Ponca City Information
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History of the 101 Ranch
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An important part of American western history began when Colonel George Washington Miller relocated his growing cattle operation from the Oklahoma/Kansas border country to the rich bottom land of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River some six miles southwest of current day Ponca City, OK in 1893. This was the Colonel’s third ranch effort within the northern area of Indian Territory once known as the Cherokee Outlet (Cherokee Strip).
In the spring of 1895, the industrious native of Kentucky began to put 2000 acres of virgin prairie to the plow and planted it in order to winter Texas cattle. In the fall, several thousand additional acres of wheat was sown and produced 35 bushels an acre.
Building a cattle raising effort had began for George W. Miller following the Civil War when he moved west temporarily settling in Missouri with his wife and young family. Becoming a merchant while raising hogs, he was one of the early pioneers buying and trading for Long Horn cattle in south Texas during the tumultuous days following the end of the War Between the States. These he drove northward through Indian Territory on the Chisholm Trail.
Seeking to expand his cattle and agricultural interest following the opening of the Cherokee Strip by land run, he and his sons began buying additional property along with lease agreements with the Ponca Indian Tribe. The 101 Ranch expanded to some 75,000 acres of pasture and farm land. With hard work and good fortune, the Ranch grew to an estimated 110,000 acres. Its boundaries were found in the four northern Oklahoma counties of Noble, Pawnee, Osage and Kay. The communities of Marland (originally Bliss, O.T.), Red Rock and White Eagle were within the bounds of the giant farm and ranch operation.
With Colonel G. W. Miller’s passing in 1903, his three sons, Joe, George and Zack continued expansive operation of the ranch. Experimental and highly successful agriculture applications were developed while the brothers built a herd of 25,000 longhorns. Led by Joe Miller, the brothers additionally developed large herds of Holstein, Shorthorn and Hereford dairy cattle along with Duroc-Jersey hogs. Their swine production along resulted in their ability to ship 10,000 hogs a year to market.
Correctly earning the title of a ‘Fabulous Empire’, the ranch constructed its own packing plant, ice plants and cold-storage lockers. Other innovations for the time included a tannery, a cider mill, an alfalfa mill, an electric power plant, a dairy and the ranch’s own cannery along with its own telephone system and mail service. Later when oil was found on ranch land, the three Miller brothers built their own refinery producing gasoline, kerosene and fuel oil.
Greater successful expansion was soon on the horizon when the ranch entered the entertainment field. Gaining an endorsement from the National Editorial Association of St. Louis to hold its annual newspaper editors convention for 1905 in Guthrie, O.T. Colonel Joe Miller scheduled an entertainment gala for the influential visitors on the 101 Ranch.
Drawing from the legends, lore and history of a quickly passing period of American’s Old West, the Miller brothers put on an eye popping extravaganza they promoted as a ‘Round-up’. Souvenir programs offered during the event additionally billed the Oklahoma Gala as a Cowboy Reunion, Indian Celebration, Buffalo Chase and Historical Exhibition.
Featuring at least 200 local cowboys, ranch hands and Indians, arrangements were made to have the imprisoned frontier warrior Geronimo brought to the ranch under military guard from Fort Sill, O.T. With assistance, the aging warrior killed a buffalo in the arena from a motorcar, signed autographs and sold souvenirs. Among other larger than life promotions, the Millers advertised in area newspapers they would offer a $1000 prize to anyone who would submit to being scalped by Geronimo.
More than 65,000 people attended the long afternoon of events of June 11, 1905 and overflow crowds easily filled a huge grandstand built for the event. Performing ranch honed skills, cowboys and cowgirls paraded that huge grandstand on the south side of the Salt Fork River along with vividly costumed Ponca, Kaw, Otoe, Missouri, Tonkawa, Pawnee and Osage Indians, marching bands, soldiers and Geronimo. Along with Geronimo’s mock ‘buffalo hunt’, trick riding, bucking horses and a performance by the bulldogging ‘Dusky Demon’ from Texas, Bill Pickett, the evening ended with an unannounced frontier style wagon train attack by Indian performers.
The remarkable performance gained national attention and brought the 101 Ranch into the venue of thrilling western entertainment. So successful was the show, Colonel Joe Miller and his brothers formed the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and began to tour the United States. They joined the ranks of such notables of that era which included Buffalo Bill’s Congress of Rough Riders, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show and P.T. Barnum as well as a myriad of smaller circuses and western shows touring the U.S.
By 1914, the 101 Ranch Real Wild West Shows began touring internationally. This included performances in England, the European continent and South America. In 1925, the Miller brothers entertained the King and Queen of England along with an estimated 700,000 spectators during thirty-three performances.
Prior to the 1930’s it wasn't unusual for visitors traveling to or through the 101 Ranch to see deer, caribou, alligators, apes, chimpanzees, anteaters, ostriches, peacocks, elephants and the well known soda pop swilling Tony the Bear all of which were part of what had become a fabulous western and entertainment empire.
Agricultural efforts ranging from fruit trees to wheat crops were unusually successful for the time period and location, along with cattle and swine production. Always operating with a persona projected as bigger than life, the Millers once posted signs around their huge watermelon field that declared any visitors passing through the ranch would be subject to a $5 fine if they didn't steal a 101 Ranch watermelon.
Such good humored declarations produced little notice compared to the Miller brothers 1914 purchase of an entire Mexican army which had fled destruction at the hands the rebel army of Pancho Villa by crossing into the United States at Presidio, Texas. The purchase included a vast number of wagons, livestock, weapons and ammunition. Much of which was sold back to the Mexican government or taken back to the 101 Ranch while producing a tidy profit of $20,000 in 1914 dollars.
During the same period of time and into the 1920’s the 101 Ranch continued to delve into advancements in technology and entered the new field of movie making. They formed the 101 Ranch Bison Film Company and made some of the nations early day western films. Drawing from some of the more talented, handsome and charismatic hands found among ranch cowboys such as Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones and Ken Maynard, hand cranked movie cameras began to film silent westerns not far from the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River on the ranch.
In a strange turn of fate, the success of movie making pioneered by the Miller brothers would later be credited as an important part of the demise of the touring Wild West Shows including the 101 Ranch Real Wild West Shows.
Following the unexpected deaths of brothers Joe (1927) and George (1929), surviving brother Zack was unable to cope with managing what had become a vast empire and changing economic times of the great depression. The 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show went on the road for the last time in 1931. By the spring of 1932, all assets of the ranch were gone. A federal receivership and bankruptcy haunted the last surviving Miller brother, Colonel Zack Miller, Sr. and what had once been a truly western empire, the 101 Ranch and its Real West Shows.
Although the Miller brothers, their ‘Fabulous Empire’, their ‘Round-up’ Shows and Wild West Show are gone, the 101 Ranch Old Timers Association strives to preserve the memory of all that was once the 101 Ranch. Acknowledging the western heritage of the region and the ranch the Ponca City, OK 101 Wild West Rodeo Foundation was formed in 1960 and produced their first celebration parade and rodeo. The 50th anniversary of that annual event was celebrated in 2010.
For additional reading on the history of the 101 Ranch, The 101 Ranch by Ellsworth Collings and Alma Miller England, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma is recommended. The most contemporary history of the ranch and its impact on modern concepts relating to America’s Old West, either real or imagined, is Michael Wallis’ book, The Real Wild West-The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West published by St. Martin’s Press of New York (www.michaelwallis.com).
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