THE OLD WEST ON THE 101


N the fall of 1882 the citizens of Winfield, Kansas, were planning their first agricultural fair, and they needed some unusual entertainment to attract the necessary crowds. They presented their difficulty to Colonel George W. Miller, who had just finished a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail, and who still had with him a group of cowboys. With customary ingenuity, the Colonel proposed an exhibition of roping and riding events, which was enthusiastically received by the people of Winfield.
Twenty-two years elapsed before the next round-up show was held. It was also directed by the Millers at the 101 Ranch, and marked the modern beginning of those thrilling displays of western skill and daring—the rodeos. Since then this form of entertainment has been adopted in many places throughout America, and since 1924 an International Rodeo is held in London, England, many of the prizes being won by men who participated annually in the 101 Ranch rodeo arena. The Miller brothers frown upon the use of the word “rodeo,” and remain true to “round-up” as the best and most suggestive name for these wild west sports.
In the early part of 1904 Colonel Joe Miller went to St. Louis with Frank Greer of Guthrie and a few other Oklahoma newspapermen to induce the National Editorial Association to hold its 1905 convention in Guthrie. He promised the editors a big wild west show if they would come. Accordingly, in order to prepare for the big event in 1905, the Miller brothers held a round-up in the fall of 1904, just to see whether it could be done. They were gratified with the result.
Then came the National Editorial Association to Guthrie, Oklahoma, June 7, 8, and 9, 1905, and the big round-up June 11, at the 101 Ranch. Geronimo, the old Apache warrior, a government prisoner, came up under guard from Fort Sill and the Poncas on the ranch appeared in full regalia. A huge pasture was fenced off for the sports, and the people came from almost everywhere. Trains began to arrive from all directions and discharging their loads at the exhibition grounds, returned and were sidetracked in the Ponca City yards. Altogether there were thirty regular and special trains, many of them double headers, and all loaded even to the roofs of the cars. One hundred section men looked after the tracks and cars, and the station masters from Newton and Oklahoma City aided the local forces—handling the trains and crowds.
The special trains carrying the National Editorial Association arrived about noon, and so far as could be ascertained nearly every member was present, not even excepting those from Maine and Vermont!
Shortly after two o’clock the procession, nearly a mile in length and escorted by the Miller brothers, came in at the east entrance. In the lead was the cavalry band, behind which came the famous old Indian war chief, Geronimo, hero of a hundred battles with the whites. He bowed and smiled and enjoyed immensely the attention he attracted from the mighty throng of people as he passed around the arena. Following this came other bands and a long precession of cowboys and Indians, the latter wearing their sacred finery. The pioneer wagon train, drawn by oxen, brought up the rear. The parade was a thrilling and spectacular sight such as few people will ever again be permitted to witness in these days, and fortunate indeed were those who were inside the great amphitheater.1
After the parade the arena was cleared and the program carried out as had been advertised. The large herd of buffalo, which had been secured at great expense, was turned into the enclosure and representation given of the genuine buffalo hunt, a thing of the past for nearly forty years, and which will probably never again be seen in any country. Buffaloes, which were so numerous on the plains years ago, were now almost extinct, the only large herd in existence being the one on the 101 Ranch. Over two hundred Indians took part in the chase.
Then followed bronco busting, Indian ball, the roping contest and Indian war dance and pow-wow. The performances of Miss Lucile Mulhall and her trained horse attracted the most attention. Miss Mulhall had the reputation of being the best and most daring horsewoman in the world, and her achievements aroused a mighty applause from the vast throng. After the program began, one event followed the other in rapid succession and there was not a moment when interest lagged or the crowd became restless. As a closing feature of the day a wagon train was attacked by the Indians on a hill south of the amphitheater, and the spectators were given a chance to see what an Indian raid meant to the pioneers. In the gathering dusk the burning wagons with howling Indians riding fiercely about them, caused a feeling of awe to settle over the entire assembly and there was hardly a person present but felt the blood tingle in his veins at the portrayal.

1 101 Ranch Records, 1905.

Those competent to judge say it was the largest crowd ever assembled up to that time in Oklahoma. When the parade began at 1:30 P.m., on Sunday, there were 65,000 people watching and it was an intelligent and good natured crowd, no fault being found with such small and unavoidable inconveniences as always occur where there are large gatherings.
While the round-up was being planned, absurd stories about it became current. One was that Geronimo had offered a prize of $1,000 to anyone who would permit himself to be scalped on the occasion. Another was that the Millers were to sacrifice thirty-five buffalo in one grand battle. The Indians, according to the tale, were to be turned loose among the herd with bows and arrows to show how their ancestors hunted the buffalo. The story reached New York in credible form and, forthwith, Mr. Dan Beard, the well-known editor and lover of wild life, telegraphed to Colonel Joe Miller inquiring if the herd were to be killed by the Indians. Receiving no reply, Beard telegraphed the President requesting him to stop the slaughter, who, in turn, telegraphed the Governor of Oklahoma to send troops up to the 101 Ranch to prevent it. The troops came to the ranch at public expense. And here is Colonel Miller’s explanation:
“I had requested the Adjutant-General of Oklahoma to permit two companies of soldiers to come up at my expense, which would have been about $1,000. The soldiers would have been glad to come, but the Adjutant-General refused. I was wondering how I should handle that crowd of 65,000 people without soldiers, when Mr. Beard’s telegram came. I saw a way. I said nothing. The troops came at the expense of the territory.”
On Saturday afternoon, in presence of the delegates of the National Editorial Association, a single buffalo was killed. It had been the plan of the Millers to kill but one bull, for a feast of buffalo meat, and, to add picturesqueness, to kill him by the chase instead of merely shooting him at the slaughter house. The old bull was driven from the herd and chased by the Indians up in front of the ‘White House’ where he was finally killed. The editors had buffalo meat for dinner that evening.
From 1904 down through the following years the Miller brothers continued holding the annual round-up at the ranch. A rodeo arena was constructed at the headquarters with a seating capacity of ten thousand and was the finest and largest in the Southwest. The program always included all kinds of roping and riding, bulldogging, Indian dances and other western events.
Because of the fact that the rodeo, as a form of entertainment, originated on the Ranch, and that the best known cowboys of the country have been employed on the ranch at some time, many of them becoming prominent in the moving picture and rodeo world, the Miller brothers felt that the 101 Ranch was the logical place for holding world championship contests. Therefore, beginning with the 1924 round-up the annual winners of the roping and riding contests were proclaimed the world champions and silver medals were awarded that to that effect.
The round-up was always scheduled for the early part of September and continued for three days, including Labor Day. It was not put on as a money-making proposition but solely for amusement of friends and also to keep in training a good sized bunch of cowboys and cowgirls, in order that the old regime would not be forgotten.
The 1920 round-up was arranged as a benefit for the Chamber of Commerce band and all the preparations for the event were made by the members of the band committee in conjunction with the Miller brothers. In providing a band for Ponca City and making possible the open air concerts that were being held weekly, the Chamber of Commerce had expended several thousand dollars and it was desired to reimburse this fund, if possible, through the round-up.
The estimate of moving picture men and others, experts in estimating the size of big crowds, was that more than eleven thousand people attended the round-up Sunday, and that approximately twenty-five hundred automobiles were on the ground; or in other words, there were more than $2,500,000 worth of automobiles in the buffalo park, where the roping arena was built.2
The round-up had been widely advertised and people came from many cities. The ticket sellers reported persons from Chicago, Kansas City, St. Joseph, New Orleans, Shreveport, Fort Smith, Dallas, Denver, Wichita Falls, Santa Fe, Omaha and other points, and cars were on the ground from as far west as Anthony, Kansas, Enid and Hennessey; north to Wichita; east to Bartlesville; and south to Oklahoma City, Stillwater and Guthrie. Cars began arriving at eight o’clock in the morning. The Millers were assisted by many notables, including Colonel Zack Mulhall of former show fame; C. K. Williams, the moving picture producer; Henry Grammar, H. Cornett, the Shultz brothers, and various others whose names were always read in connection with successful round-ups.
The largest wild west show in the history of the Southwest, celebrating the thirteenth anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Strip, was held September 16, 1906, at the Ranch. The display of cowboy horsemanship and cattle roping was simply a postscript to a book that had been written. The occasion gave opportunity for a reunion of old-timers, and they came by hundreds. Fully fifty thousand people attended the celebration, twenty excursion trains on the Santa Fe railroad bringing in the crowd. Two thousand people took part in the program, including five hundred cowboys and a thousand Indians.
The Indians smeared themselves with paint, adorned themselves with feathers, glittering armlets and wristlets of German silver, slung their war shields across their shoulders, and armed themselves with spears, bows, arrows, and guns. Among the Indians were men who in younger days had been on the warpath. The younger Indians were mere imitators, trying to do things as the old men had told them they should be done. It was noticeable that the old men painted not only themselves, but their ponies, which was in accordance with the old custom of the Indian country.

2 Ponca City News, September 7, 1920.

The tepees in the Indian camp at the 101 Ranch were in shape and equipment just the same as they were in former days. Notwithstanding the fact that the Federal government had provided houses for its Indian wards, the latter preferred living in their conical canvas tepees, and remained in them throughout the summer and a greater part of the winter.
The Indian women and children enjoyed the spectacular show with possibly greater interest than did the white persons. They sat in groups in the grandstand and each place was a blaze of brilliant calico dresses and gaudy handkerchiefs. When kodaks were pointed in their direction many of the mothers would hide their babies beneath their shawls. The superstitious Indian fears the kodak for the reason that he believes a photograph steals away at least a portion of the soul of the person whose likeness is taken, and that sickness and death may follow.
The old Indians in Oklahoma had abundant reason for remembering the soldiers of the regular army, and the younger ones had listened to tales of warfare until the sight of soldiers quickly attracted and held their attention. A company of militia from Oklahoma City engaged in a mimic battle with the warriors in the anniversary exhibition. A big Indian, fully armed and wearing a war bonnet, rode cautiously in the direction of the soldiers, dismounted from his pony and crawled through the grass, spying upon the enemy. He took the precaution of hobbling his pony with his bridle rein, to prevent the pony’s stampeding should his owner be fired upon.
At the sight of the Indian scout there was a stir among the Indian women. They watched him intently, and when he returned to his comrades and the band of yelling Indians charged upon the soldiers, there was great commotion among the women. Round and round the company of soldiers the Indians circled in their attack, the rifles of the soldiers rattling in volleys. Possibly the Indian women were chagrined when the warriors were repulsed and driven from the field, as they were when they charged a second time. They talked about it in rapid gutturals, and sometimes amplified their conversation by recourse to the sign language.
One of the exciting features was the roping of wild steers from the open ranges of Texas. Bill Pickett, the originator of bulldogging, rode into the arena on horseback, seized a steer by the nose with his teeth while riding, and, allowing his horse to run from under him, grappled with the steer until it lay helpless and prostrate on the ground.

The 101 Ranch rodeo in action (bulldogging) OIL PAINTING BY A. L. EAGLESON, OKLAHOMA CITY The reproduction of the race for homes at the opening of the Strip was realistic. Hundreds of men were there who had taken part in the original race. Farmers came in covered wagons from their homes in the surrounding country, bringing their wives and children and their dogs, to participate in the anniversary “run.” When the word was given each man struck out for himself, his wagon rumbling and bounding over the prairie, the dogs barking, the bands playing in the grandstand and the fifty thousand spectators shouting. Twice around the arena went the homeseekers.
The winner was “Aunt Eliza” Carpenter, an old Negro woman of Ponca City. She drove two fast ponies to a buggy and stood erect like a Roman charioteer. “Aunt Eliza” was tall and angular, and many persons mistook her for a man with burnt cork on his face and dressed in women’s clothes.
This old woman, a native of Virginia, was a well known character in northern Oklahoma. She made the original race and staked a good farm, but lost it, because of describing it inaccurately at the land office. She rode her horse like a man and covered twelve miles in forty-five minutes. For more than thirty years she had owned a number of race horses, and had followed country circuits, winning many races and considerable money.
The Miller brothers gave to the world a new sport—the terrapin derby—an annual event that occurred at the 101 Ranch on Labor Day in connection with the round-up. The idea originated with Colonel Joe Miller in the early summer of 1924, while he was standing talking with Lute Stover, a life long friend, and watching several land turtles crawl about near the 101 Ranch office building.
“Do you remember, Lute,” queried Joe, “that old Æsop Fable of the tortoise and the hare and how the tortoise, although so blamed slow, finally won a race between the two because he kept plugging away?”
“Yes, I remember,” said Lute. “But who ever heard of a turtle of any kind in a race?”
“Well, I don’t know that I ever did,” answered Colonel Joe, “but I believe it would be an interesting stunt, just the same.”3
And thus was born in 1924 the idea of the terrapin derby. “Well, we didn’t get the idea until pretty late,” says George L. Miller, “so there were only 114 terrapins entered in the first derby, but we charged $2.00 entry fee apiece, and decided to give half of it, or $114, for first money, $68 for second, and $46 for third.”
“How did you know the terrapins would race?” Mr. Miller was asked.
“We didn’t,” he replied calmly. “That was half the fun of it all.”4
Well, everyone who saw the derby declared it was plenty of fun. The 114 terrapins were put in a cage in the center of a large arena at the ranch and a large white circle was drawn in a 100-foot radius from the cage, with lesser circles at the 20, 40, 60, and 80-foot marks. The terrapin who crossed the outside circle first was to be judged the winner, the circle being one hundred feet in any direction from his cage and it being understood, of course, that the terrapins would travel in every conceivable direction once the cage was lifted. For that reason the circle had to be divided into eight or so parts, like a pie, and a judge put at the intersection of each dividing line and finish line.
The next problem was how to make the terrapins race. It was a certainty that they had no competitive instinct. It was equally certain that they could not see food—even luscious peaches, of which terrapins are unusually fond—at a distance of one hundred feet. Did one whistle to terrapins, perhaps? Nothing like it. The Miller brothers and various interested friends spent the greater part of one morning standing one hundred feet away from a group of placid terrapins and alternately whistling, clucking, whinnying, and even mooing to them. It was all to no effect.

3 Daily Oklahoman, February 6, 1927.
4 Kansas City Star, August 30, 1925.


The whole plan seemed doomed, when George L. Miller, fooling with one of the terrapins, disconsolately, made a momentous discovery. The only thing on earth, apparently, that would give the terrapin a desire to walk was to put it in the sun. It then impatiently, and almost querulously, would waddle to the shade. Mr. Miller, fascinated, picked it up again, put it in the sun again, and once more Mr. Terrapin waddled to the shade, pausing only to take an aggravated nip at Mr. Miller’s ankle in passing.
“I’ve found the answer, men!” Mr. Miller shouted, triumphantly. “Fix it so the cage and the race course are in the sun and the finish line borders in the shade, and we’ve solved our problem.”
“What if it’s a cloudy day?” put in Joe Miller, pessimistically.
“Rain insurance,” snapped George, with a glare at his brother.
But suppose they just stay there indefinitely? The whole thing will be an awful flop.”
“They won’t all stay there,” soothed Joe, sagely. “Some of them are bound to amble around and finally cross the line. You’ll find terrapins are curious, just like human beings. If it takes them some time to reach the finish, and if they amble around a bit, that all adds to the uncertainty of the race and the interest in it.”
The day of the race dawned brilliantly and the afternoon saw five thousand persons in the stands at the ranch arena, all “pulling” mentally and vocally for their favorite entry. Each terrapin had been named by its owner, and each had had a glaring white number painted on its back—in regular racing motor car fashion. Some of the men had trained their own terrapins in their back yards for a couple of weeks, and laid high wagers upon the speed of their animals. A band was playing, visiting Indians were livening things up with their tribal yells, and everybody was highly excited—except the terrapins. They seemed in a placid stupor that worried George L. Miller.
“Supposed they just stay that way after the cage is lifted,” he whispered to Joe. “Suppose they don’t go anywhere at all?”
“That will be their owners’ bad luck,” the latter answered blithely.
“Foghorn” Clancy, a gentleman known from the Cherokee Strip to the Rio Grande for the mammoth capacity of his vocal cords, announced the derby in stentorian terms and then Fred Olmstead of the 101 Ranch went out to the cage in the middle of the arena to act as starter. Mr. Olmstead’s chore was to see that all the terrapins were comparatively wide awake when the barrier was lifted, or, at least, were on their feet. It instantly developed that he had been given the most onerous task of the day.
Did you ever try to keep 114 terrapins on their feet and off each other’s backs and generally in apple-pie racing order? No? Then you have no idea of what Fred Olmstead had on his hands.
“Of all back-breaking, dizzy, impossible jobs that was the worst,” he says. “I would get them all set ready to go and then Jenny Lind would take a bite at Marie Antoinette and I would have a first class fight on my hands and have to pull them apart. I would get them straight again and then Star of the Night would fancy he saw a shady spot directly under Easter Bells and would try to burrow down to it.
“Men, I stooped over and picked up terrapins and put them down and turned them over and moved them around until I felt more wilted than my collar! At last I waved my handkerchief, the man on the side line pulled the rope that lifted the cage by a pulley, and the terrapins were free to race.”
Then occurred the best and funniest part of the whole affair. There was one terrapin whose owner had trained it painstakingly in the back yard for two weeks and it was supposed to be a “racing fool.” That terrapin calmly drew in its head and legs when the carrier went up and went to sleep for the afternoon, refusing to move an inch. Other terrapins got into personal combat with each other and turned the contest from a race to a fight, at least so far as they were concerned. Still other racers hurried around and around the original cage site and would not venture outside its bounds. Still more waddled in good style out to the first white line, became suspicious of the way it glared up at them, and promptly retraced their steps to the society of their companions. A few of the animals—a fairly respectable number at that—ambled steadfastly for the finish line and its inviting border of shade, and these were the ones among whom, it soon appeared, the race lay.
A couple of terrapins got clear to the finish line and became distrustful of it, sitting with their front feet upon it, but re-fusing to venture over. How like Tantalus they made their owners feel—with victory and a good sized money purse just on the tips of their fingers, and not being able to grasp it!
While these turtles were thinking the matter over, “Shingles,” a nondescript-looking animal, entered by Harry Cragin, President of the Ponca City Chamber of Commerce, fairly fell over the finish line and collapsed exhausted, but supremely contented, in the shade.
Close behind him, and to the accompaniment of shrill yells of triumph from all the Indians present, arrived “Ponca Agency,” entered by George Hoyo, superintendent of the Ponca Indian agency. Third came lumbering in “Zev,” entered by Charles Hurford, a Ponca City merchant. The two terrapins who had been sitting complacently near the line finally decided to cross after these three pioneers, but met only the maledictions and supreme of their aggravated owners.
Thus ended the first terrapin derby on the 101 Ranch, and it was such a success that the spectators clamored for another one. The second derby was held on a scale that dwarfed its pathfinding parent. Entry blanks were sent out all over the country and entries poured in by the hundreds. At first it seemed as though the several hundred terrapins that were in a stone pit on the ranch would be enough to satisfy all who wanted to enter the derby, but this number was soon exhausted and the Millers had to send out their Indians and cowboys on a terrapin drive to round up more animals.
A visitor to the 101 Ranch was taken to the terrapin pit and given a view of the five hundred animals waiting to have numbers pasted on their backs and be assigned as entries in the terrapin derby. “Pick a turtle and have it run for you,” challenged George L. Miller. “The winner is probably right in that bunch, if you have eyes enough to see him.”
It was a fascinating thought, at that. There, for $2.00, a man could get a chance that might repay him a thousandfold, and the sporting element of the thing was present, too. “Here goes nothing,” sighed the visitor, taking two $1.00 bills out of his pocket, and then he looked around to try to find himself an active terrapin.
The day was dark and humid and the terrapins lay somnolent, none evidently having the least ambition to “go places and see things.” The visitor was about to restore his $2.00 to his pocket when a cowboy behind him drawled:
“Hey, mister, one of them there terrapins is about to bite a chunk out of you.”
The visitor looked around hurriedly and, sure enough, there at his heel was squatted probably the smallest terrapin in the place, with head extended from his shell, obviously ready to take an aggravated nip at the visitor’s sock. He picked the terrapin up and, instead of immediately drawing its head and feet under its shell, as terrapins usually do when molested, it struggled and wrestled around for dear life, moving all four feet in a rapid if ineffectual effort to go somewhere and get there quickly ! When he placed the terrapin on the floor, it made tracks for the side of the pit, faster than he had imagined a terrapin could travel. “Hi yi!” shouted the cowboys delightfully. “Look at that old terrapin travel! That’s a runnin’ fool, mister. He’s just as liable to win the derby as not. Grab him off, man!”
The visitor was fascinated. He rescued the terrapin from the side of the pit, put it in the center once more, and once again it lumbered to its retreat. There was another rescue and this time the terrapin, apparently irked exceedingly at the various paces that were being demanded of it, decided to take the matter of warfare into its own hands and proceeded to attempt to ascend the visitor’s body between the trousers cuff and the hose, a move that made the visitor go into an eccentric dance that was punctuated by violent kicks with his left leg.
When the terrapin had been routed and the delighted cowboys had stilled their gusty applause, the visitor seized the animal firmly about its middle and marched up to the ranch house with it.
“Here!” he announced to George L. Miller, depositing the terrapin unceremoniously on Mr. Miller’s desk. “Write me out a receipt! This is my entry in the derby.”
“Good,” said Mr. Miller. “What is its name?”
“Bridesmaid,” replied the visitor, the name occurring to him on the spur of the moment.
Thus the second derby was run in 1925 with 1,679 entries; the third in 1926 with 2,373 entries, and down through the following years, always with increasing entries. What made the sport popular was the fact that there was no profit in it for anyone. Every dollar of the entrance money was distributed in prizes. No percentage was held for expenses since it was a sporting event entirely, conducted in such a way that no unfair practices of any nature could enter into it. Only land terrapins were permitted in the derby—the kind common throughout the Southwest.
The many diversified resources of the 101 Ranch made it the natural show place of the Southwest. There was ranching in all its old-time picturesqueness. There were thousands of cattle and horses, the unblocked trails and the cattle pastures, the unchanged cowboys, the round-up camps, the rodeo, the corrals, the buffalo, and many tribes of Indians, living undisturbed in wigwams, lodges, or rough houses. And withal there was the western hospitality and cordial generosity of the Millers. They never asked for credentials. They never kept a guard at the door to keep out human hankering for food and good cheer. They had as much use for butlers and servants to formally announce arriving guests as a tamale vender has for a board of directors. “Come one, come all”—that was the hospitality of the Millers at all times.
Because of this hospitality, men, women, and children from all walks of life came in ceaseless numbers to observe the diversified resources of the 101 Ranch and to enjoy its fascinating charms. “It was,” says Corb Sarchet, “one continuous entertainment of guests, social, political, business leaders, writers, explorers, actors, the prominent men and women in every line. Presidents of giant railway systems mingled with the cowboys and donned their regalia, pleased at the chance. Admiral Byrd rode the elephants; John Philip Sousa joined the Ponca Indian tribe; Mrs. Mary Roberts Rinehart came for atmosphere when she was ready to write her Lost Ecstasy; Walter Teagle sat on the floor with a bust of Geronimo, the Apache chief, in his arms to be enlightened on the price of crude oil; Will Irwin and his wife, Inez Haynes Irwin, came for a day and remained a week; William Jennings Bryan shook hands with Tony, the monkey; Sidney Smith drew Andy Gump on the White House walls; Teddy Roosevelt was delighted; Will Rogers sang cowboy songs all night long with Mrs. Pawnee Bill at the piano; Fred Bonfils came to see the terrapin derby; Jack Mulhall was on hand to star in the moving picture—Nancy Astor, John Ringling, Randolph Hearst, William S. Hart, Irvin Cobb, Rex Beach, Richard Bennett, General Bullard, Charles Curtis, William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), William Allen White, Helen Gibson, Bacon Rind, Art Gobel, Will Hayes, General Savitsky, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., James E. Garman, Warren G. Harding, Roy Howard, Ezra Meeker, Colonel Zack Mulhall—what an array! Unceasingly they came—each found the same welcome, each was enchanted, each had seen a fairyland.”5
The National Editorial Association, with its several thousand members, visited the ranch twice, in 1905 and 1925. The Oklahoma Press Association members were the ranch guests in 1922. The National Realtors were there in 1926, and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 1927. Crippled children workers were there, too. When members of the Oklahoma State Board visited Lew Wentz at Ponca City in 1927, George L. Miller entertained the entire membership at dinner. The state Sunday school convention, the state florists, and many other similar groups were entertained from time to time on the ranch.
The cowboy’s occupation in Oklahoma is gone, but the cowboy himself, the genuine, simon pure article, remains the last of his generation and his time. When he takes his final departure down the long, white trail, his campfire will never be relighted. Save in the Texas Panhandle, in limited portions of Western Oklahoma, and in the big grazing pastures of the Osage Indian reservation, the cowboy now lives on a farm. He wears high-heeled boots, spurs, a broad hat, rides a good saddle and carries his lariat, but these things are mostly a matter of old habit.
Perhaps one of the most unusual groups entertained on the 101 Ranch was an organization of these old cowboys, known as the Cherokee Strip Cowpunchers Association. Its members were veterans of the time when it was necessary also for the cowboy to be an Indian fighter whenever the occasion demanded.

5 Daily Oklahoman, December 16, 1934.

There were about four hundred members of the Cherokee Strip Cowpunchers Association in good standing. It was organized on September 6, 1920, on Cowboy Hill in the buffalo pasture of the 101 Ranch. The majority of the members, of course, were from Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, California, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Oregon, and Washington. Every man was a cowpuncher during the time that the Cherokee Strip was a cattleman’s paradise and known in history as one of the greatest cattle domains that ever existed. Reunions were held at Cowboy Hill on the 101 Ranch at the same time the annual round-up and terrapin derby were held.
The association was organized for the purpose of bringing the veterans together annually, thus promoting a better fraternity among those, who in the distant past, prior to 1893, shared their hardships and were brothers to each other under all conditions. A further purpose was to foster that spirit of fellowship by organization, making it possible in the years remaining to meet at least once annually. The first of the members was secured through many difficulties by the secretary, but it was re-arranged and added to gradually, and in addition, the secretary collected all available data about the members, living and dead, and the organization itself, so that he could supply the information to those who desired it.
The reunions of the association were wonderful meetings, where the members brought their equipment for camping out and told tales of things that happened, and sang the songs that they sang while riding the range prior to ’93. Each night there was a campfire with plenty of barbecued meat and cider on tap, experience meeting that ran far into the night with stories of the round-up, brushes with the Indians, necktie parties for rustlers, and all the memories that were connected with chaps, lariat, and spur.
Here were assembled the men who had ridden the Chisholm Trail, who knew Pat Hennessey and Bat Masterson and Jesse Chisholm personally, who visited Abilene and Dodge City and Caldwell when they were wide open border towns, who had driven the herds from Texas to Kansas, cut the wire fences of the persistent homesteaders and then protected them against Indian attacks—men who, because of their lives in the open, were still young men in physique despite the fact that they were grizzled veterans.
“No cowboy ever bought a horse blanket in those days,” was a story told at one of the campfires. “The Ponca Indians buried their dead on top of the ground and they would place beside the body handsome saddle blankets as well as other equipment for the warrior’s happy hunting ground. I can tell the world now that very few of them ever used a saddle blanket after death, for the cowboys got them all.”
Abe Banta of Billings, Oklahoma, was the first President of the Cowpunchers Association, but at the second meeting, Colonel Joe Miller was unanimously elected president for life, truly a distinction, with Oscar Brewster of Crescent to continue as secretary-treasurer. The association grew to such an extent that it was necessary to name an executive committee to help out with the work, and also a “ladies auxiliary.” The old boys had learned the worth of the ladies since the days they “yipped” it across the prairies of the Cherokee Strip. The wives of all the cowboys were eligible to membership. President Joe Miller named Ike Clubb of Kaw City, Hugo Milde of Kaw, Link Barr of Dover, George Laing of Kingfisher, and Monte Tate of Oklahoma City as his executive committee. Some of the members, who attended the reunions, were past eighty years old, having been men of past middle age when the Strip was opened.
When the old cowpunchers met they invariably called upon Oscar Brewster to cook a few dozen pans of biscuits, for Brewster was a famous chef in cowboy camps prior to ’93. There never was a cowboy camp in which hot biscuits were not served regularly. “That was because the packages of baking powder put out in those days carried a recipe on the can telling how to make biscuit,” said Brewster, “and every fellow that ever cooked in a cowboy camp learned how to make them.”
At one of the early reunions, Colonel Zack Miller said: “Boys, the 101 Ranch is yours, anywhere you say, make camp. If you want the White House location, we can move it. We will give you a lifetime lease on as much land as is needed for your accommodation.” They selected the site on the bluff on the south side of the Salt Fork River adjacent to the pavement and bridge. The site today is known as “Cowboy Hill” and is set in bermuda grass, shrubbery, and trees. Here the old cowboys held their annual reunion, reliving the old days of the Cherokee Strip.
Young men from the east, whose fathers’ wealth ran well into the millions, came to the ranch almost every season as far back as 1905 to spend their vacations, taking this opportunity to learn to ride, to rope, and to take part in the regular ranch activities. The Millers “educated” four hundred such young men during the four summer months, or approximately one hundred each month. They employed all their horses and cowboys in this line of work during the summer months, and the cowboys themselves always expected a regular circus of a time training the tenderfeet. Cowboys came to the 101 Ranch from all parts of the West to be assigned places on the “faculty,” and among those who “taught” were several Rough Riders and some of the champion ropers and riders of the country.
“We will furnish them a good mount and saddle,” says Colonel Joe Miller, “and put them in camp down along the Salt Fork River. We will let them sleep out of doors, eat from the tail end of a wagon and live the regular cowboy life, but of course without much of the work of it unless they really want to work; then they will be given all they want. We’ll send some of the cowboys who are pretty good fellows—good story tellers and all that—over to take care of them, and have a cattle round-up once in a while for their benefit.”
Ranged in a circle in a shady grove on the banks of the Salt Fork, near the White House, were a number of comfortable three-room cottages in which the young men lived during their stay on the ranch. They ate their “chuck” in common in a dining hall twenty-four by fifty feet in size, their waiter being an unusually dark complexioned negro. One cottage was used as a library and club room. The apartments were adorned with college pennants, cowboy pictures, and such other things as attracted the fancy of college students. The dude ranch, thus, was a reality on the 101 Ranch from 1905 to 1909.
The cowboy outfit was purchased by the “dudes” and some of the outfits caused old-time cowboys to stand wide-eyed in astonishment. The boys chose their own hours for arising. When ready for the day’s jaunt a genuine cowboy would bring a bunch of ponies from which the riders selected their mounts. The Miller brothers trained polo ponies for eastern markets, and in this sport the “dudes” were more proficient than in roping cattle.
For general safety and to insure their return to their parents, each boy, upon his arrival, was photographed for purposes of subsequent identification should he become lost. After he had cast off his “store clothes” and arrayed himself in sombrero, blue flannel shirt, chaps, high heeled boots, and spurs, he was photographed a second time to permit his being traced and located should he wander away in his ranch outfit. The “dudes” were a good natured lot of young men and enjoyed immensely the ranch life provided for them.
Despite the hospitality and cordial generosity of the Miller brothers it was found almost impossible to accommodate the throngs of visitors, tourists, and sightseers who flocked to the 101 Ranch. So eager were they to witness the operations of the vast domain and so absorbed did they become in the sights and scenes that the White House and its adjoining structures were fairly over-run with strangers. Newcomers, finding every living space occupied, sometimes brought along tents and “roughed it.”
This overcrowded condition became acute during the summer, but the Millers solved the problem of caring for these annually invading throngs by establishing a camp, operated solely in their behalf and for their comfort and welfare. On the north side of the Salt Fork, a tumbling branch of the Arkansas River, a dozen commodious cottages were erected. Electric light wires were stretched into every room from the central station of the ranch system. Adjoining, an assembly eating hall, in the charge of culinary specialists, was constructed. A clubhouse of ample proportions was placed a few hundred feet away for indoor activities. The Millers called this unusual adjunct, “Riverside Camp.”
On the south side of the Salt Fork, opposite the camp, there was a forty acre lake stocked with bass and crappy, known as Red Lake. During the migrating season the lake literally swarmed with ducks and geese, as the Millers always protected them on their flights. There was also a game preserve in which buffalo, elephants, elk, deer, and other wild animals were kept.
Riverside Camp was a success from the start and had devotees and converts to its charm from many sections of the country. Every diversified enterprise of the ranch was opened to their observation and, if they desired, their participation. They participated in the round-ups and rode for miles over interminable prairies with the cowboys; visited the homes and camps of the Indians and watched the performance of strange savage and religious dances and other weird ceremonies and rites; learned how to brand and dehorn and ship cattle by carload to the great stockyards; hunted the furtive coyotes, prairie dogs, wild birds and animals of prairie and forest; watched and sometimes tried the hazardous operations of subduing bucking horses; shot with rifle, shotgun, and pistol at moving and stationary targets; lolled in hammocks under the great spreading shade trees; played polo on the smoothly rolled prairie; gathered in the evening around campfires to tell the romantic doings of the day or sought early rest in the seclusion of their rooms. Everywhere was abounding, buoyant life and vitality, engendered by the health-restoring spirit of the plains.




UNDER THE BIG TOP


OR many years the 101 Ranch had been the wonder spot and show place of Oklahoma. Frequently the Millers gathered their cowboys and horses and steers and buffaloes into a private area, summoned a few score of the Indians, whose primitive homes dotted the grassy bottoms of the ranch, and gave impromptu amateur entertainments. The fame of these spectacular displays soon spread throughout the country. In 1907, when the Jamestown Exposition, Norfolk, Virginia, was promoted, President Theodore Roosevelt invited the Miller brothers, as the most famous representatives of the cattle raising business, to give an arenic display of its features.
That the show from the Oklahoma prairie was the triumph of the fair was remembered by all who attended. The brothers hurried back, recruited another show from the abundant resources of their ranch, and sent it on to Brighton Beach, New York City, where for six weeks it broke metropolitan records. Before the first snow of winter had whitened the 101 Ranch ranges, the Millers and their men and women and livestock were back from what they all called their “spree” with no notion but that their experience as “show people” was over. But the reputation their entertainment had achieved had made too deep an impression. They resisted all overtures, and propositions came to them from many flattering sources, until Edward Arlington placed his plans before them. Then they capitulated and the 101 Ranch wild west show became a permanent factor in the world of amusement.
For years, Colonel Joe Miller had cherished a vision of what he would like to do in the way of preserving frontier customs and conditions. Now he had his chance to realize his dream. “Boys ten years old and younger have never seen a genuine wild west show,” said Colonel Joe, “and we are going to make it possible for them to see one.” After much thought and planning, he began to prepare a real wild west show, one that would present actual ranch and frontier life as it really existed in the early days, but which was fast passing away.
The result of this planning and dreaming was the 101 Ranch wild west show, one of the greatest educational and entertaining enterprises of its kind in the world, and the only one that portrayed ranch and frontier life as it actually existed in the days of the old west. The first exhibition was given in Ponca City, Oklahoma, April 14, 1908.
Mayor Hutchison declared a legal holiday between the hours of 11 A.M. and 6 P.M. in honor of the inaugural performance and the opening of the first annual tour of the Miller brothers 101 Ranch wild west show. The great amusement enterprise gave performances afternoon and evening on the show grounds on Grand avenue and introduced itself to the public in a triumphant street parade.
It was announced by the three Millers and their partner Edward Arlington that all was in readiness for the gala day. The finest circus train in the history of tented amusements was there. Wagons, tents, poles and all the other manifold physical equipment were on the lot; and at the 101 Ranch, performers by the score were awaiting the summons to the full dress rehearsal on Monday evening.
No tented show ever took the road under more happy auspices and felicitous circumstances than this tremendous organization which bore the name of the Miller brothers and was recruited solely from Oklahoma. The eyes of the entire amusement world were focused upon it. From its very nature and source it was the only true typical representative wild west show before the public, and predictions were heard on every hand that its career would be one of uninterrupted patronage and popularity.
Following the engagement in Ponca City the show visited Guthrie, Oklahoma City, Winfield, and Wichita. It then made appearance for two days in Kansas City and followed with an afternoon performance in Fort Madison, Iowa. On the evening of April 23, it began a two-week engagement in the big Coliseum in Chicago. St. Louis was booked for a week and then the show started on a one-day-stand tour for the season.
The Miller brothers ransacked the great Southwest for famous performers in the fields of spectacular western endeavor. Every cowboy, cowgirl, every lasso wielder, every man or woman who aimed a pistol or gun was an admitted champion. The personnel of the arenic department of the organization numbered nearly two hundred persons. Many of them were familiar to the residents of Ponca City for deeds of skill and daring. Colonel Zack T. Miller was in active charge of the performance and no one was better equipped by nature or experience for the important task than he.
One of the feature numbers of the program was a reproduction of the massacre of Pat Hennessey and party, one of the saddest chapters of Oklahoma history. Cheyenne Indians fell upon Hennessey and his companions July 4, 1875, as the freighter was traversing the old Chisholm Trail. Every white traveler had been foully murdered when W. H. Malaley, U.S. marshal, and his band reached the massacre. The 101 Ranch show re-enacted the tragic prairie drama in all its details. To give added realism the Millers secured the presence of Mr. Malaley who went through his movements exactly as performed at the scene of the original massacre. Chief Bull Bear of the Cheyennes was generally accredited with being the author of the murder. He, too, was in the 101 Ranch show arena.
Indian dances and other weird aboriginal rites and ceremonies were one of the features of the show. Scores of red men reached Ponca City at the time of the inaugural performance and took their places in the ranks of the performers—famous old chiefs, warriors, squaws, papooses and pretty dark skinned girls.
Long-horned Texas steers, superb blue-blooded buffaloes came direct from the 101 Ranch. The Millers secured droves of these nearly extinct animals. They were among the four-footed novelties of the show.
One of the principal attractions of the show was Colonel Joe Miller himself. He had been a ranchman for many years before the wild west show was introduced to the public. He was born and brought up on the ranch in the old days. His father went down the trail to Texas in 1871, the first time, covering the whole country from the Rio Grande to North of 36, and- on many of these trips was accompanied by the son, Joe. While on these trips with his father, he saw the last of the buffalo on the staked plains of Texas. He saw the country literally covered in places with buffalo bones. He saw the immense herds of cattle grazing throughout the west.
He was unafraid and was one of the cowboys who did things during the border days. Old time cowboys say he never drew a six-shooter in the old days except when necessary, and that he never asked another fellow to ride an outlaw horse that he had not ridden himself. Among all the cowboys there was none who could surpass him in roping a wild steer in a roundup and among the Indians his word was law. It was these experiences in driving cattle continually with his father that made it possible for him, more so than any other living person, to put on the road a wild west show of the character that the 101 Ranch was producing.
It was because Colonel Joe Miller had seen the last of the buffalo herds on the plains and the land covered with buffalo bones that the Miller brothers took such an interest in attempts to preserve the buffalo. They saw the herds vanishing one by one, the prey of ruthless hunters who swarmed from all over the world, and sadly contemplated the approaching extermination of the one distinctive American animal. Through the years the brothers struggled tirelessly to preserve this superb animal and they owned the largest private herd in America. In what was known as “buffalo pasture” on the 101 Ranch, there ranged many of these buffalo, contented and happy, producing the pure-blooded herd used in the wild west show. The “buffalo hunt” was presented in a realistic manner before the people of the country, to millions of whom this event was only romance and fiction.
In the early days of the 101 Ranch, the long-horned steers roamed the ranges by the thousands. But because of the difficulty of fattening them for market, the Millers and other breeders discontinued their production, and the breed vanished quickly. They are today as few in number as the American buffalo. The Miller brothers were among the few persons in the country interested in their perpetuation. They ransacked the Southwest in their quest for the animals, and assembled a large herd on the 101 Ranch. The steers used in the wild west show were the finest specimens of the home herd, with horns as long as six and seven feet. They were the real, lean, rough, bony, untamable cattle typical of the Texas trails of years gone by.
Many of the cowboys with the wild west show were permanent employees of the Miller brothers, hired for their ability on the range and round-up and used in the show arena only at intervals. There was a constant procession of cowboys traveling from the 101 Ranch to the show, and back again. The exuberant young men who struggled with the bucking bronco for the amusement of the public one day might be branding calves on the ranges of the 101 Ranch the next week. They were at once the most daring, most skillful, most graceful, and most useful horsemen in the country.
Accustomed to roam and range upon their wiry, fleet-footed cow ponies, for days and nights over miles of unclaimed country, the cowboy became, perforce, the pilot of the would-be pioneers, the scout of military expeditions, the leader of colonies and boomers, the Nemesis and prosecutor of ferocious Indians bent on devastation and ravage. All of these roles of the cowboy were depicted realistically in the 101 wild west show arena.
Along with the 101 Ranch men came a company of Mexican cowboys, and appropriately, for the cattle industry in America had its birth in Mexico. The herds of long-horned, wild cattle drifted across the Rio Grande and out upon the Texas plains. One by one the swart-faced Mexican riders dropped aside and adventurous young Americans leaped into the vacated saddles and rode the trails. The Millers brought from the ranches of the sunny southern republic several dozen who were the pride of Mexico, to compete with American cowboys in the saddle and with the lariat in the show arena.
Horseback riding was as common and familiar a pastime to the ranch girl as was hoop-rolling to the girl of the east. She went everywhere on horseback. She could execute an equine quadrille or a Virginia reel, and then gallop twenty miles without feeling a suspicion of fatigue. She could rope and tie a steer, ride a bronco, and lodge a bullet in a target bull’s eye as she galloped. She “kept company” on horseback and many a piquant retort and pert speech gained point from the accelerated gait or sudden demivolt of her horse, respondent to impatient or emphatic pressure of dainty heel or cut of quirt.
Ranch and adjoining ranches. They could rope from horses running at top speed, swing gracefully from the saddle and pick a fallen handkerchief from the ground, mount and subdue bucking horses, and use gun or pistol with the nonchalance and proficiency of the most expert cowboy.
All these girls from the Oklahoma prairies rode astride their horses, the sidesaddle being unknown in the stables of the Miller brothers. The western woman was frequently in saddle for hours at a time. She acted as mail carrier and purchasing agent for the household, and the trading points were generally miles distant from the ranch house. Often she joined in the round-up of the cattle, in which she was as proficient as the cowboy, and it was not unusual for her to take a twenty-mile jaunt for visit or festival of the plains. No woman could have endured these long rides in a sidesaddle, with its impossibility of changing position.
Many of these cowgirls made their first visit to the crowded cities at the time they performed in the show arena. Never did they dream of Dame Fashion’s demands, as illustrated by their sisters of the city. Some of these ranch belles had never seen a parasol and could not understand why one should not welcome the tan which accompanied buoyant health. Lorgnettes, vanity bags, dresses entrain, and turban bobs were beyond their puzzled comprehensions. The plaits, coils, and tresses of fashionable coiffure evoked their curious interest, but no desire for emulation.
The fluctuation of the cowboys and cowgirls between prosaic ranch work and show display had the result of making the Ranch a center and school for many arena stars. Best known among these, perhaps, was Tom Mix, a product of the 101 Ranch, where he rode the ranges with the Millers and learned the many stunts and tricks that have since made him famous as a moving picture star. Mix was with the Millers on the ranch a long time and later was with them on the road with the show. Charles (Buck) Jones was another film luminary whose career began on the 101 Ranch. Several years ago the 101 wild west show was playing at Galveston, Texas. A backward country boy, just discharged from the army, approached Colonel Joe Miller and asked for a job. He was given the only opening—the task of currying horses for the cowboys. Soon an opening occurred in the cowboy “string” and Jones was given an outfit and a horse. He made a splendid arena performer. The list also included Neal Hart, Vester Pegg, Tommy Grimes, Dan Dix, Helen Gibson, Mabel Normand, and other well-known stars of the moving picture world. It can be said without equivocation that the careers of many of the best cowboys and cowgirls appearing in contests throughout the country originated at the 101 Ranch.
Like every other frontier feature of the 101 Ranch wild west show, the bucking broncos were “the real thing,” in testimony of which is offered the emergency hospital maintained with the show. Every day in the season from one to a half dozen cowboys or cowgirls were temporary inmates as a result of their struggles with the equine desperadoes. Men and women of less rugged physique and trained endurance would never have survived the fierce combats.
The 101 Ranch show broncos were naturally irreclaimable fighters whose savage and reckless efforts to throw their riders could not be corrected. They might be temporarily conquered after a prolonged and often dangerous struggle, requiring extraordinary agility, skill and courage on the part of their riders, but with every effort to mount came a renewal of the contest between stubbornness and instinct on the one side and brains and nerve on the other, and in it the nobler animal did not always win the spurs.
In the performances of the bucking bronchos no two resorted to the same tactics of defense. One would permit himself to be saddled and mounted before letting out the deviltry with which his hide was stuffed. Another would quietly submit to being saddled, but that was the limit of his sufferance. To still another the very sight of a saddle was the signal for war; he would start off humping his back like a mad cat, and land stiffly on all fours with a force of a pile driver—or he would lie down and stubbornly refuse to budge. Still another would rear and fall backwards with such reckless fury as to sometimes beat out his brains. A fifth would kick, strike, or bite with a savage viciousness rendering him more dangerous than a hungry lion.
And these are but illustrations among innumerable efforts of the 101 Ranch show bronco to escape the ignominy of bearing a cowboy or cowgirl on his back. In some instances, he seemed intent upon injuring the rider only; in others, he aimed to disable himself; and in still others, he seemed frantically bent upon committing suicide. He was a product of the open ranges of the old days and was a natural actor—so full of fiery and furious vim that he played an indispensable role in all the western sports of the wild west show.
The 101 Ranch was in the midst of the great plains tribes of Indians. Over its vast acreages once ranged hostile Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Comanches, Kiowas, Pawnees, Sac and Foxes, Poncas, and Osages. Not only were the reservations of these tribes ransacked for papooses and their mothers, radiant belles of the wigwam, wrinkled warriors, and renowned chiefs, but the Millers lured tribesmen from the far southwest and northwest.
Thus, the Indians with the 101 wild west show represented nearly a dozen tribes. They comprised an ethnological study of fascinating interest. Crooked Nose, a stalwart brave, was the champion bow and arrow shot of the Comanches. Flatiron was looked upon as the greatest orator of the Sioux Nation. It was he who harangued the Indians before they went into the Custer fight. He was too old to do active work with the show, but was taken along for good influence among the Indians, seeming to have power to quiet them when they became restless or dissatisfied. Flatiron was a member of the Oglala tribe of the Sioux Nation, and was one of the hereditary chiefs of that tribe.
Three other Indian warriors who had conspicuous parts in the Custer massacre were members of the 101 Ranch aggregation. They were Charlie-Owns-the-Dog, Standing Cloud, and Long Bull. They were always loath to talk of the slaughter. Long Bull was credited with being one of the greatest Indian statesmen of history. He made several journeys to Washington to participate in negotiations with the white men regarding land claims. Standing Cloud, despite his age, was one of the fleetest sprinters with the show. Charlie-Owns-the-Dog was a cousin of Geronimo.
Swift Deer, bowed with age and the responsibilities of his profession, was the medicine man of the Indians with the show. While the red men were naturally skillful in curing simple ailments, there were many more serious diseases which they did not at all comprehend and for which they had no medical treatment. Such diseases they believed to be caused by evil spirits, which must be driven away by the dream power of the doctor.
Their native dances, ancient ceremonies, and elaborate rituals were the most entertaining part of the performance in the show arena. The war dances performed were those which the government had for years tried unsuccessfully to discourage and check. The Indian children were prohibited by the federal authorities from watching the fantastic, savage evolutions in which the old Indians feigned war, pretending to attack and scalp their enemies, which they entered into with a spirit of grim reality.
The Indian children were one of the interesting sights and studies of the show. The tiniest of them were securely tied to their boards—the primitive cradle—from which they gazed solemnly, with unwinking eyes, upon their new and uncomprehended surroundings. When not slung on the mother’s back, this board with its human burden was suspended from a pole or meat-drying scaffold. No attention was paid to the perspiring youngster, save now and then when it whimpered for nourishment. Other children, a little older, were freed from this imprisonment and played on the ground nearby. Despite the irksome confinement of the board, most of them soon became tired of unaccustomed liberty and cried piteously to be restored to its hard surface. They ceased their lamentations only when preparations were made to confine them again.
The children old enough to walk were comical figures, clad in little smocks that reached their knees. Many had a buckskin string about their necks, which carried amber beads or an amulet to keep off disease or the ghost. They ran, played, shouted, and effervesced with life and spirits, like children the world over.
The older boys were armed with bows and headless arrows, and practiced shooting continually—at a mark or for distance, or vertically into the air in an effort to make the arrow land at some particular point. Many of the young braves engaged in sham battles, conducting a mimic fight much after the manner of men, except that they used mud balls. The little girls made dolls and other toys of buckskin, and built playhouses like their white sisters. They were very timid.
In the Indian village that existed in connection with the show, the Indians were seen as they were in the wilds, not alone for exhibition purposes, but because they preferred it. The squaws were expert makers of bead-work, blankets, baskets, and pottery. The bucks made bows and arrows and would sit for hours, carving out some weird design, without looking up, or saying a word. Representatives of every known tribe were in the village and tribes that had waged war dwelled amicably together, not simply because they wanted to, but also because they were compelled to, for the Indians were never left without guards. They had no respect for the white man’s law and had a beautiful way of settling their own difficulties if permitted to do so.
Equestrianism in all its reckless and skillful forms was displayed in the arena of the show. Every performer—cowboy, cowgirl, or Indian—was a product of the prairie, except the contingent of Cossacks, under the leadership of Prince Lucca. These members of Russia’s noted light cavalry were brought to this country by the Miller brothers to compete in exhibition with the cowboys. The Cossacks did not attempt the bronco riding feats of the cowboys, but they performed acrobatic exploits that for sheer, dare-devil achievement were sensational. Their horses, accompanying them from the steppes of the Siberian border, were lithe and fiery animals of great speed and endurance.
Wild long-horned steer wrestling, or bulldogging, was one of the cowboy sports included in the wild west show. It was considered by many show spectators the most thrilling of these sports. It demanded daring, strength, and speed. The wrestler who threw his steer in the quickest time, while complying with all rules, was declared the winner. The steers were numbered, and before each contest each wrestler selected his steer by lot. When a steer was released from the chute in the show arena, the animal was given a start across the tape or deadline. The wrestler’s objective was to ride alongside, leap from the saddle, grasp the steer’s horns, put the steer flat on his side while using only his hands, and then raise one hand to signal he had completed his task. His time was computed from the moment he crossed the tape until he raised his hand in signal.
For this event, each contestant had the assistance of a rider, known as a hazer. The hazer’s job was to ride parallel to the contestant on the opposite side of the steer, to keep it heading straight down the arena. This assistance was necessary to prevent the steer from turning abruptly away and charging to some distant point at the critical moment when the wrestler made his jump. The hazer gave no assistance in the actual bulldogging.
The steer had to be thrown by hand, “twisted down,” after being brought to a stop. If a steer was accidentally knocked down it had to be let up on all four feet and thrown again. Should a steer start running after once being stopped and then thrown by the wrestler putting its horns against the ground, the steer had to be let up and twisted down properly. A steer was considered down when it was flat on its side with all four feet and head straight. A contestant was limited to two minutes. Owing to the size and vicious nature of the long-horned steers used in this contest, any time under twenty-four seconds was considered exceedingly fast.
Colonel Zack Miller credits Bill Pickett, negro cowboy of the 101 Ranch, with being the first bulldogger. “He slid off a horse, hooked a steer with both hands on the horns, twisted its neck and then sunk his teeth in the steer’s nostrils to bring him down,” is Colonel Miller’s version of the Pickett performance. But as he grew older the teeth and nose stunt was eliminated. He started bulldogging down in the mesquite country in Texas, where the wild growth made it impossible to throw a lariat. Pickett was as much an institution with the Millers as the show itself, and not altogether for his bulldogging ability.
Some years ago when the show was in Mexico, the Miller brothers were at a bullfight. There were some tough bulls in the ring and matadors maneuvered carefully. But Pickett maintained he could not only throw one, but could hold him for several minutes. There was a difference of opinion which resulted in some heavy betting. Pickett’s responsibility was great, for the Millers had bet the show against $25,000 in gold that he could hold the bull seven and one-half minutes. The bet got noised around and the scene outrivaled the bull battle in Quo Vadis. Pickett put the bull down, but the Mexicans protested that it wasn’t quite done, so he held on grimly for fifteen minutes. There was nothing left finally except to pay off, which the Mexicans did. Bill Pickett, to say the least, was a great bulldogger!
Bill Pickett was born about 1860 and died April 2, 1932, from injuries received while roping a bronc on the 101 Ranch. He was buried at the foot of the White Eagle monument on the 101 Ranch. Members of the Cherokee Strip Cowboy Association erected a stone marker at his grave, September 6, 1936. On the day of his death Colonel Zack T. Miller, who had been his boss for thirty years, wrote the following lines:

Old Bill has died and gone away, over the “Great Divide.”
Gone to a place where the preachers say both saint and sinner will abide.
If they “check his brand” like I think they will it’s a runnin’ hoss
They’ll give to Bill.
And some good wild steers till he gets his fill.
With a great big crowd for him to thrill.
Bill’s hide was black but his heart was white,
He’d sit up through the coldest night
To help a “doggie” in a dyin’ fight,
To save a dollar for his boss.
And all Bill wanted was a good fast hoss,
Three square meals and a place to lay
His tired self at the end of day.
There’s one other thing, since I’ve come to think,
Bill was always willing to take a drink.
If the job was tough, be it hot or cold,
You could get it done if Bill was told.
He’d fix the fence, or skin a cow,
Or ride a bronc, and EVEN PLOW,
Or do anything, if you told him how.
Like many men in the old-time West,
On any job, he did his best.
He left a blank that’s hard to fill
For there’ll never be another Bill.
Both White and Black will mourn the day
That the “Biggest Boss” took Bill away.


Calf roping was always considered one of the interesting cowboy performances in the show arena. It was a contest of speed and skill, and was the one sport where a man’s working tool, his horse, becomes his athletic paraphernalia as well. The objective was to rope, throw, and tie a calf in the proper manner for branding in the quickest possible time. Under the strictest rules in cowboy sports, this was not as simple as it appears.
The calves were all of average weight, hence there was no advantage in that respect. But no man could say with any assurance which way a loose calf would run. The calf was released from the chute and given a thirty foot running start before the roper could ride across the dead-line in pursuit. The roper would cast his lariat and was allowed to throw two loops to catch the calf. If he missed both, or if the calf escaped after being roped, the roper retired with “no time.
Immediately after the cowboy had roped his calf, he stopped his horse, dismounted, and proceeded hand-over-hand down the rope. He laid the calf on its side, and fastened any three of its feet together in a tie which the judges deemed suitable—one that would hold. Once the roper had signaled he was through, he could not touch the calf again to strengthen the tie. His time was computed from the moment he crossed the deadline until he signaled “tied.”
Strict rules governed every move, but the foregoing were the ones of most interest in following the performance. The roper was responsible not only for his own observance of the rules, but also for his horse abiding by them. A penalty adding to his time was imposed if the horse “busted” the calf. Here was high skill and co-ordination of effort by rider and horse seldom seen in any other sport.
One of the novelties of the show was the picture of western life representing the attack on the prairie schooner. The old wagon, guarded by a typical frontiersman in coonskin cap and buckskin clothes, followed by another old character who looked as if he might have been one of the “forty-niners,” was driven slowly across the arena by six steers, where the Indians swooped down. The following gun shots soon set fire to the cloth covering of the wagon, which blazed up brightly, and in the flames and smoke the Indians and pioneers whirled around on their horses, fired blank cartridges, and yelled at the top of their lungs, making a decidedly vivid scene, which was heightened when a troop of cowboys dashed on the scene and put the Indians to flight.
Another valuable part of the performance was an exhibition of the Pony Express, showing how the mail was carried across the plains in the early days. The express rider, armed and mounted like the brave and hardy men who carried the mail before the railroads, slipped off one horse and on another with lightning speed, hardly losing a minute in the change of horses.
The next feature portrayed the lawless days of the West, when it was never safe to travel over the plains, even with guards. In this exhibition one of the original Deadwood stage coaches was used—a battle-scarred vehicle with many bullet holes along its weather-beaten surface. Its driver, no less spectacular, was an old grizzled veteran of the plains. Inside were the passengers, among them several women, and the strong box of the express company. On top were two or three vigilant guards on the lookout for trouble. Suddenly in the distance a band of Mexican outlaws appeared and then began a running fight between these fierce brigands and those in charge of the stage. It was soon settled, however, for amid the puff of smoke and shriek of bullets the brave defenders were soon overcome and the passengers were an easy prey to the Mexicans, who lined them up at the point of their huge six-shooters and relieved them of their valuables. This had hardly been accomplished, however, when a band of husky vigilants appeared, and after a short battle put to flight or captured the desperadoes, and escorted the frightened passengers to safety.

Upper,
the 101 Ranch terrapin derby; center, 101 Ranch cowboys; lower,
Colonel Joe Miller’s show horse, Pedro, and his $10,000
diamond-studded saddle The show was billed a “Real Wild West” and that was exactly what it was in every particular. There was no aerial work, nor were there any trained seals. It was an authentic show of what the 101 Ranch had been for years on the great prairie region of the Southwest. In fact every detail was covered which would properly illustrate life on the great western plains. A. K. Greenland, writing in the Billboard, under date of August 15, 1911, described vividly the 101 wild west show in action in the great Boston arena:
“Early in the morning, everybody looked up the line of march in the papers, and eagerly chose the points of vantage in order to observe the Far West procession. As usual, the Boston Commons appealed most strongly, so it was there that so many of us stood.
“We heard a trumpet, then a band. The pageant advances, led by the pick of Boston’s police department. Next comes a set of lusty ranchmen, characteristically straddling impetuous bronchos. A long train of Indians, bedecked in feathers and brilliant war paint, now jog on before us. Another cowboy band, then a train of big, heavy show wagons, then the cowgirls, gracefully mounted, joyously greet you. Forthwith you begin to picture the West a land of dream and enchantment. The East and historic New England assume a far less superior station in your opinion. Here come the Mexicans, preceded by dusky ’Bill’ Pickett. Following them comes the huge, large horned bull, carrying a human load on its back with the most perfect docility. There are the Cossacks, the buffalo, more cowboys and cowgirls, brought to a close by the piping calliope.
“We enter the arch of the arena, and find our good friends all ready for duty. Joseph C., Zack T. and George L. Miller were the first to be greeted. Their genial smiles soon convinced us that all was prepared and every detail looked out for. There are both George and Ed Arlington busy and occupied, as is also Will Brooks, yet ready to chat for a period. As for optimism, George Arlington is ever the champion, and with pleasure he shows us our seats at the edge of the hippodrome.
“The arena tent measures 390 feet in width by 550 feet in length. Three large horse tents, respectively 40x200, 40x80, and 30x60, have been prepared for the accommodations of the equines. The cook tent is a fence-pole top, measuring 60x180. There are 1,100 people and 600 elephants, camels, horses, buffalo, long-horned steers, oxen, mules, and ponies with the 101 show this year.
“The last strains of Director D. La Blanca’s well-disciplined aggregation of cowboy musicians fade away in the roomy realms of the Coliseum. We hold our breath and even upbraid one another for disturbing this period of gripping suspense for audible breathing, when forth comes a blast from the horn of La Blanca, and Joseph C. Miller steps triumphantly forth to the heart of the arena. Reverently raising his hat, he introduces his 1911 ensemble to the eagerly hearkening multitude. His introductory speech is concluded; he motions the director, and out comes the host of adventures from all the climes of the Continent.
“Display No. 1 was now actually passing before them. What a gorgeous review of arenic performers marched forth in file, led by Joseph Miller himself on his steed almost white save for some well-placed brown spots on its haunches. Cowboys, cowgirls, Indian braves and their squaws, Cossacks and Mexicans, a stage coach, and a trio of burlesquing harlequins. Soon the arena is cleared for the individual introduction of the participants.
“The bugle blows for Display No. 2 and in they all dash, one after the other, as follows: cowboys from headquarters, Sioux Indians from Pine Ridge, cowboys from Cowskin Camp, band of Cheyenne redskins from Oklahoma, cowboys from Horse Show Bend, Snake Indians from the Creek reservation, a troupe of Russian Imperial Cossacks, followed by Lucca, their prince, a collection of Mexican and rurales, cowgirls, Chief Eagle Feather of the Sioux, Pickett, the Dusky Demon; D. V. Tantlinger, chief of cowboys, and lastly and therefore most important, Joseph C. Miller.
“They all make their bow and hastily race for the exit, then one of the cowboys gives in Display No. 3 a stirring relay exhibition, attired, armed and mounted, a pouch over shoulder, like the brave and hardy pony express rider who sped across the hostile plains ere the shriek of the locomotive had penetrated the Western frontierland.
“Display No. 4 presents some extremely fancy as well as practical demonstrations with the lariat, lassoing horses at full speed, catching runaways, jumping rope, and spinning bizarre figures.
“Display No. 5 depicts the thrilling exploits of some Mexican bandits, who lawlessly hold up, fight and capture an overland stage coach, plunder the passengers, empty the treasure safe and prepare to make away with the booty when they are attacked by a posse of swiftly-pursuing vigilants, rurales and cowboys. Great was the hand-clapping when Eagle, a gray cowpony, feigned injury and limped from the field.
“Display No. 7 calls our attention to Pickett, the modern Urus in a demonstration of courage, nerve, strength and agility in which he duplicates his feat of conquering a Spanish bull unarmed and unaided, by forcing the largest of bulls to the tanbark of sheer strength.
“Display No. 8 presents the frolics and pastimes of the boys of 101 Ranch in which they gambol and disport with the joy of the school boy. They pick up handkerchiefs and hats while galloping at full speed.
“Display No. 9 is one that attracts the attention of all those assembled, for D. V. Tantlinger, chief of the cowboys demonstrates the use of the boomerang for the hunt, chase and battle.
“Display No. 10 gives the boys and girls of the ranch a chance to execute, a-horse, the intricacies of the quadrille with grace and abandon. Next comes in Display No. 11 a very effective number wherein Edith Tantlinger challenges exhibition with the shotgun. This act is wonderfully clever and on the opening occasion she made every shot count, penetrating a clay bird with each click of the trigger.
“Display No. 12 exemplifies the degree of perfection to which the prairie equine can be educated. This number presents a large number of well trained high-school horses. The act is climaxed by the excellent equestrianism of Madame Marantette and Col. Harris, who exhibit their two high-school horses, Chief Geronimo and Sun Flower, in their latest departures of high-school stepping. The hit of the act is the close when on her jumping horse, St. Patrick, she cleared a structure six feet, four in height and at that nine and one-quarter inches less than the height for which she is willing to take challenges.
“Display No. 13 tells the story of the horse thief of the prairie, disclosing the marauder taking possession of the cowboy’s mount, his escape, pursuit, capture and the subsequent treatment accorded any such miscreant.
“Display No. 14 presents cowboys in military tactics wherein they do some of the cleverest riding of the performance, finishing with a Roman three-horse standing mount.
“In Display No. 15, Princess Wenona comes forth to establish her reputation as a peerless horseback rifle shot. No such a hindrance as a bobbing seat a-horse is able to destroy her aim. This is a very commendable act and deserves to be ranked with the best in the business.
“In Display No. 16 the many spectators are treated to an exhibition of football on horse-back as played by the Mexicans and Indians. Trick riding forms the basis of the next displays, Nos. 17 and 18, and some very hazardous bare-back broncho, steer and buffalo mounts are undertaken and successfully accomplished. It is here that Goldie St. Clair performs her perilous feat of riding the bridleless broncho as does also the daring Virgin L. Barnett, well known for his ability in this line. The bridleless bucking buffalo was successfully ridden by cowboy Tex in Display No. 19.
“Display No. 20 afforded C. C. Lee the opportunity of demonstrating his skill at bareback shooting. Display No. 21 depicts with realism the adventures of our pioneer emigrants. The scene reveals their encampment for the night, their attack by the Indians, the ensuing battle, the massacre and the vengeance of the cowboys.
“Music blazes forth a reluctant farewell. We step into the street and solemnly avow that the 101 Ranch wild west show is unexcellable. A well-disciplined host of acts, of pleasing variety and skillful dexterity have been collected for the year of 1911.”
During the seasons of 1914, the wild west show was on exhibition for six months at Shepherd’s Bush, London, England. To celebrate the century of peace between the English speaking nations, the Anglo-American Exposition was held during that time and was the occasion for the show visiting England. The Miller brothers went to an enormous expense in putting before the English public a show which had never been equalled in the British Isles, for it was wholly realistic, every member of the show being “the thing” at his or her own particular game. The realism of the western sports aroused much interest in the Londoners as indicated in the following lines:
“Quite the most attractive feature of the Anglo-American Exposition at Shepherd’s Bush is the performance which is being given twice daily in the Stadium by The 101 Ranch Real Wild West.’ This representation of life in the prairies is a wonderful spectacle and one which is wholly new to Londoners, and every one of the performers was born and reared on the 101 Ranch, from which the show takes its name. This ranch, which belongs to Messrs. Miller Brothers, is situated at Bliss, Oklahoma, and comprises some thirty square miles, and over this area are herds of horses and cattle belonging to the ranch, under the guardianship of scores of cowboys and cowgirls, who frequently gather together and hold contests among themselves in lariat throwing, ‘busting’ bronchos, ‘bossing’ round-ups, and other such pastimes as form part of the daily life of these people of the plains.
“This is the first time they have been out of America, and they only arrived in this country two weeks ago. With them are a number of Indians, who belong to various tribes, having their homes close to the 101 ranch property in Oklahoma. Prominent among the cowboys are Guy Weadick, who, with his wife, gives some wonderful demonstrations of skill with the lariat; Johnny Baker, who is the stage manager, so to speak, of this arenic display; Stack Lee, whose shooting is a thing to wonder at; and Mr. Zack Miller, one of the famous trio of brothers, whose horsemanship is a delight to all beholders; and Chester Byers, the champion roper of the United States. The cowgirls, too, have their champions, and Lucille Mann, the leading broncho ‘buster’ of the party, has the distinction of being the only woman who is able to ride ‘Thunder,’ one of the wildest and most stubborn of the 101 Ranch horses, which have been brought over to England, while Alice Lee and Mable Clive can toss a lariat with the best of the cowboy champions.
“Accommodation is provided under cover for no fewer than ten thousand spectators, so that whatever the weather Londoners can witness this alternately thrilling and picturesque performance under the most comfortable conditions. Exhibitions are given twice daily—viz., at 3:30 and 8:30—and the performance, which goes with a swing from start to finish, occupies only about an hour and a half.”1
The Indians, who were gay with fresh paint—ready to take the “war-path” in the arena—aroused much interest, as did the cowboys, Mexicans, vaqueros, and bucking broncos, but the great attraction was the cowgirls from the western prairies. This fascination of the Londoners is expressed rather pointedly in the Daily Citizen, under date of July 11, 1914:
“Red Horn Gulch has come to London and settled at the Stadium, Shepherd’s Bush, where, among the many inhabitants of the wild and woolly west are a bunch of the most wonderful cowgirls ever seen east of St. Louis.

1 Daily Mirror (London), May 27, 1914.

“Of course, there are cowboys, Red Indians, bucking mustangs, and a hundred and one other centers of interest at the Stadium, but the great attraction is the wiry but pretty girls who, in divided skirts, top boots, and wide, grey felt Stetson hats, make a picture of femininity quite new to this country.
“None of them talks much; the prairies do not encourage conversation. The girls do not like the cities, and during their appearance at the Stadium they intend to camp in the grounds.
“The most important of the cowgirls is Miss Florence Le Due, of Bliss, Oklahoma. ‘Say,’ she said to a representative of The Daily Citizen, ‘I won my title at ‘The Stampede,’ Calgary, Canada in 1912, and kept it the following year at Winnipeg. This is the belt I won,’ she added as she proudly showed an engraved gold belt which encircled her waist.
“Florence is distinctly accomplished in prairie pastimes. She can ’rope’ (lasso) a running horse, steer, or even a man with the best cowboy going, and she can make the lariat do all sorts of twists, loops, and turns. And she can shoot ‘some.’
“For Alice Lee of Dallas, Texas, it is claimed that she is the champion woman trick rider of the world. Her star turn is to stand in the saddle and gallop at full speed around the arena, and she also makes a specialty of falling off her horse, catching one foot in the stirrup and doing a kind of compulsory frog-march along the ground.
“Lottie Aldridge, of Greeley, Colorado, is addicted to lying flat on her horse’s back and firing a Winchester at hordes of imaginary savages.
“Babe Willetts, of Chickasha, Oklahoma, is a cow-puncher, and she backs herself to cut a steer out of a bunch with any cowboy that ever breathed. Mabel Klein, of Pecos City, Texas; Dot Vernon, of Phoenix, Arizona; Ruth Roach, of Ponca City, Oklahoma; and Jane Fuller, of Eagle, New Mexico, are the chief of the other girl champions.
“The majority of the girls are the daughters and sisters of small ranchers, and all the feats they perform are practically part of every-day ranch life.”
Queen Alexandra of England accompanied by the Empress Marie of Russia, Princess Royal and her daughter, Princess Maud sat in the royal boxes when the Millers took a bow and then proceeded to stage the most stupendous wild west performance the old world had ever seen. Soon after the royal party arrived dozens of cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians appeared in the arena uttering their wild cries as they cantered round at breakneck pace. Then came pioneer scouts and an emigrant train. Claims were “staked out,” and wild west sports took place. A display of riding by the Russian Cossacks particularly pleased the Empress Marie, who pointed out all the details of their costume to her sister. Some remarkable rifle shooting on horseback also excited the admiration of the royal party. Queen Alexandra, who was dressed in black with a small black net hat and a red rose in her blouse, remained for an hour and a half and evidenced much interest in the performances, as the following lines reveal:
“Queen Alexandra yesterday afternoon paid a visit to the Anglo-American Exhibition at Shepherd’s-bush for the primary purpose of witnessing the ’Wild West’ performance given within the Stadium. In four motor-cars her Majesty and the party by whom she was accompanied set out from Marlborough House shortly after three o’clock. In the first car were Queen Alexandra herself and the Empress Marie of Russia, attended by Sir Colin Keppel; in the second were the Princess Royal and her daughter, Princess Maud, together with the Hon. Violet Vivian; the third car accommodated the Countess of Antrim, Colonel Streatfeild, Prince Chervachidze, and Countess Mengden; and seated in the fourth were General Sir Dighton Probyn and the Hon. Charlotte Knollys.
“On arrival at the Stadium Queen Alexandra was received by the Earl of Lonsdale and Sir John Cockburn, by whom the distinguished party were escorted to the Royal tribune. To the right of her Majesty sat her sister, the Empress Marie, the Princess Royal, and Princess Maud; and immediately on the left of Queen Alexandra was seated Lord Lonsdale. With the greatest interest the Royal visitors followed every detail of the diversified, and in some respects thrilling, programme; and if one may judge by the emphatic approval which Queen Alexandra bestowed on various items, her Majesty thoroughly enjoyed the performance. More than that, Queen Alexandra took so many snapshots during the entertainment that her camera had to be replenished with a fresh spool of films; and before she left the Stadium she specially requested that the entire series of photos bearing on the performance should be forwarded to her in order to supplement her own collection. As the Royal party drove off, the members of the company—Indians, cowboys, and all—lined the route and heartily cheered the departing visitors.”2
It was a big event for the Miller brothers and set the stage for a tour of European countries. But the tour did not happen. Europe and the whole world went to war. To save the horses and mules, worth much money because of their training, Colonel Zack Miller tendered all the show livestock to Great Britain for war purposes, provided the more valuable animals might be sent back to America. England agreed and the wild west show returned to the prairies of Oklahoma. Following is a copy of the Impressment Order of the British Government seizing the horses of the show for war purposes:

National Emergency. Impressment Order under Section
115 of the Army Act.

To Zack T. Miller, 68 Holland Rd. W.

His Majesty, having declared that a national emergency has arisen, the horses and vehicles of the 101 Ranch Show are to be impressed for the public service, if found fit (in accordance with Section 115 of the Army Act), and will be paid for on the spot at the market value to be settled by the purchasing officer. Should you not accept the price paid as fair value, you have the right to appeal to the County Court (in Scotland the Sheriff’s Court), but you must not hinder the delivery of the horses and vehicles, etc. The purchasing officer may claim to purchase such harness and stable gear as he may require with the horse or vehicle.

Charles Carpenter, Sergt.
Place Shepherd’s Bush Exhibition
Date 7th August, 1914.

During the war period, the Millers devoted their time to furnishing the government with livestock for war purposes and to building up the 101 Ranch. Following the Armistice, they expanded the oil production on the ranch and when the production came in to such an extent, Colonel Joe Miller’s feet got to itching for the road again. He began dreaming of the big top, a greater big top than ever before. Day by day he counted the ranch oil wells and while building up the ranch, he began quietly building for another show. When the brothers’ bank balance was sufficient to build any kind of show he wanted he got busy. That time came in 1924.

2 Daily Chronicle, London, England, June 26, 1914.

Tom S. Tucker, known wherever shows are known, was the man who put the new show on wheels. The Millers told him they wanted the best equipped show of the kind that could be built. They gave him no limit on expenses. Old showmen say frankly there never was a show on the road with such wagons and such railroad cars as the Miller brothers provided for the show. Scores of workmen, skilled in their trades, were assembled at Marland and big buildings were equipped with special machinery. The forty wagons which were used in the parade were all built at Marland. The band wagon, which could not be duplicated at any price, contained on one side life size wood engravings of the Aztec Sacrifice and on the other a life size group of the landing of Ponce De Leon. It was a work of art done many years ago by a famous German wood carver, and that was the only piece of old equipment about the show. Nothing was old about that wagon but the wood carving. The wheels and all other parts were new.
The thirty railroad cars to haul the show were new. Most of them were steel. Even the stock cars were steel and for that reason were built on the palace car plan. The living cars for the performers and other employees were strictly up to the best construction plans. But the climax was reached in the private car of the Miller brothers which was the home of Joe, Zack and George Miller while the show was on the road. The car was a veritable palace on wheels. It had baths, electric lights, library, and in fact every convenience that the modern home has. It was artistically designed and furnished.
Almost twice as big as the top of the old 101 Ranch show, the big top and all the canvas were new. Most of the long staple cotton used in making the canvas was raised on the 101 Ranch. The timbers needed were sawed on the ranch and even the stakes and seats were built there.
The cook wagons, carrying ice boxes with a two-day supply of ice capacity, were marvels of construction. They had been built so that forty minutes after the wagons got on the lot, meals for five hundred persons would be ready.
The lighting was another unusual feature. Never before had such a lighting system been built for a show. The lights were so powerful that it was possible to see a pin in any part of the tent when they were on in full force and still there was no glare. The electric switchboard had been arranged to give as good a lighting effect for the spectacles as could be given on the most modern stage in the country.
Arabia was the opening spectacle. It was the story of the pilgrimage of Fatima, wife of Ali the Fourth, caliph of Egypt. There was displayed an array of dancers that had never before been under canvas. They were chosen from the leading dancing schools of the world. They had been trained for many weeks for their part in the spectacle. The camels, the slaves, and, in fact, as complete a caravan as could be reproduced was used in the opening. The setting was especially designed and was entirely different from the usual circus spectacle.
Such famous trick riders, ropers, bulldoggers as Mamie Francis, California Frank, Hank Duman, Reine Hafley, Tad Lucas, Mildred Douglas, Buck Lucas, Buff Brady, Joss Darrera, Milt Kinkle, Cotton Ashley, Fred Carter and scores of others comprised the wild west performers. Then there were the famous clowns, Dan Mix and Joe Lewis, with their mule acts. Ezra Meeker and his ox-drawn prairie schooner were with the show.
But it is the ballet and the far east acts that constituted the side departure from the old line of show. Joe Miller went personally to New York and other cities while Zack Miller went to Mexico City, New Orleans, and Cuba and their agents scoured the Orient to get the dancers they wanted.
None of the old time circus side show performers were included. Youth, beauty and grace were the prime requisites of those who wanted to get on the show. Girls from Ziegfeld’s Follies, dancers from the famous theaters of Mexico City and Buenos Aires and Slayman’s famous troop of Arabs were brought in to the show. An entire troop of Russian Cossack riders and dancers were imported. And they were the best Joe Miller could find in Russia. They were all young and trained under the new conception of art rather than the old circus idea. Among the Indians were John Last Man, Two Dog, Yellow Boy and few others who were with the original 101 show. But there were scores of others. They were mostly Sioux and Cheyenne. The Osage and Poncas were not good show Indians because, as Joe Miller said, they were too independent. Most of them tire of show life. If he had taken them along he would more than likely have waked up some morning and found his Indians had broken camp by night and gone back home.
Two troupes of trained elephants and trained camels, buffalo and elk constituted the animal section of the show, except, of course, the horses and steers. The horses used in the wild west performance for riding were selected over a period of months. They were outlaws that would buck when they smelled leather. Any horse that could be tamed was not taken.
That was the reason it took several months to pick them. The same was true of the steers. From the Brahamas on down, they were a wild bunch that no amount of riding would tame. The Millers started out to make the wild west section a real wild west show and nothing tame was connected with the wild west section.
The side shows were so different from the old side lines that there was no comparison. They were absolutely clean and nothing on the order of the old “for men only” joints was tolerated. There was not a show on the lot that would offend the most exacting critic of morality. But there was youth, beauty, and art.
Through all of the building of the big show, there was a great deal of fun and hard work. The hundreds of people gathered at the ranch from all parts of the world to help put on the exhibition and played their parts well. Life on the 101 Ranch during this time was more like a street scene in some foreign city where all the nations of the world were represented.
The big 101 super-wild west show opened in Oklahoma City, April 21, 1925. The opening exhibition was dedicated to the Eighty-nine celebration. The Miller brothers were known all over Oklahoma long before the big “run.” They were frontiersmen and with them in the show were others of their type who braved the hardships long before the opening of territorial lands to colonization.
The old show was operated successfully from the fall of 1908 to the fall of 1916, during which time it made a net profit, after paying for the entire equipment of over $800,000.3 After reorganization in 1925, the new show did not do so well financially in spite of the fact it met with tremendous approval of the people. The show met the greatest opposition any business ever met, namely: the three cornered fight—the Barnum and Bailey, Ringling interest on one side, and the American Circus Corporation on the other. It was a fight to the finish, but the Millers always held their own in the eyes of the people. The opposition, however, was a heavy drain on the income of the new show.
In addition, the expenses in operating the new super-wild west show were enormous as a result of the high class performances added in the reorganization. The income declined increasingly each season, largely because of business conditions, to such an extent that in 1926 the season closed with a loss of around $119,000.4 With grim determination to succeed, the Millers continued the show on the road until it finally stranded in Washington, D. C., August 5, 1931, following financial difficulties which led to court action.
For the 1931 season, Colonel Zack Miller started the show out with meager funds with the hope of renewing interest once shown by the American Circus Corporation in buying it. The show left Marland, Oklahoma, with only a small sum in the cash box, struck two or three big days near home and was able to continue on a schedule that really had not been seriously planned. During the summer, Colonel Miller was called back to the ranch for the conference with creditors which preceded the appointment of the ranch receiver, leaving the show run by paid employees.
The advance man always makes or breaks a show. He is out ahead of the show about two weeks and makes all the contracts. Without question the advance man broke the 101 Ranch show during the 1931 season. Whether he was paid to do it by some other show corporation, it is not known, but he would send the show on a 250 mile jump one night (freight $900) and the next night 250 miles back to within 50 miles of where the show had previously been. He would route the show into towns where the police and firemen were having benefit rodeos or into towns where most of the population was out on strike from the mills and factories. Colonel Miller was informed of the deplorable situation but was too busy at the ranch with the receivership negotiations to pay much attention and the needless expense and loss in ticket receipts continued.

3 101 Ranch Records, 1925.
4 W. A. Brooks to Ellsworth Collings, March 7, 1936.


As a result, the management, in time, was unable to meet some of the outside obligations and financial difficulties reached a critical point when a creditor attempted to attach the ticket wagon receipts on several occasions. This, of course, completely demoralized the finances and when the show reached Washington, D.C., the situation had become so serious that the management could not pay the show employees. A big business was expected in Washington but, when the show arrived, the management discovered the advance man had neglected the billing and that the citizens hardly knew the show was coming. The Washington appearance was a dismal failure.
“Then the whole thing went haywire,” explains Colonel Zack Miller. “Led by the very men and women who owed the greatest loyalty to me and the 101 Ranch, the 392 employees became obstreperous and it became impossible for the managing executives to protect and preserve the show property or to accomplish anything that would relieve the situation.”
The employees refused to permit the show to be moved back to the 101 Ranch before they received their back pay, and W. E. Rice, ranch trustee, under a mortgage of $150,000 received on the show’s property, asked the district supreme court, Washington, to issue an injunction without notice to the employees, forbidding them to interfere with the shipment of the show back to Oklahoma. The application alleged that the show had already suffered damages, and that more were threatened unless the court intervened; that the claims of the employees for back wages could not be enforced against the show equipment because of the mortgage; that the 101 Ranch had offered to transport the employees back to Oklahoma if they would pack the show up, and they had refused; and that the employees had threatened to, and they would, unless restrained, destroy the property. The court denied the application, but ordered the employees to appear in court the next day to show cause why the injunction should not be issued.
The employees opposed vigorously the application and, after some delay, the court granted the injunction, and, without waiting for an additional court order to prevent interference by the unpaid troupers, the management of the show secretly imported a crew of sixty men from Baltimore to pack up the show, preparatory to shipment back to the 101 Ranch. The importation of the moving crew from Baltimore caught the troupers by surprise. The show people stood watching, but no effort was made to interfere with the labor, other than dropping caustic jibes here and there.
Thus, sad elephants, sadder Indians, cowboys and cowgirls, sideshow folk, spangles, bit tops; wagons and musicless bands —the famous 101 Ranch wild west show moved back to the prairies of Oklahoma. Money for the gloomy ride was furnished by Colonel Zack Miller and the unpaid employees were invited to return with the show to the 101 Ranch. In the meantime, Colonel Miller issued the following statement, putting an end to the show that had entertained queens and shown in every city of the United States with a population of 25,000 and over.
“Oklahoma’s 101 Ranch Wild West Show is through. It is through, at least, as a unit of the Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch. Colonel Zack T. Miller made that assertion Monday at the 101 White House during a conference of creditors of the ranch-farm institution. If the circus, one of the leaders in its day, ever goes out again, it will be under another owner or under a complete lease. The 101 Ranch will not operate it again. If no other disposition is made it will be dropped, said Colonel Miller.”

5 Daily Oklahoman, August 11, 1931.


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