OR fifty-seven years the 101 Ranch had prospered: first under the shrewd management of Colonel George W. Miller who built a great cattle ranch; then under the combined genius of the three brothers who wrought a vast empire of diversified industry. But, in 1927 misfortune beset its progress.
First, there was the accidental death of Joe Miller. He died October 21, 1927, the victim of deadly carbon monoxide gas poisoning. He was found in his garage by Mr. W. A. Brooks, who had been looking for him because some old friends had called at the ranch to see him. He was last seen at the ranch about ten o’clock the day of his death, when he put some groceries in his automobile to take to his home about five miles north of the ranch, in preparation for the homecoming of his wife. She had been on the road with Colonel Miller nearly all summer with the ranch show, and had gone with their infant son, Will Brooks Miller, to her old home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a few days’ visit.
Colonel Miller’s car was giving him some trouble when he left the ranch, and upon returning home, he drove the car into his garage, and was apparently working on it at the time of his death. The garage doors were partly opened; the hood of the car was up and on the running board were his pocket knife, which he had been using as a screw driver, and several screws which he had loosened from the motor. He had started the car to ascertain just what the difficulty was. Evidently after working over it for some time he straightened up for some reason, was stricken immediately by the poison gas and fell dead instantly. It had come so quickly and was so deadly that he did not even use his hands to protect himself in the fall; his arms were crumpled underneath him; evidently life had passed before he fell. Attending physicians, who were called, said without doubt and without hesitation, death was caused by monoxide gas poisoning thrown off by the running car.
The oldest of the three brothers, his was the duty of holding the guiding hand—the kindly spirit over all. For every stranger calling upon Colonel Joe Miller there was a friendly word and a smiling greeting that at once made the stranger feel the warm touch of his interest. He was a typical example of the southern planter. His snowy white hair and mustache, his twinkling eyes, courtly manners and southern drawl, made him seem naturally the master of a Kentucky plantation. As he invited the stranger into the great ranch White House to receive old fashioned hospitality, one felt he was truly a friendly man. Upon leaving after a visit, one carried the memory of kindly words: “Come back again soon and stay all day.”
Joe Miller was alert and active in his constant endeavor to find new and better methods of farming. Hundreds of experiments were tried out on the 101 Ranch under his personal supervision. Field crops, vegetables, and fruits were given opportunity to show their possibilities under southwestern conditions. Livestock breeding was carried on. Modern machinery was put in operation over all the ranch. Not a few of the innovations in southwestern farming of the past several years may be traced to the influence of the valuable work done along these lines. As illustrations, mention may be made of the use of the combine in harvesting small grains; storing of green feed in silos; wide growth and modern storage of sweet potatoes; large scale production of apples; general diversification of crop growing; and the bringing in of some of the best blood obtainable in hogs, poultry, and cattle.
Colonel Joe Miller was the “farmer,” as he called himself, of the 101 Ranch, and he gave his ideas freely to anyone interested in modern farming. The experiments in field crops, stock breeding, and horticulture were not attempted on a small scale. When he was interested in anything new he gave it every chance to prove itself. In his death, the farmer of the southwest lost a valuable friend, one ready to give a trial, working with his own hands and regardless of expenses, to anything suggesting a gain for the improvement of agriculture.
It is evident that Joe Miller possessed rare ability as a farm manager—ability which was indispensable in directing the 101 Ranch agricultural enterprises. The ranch expressed magnificently, at the time of his death, the West of today. It grew out of the West of yesterday, and represented an institution of growth whose destiny was guided by the hand of a man with vision, personal charm, and friendly manner. It expressed the soul of Colonel Joe Miller.
It was, no doubt, the accidental death of Colonel Joe Miller that started the downfall of the 101 Ranch. It was not apparent at first, not for some time afterwards, but it had a deep effect on the ranch. The ranch continued operations just the same for some time following his death, but still it was not the same. There was something lacking; the guiding hand of Colonel Joe Miller was badly needed.
Colonel George L. Miller stressed his oil business chiefly, bringing in more money to meet financial obligations, and he kept the ranch up to standard in operation after the death of his brother. During the winter of 1929 he went to Texas to look over his oil holdings and had just returned home from a week’s business trip at Big Springs and other cities in southwestern Texas, where he was drilling a wildcat well in Sterling County. The day he returned, February 1, 1929, was dismal, sleety, blizzardy. Returning home about midnight of that day from Ponca City, his automobile skidded on the slippery pavement and crashed on the side of the road. The accident happened about two o’clock, but it was four o’clock before help arrived. Oscar Clemmer found George Miller crushed and pinned beneath a front wheel, which suggested he had attempted to jump when he lost control of the heavy car on the slippery road. He was rushed to Ponca City, but died before reaching the hospital.
George L. Miller was extremely jealous of the 101 Ranch and the name of the Miller brothers. His greatest desire was that the ranch should be a genuinely outstanding institution, successfully operated, with a name that in itself should be a guarantee. This was his pride and it was demonstrated only a short time before his death.
The Miller brothers had sold the 101 wild west show, with every detail agreed upon, and they had assembled to sign the contract. At the last moment, the purchasers demanded they be permitted to use the name of the Miller brothers on stock certificates that would be sold to finance the corporation. Immediately George L. Miller, although very anxious to sell the show so he could devote his time to ranch and oil affairs, called off the deal, asserting the name of the Miller brothers could not be used in any such financing scheme.
For a number of years he had been financial head of the 101 Ranch. His smooth and efficient management had been a mainspring in the development of the ranch. His shrewd financial judgment was devoted toward perpetuating the integrity of the Miller enterprises. His death was an irreparable loss to the 101 Ranch.
When the oldest brother, Colonel Joe Miller, was accidentally killed in October, 1927, George L. Miller assembled the other members of the family in a business conference and outlined the policy whereby the ranch could be held intact. Immediately he started the training of his two nephews, George W. and Joe C., Jr., sons of Colonel Joe Miller, so that they could follow in his footsteps whenever it might be necessary. Frequently, he spoke of the splendid manner in which the younger men had accepted responsibility and were making good. It was a source of great pride to him. With his death February 2, 1929, the management of the ranch passed to the surviving brother, Colonel Zack Miller, and to these young Miller boys.
In a short time after Colonel Zack Miller and his nephews took over the management of the 101 Ranch, the world’s greatest economic upheaval came late in 1929. The bottom dropped out of the oil business. Livestock sold at its lowest figure. Agricultural and horticultural products brought practically nothing. Judging that the economic depression was only temporary, the Millers secured a mortgage of over half a million dollars in order to finance the ranch operations. Conditions failed to improve as anticipated through 1930—they even grew worse. At the close of the year the ranch suffered a net loss of $301,064.08 for that year.
The mortgages, notes, taxes, interest became due in the regular course of time, but there was no cash reserve stored away to meet such an emergency. There were thousands of bushels of corn in the bins, vast acres of alfalfa, huge crops of oats, sweet potatoes, producing oil wells, but no markets, no sales, no net profits. The ranch operations came to a standstill and the indebtedness mounted.
It was impossible to refinance, seemingly impossible to do anything, yet the ranch assets trebled the liabilities as the following figures indicate:1
|Cash and Accounts:|
|Cash on Hand and in Banks:||$1,634.01|
|10,000 Acres @ $75.00
|7,000 Acres @ $25.00
|480 Acres @ $10.00
|12,000 Acres @ $4.00
|Auto, Trucks, Tractors||$6,000.00|
|Buildings on Ranch Property||248,615.23|
|Furniture and Fixtures||16,000.00|
|Fences and Pens||31,815.00|
|Farm Implements and Tools||14,000.00|
|Refinery, Filling Station, Pipe Lines||9,135.70||$558,565.93|
|Mortgages, Taxes, Interest:|
|Albright Title and Trust Co.,
|John Hancock Life Ins. Co.,
|Passumptic Savings Bank,
|Federal Land Bank,
|Kansas City Joint Stock Bank,
Kansas City, Missouri
|Commissioner of Land Office,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
|First Trust Company,
|Wentz, L. H.||146,800.00|
|Collins Mortgage Company,
Assigned to L. H. Wentz
|Taxes and Interest||62,776.68|
|Total: Mortgages Payable
Interest and Taxes
|Notes and Interest:|
|Exchange National Bank,
Tulsa, Oklahoma First National Bank,
|First National Bank,
Ponca City, Oklahoma
|Security Bank and Trust Co.,
Ponca City, Oklahoma
|Harbough Cline Tractor Co.,
|Total: Notes and
|Accrued Pay Roll||3,556.65|
|Miller, Colonel Zack T.||59,288.03|
|Total: Current Items||$ 104,309.45|
1 The Receiver’s Report to the Kay County Court, September, 1931.
Creditors stepped in. They did not want the ranch, but they insisted on something to satisfy their loans. Colonel Zack Miller remembered how the ranch had weathered the panic of 1893. He was confident it could be done again and insisted the creditors would be paid one hundred per cent on the dollar, if they would only give him a little time. He toiled early and late in a disturbed world in search of a way out. No doubt a way would have been found could he have had the able assistance of his dead brother, George L. Miller. But he was a cowman and not a financial wizard. Individuals with sufficient capital to refinance the enterprise refused to advance the money unless they were given controlling interest; in fact, they demanded management of the ranch. Colonel Zack Miller stubbornly resisted all such proffers; he insisted on retaining the controlling interest and protested vigorously any thought of assuming a minor role in the affairs of an institution that he and his brothers had built on the prairies of Oklahoma. This action closed all the gates of refinancing, and set in action a long legal struggle in the state and federal courts.
Colonel Miller thought the show might get a break on the road, but instead it broke in Washington. This was but added disaster. He called a conference of all the creditors at the White House, August 10, 1931, to consider the situation. “Save the ranch, preserve its traditions,” was the cry and the hope of the seventy-five creditors and visitors who crowded into the room, but there was a mountain of debt to climb or go around.
The conference with Colonel Zack T. Miller and his associates brought out these facts:
- The ranch’s indebtedness, much of which was past due with interest and penalties piling up steadily, was $626,762.33.
- The estimated value of the farm crops produced on the ranch that season was $231,734, which, with the estimated value of $977,800 for the 101 Ranch lands, gave total potential assets of more than $1,000,000.
- Colonel Miller requested a moratorium of six months, asking that no new suits be filed by creditors, and that all court action pending be suspended during that period; he proposed to bring in new money to pay back-due taxes and to restock the ranch with livestock.
- Bankers and other creditors expressed a willingness to give him the extra time, but also expressed doubt that he could interest new capital due to the financial condition in which the ranch had been plunged, due to the depression and continued losses by the 101 circus.
- The ranch either would be able to see financial daylight within sixty days, or it would be taken over by the creditors under a federal receivership by that time.
Miller told of having put $268,000 of his personal funds into the ranch trying to save it in the last two years. Many of his friends suggested he settle with all creditors on the basis of 60 cents on the dollar.
“But I won’t do that. I am going to pay 100 cents on the dollar or go down with the whole thing,” Miller declared.
He said when he took over the management of the ranch early in 1931, it was like “piloting a sinking ship across an uncharted sea.”
He declared that he was a cowman and not a “financial wizard” and suggested that any reorganization plan should include the employment of a business manager. However, he said, the ranch had suffered from mismanagement for two years before he took charge.
L. K. Meek, Ponca City banker, sounded a blue note at the meeting. Meek said that it would take about $2 50,000 to restock the ranch and square the delinquent taxes and some of the delinquent interest items against the property now.
“And I don’t know where you could go to get that money to put in at this time.”
It was brought out at the meeting that in the event the ranch was forced to the wall every creditor would be paid in full. It was estimated that 3,500 acres of the land could be sold readily at $100 an acre; 5,000 acres at $50 an acre, and the remainder at an average of $30 an acre even on a depressed market.
The value of the land alone would pay off all of the secured and unsecured creditors, it was stated, and the machinery, livestock and crops grown that year would bring a large sum. But in that case the ranch would be gone, the name of the famous 101 would sink into oblivion.
Judge W. E. Rice, Ponca City, acting for the trustees, who presided at the conference, suggested that the unsecured creditors hold a separate meeting and agree, if possible, not to file any more suits against the ranch for a period of six months. They met and appointed a committee of three to get in touch with all others and give an answer within thirty days.
The two other parties in the ranch trust, heirs of the late George L. and Joe Miller, were represented by George W. Miller, Ponca City, son of Joe Miller, and Joe Chambers of the Exchange Trust Company, Tulsa. They gave no expression regarding Colonel Zack’s proposal to “put all the trust shares into one pot and ‘sink or swim.’ ”
Following upon the heels of the conference a receivership was unexpectedly filed, August 27, 1931, in the district court of Kay County. That was the beginning of the long, legal battles that have torn asunder the 101 Ranch. Declaring that the estate of the late George L. Miller was being depreciated because of conditions at the ranch, the Exchange Trust Company of Tulsa and George W. Miller, son of Colonel Joe Miller, as executors of the George L. Miller estate, filed the petitions asking that an operating receiver be appointed. The petition set forth that originally the 101 Ranch trust was owned equally by the Millers, Joe C., George L., and Zack T. There was a total of 100,000 shares, of which Joe C. and Zack T. owned 33,333 shares each and George L. 33,334 shares, or one more than either of the other two brothers. On this basis the executors made claim of authority to ask for a receiver and prevent the depreciating of properties and securities. The John Hancock Life Insurance Company and the Passumptic Savings Bank of Maryland filed similar petitions in the Kay County Court, and after considerable discussion the creditors finally agreed in conference at the ranch White House upon Mr. Fred C. Clarke, ranchman, near Winfield, Kansas, as general operating receiver. Judge John S. Burger of Kay County district court confirmed the appointment, September 16, 1931, and the 101 Ranch passed for the first time in its long history from the control of the Millers. It marked the beginning of the end of the famous ranch, although at the time the step was designed to put the ranch on a paying basis.
Clarke’s bond was fixed at $50,000 by the court, with the stipulation that the bonding company making it must be legally doing business in Oklahoma and must show the name of its service agent.
A restraining order was issued by Judge Burger preventing any suit or execution against the ranch involving crop or other property, or filing foreclosure actions. Judge W. E. Rice, trustee of the ranch, was ordered to turn over all records to Clarke.
The John Hancock Life Insurance Company and the Passumptic Savings Bank of Maryland withdrew their petitions for a special receiver and agreed with other creditors on Clarke, with the understanding that later these companies eventually could foreclose on the acreage covered by their mortgages, but that no such action would be taken prior to January 1, 1933.
All actions taken by the court looked to the rehabilitation of the ranch and its continuation as a unit and really constituted the moratorium that had been sought for some time to give opportunity for such a rehabilitation program. Clarke assumed his duties immediately. It was the hope of Colonel Zack Miller that he might have a prominent part in the ranch program under the receivership of assisting in carrying on the various departments and chiefly that of livestock.
With the appointment September 16, 1931, of the general operating receiver, Mr. Fred C. Clarke, the rehabilitation of the 101 Ranch and its continuation as a unit was the hope and wish of its creditors and friends. Because of a lack of funds, and perhaps requisite experience, Mr. Clarke was greatly handicapped in this undertaking, and soon abandoned the plan to restock the ranch and set into action the other huge enterprises. As an alternative, he chose to lease the ranch and farm property to individual farmers and to dispose of all the personal properties of the ranch, much to the displeasure of Colonel Zack Miller. Accordingly, on March 24, 1932, Mr. Clarke advertised a sale of the personal properties. Everything from hogs to buffalo and from saddles and harness to grain combines was offered to the public. The sadness marking that occasion is described realistically in the following lines.
“There were sad doings here Thursday, marking the passing of a great Oklahoma institution, the 101 Ranch, internationally famous symbol of a young state that rides ’em cowboy. A picturesque crowd of more than 3,000 persons turned out for the receiver’s sale of all the property of the Miller brothers 101 Ranch Trust, a few coming to buy, but a vast majority simply to walk stolidly along the dusty lanes and watch with calm solicitude the disintegration of the greatest show place in the west. Over in the historic White House of the ranch, Colonel Zack Miller, sole survivor of the trio of brothers which made the place famous, roared defiance to the world, threatened to blow up the mansion, and even fired a shotgun in the direction of attorneys seeking a conference with him. He termed the sale a ‘legal robbery.’
“In his sorrow this booted and spurred old showman feels there are few persons he can trust. They are tearing asunder his beloved ranch, and it has aroused in him the fighting spirit of the western rancher. Let them take care was his ultimatum, and although the White House was surrounded by half a dozen deputies of Sheriff Joe Cooper, none disturbed the belligerent colonel.
“While this tense drama was being enacted at the ranch house the auctioning of the livestock, farm implements and other properties proceeded to the fascination of the dust-covered spectators. A quartet of robust auctioneers raised pudgy, socratic fingers over bucking bronchos, work horses, hogs and cattle by the hundreds. They labored indefatigably. Their necks wrapped in flambouyant handkerchiefs, their nasal exhortations bringing chuckles to papooses strapped to their mothers’ backs, and blond urban infants brought out specially for the occasion.
“The four ‘colonels’ took an hour off for a well-earned luncheon, and the crowd spread over the immense pastures in picnic groups.
“On all sides there were loud lamentations at the passing of the great ranch, which in its halcyon days was visited by more than 100,000 persons every year.
“Not so long ago this was the connecting link between the old west and the new. Rollicking cowboys nonchalantly roped firebreathing steers for the edification of properly awed dry goods merchants from New England. Tourists were astonished by the sight of the buffalo herd, elk, camels, elephants and other elements of the famous wild west show operated in connection with the ranch.
“Huge herds of cattle roamed the 110,000 acres which made up the great ranch, lights twinkled in a hundred cabins, Indian braves stalked proudly in gay blankets, and in the White House there was light and laughter.
“Oil wells spouted wealth, crops were diversified, range cattle gave way to pure bred stock, and the 101 Ranch was considered a permanent monument to the heroism of western pioneers.
“George Washington Miller, who established it in 1879, was a man of prodigious pride, who made business executives of his sons when they were not yet ten years old. He expected them to carry on from generation to generation, and that is one reason for Colonel Zack’s distraction.
“When George Washington Miller established the ranch, buffalo grazed placidly on these rolling prairies and it was in all respects a happy hunting ground. First the cattlemen became too numerous, and then the inevitable advancement brought the farmer. The west became no more glamorous than main street in Peoria, but to the preservation of its ideals the Miller family dedicated the infinity of its possessions, all its wealth and strength, even its life.
“Now that it is gone everyone realizes that there never can be another 101 Ranch. And it was particularly a source of regret to the Oklahomans who gathered in this funeral atmosphere Thursday. The scene was one of astonishment and confusion, with no comedy relief anywhere.
“Practically all the land is leased in small tracts to neighboring farmers. The ranch store, which handles everything from moccasins to celluloid collars, is being operated in receivership. The buffalo are to be sold privately to the highest bidders, and the rows upon rows of farm machinery will be sold or junked.
“Perhaps in a year or so conditions will be so changed hereabouts that there will be nothing to distinguish the vast expanse of the ranch from a group of prosaic Iowa farms.
“Little boys will have nothing to inspire them to play cowboy and Indian any more and will have to be content with mimicking traffic cops and impulsive governors.
“The lonely man there in the famous White House, living among his dead hopes, bellowing defiance from his sickbed, simply typified the already half-forgotten, glorious yesterdays of Oklahoma.”2
2 Daily Oklahoman, March 25, 1932.
Piece by piece, part at a time, livestock, implements, the buffalo herd, even harness, saddles, and feed, everything but the White House and its furnishings went on the auction block. And the White House was under heavy mortgage. That was a memorable day, when Colonel Zack Miller, heart-broken, mentally broken, sick in body and soul, attempted with his sixshooter to stop the sale of the personal properties of the ranch. He heatedly declared the auction of the ranch properties was “legal robbery.” Eventually he was calmed after he had discharged a shotgun in the direction of two of the receiver’s attorneys seeking a conference with him. But he faced criminal prosecution for his armed defiance of the auctioneer’s hammer as it was lifted over his beloved empire. His defiance of the auction block was followed by court actions, by charges and countercharges, even by imprisonment. Yes, Zack Miller, the last of a dynasty of plainsmen, was confined in the limits of four barred walls. Zack Miller was a prisoner in jail by decrees of the laws of a state which he helped nurse into existence. Then the Governor of Oklahoma, William H. Murray, through the use of the state militia, released Colonel Miller from prison in the Kay County Oklahoma, jail. The military order of the governor, given below, sets forth the charges and countercharges leading up to the imprisonment of Colonel Miller.
|STATE OF OKLAHOMA|
|FOR THE RELEASE OF COLONEL ZACK T. MILLER FROM|
FALSE IMPRISONMENT BY JUDGE CLAUDE DUVAL
TO BRIGADIER GENERAL CHARLES F. BARRETT, ADJUTANT GENERAL, AND TO ALL CONCERNED HEREIN, GREETING:
WHEREAS, the controversies between citizens in civil or other private matters are not the concern of the Chief Magistrate, but the false imprisonment and liberty of the citizen are his concern, particularly as appears in this case, where it seems that, through conspiracies of creditors and the grasping cupidity of such creditors, aided through a series of rulings by the Court, a citizen is wrongfully restrained of his liberty, it becames the duty of the Chief Magistrate to liberate him from such wrongful imprisonment; and, therefore Colonel Zack T. Miller is hereby ordered released permanently from imprisonment in Newkirk, and Kay County, Oklahoma, because of the arbitrary and apparent conspiracy on the part of his creditors, joined by the Court, to dispoil him of his property and patrimony and home, constructed through the efforts of his father and brothers, representing a lifetime of labor: the reasons therefore are contained in the sequel hereof:
It appears from documentary evidence that Colonel Zack T. Miller sued his former wife, Margaret Blevins-Miller, in the Seventh Judicial District Court in Catahoula Parish, State of Louisiana, for a decree of divorce and possession of their two minor children, and that, on the 21st day of March, 1931, His Honor, F. E. Jones, District Judge of said Parish, did enter a decree granting permanent divorce to the said Miller, and the custody of the said minor children, assessing the costs against the defendant: this after regular hearing in which both plaintiff and defendant were present in open court, and represented by counsel:
It further appears that subsequent thereto, the said defendant appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana, where the case is now pending;
It also further appears that for a number of years the said Miller has had difficulties with his creditors for the payment of loans secured on the 101 Ranch, in Kay County, Oklahoma; that during this time, the said Colonel Zack T. Miller has sought to secure loans in order to extinguish his obligations to his creditors, and the same was made known to the undersigned in the fall of 1930, on an appeal for assistance, and that in every effort to secure a loan, certain creditors living in Ponca City had communications made to a proposed new creditor that Miller was irresponsible, and that the loan would not be safe, evidently with a desire to foreclose and secure ownership and possession of this world-known home and patrimony of Colonel Zack T. Miller, builded through a lifetime of effort of himself, his brothers and father; and that the Court of Kay County, Oklahoma, through the action of Judge Claude Duval, has acted in that effort in that a receiver was appointed, who, instead of making a business and honest effort to extinguish the debts, has, with apparent purpose, dissipated the personal property, disposing of the same for an inadequate consideration. Fine registered Holstein cattle that cost from $1,000.00 to $11,000.00 two years prior to the sale were sold for $45.00;
That when said sale was ordered, Miller asked for an order to separate and segregate from the herds in the pasture certain personal stock known to belong to him and not to the 101 Ranch Trust, whereupon the said Judge Duval gave him twenty-four hours; in the meantime, the said Miller was enjoined by the said Duval from going on the Ranch, to the barn, or any of the premises outside of the “Big House,” known as the home, and to the road. The said Miller then entrusted the work of separation and segregation to a negro attendant who had served him for many years, by the name of Bill Pickett; and, when the said attendant undertook to separate said property, a wild horse reared and struck the said Bill Pickett in the head, inflicting death wounds;
Colonel Miller then applied to the Court for an extension of twenty-four hours in which to segregate his personal goods and animals from the 101 Ranch Trust Sale, and was denied by the Court, resulting in the sale of this property, along with the residue of the 101 Ranch property by the receiver;
In the meantime, it would appear that the creditors induced the former wife of Miller, from whom he had been divorced by the Louisiana Court, to come to the 101 Ranch, to harass Colonel Miller, whereupon the said Miller asked of the Court, Judge Duval, a restraining order against her molestation of his home. The Court ruled he had no jurisdiction, since the case was pending in the State Courts of Louisiana, but, subsequent thereto, his former wife, in September last, filed a petition in the District Court of Kay County, Oklahoma, asking for separate maintenance and partial custody of the children; and, in an ex parte hearing, the said Judge Duval assumed jurisdiction, nothwithstanding the case in Louisiana, and issued an order directing Colonel Miller to pay One Hundred ($100.00) Dollars to her attorney, and Forty ($40.00) Dollars a month to herself and Ten ($10.00) Dollars of costs:
A motion to dismiss was filed by Miller, based upon the fact that the Court of Oklahoma had no jurisdiction, and that was over-ruled by the said Duval; and, on November 22, Miller was cited for contempt, and convicted, for refusing to make this payment, and, at the same time, was not permitted to go to the barn or to any part of his own property, or to dispose of any of the property with which to make the payment, and he offered evidence, undisputed, that he was unable to make payments; and that, in fact, the groceries for his meals were paid for by a friend, Gordon Hines, sojourning temporarily at the home of the said Miller;
It also appears that the receiver of the 101 Ranch Trust Estate has gathered and sold the crops from Indian lands leased by the said Miller and belonging to him individually, selling the corn to a son-in-law in Ponca City, at eight to twelve cents a bushel less than the same could be sold for at Marland,—a six mile closer haul,—and the same was approved by the said Judge Duval;
It also appears that one L. K. Meek, acting as President of the Security State Bank of Ponca City, had been permitted, through the action of the said Judge Duval, to swindle Miller out of the sum of $9,000.00 by allowing him to purchase a note alleged to have been secured by chattels mortgaged by one individual whose wife later recovered the chattels as proper owner, the Court refusing to grant judgment to Miller against the said L. K. Meek or his bank.
These acts, together with others, as detailed to the Chief Executive from time to time since the fall of 1930, would make it clearly appear that there is a collusion and conspiracy between the said creditors, L. K. Meek, L. H. Wentz and certain loan companies, aided and abetted by the said Duval, acting as Judge, using Miller’s divorced wife further to harass him with the apparent purpose of wrecking Miller and taking from him the world-known estate, the 101 Ranch, by denying him access to his own property, or the sale of any part thereof; and then executing an order compelling him to pay alimony and attorney’s fees, which was impossible for him to do; and then imprisoning him as a culmination of the design of wrecking Miller and his estate; and,
WHEREAS, the governmental decrees making for justice in civil matters between citizens is the concern of the Courts, even though they may err from ignorance, design, or venality, nevertheless, the liberty of a citizen is of vital concern and within the authority and challenges the duty of the Chief Magistrate; and,
Whereas, under the Bill of Rights of the State Constitution no man can be imprisoned for debt, where the obligation is agreed to and acknowledged, hence how much less authority has a court to imprison a citizen for something over which he has no control and for acts placing him in a position whereby conspiracies, corrupt combination and design on the part of creditors, aided and abetted by the Court of Justice: therefore, it does become the duty and the obligation of the Chief Magistrate to liberate such person from such false imprisonment;
Searching through the records in this case, the mind but compares Colonel Miller to Victor Hugo’s Jean Val Jean, and the acts of Judge Duval recall those of Judge Jeffries of England:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Wm. H. Murray, The Governor of the State of Oklahoma, do hereby pardon the said Colonel Zack T. Miller of any and all offenses for which he stands convicted and all orders and decrees of the said Judge Duval, or any other Court in Kay County, Oklahoma, and do hereby order his permanent release, and do hereby direct the Adjutant General, Charles F. Barrett, to see that this order is executed, using such force as may be necessary for the execution of the same.
Done, on this, the 28th day of November, A.D., 1932, and the Seal of the State is caused to be attached hereto.
By the Governor of the State of Oklahoma
WM. H. MURRAY
Commander-in-Chief of the State Militia.
R. A. Sneed
Secretary of State
Una Lee Roberts
Assistant Secretary of State
Dismissal of Fred C. Clarke as operating receiver for the 101 Ranch was sought September 19, 1932 in a petition filed in Kay County district court by Colonel Zack Miller. The petition charged Clarke had been guilty of gross neglect and prejudice against Colonel Miller and the interest of the ranch. It set forth that the fields had not been cultivated and that the buildings had been allowed to fall to a state of ruin. The motion sought the appointment of a new receiver.
Unable to get an immediate consideration of the petition, Colonel Miller set about working out a new reorganization plan with the creditors. The plan agreed to by the creditors included a two year operating lease on all ranch land, heretofore foreclosed and sold, with an option to repurchase it within the two-year period. Certificates of indebtedness were to be issued to all creditors and were to become due at the expiration of the two-year lease, January 1, 1935. The Kay County district court approved, March 25, 1933, the reorganization plan, dismissed Fred C. Clarke, as operating receiver, and returned the management of the ranch to Colonel Zack Miller and two trustees for a two year period, ending January 1, 1935.
Thus, the moratorium in which to redeem the ranch, sought so long by Colonel Zack Miller, was finally wrung from the creditors. The operating receiver had been discharged and Colonel Miller was once more manager of the ranch. It would take approximately $700,000 to redeem the loans. Many efforts were made to raise that sum. Some looked at times as if they would be successful, but $700,000 was a huge amount of money during the depression times. Even the notorious Al Capone was interested. But nothing developed from any of these efforts. Many of the prominent financial friends, who were at their zenith when they visited the ranch, had failed during the economic upheaval or had died, broken in mind and body. Business was ruined, fortunes disappeared, and consequently credit everywhere was destroyed even though assets trebled liabilities. The break-up of the ranch was inevitable, although Colonel Zack Miller fought bitterly to keep alive and keep together the famous Oklahoma institution.
From time to time creditors individually had brought foreclosure proceedings against portions of the ranch lands. On August 26, 1932, the Bar L part of the ranch, including 3,000 acres, was sold on the auction block at Perry, Oklahoma, to the Passumptic Savings Bank, of Maryland, to satisfy a mortgage of $41,500 held on that land. Another tract of 1,060 acres was sold, September 19, 1932, to the Federal Land Bank, Wichita, Kansas, to satisfy a mortgage of $28,859. At Newkirk, Oklahoma, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company of Boston brought foreclosure proceedings October 24, 1932 against 1,160 acres to satisfy a mortgage of $50,000. On January 15, 1933, an additional tract of 1,200 acres was placed on the auction block for a mortgage of $36,587 held by the Kansas City Joint Live Stock Bank of Kansas City.
As fast as the auction sales of the 101 Ranch lands were made under foreclosure proceedings and the sales themselves were confirmed by the district court, attorneys representing Colonel Zack Miller would take exceptions to confirmation, thus laying the foundation for an appeal to the higher courts. As a result, a series of legal battles have been waged by Colonel Miller in the state and federal courts since the appointment of the operating receiver, September 16, 1931, in order to maintain possession of the ranch.
Bit by bit, the 101 Ranch, which once stretched as far as the eye could see, has been thrown on the auction block. Colonel Zack Miller still clung to the ranch White House, which he claimed as his homestead—but even this remnant of the once proud ranch was contested by the creditors. To complete ownership, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company of Boston filed injunction proceedings in the federal court, Guthrie, Oklahoma, demanding Colonel Zack Miller vacate the White House. Through foreclosure proceedings the insurance company had already taken over the land surrounding the White House homestead, but Colonel Miller refused to vacate his home. The federal court granted the injunction, June 3, 1936. And here is the account of the order:
“Zack T. Miller, last of the brothers who acquired fame through operation of the 101 Wild West Show and ranch, was ordered to vacate his famous White House on the banks of the Salt Fork, Wednesday in an injunction issued by Edgar S. Vaught, federal district judge.
“The order brought nearer the end of the once proud empire which had shrunk to a one-acre tract which Miller has occupied despite orders from both state and federal courts since 1932. Judge Vaught’s order came during hearing of a suit filed in Kay County by Miller, in which he attempted to vacate deeds held by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and Lew H. Wentz.
“Miller, through his attorney, contended the deeds were given to aid in bankruptcy proceedings and were in reality only mortgages. Judge Vaught held otherwise.
“Vaught pointed out that he had stricken the ranch from a list of assets filed by Miller in a bankruptcy petition, and held then that the insurance company and Wentz are in rightful possession of the land, which they obtained through foreclosure of mortgages held against it, and through regular court procedure of sheriff’s sale.
“The federal judge then over-ruled Miller’s objections as to jurisdiction and held that he should be ordered to vacate the White House and the yard which surrounds it. No definite time for vacating the property was set, Vaught indicating that will be settled between attorneys before a formal order is signed.”3
As a sequel to this order of the federal court, the household furnishings, Indian curios, paintings, and relics of the famous 101 Ranch White House were advertised for sale by Colonel Zack T. Miller, July 25, 1936. He received permission to appeal the federal court’s ruling if he posted an appeal bond by August 2, 1936. And the auction of the contents of the White House was for the purpose of raising money for that bond. It was Colonel Zack Miller’s last desperate effort in his legal opposition to foreclose on the 101 Ranch. The appeal denied, Colonel Miller left the White House with his few remaining possessions before sundown Monday, March 29, 1937—thus marking the end of the famous 101 Ranch.
The following postal card went out to friends far and near announcing the auction:
|101 RANCH WHITE HOUSE AUCTION SALE|
|JULY 5, 1936, SATURDAY at 3:00 P. M.|
|Entire contents of 101 Ranch White House, including many valuable & interesting curios, antiques, & the famous collection of buffalo paintings and one picture of White Eagle by Lenders, (The greatest of all artists on Indians and buffalo.) Antique guns, buffalo overcoats, rugs, etc.||ZACK T. MILLER, SALES MGR.|
3 Daily Oklahoman, June 4, 1936
Among the articles auctioned was a muzzle-loading buffalo gun used on hunts around the ranch in the early days. Included, also, were buffalo robes, some of them made long before the Civil War, buffalo hides, rugs, and the famous collection of buffalo paintings by Lenders. Old timers and neighbors gathered early to watch the passing of what once was the show place of the Southwest. The occasion is described vividly in the following article:
“Grim, gray-haired Zack T. Miller stood in the shadows of the old White House Saturday and watched the last of his vast empire crumble under the hammer of an auctioneer.
“He stood without visible emotion, although his face set in hard lines as one by one his personal belongings went on the block, ending another epic of the Old West.
“Down to the last fruit jar, the great 22-room house was cleaned out with the exception of one bedroom. Old buffalo guns, paintings, hides and Indian relics were stacked high.
“In the one room left untouched, Miller was preparing to make a final stand, although Roy Harper, deputy United States marshal, was on hand in the morning to eject the 59-year-old ranchman under orders growing out of a mortgage foreclosure.
“In the room there were only three pieces of furniture, made by Indians on the ranch.
“ ‘I’m going to stay here and fight until the last dog is dead —or run out of court,’ he said. ‘This has been my home for 50 years.’
“Miller was saved from ejectment at the last minute Saturday when Edgar S. Vaught, federal judge, granted a five-day stay to permit an appeal to the circuit court of appeals.
“Although Sid White, attorney, said in federal court Saturday a wealthy benefactress may come to aid Miller regain his ranch, the latter denied this.
“ ‘I’ll fight it out by myself,’ he said. ‘When I’m through, that’ll be all.’ His voice was bitter.
“Old timers and neighbors gathered early Saturday to watch the passing of what was once the show place of the southwest. The auction was late starting as Miller wandered over the wide yard, peering intently at his old collections.
“Conversation was strained as friends tried to say a word to him.
“ ‘I, uh, just thought I’d drop by and say howdy,’ said one.
“Miller smiled wryly.
“ ‘Looks sorta different than when you used to come, don’t it?’
“The crowd was called to attention.
“ ‘It’ll start on the north side, folks,’ Miller said, as he led the procession.
“ ‘I’m bid $1, who’ll give $1.50,’ droned G. R. Cowen, a Miller friend of thirty years.
“Outside in a car sat Alice Lee, gray, herself, now, who ten years ago thrilled the crowned heads of Europe with her sensational shooting and daring riding.
“ ‘This is like a funeral to me,’ she said in a choked voice. ‘I’ve been here since 1908. I traveled all over the world with the show. They ought to put me up there with the rest of the relics.’
“Leopold Radgowsky, who came over from Russia to lead a dashing Cossack circus band, stood in the background. “ ‘It’s too bad,’ he said. ‘Zack’s taking it pretty hard.’
“Seven fire extinguishers purchased by Miller for $100 went for $2.50.
“The auctioneer held up a box of dishes, ‘part of a $200 set,’ Miller said.
“ ‘Pass it,’ Miller cried, as bids dropped to $1. ‘If I’m going to give it away, I’ll give it to my old Indian friends. Some of them never have had any dishes.’
“ ‘He’s given away too many things now,’ said a voice in the background.
“An old buffalo gun went for 50 cents, with the highest bringing only $2.
“ ‘That’s the first breach-loading gun ever brought into this country,’ Miller mumbled under his breath.
“Famous buffalo paintings went for as low as $85.
“ ‘I once heard Colonel Joe refuse $1,200 for that one while it was on the mantel,’ Miller said.
“The sale ended, and bargain hunters scattered. The last of three famous sons of a famous father stood on the steps of the big white mansion, and gazed over what once was a 110,000-acre ranch.
“Perhaps he saw another time, when 50,000 persons gathered in 1905 to cheer the first annual round-up that later grew into the wild west circus.
“Miller looked at deserted, fallen farm buildings that once housed the state’s finest blooded cattle and hogs. He looked over weeds and disorder where once were showplace orchids, wheat fields, packing houses and power plants.
“Miller walked slowly down the steps to the car of his sister, Mrs. Alma England, and drove toward Ponca City.”4
There were, no doubt, many causes contributing to the break-up of the 101 Ranch, but there seem to be at least three major ones: death, debt, depression. There is no question but that the accidental death of Colonel Joe Miller, the general manager, October 21, 1927, started this downfall of the ranch. Of the famous trio of brothers, he was the one who was able to synthesize the many diversified activities of the ranch into one living whole. The 101 Ranch, as a result, vibrated with life, progress, and development. In his untimely death, the famous Oklahoma institution lost the “guiding hand” that had directed its destiny for a quarter of a century, and his place could not be filled and still retain the spirit of the West of yesterday that prevailed in every nook and cranny under his leadership.
The death of Colonel Joe Miller had a deep effect on the spirits and mentalities of the two surviving brothers. While they were struggling to carry on the ranch affairs without him, the accidental death of Colonel George L. Miller occurred. His death removed the “financial wizard” from the famous trio of brothers and, coupled with the death of the elder brother, was the major cause in the break-up of the famous ranch.
This cause stands out more significantly when it is considered no one could fill successfully the vacant places in the famous trio of brothers. While, as in all great organizations, each man has his own particular part to carry on and for which he is responsible, yet in the kind of organization in which Colonel George W. Miller had brought up his sons, there must be cooperation in thought and agreement in action, or else a chaotic condition would develop and bring ruin to the whole thing. It was this splendid cooperation of the Miller brothers, schooled in from boyhood by their famous father, that enabled them to develop the largest diversified ranch in the world. When death broke up this famous trio, no one could step in and fill the vacancies because of the requisite training in mutual toleration so necessary in the kind of organization behind the 101 Ranch.
4 Daily Oklahoman, July 26, 1936.
There were, no doubt, many business managers as highly trained in finance as Colonel George L. Miller but it was seemingly impossible to secure one with all the requisite qualities possessed by George L. Miller. This fact was demonstrated, again and again, in Colonel Zack Miller’s attempt to fill the place of his dead brother. Any such arrangements always ended disastrously to the ranch, largely because co-operation in thought and agreement in action was conspicuously absent. As a result, a chaotic condition finally developed in the ranch affairs and, in the end, brought ruin to the whole thing. If Colonel Zack Miller could have had the support of his dead brothers, there is no question but that the 101 Ranch would have weathered the world’s economic upheaval as it did the panic of 1893.
The second major cause in the break-up of the 101 Ranch was the financial debts incurred during the years leading up to the economic depression. The table on page 213 indicates the profits and losses of the ranch for each year from 1925 to 1930, inclusive.
This tabulation reveals that the 101 Ranch suffered a net loss each year, with the exception of two, for the five year period leading up to the economic depression. In 1925, the net profit from operation was $283,103.27 and in 1929 it was $880.48. The net loss for 1926 was $124,499.99; 1927, $69,- 424.48; 1928, $149,014.16; and 1930, $301,064.08.
These losses were due largely to the decline in the income from the oil rents and royalties. The table opposite shows the income from this source dropped from $556,290.55 in 1925 to $25,169.39 in 1930. In addition, the 101 Ranch wild west show contributed heavily, in some years, to these deficits. At the close of the 1926 season, the show suffered a loss of $119,870.45. This loss continued in succeeding years in varying sums until the show was stranded in Washington, D.C., August, 1931. The show was operated successfully from the fall of 1908 until the fall of 1916, during which time it made a net profit, but after its elaborate reorganization in 1925, it was a constant drain on the resources of the 101 Ranch.
With the 101 Ranch suffering heavy losses from operation during most of the years immediately preceding the economic depression, the Miller brothers borrowed large sums of money from time to time in order to keep the various ranch enterprises going on a productive basis. Judging the economic condition prevailing at that time to be only temporary, as was the consensus of opinion of most business men, they placed mortgages with large insurance companies and banks on various portions of the ranch lands as security for these loans. When the economic depression hit the country in full blast, these loans totaled more than a half-million dollars. With no cash reserve to meet such an emergency, the mortgages, notes, interest, and taxes became due in the regular course of time, and the 101 Ranch encountered serious financial difficulties.
And then this happened. The bottom dropped out of the oil business. Cattle sold at their lowest figure. Wheat became worthless. Corn and hogs brought practically nothing. Drought harried the lands. There were no markets, no sales, no net profits. Values sank to their lowest ebb. The ranch operations came to a standstill and the debts mounted. This economic depression was the third and final cause in the disintegration of the Miller brothers’ 101 Ranch.