly see what people want and how much of that noisy world they are willing to take. Practicing the combat arts, the fast draw, the bullwhips, and the cowboy-mounted shooting are all exhibitions of the kind of skills that make America, America. And there is no need for apologies regarding the Second Amendment there. No hint to it. People generally agree on how the world is, understand right and wrong, and treat each other well and respectfully. The world does not look so screwed up when you escape the coastal media influences of Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C. It’s always good to see people for what they are. Many from the liberal coasts would be horrified by the stoic tenacity of the people from the flyover states, especially those who attend by the thousands the Annie Oakley Festival. But what’s clear when you attend something like that festival in Greenville, Ohio, is that there are a lot more of those people than there are from liberal politics. You just don’t hear from them on the nightly news. They are out working in the fields, and living life as the coastal types fly over, high above in comfortable jets going from one big city to another, maintaining their bubbles that allow liberalism to grow as a concept. That is until they stop by some place like Cody, Wyoming, and see what people really think of them. Or, they drive into the heart of Ohio, way out in God’s country, and see the many yard signs dedicated to Trump, and get a sense that Annie Oakley never really died, and neither did the Buffalo Bill Wild West show. It lives on in Darke County, Ohio, and recharges me yearly. I spend my days between Annie Oakley events thinking about it. It’s never far from my mind. And given the way the world is now, they would do well to learn their own lessons from the Annie Oakley Festival. It’s a vacation destination all its own and well worth the time to do so. 

Rich Hoffman

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