Friday, September 6, 2013

Wild West 101 – Part 2

From 1881 until his death in 1903, the patriarch of the Millers’ 101 Ranch, G.W. Miller, put together a cattle empire the likes of which the American West had never seen. It spread over 110,000 acres in the northern part of the Oklahoma Territory on land leased from the Ponca, Otoe, and Cherokee tribes. Pasturing thousands of head of cattle, a remuda of hundreds of horses, and a large herd of American bison, it had its own railroad, its own postal service, several schools and churches. They built their own network of roads for both ranch and public use, and they put in a telephone system to connect ranch headquarters with every foreman in the far reaches. After oil was discovered on the ranch, a refinery and electrical power plant were built. Every machine on the ranch ran on oil produced and refined by The 101 Ranch Oil Company, which eventually evolved into Conoco.

The Hundred and One, as it was called, had its own farming complex growing more than enough food for their own human and livestock consumption. Huge orchards produced bushel upon bushel of apples, cherries, and peaches. Buckets of grapes hung from lush arbors, and they harvested fresh vegetables from acres of gardens, plus wheat and corn and cotton. Of course, they had plenty of beef to eat, but they also raised pork and poultry and had a large dairy herd. They built a cider mill, a cannery, a tannery, an ice plant, a dairy, and a packing plant.

The cowhands and other ranch employees – over 300 of them – were paid in 101 scrip and coinage which they could use at the ranch laundry, café, and store. It’s said the company commissary, an imposing two-story structure, was more department store than trading post where one could buy anything from a shirt button to an automobile. The employees bought their clothes and groceries there, but it developed into a thriving tourist shop, too.

Although impressive, tourists didn’t flock to the 101 just to see the ranch operations. What eventually brought them in droves were productions of the Miller Brothers’ Wild West Shows. Around 1905, after some of the cowboys from the 101 put on roping, riding, and rodeo-ing exhibitions at local county fairs, the owner of a neighboring ranch southeast of The Hundred and One, suggested to the three Miller brothers that they produce their own wild west shows at the ranch. The eldest brother, Joseph, who ran the day-to-day operations of the ranch, thought that might be a good way to get publicity for the 101. He could already see the success the aforementioned neighbor, Gordon William “Pawnee Bill” Lillie, was having with his own shows, plus those of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Zach Mulhall.

Joe came up with a plan. In May, 1904 he accompanied his friend Frank H. Greer, the editor of the Guthrie, Oklahoma newspaper, to the St. Louis World’s Fair where the National Editorial Association was also holding their annual convention. Joe had in mind, with Greer’s influence, to convince the association members – editors and publishers of newspapers from across the country – to hold their next convention in Guthrie and The Hundred and One where he promised a show of cowboy and Indian acts that would “pop the eyes right out of their heads.” The group was intrigued and readily voted the venue for their 1905 convention.

When the date came around in June of 1905 Joe Miller and his brothers had put together a wild west
show that more than lived up to its year-long hyperbolic promotions. In addition to the National Editorial Association and the National Cattlemen’s Association, more than sixty thousand people from New York to Los Angeles flocked to witness the spectacle. The Millers had enclosed a thirty acre arena with grandstands that stretched for more than a mile, all filled to capacity. The elite, including those citified editors and publishers, stayed in the scores of Pullman cars the trains had brought them in; but most, the common folk, camped out. On those warm summer nights the lights of hundreds of campfires and glowing tents spread out for miles along the banks of the Salt Fork River.

P.T. Barnum had nothing as a promoter over Joe Miller. Most times he had a direct hand in the advancements, but Joe didn’t discourage rumors of the event’s grandiosity, either. In fact, he probably planted a few. One brochure stated that 500 cowboys and cowgirls would perform along with a thousand Indians, hundreds of buffalo, and that the great Apache chief Geronimo would be brought in to “shoot his last buffalo.”

Nobody really counted, but many, many mounted cowboys and cowgirls came into the arena at the Grand Entrance along with hundreds of Indians representing seven different tribes. Several marching bands were interspersed, and at the end a dozen Conestoga wagons trundled into the arena, driven by “pioneers.” 

The parade stretched out for a mile, and the old Chiricahua warrior was there as promised. Seven
troopers had escorted him up from Fort Sill where he’d been imprisoned. He was driven into the arena seated in a car, smiling and waving. Michael Wallis, in his definitive book on the 101, The Real Wild West, suggested Geronimo may have been amused at the idea of “shooting his last buffalo.” Fact was, the Apaches had quit hunting buffalo long before he was born. Actually, the targeted buffalo would be Geronimo’s first. And he did shoot it, or at least at it. He stepped from the automobile and fired the rifle handed to him. The first shot missed, so they chased the buffalo closer to the old chief. It took several shots to bring the animal down, some from the attending wranglers, but when it was all said and done, Geronimo was credited with the kill and received a standing O from the raucous crowd.

That first show at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch was a rousing success and, as Joe hoped, it put the 101 on the map, not only for Americans, but Europeans as well. The 1905 show launched a run of Wild West shows that lasted for nearly three decades performing before boisterous adoring crowds, including kings and queens and presidents. They billed performers such as Tom Mix, Will Rogers, and an aging "Buffalo Bill" Cody. The sensational teenager Lucille Mulhall performed her astounding trick-riding and roping. The black cowboy, Bill Pickett, the inventor of the rodeo event of bulldogging, brought audiences to their feet with his courage and
Bulldoggin' Bill Pickett
daring when he leapt from his horse onto the neck of a running steer and brought it to the ground with a bite to the animal's upper lip.

At the onset of the Great Depression economic bad times hit the 101, and the shows had to close. Joe and the youngest brother George Jr. had died, leaving Zack to run the business, but in 1931 the ranch went into receivership. The land was divided and leased and all the personal property auctioned. The once great cattle empire and site of the greatest wild west shows on earth were scattered to the winds. Today all that’s left of the magnificent Hundred and One is a National Historic Marker off Highway 156 just west of Ponca City, Oklahoma.

To learn more about the 101, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Michael Wallis's Western Heritage and Spur award-winning book The Real Wild West, The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West (St. Martin's Griffin, New York).

Phil Truman has authored three of what he calls, “Oklahoma-centric” novels.  Red Lands Outlaw, the Ballad of Henry Starra historical novel about the life and times of an Oklahoma outlaw, was a 2013 Peacemaker Award nominee and finalist for the 2013 Will Rogers Medallion for Western Fiction. His novel GAME, an American Novel is a sports inspirational about small town schoolboy football. Legends of Tsalagee weaves a tale of mystery and adventure in a small town. His western short story “Last Will for an Outlaw” appears in LaFrontera Publishing’s anthology, Dead or Alive, released June 2013. 
Phil’s website is:


  1. Great blog, Phil. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for this great essay, Phil. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I don't know who I feel sorrier for--Geronimo or the buffalo.

  3. Remarkable, and an illuminating article which urges the reader to learn more. [Maybe if a University ever set up a course of Old West 101, this would be the prime candidate!]

  4. Excellent blog, Phil. I have a copy of Michael Wallis's book and your post has given me a hankering to put on the kettle, make a drink and settle down for an hour with the 101. Thanks for posting.

  5. Thanks Frank, Peter, Nik, & Keith. Much appreciate your comments. The prolific writer Wallis leaves few stones unturned in his history and biography books. The Real Wild West is a much dog-eared and highlighted copy in my personal library. He lives not 10 miles from me, but we've never met :).

  6. Phil, this is just an excellent post. You've done such great research, and I always love to learn more about our home state of Oklahoma, and what happened "back in the day" of the old west. Wouldn't you just have loved to have gone to one of those wild west shows of theirs? Thanks again for such an interesting post today!

  7. This was such an interesting article for me. In my grandfather McNeal's old trunk were two huge posters advertising the 101 Ranch. One was a cowboy on a horse and the other was an Indian on a horse. I had them framed in museum frames with spacers and acid free paper. At the time I had no idea what the 101 Ranch was or its signifigance. So I was really interested in your article, Phil. Great post.

  8. WOW! I would have gone to see that show, you betcha! I just watched Wes Studi in GERONIMO (Wes did a fabulous job, of course!) Sad to think the old Apache was paraded in to kill a buffalo, and probably returned to captivity at Fort Sill.

    Meg Mims