History of the 101 Ranch Old Timers Association
By Al Ritter
In 1968, the 101 Ranch Old Timers Association was organized as a revival of the Cherokee Strip Cow Punchers Association. Colonel Joe C. Miller of the 101 Ranch organized the CSCPA in 1920. Membership in that first organization was limited to working cowboys and others associated with the cattle industry in the Cherokee Strip during the time period from 1874 to 1893. Col. Miller was president until his death in 1927 when his brother, Col. Zack Miller, filled the position until his own passing in 1952. The organization functioned until 1958.
In 1971, the 101 Ranch Old Timers organization started the 101 Ranch museum with memorabilia donated by its members. Today it is located in the lower level of Marland’s Grand Home, 1000 East Grand Ave. (www.marlandgrandhome.com) in Ponca City. The residence, owned and operated by the City of Ponca City as a local museum, was the first home of E. W. Marland, pioneer oil man and later Governor of Oklahoma.
In 1973, the 101 Ranch Headquarters, located on the north bank of the Salt Fork River, southwest of Ponca City in Kay County Oklahoma, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1975, the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
In 1976, the 101 Ranch Restoration Foundation, acquired 72 acres of the 101 Ranch Headquarters land from a private owner by matching a grant from the Oklahoma State Historical Society. They planned to restore many of the remaining buildings, but the Blacksmith Shop and other buildings were lost due to flooding of the Salt Fork River. Further erosion of the headquarters site over the years found the Restoration Foundation bankrupt. In 1987, the last privately owned building at the headquarters site, the 101 Ranch Store building constructed in 1918, burned.
Much earlier, the once majestic Miller family mansion, known as the White House, a true ‘Palace on the Prairie’, was demolished for salvage value. This was done at the order of the Federal Farm Security Administration in 1943 as a final insult to a once fabulous empire due to a long term federal bankruptcy proceeding.
In 1976 the 101 Ranch Old Timers was incorporated and became an IRS 501 (c) 3 registered non-profit organization
In January of 1996 the 101 Ranch Old Timers acquired the remaining acreage owned by the 101 Ranch Restoration Foundation and later that year opened three acres as a public picnic area.
For its 1996 dedication, the United States Department of Interior supplied National Parks Service historic plaques. Hundreds watched as Indians danced in front of teepees while cowboys and cowgirls on horseback paraded with wagons and a stagecoach during the ceremony.
Two years later, on August 16, 1998, the Old Timers group moved forward in conjunction with the City of Ponca City when an effort sponsored by the group along with others resulted in the dedication of a monument to the memory of the late Bill Pickett of the 101 Ranch. Today, that engraved flat stone monument can be found at the corner of Third St. and Grand Avenue in downtown Ponca City, OK. Pickett was both a working and performing cowboy from 1905 to 1932 with the historical ranch and its Wild West Shows. He is credited with the innovation of what is known today as the rodeo sport of “Bulldogging”.
In 1971, the athletic black cowboy was posthumously inducted in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. The legendary African-American cowboy was additionally honored in 1994 when his image appeared on a special issue U.S. Postal stamp as part of the notable “Legends of the West” series.
In 1998, long time members of the 101 Ranch O.T.A., Jerry and Ruth Murphey of Corpus Christi, Texas concluded ongoing research by successfully locating the grave of a pioneer Wild West Show performer, Lillian Frances Smith. Known professionally as Princess Wenona. The Murphey’s found her grave in Ponca City’s IOOF Cemetery. Her grave was simply marked with a small stone that read, “P. Wenona”.
Once a contemporary of Annie Oakley, Lillian Smith was billed as the “Champion Rifle Shot of the World”. She toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Shows and later in her performing career with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show from the 1880’s into the late 1920’s. She died destitute in 1930 while a resident of Marland, OK.
In August of 1999, the 101 Ranch Old Timers and other sponsors unveiled a handsome stone monument at her Ponca City I00F grave site. The four foot tall black marble memorial headstone features the image of Princess Wenona along with her record breaking accomplishments as a trick shot artist and association with the 101 Ranch.
The summer of 2000 brought a great deal of physical improvements to the headquarters site of the once mighty 101 Ranch. The 101 OTA cleared the 101 Ranch store driveway area and what had once been the front yard of the 101 Ranch White House of years of overgrown trees and vegetation.
This recovery effort was followed in 2001 when the association had a commercial restoration of the masonry and wrought iron fence, once a prominent feature at the Miller family residence. Although the crumbling but original masonry portion of the fence remained on the perimeter of the White House yard, it appears the unique wrought iron picket style portion of the fence had been purchased and removed in 1943 when the White House was torn down. After a summer’s work and a $20,000 cost, the fence was restored to its original condition minus one missing wrought iron section.
Due to a lack of funding, the 101 Ranch Old Timers Association has temporary postponed plans to build a turn-in, walk way, signs and an additional memorial to Bill Pickett on property owned by the association just north of Marland, Oklahoma. The site, known as Monument Hill features a 14 foot stone cairn dedicated in 1927 to Ponca Tribal Chief White Eagle, and the tribe’s friendship with the Miller brothers. It also is the burial site of seven indigent people who had a relationship with the 101 Ranch as well as Pickett’s grave.
Spearheaded by O.T.A. board member Bill Balcer of Stillwater, the long lost names of those seven indigent men, women and children, were identified through research. Since the only marked grave found on Monument Hill is that of Bill Pickett, the Old Timers Association working in concert with the Kaw Indian tribe, surveyed the hilltop using state of the art ground search radar and established the location of the graves during the summer of 2004.
In December of that year, the Old Timers group hosted a national television film crew doing a segment for the History Channel series, “History’s Mysteries”. On the subject of the 101 Ranch, that episode aired in 2005.
Additionally during the summer of 2007, the 101 Ranch was chosen as a topic by the Oklahoma Educational Television System broadcast series “Oklahoma Horizon” (www.okhorizon.org). It also appeared internationally on the Dish satellite systems’ RFD-TV network (Dish satellite channel 231).
The 101 Ranch OTA offers
a single DVD on the history of the 101 Ranch. Produced
by Ken Greenwood and Cox Communication Company, the DVD
is titled, ‘Cowboys and Tall Grass Country-The 101 Ranch”.
This new DVD on the 101 Ranch is also the first episode of a six DVD television mini-series set featuring historically important western figures Tom Mix, Frank Phillips, Ben Johnson, the Drummond Family, and Jim Shoulders.
Copies of the new 101 OTA sponsored DVD are available for sale for $15 plus $3.00 shipping and handling. They are available at Marland’s
Grand Home or by mailing your check or money order to:
101 OTA Sec/Treasurer Joe Glaser
1609 Donald Ave
Ponca City, OK 74604
The complete six DVD set is $75 plus $4.00 shipping and handling.
An elected board of directors provides leadership direction for the 101 Ranch Old Timers. Membership is open to anyone interested in helping preserve the history of the 101 Ranch and the cowboys and cowgirls who worked there. Annual dues are $20.00. Members receive a newsletter four times a year and are entitled to attend the annual 101 Ranch Old Timers Association reunion meeting along with regular quarterly board of director meetings.
Membership applications can be found on this web site or by contacting our organization.
History of the 101 Ranch
By Al Ritter
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 will be 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).
Mounted ladies at the 101 Ranch taken some time prior to 1909. In later years the Ranch made a point of featuring female performers and coined the term, 'Cowgirl'.