CHARLOTTE, NC. Three things often come to mind when we think about the American West and how it was portrayed in motion pictures in the early part of the 20th century. They are: John Wayne, John Ford and Monument Valley. “The Duke,” of course, was the quintessential cowboy who John Ford directed in many of his films that were shot in Colorado’s Monument Valley with it distinctive sandstone buttes. However, few people are aware of the existence of the 101 Ranch. That Oklahoma institution boasted its own Indian tribe, known at the Ponca Indians. And it was the site where many of our original, classic westerns were filmed.
The early days of the 101 Ranch
The vast 110,000 acre Miller Brothers 101 Cattle Ranch traced its roots to the 1890s in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma before it became a state.
Founded by Colonel George Washington Miller, a veteran of the Confederate Army, in 1893, the property was the birthplace of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and one of the early focal points of the oil rush in northeastern Oklahoma.
American journalist and historian, Michael Wallis, wrote a history of the 101 Ranch which defined the magnitude and popularity of the ranch in the fascinating preface that reads like a Who’s Who in Americana. Here’s just a taste.
Michael Wallis begins the story
“On this immense cattle ranch…thrived a rollicking company of buckaroos, wranglers, ropers, trick shooters, and wild-horse riders. Guests from around the globe who ventured into the wide meadows of tall grass could have expected to see vast herds of gazing cattle and fleet cow ponies. They also might have encountered camels, elephants, and dancing mules. Oil tycoons and cigar-chewing politician’s, came to the ranch to sip whiskey, munch roasted buffalo, and wager huge sums of money–not on sleek horses but on turtles that raced at a gala’ we dubbed the National Terrapin Derby.
“Will Rogers…twirled a rope and sang cowboy songs all night long when he came calling at the ranch, and Lucille Mulhall—America’s first ‘cowgirl’ — rode with the 101 — for a time. Geronimo, the Apache warrior, was brought there by U. S. Army guards so he could shoot and skin a buffalo for the benefit of a horde of ogling white folks. Bandleader John Philip Sousa became an honorary member of the Ponca tribe during a visit. Admiral Richard Byrd, after he had explored the North Pole, rode an elephant over the 101 Ranch empire. The nation’s premier horticulturist, Luther Burbank, studied the records of crops grown on the ranch.
“Theodore Roosevelt and perennial presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan were guests at the ranch. So were Warren G. Harding, Jess Willard, John D. Rockefeller, General John Pershing, Pawnee Bill Lillie, and William S. Hart, the great early western film star. Others who came to the 101 Ranch included writers Mary Roberts Rinehart and Edna Ferber, boxing champion Jack Dempsey, publisher William Randolph Hearst, and one of the most mythologized western figures of all—William F. ‘Buffs Bill’ Cody, who spent some of his last days riding under the 101 name.”
The 101 Ranch story continues
The history of 101 Ranch began in 1879 when Col. Miller rode across the Cherokee Outlet seeking land to run cattle.
Leasing a stretch of property from the Cherokee Outlet that was 60-miles wide and 180-miles long, Miller and his wife Molly established what would become a national landmark.
Though Col. Miller and Molly settled the ranch, their sons brought it prominence. By 1903, when the colonel passed away, the operation was bringing in about half a million dollars a year. Over 250 cowboys managed thousands of head of cattle across 172-square miles of range.
So massive was the 101 Ranch that it had its own schools, churches, network of roads, telephone system and even a horseback delivery mail system.
The operation included oil and gas wells, ownership of trains, grape arbors, a cannery, tannery and packing plants, poultry farms, novelty shops, woodworking shops and a general store that accepted federal currency or 101 Ranch folding scrip and coins made of brass and copper.
The Wild West Show arrives
Though arriving late to the Wild West show business, the 101 Ranch promoted “The Real Thing” featuring Apache Chief Geronimo and other well-known western personalities as Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, Bill Pickett and Lucille Mulhall.
Known as one of the first cowgirls, Mulhall was a fan favorite of the 101 Ranch Wild West show at the tender age of 19 until she formed her own troupe in 1913. Also among the stars was Bill Pickett, a black cowboy known for developing the sport of bulldogging.
Today only a few of the ranch buildings remain. But in 1990, the Oklahoma State Legislature designated State Highway 156 as the 101 Ranch Memorial Road with a historical marker located about 13 miles southwest of Ponca City.
The ranch remained in the family for 60 years. A small section of the property became a National Historic Landmark in 1975.
It only stands to reason that in Oklahoma, given such notoriety and fame, getting that designation for the 101 Ranch had to be done “sooner” rather than later.
— Headline image: Only 1 acre remains of the original 101,000 acres of the 101 Ranch.
Ruins show what’s left of the store, café, gas station, and the ranch’s once palatial mansion.
(Photo by Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD, via Wikipedia entry on the ranch. CC 3.0 license. Image slightly altered to fit space.)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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