DREAMS FOR SALE–THE MILLER BROTHERS 101 RANCH

On a vast open plain a few miles south of Ponca City, Oklahoma, lies the burial ground of one of the greatest ranching empires of the West—the Miller brothers’ 101 Ranch.

None of the former 101 Ranch estate remains today. All of the buildings were destroyed and the land subdivided and sold after the Miller Brothers’ final bankruptcy. This photo shows the 101 Ranch as it existed with ranchhouse, corrals, and out-buildings.

Established in 1893 by Colonel George Washington Miller, a former Confederate soldier, and his wife Molly, the 101 became known as the “Largest Diversified Farm and Ranch in America.”  It was nicknamed the “White House.”

 Not only was the 101 one of the largest working ranches west of the Mississippi, it was even more famous for its Wild West shows.  These displays of horsemanship, roping, and daring “rescues” transitioned from local shows to the national level in 1907 when the 101 Wild West Show performed at the Jamestown Exposition in Virginia.  In 1908, the tour circuit began in earnest.

Mural Honoring the Miller Brothers and the 101 Ranch & Wild West Show. Located at 207 W. Grand in Ponca City, OK

The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show wagons.

Pawnee Bill and Zack Miller on horseback in Oklahoma.

The Miller brothers, Joseph, George Jr., and Zack, had permitted some of their cowboys to perform at a local fair, and from this, their own Wild West show grew to become known worldwide.

It was essentially a Wild West show, complete with cattle, buffaloes, cowboys and Indians.  It included an all-around crowd pleaser—the attack on the stagecoach.  But it also contained elements of the circus with sideshows, and “freaks” such as the Bearded Lady.  In the heyday of its popularity, the Millers’ 101 Wild West Show netted them over one million dollars per year!

The idea of formalizing the performing cowboys into a Wild West show came from the Millers’ longtime friend and neighbor, Major Gordon W. Lillie—also known as Pawnee Bill.  Pawnee Bill eventually combined his own Wild West show with Buffalo Bill Cody’s.  The 101 Wild West Show, however, remained solitary, boasting stars such as black bulldogger Bill Pickett, Bee Ho Gray, early movie star Tom Mix, Mexican Joe, and eventually, Buffalo Bill Cody as well.

The Miller brothers were latecomers to the Wild West show circuit, causing them to suffer financially with the advent of movies.  Even so, their show became the largest in the nation by the 1920’s, requiring more than 100 train cars to travel from town to town.

By 1916, the two younger Miller brothers, George Jr. and Zack, gave up trying to work with their temperamental oldest brother, Joe.  It was during this time period that Joe hired an aging Buffalo Bill Cody to star in a WWI recruitment show:  The Pageant of Preparedness.  Cody quit the show due to illness, and died within a year.  Still, Joe tried to keep the show going, but was unsuccessful.  He offered it for sale to the American Circus Corporation in 1927.  They were uninterested, suffering from financial distress as well.  On October 21, 1927, a neighbor found Joe Miller dead in the ranch garage of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Several months later, his brother, George Jr., was killed in a car accident.  In 1932, Zack Miller was forced to file for bankruptcy.  The U.S. Government seized what remained of the show’s assets and bought 8,000 acres of the 101 Ranch.  Zack Miller died in 1952 of cancer.

Today, what remains of the once-glorious three-story stucco 101 Ranch headquarters is rubble.  Over ten years ago, efforts began to turn the site into a roadside park. 

Bill Pickett, the inventor of bulldogging, or steer wrestling, is buried there.  On the same mound where Bill Pickett lies is a memorial to the Ponca chief, White Eagle, who led his people to a nearby reservation during the 1870’s from their holdings along the Nebraska-Dakota border.

 The stone monument was built as an Indian trail marker where signals and messages could be left by different friendly tribes who passed by.  These tribes generally understood the signals, and could tell which way the other travelers were going.  Gradually, settlers took away the stones for building purposes.  Because Colonel George Miller and White Eagle were lifetime friends, and Joe Miller was adopted into the tribe, the renovation of the trail marker had significance to the 101 Ranch for many reasons.

 The 101 Ranch was a bridge between these old, lost days of the early West, when Colonel George Miller started the venture as a settler after the States’ War, and the modern times of change.  The 101 Ranch was the headquarters for the show business contingent of cowboys and other western performers of the early 1900’s.  Will Rogers was a frequent visitor, as well as presidents and celebrities from around the world.  Some of the first western movies were filmed on the 101 Ranch. 

Though there isn’t much left of the actual building, the 101 Ranch exceeded the expectations for a “cattle ranch.”  Indeed, it was a virtual palace on the Oklahoma plains; a place where dreams were lived.

 In my historical western novel, Fire Eyes, Kaed Turner talks with his friend and mentor, Tom Sellers, about giving up law enforcement and settling down to ranching.  At first, Tom sees it as an unattainable dream; but as the conversation progresses, the possibilities look better.  Here’s what happens!

 FIRE EYES:

Tom smiled. “Glad you’ve got somebody good—deep down—like you are, Kaed. Ain’t too many men who’d take on another man’s child, love her like you do your Lexi.”

Kaed put his hand against the rough wood of the tree and straightened out his arm, stretching his muscles.

Tom drew deeply on his pipe, and Kaed waited. He’d known Tom so long that he recognized the older man was going to broach a subject with him that he normally would have avoided. Finally, Tom said, “I told Harv he needed to find someone. Settle down again. Grow corn and make babies. Think I might’ve offended him. But after seein’ him with little Lexi, it hit me that he seemed content. For the first time in a long while.”

It had struck Kaed, as well. Harv rarely smiled. But when he’d played with Lexi, it seemed that grin of his was permanently fixed on his face.

“Seems that way for you, too, boy.” Tom wouldn’t look at him. “Seems like you found what you’ve been looking for. Don’t let marshalin’ ruin it for you, Kaed. I’ve stayed with it too long. Me and Harv and Jack, we’ve been damn lucky to get this old without gettin’ killed either in the War, or doin’ this job.”

“Tom? Sounds like you’ve got some regrets.”

Tom nodded. “You made me realize somethin’, Marshal Turner, and now I don’t know whether to thank you or cuss you. When I saw the way that woman looked at you, the way that baby’s eyes lit up, it made me know I shoulda give this all up years ago and found myself somebody. Taken the advice I gave Harv. Planted my seed in the cornfield and in my woman’s belly, and maybe I’d’a been happier, too.”

“It’s not too late.” Kaed’s voice was low and rough. The doubt he’d had at starting his own family again was suddenly erased by the older man’s words. Nothing would bring his first family back. But he had a second chance now, and he was a helluva lot younger than Tom Sellers. He’d had it twice, and Tom had never had it at all. Never felt the love flow through a woman, through her touch, her look, and into his own body, completing him. Never looked into the eyes of a child who worshipped him. He wouldn’t have missed that for anything the first time. Or the second. Tom turned slowly to look at Kaed, the leaves of the elm tree patterning the filtering moonlight across his face. “You think that cause you’re young, Kaed. Twenty-nine ain’t forty-three.”

“Forty-three ain’t dead, Tom. There’s plenty of women out there. Plenty of land. Room to spread out. What’re you grinnin’ at?”

Tom laughed aloud. “Got any particular woman in mind?” Quickly, he added, “Now, remember, Kaed. She’s gotta be young enough to give me a baby, but not so young she’s a baby herself. Gotta be easy on the eye, and I want her to look at me like your Jessica looks at you. And by the way, have you got any idea where a fella could get a piece of good land for raisin’ cattle, with a little patch for farmin’?”

Kaed’s lips twitched. Tom was dreaming, but only half dreaming. The serious half had taken root in his heart and mind. Kaed knew before too much longer, that part would eat away at the lightheartedness until it took over completely, becoming a bold, unshakeable dream that he would do his utmost to accomplish. Now that Tom had envisioned what his life could be, Kaed knew it would fall to him to help make it a reality.

“Let’s end this business with Fallon. After that, we’ll find the land and the cattle.”

“Don’t mean nothin’ without the woman, Kaed. You oughtta know that.”

“I do.” Kaed smiled, his thoughts straying to Miss Amelia Bailey, the not-so-young-but-young-enough school teacher in Fort Smith, who always seemed to trip over her words when Tom Sellers came around. Just the right age. And very easy on the eye. “Stick with me, old man. I may even help you find a decent woman to settle down with.”

To order FIRE EYES:

http://thewildrosepress.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=534&zenid=559cec992e1a9f21828c206cc4d35d47

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
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50 thoughts on “DREAMS FOR SALE–THE MILLER BROTHERS 101 RANCH”

  1. Hi Cheryl, I bet the Miller Brothers were on hte wild side. Maybe dreamers as well as doers? Can you imagine the women in their lives?

    P.S. Wonderful excerpt! Thanks for a great start to my day…

  2. Sad that this wonderful piece of the old West is gone, Cheryl. Thanks for a story I’d never heard before.

    And I love your writing style. It just sings. You’ve got a fan here.

  3. I had never heard of the 101 Ranch or the Millers’ wild west show. It sounds like these brothers really embraced the cowboy life even as the turn of the century brought automobiles and modernization. Thanks for sharing this fun bit of history.

    I loved the panoramic shot at the top of your post. What a spread!

  4. Great post, Cheryl. What interests me is trying to understand how the old west faded and yet there are still cowboys, still ranches. As an author I’m always trying to find the right era for books and this is a reminder that cowboys were NOT just alive in 1880

  5. Hi Vicki,

    LOL I had the same thought–of course, as romance writers, we always imagine the women in the lives of men such as the Miller brothers, don’t we? Yeah, they probably were wild-and VERY interesting! But what a tragic end to everything they built.

    Glad you enjoyed the excerpt!

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  6. Elizabeth!
    What a NICE thing to say! I appreciate that so much! THANK YOU.

    As for the Miller brothers, to me, looking at that panoramic shot of what they HAD and to think now that there is absolutely nothing left of it is the saddest thing. What an operation they had!

    Thanks so much for your sweet comments, Elizabeth. That means a lot to me.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  7. Hi Karen,

    I love that panoramic shot too. It just shows everything–they had so much. What an undertaking that must have been, to actually START a Wild West show of their own and make it viable. It boggles my mind.

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

    Cheryl

  8. Hi Mary,

    That is a great point. How DID the old west fade like it did, yet still live on so strongly, even in today’s world? I struggle, too, with coming up with the exact time period for my stories. I think I tend to frame them around the inventions and discoveries that I’m going to need to have available in my story–or the events that need to have happen or be on the brink of happening.

    You’ve got me thinking now, Mary…LOL

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  9. Hey Cheryl, interesting post. I hadn’t heard of the 101 ranch either and I agree it’s sad to have gone so far and end the way it did. There’s a lesson in it, though – don’t overextend! 😉 (note to myself, lol)

    Loved that bit when I read it in Fire Eyes:

    “Twenty-nine ain’t forty-three.”
    “Forty-three ain’t dead, Tom. …”

    Still do. 🙂

  10. HEY LK!!!
    Glad to see you here at P&P. It’s hard to believe that the 101 Ranch is no more than a pile of rubble now, after seeing that thriving panoramic view of it–very sad. Yes, don’t overextend is right–that cracked me up. LOL

    That quote from Fire Eyes was one of my fave lines, too–finally, Kaed was the one to “teach” Tom something about life! LOL Glad you liked that–thanks for the compliment.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  11. Hey, Sister!
    Love the post. So very interesting and sad, too. The pictures are wonderful and show what a lovely place it used to be.

    Fire Eyes is a wonderful story and I enjoyed reading the excerpt. And the cover is gorgeous, too!

    Hugs, 🙂
    Isobel

  12. Hi Cheryl, great post as always. Sad when something doesn’t last. I enjoyed the Wild West info as well. I loved the closing scene in True Grit LOL also. (no spoiler here) And congrats again on Fire eyes. Loved it, too. oxoxo

  13. Cheryl, how sad that the once glorious and thriving ranch just died like that. The history is lost too without people like you blogging about it. I can tell this subject is dear to your heart. Thank you for such an interesting post.

  14. LAURA!!! HOW ARE YOU???? It is wonderful to see my long-lost sis here! LOL I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, even though it was heart wrenching to see what became of such an empire.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sweet words about FIRE EYES. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. We must talk soon–it’s been forever.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  15. Tanya,
    I think I am the only person in the entire world (other than my dh) who has not seen TRUE GRIT. I really want to go see it, but man, when it gets cold, I’m like a bear. I just want to stay in and not go ANYWHERE. LOL

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting–you are always so sweet.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  16. Cheryl–sniff, sniff. The excerpt is one of the best parts in Fire Eyes. I remember it, now that I read it again. You have such a wonderful writing style, one word just pulls the reader along to another.
    I’ve tried to read many excerpts lately, and my lands, they are so long and rambling, I have no idea what it’s about. You do have the knack, not only of writing with deep emotion, you know how to pick and choose the perfect excerpt. I do wish more authors could learn this little trick. Goodness knows I’ve tried to teach it!

    I’ve not heard of the 101 Ranch, but its story, too, made me feel sad and nostalgic. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a few Wild West shows still around? What a tribue to the Miller brothers.
    Well done, my friend–Celia

  17. Uhoh, Cheryl’s THINKING. Everyone brace yourself.

    🙂

    True cowboy era is from the first cattle drive to the first barbed wire fence.
    It’s about thirty years.
    But we ALL know cowboys endured, it just wasn’t the same. So Linda Lael Miller’s McKettricks can go all the way back to pioneers and all the way forward to modern times and it alllllll works.

  18. It’s amazing that you’re talking about the 101 Ranch. In my grandfather McNeal’s old trunk were two posters for the 101 Ranch Rodeo. I had them framed in museum frames to protect them. Southern Living Magazine did a big article about the 101 Ranch a few years ago and that was how I found out about it and realized what those 2 old posters were about. Great blog, Cheryl.

  19. A very information and entertaining post. I’m a new fan of western/cowboy romance and this was a special treat for me to read.

  20. Linda,

    Dear, your comment brought tears to my eyes. Yes, these historical subjects that were once so proud and glorious in their day that have fallen to time are some of the saddest things ever. If only SOMEONE had thought to preserve even PART of that ranch. It makes you wonder if the Miller Brothers ever in their wildest imaginings thought that everything they’d worked so hard to build would be nothing but a pile of rubble by the next century. I’m sure they thought that that ranch would thrive and exist in some form forever.

    Thank you so much for your comments.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  21. CELIA,
    That is such a sweet compliment–thank you so much. Sometimes I feel like I get a little “long” in my excerpts because I want readers to understand what’s happening. An excerpt really doesn’t mean much if you don’t know the characters or the situation, so I always try to give a little recap of what’s going on before the excerpt itself.

    Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate you!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  22. LOL MARY!!! That’s a very scary thought, I know–I had a thought! LOLLOL You crack me up.

    Yes that is the great thing about cowboys–the story can really happen in a lot of time periods. We all think of Louis L’Amour as writing westerns, although he did write some poetry and some contemporary novels, as well. But THE SACKETTS starts long before the “cowboy” era. That’s the beauty of that series, to me, at least.

    Cheryl

  23. WOW SARAH! That is soooo cool! I’m glad you found those posters and preserved them. I wonder if your grandfather WORKED at the 101 Ranch? Would he have been old enough? Or maybe his father? That gives me chills.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  24. Hi Liz,

    Well, I’m so glad that you are a new convert to western/cowboy romance and that you came over to P&P today! Let me tell you, there are a TON of wonderful books amongst the fillies here at P&P to choose from. Since you are kind of new to the cowboy romances, you are going to have a field day reading all the wonderful books that are out there. I’m so glad you stopped by and commented. Hope we become a “regular visit” for you, and we are looking forward to seeing more of you, Liz.
    Cheryl

  25. I loved reading about the 101 Ranch. Actual history always fasinated me and I love reading fiction based on that history.

    I,too, love the line ‘forty three ain’t dead’. I shall have to read this book!

  26. Hi Connie,

    I really loved history too, Connie, ever since I was in about the 4th or 5th grade. I remember even then writing stories about young girls in historical times. I’m like you, I love to read fiction based on something that actually happened. I recently have discovered a couple of books by an author, Eric Flint, who writes alternate history–or “what if” something else had actually happened. The one that really got me hooked was called 1812: The Rivers of War–think that’s the name of it. VERY interesting. He’s written some others that are interesting to me, too, that take place in WV. My husband is from there and we lived there quite a while.

    I hope you enjoy FIRE EYES. Those characters were so real to me. That’s how it should be, though.

    Cheryl

  27. Hi Catslady,

    It’s amazing to think of all the history that has just been “let go” by the wayside–in schools they don’t teach history like they used to–or anything else! LOL There are so many customs and historical places and events that are unfamiliar to us anymore because of the lack of importance placed on them, I think. It’s too bad. I’m glad you stopped by to read and comment.
    Cheryl

  28. Interesting story, Cheryl and informative. One I hadn’t heard. It does remind me of the research I did on Cody’s Wild West show for one of my books, THE LAST WARRIOR.

    I enjoyed the pics, too.

  29. Hi Cheryl, I had heard of the 101 Ranch, but didn’t know they had a Wild West Show. I have heard of all those cowboys except Bee Ho Gray. How amazing it would have been to listen in on a conversation with Bill Pickett, Buffalo Bill and Will Rogers. They all seem from different eras to me, so its hard to imagine someone could have known them all during one lifetime. What a sad story, but a great post. You have a knack for making history come alive.

  30. Seems as though today’s stock shows/rodeos (Houston,
    Cheyenne, etc) are the nearest things to the wild
    west shows of yesteryear. Especially the ones that have the big, elaborate entry parades prior to the rodeos.

    Thanks for 101 Ranch information!

    Pat Cochran

  31. Hi Judy,
    Thank you so much for that nice compliment. I love history and I always try to make it “real” when I write about it. I know what you mean about those three seeming to be from different eras. Did you ever watch that PBS show “Meeting of the Minds”? It was on about 25 years ago, and was one of the most interesting concepts. Can’t remember the moderator’s name, but they would have three or four people from all eras sitting at a table with the moderator who would ask, “What about world politics today…” or something like that, and they would all give their opinions and arguments–so interesting. That’s what I thought of when I read your comment.

    Cheryl

  32. Pat,
    Come to think of it, that’s true about the stock shows! The pageantry and fanfare of it all is really reminiscent of those old Wild West Shows.

    Thanks for commenting!
    Cheryl

  33. Hi Maggie!

    Good to see you here at P&P!!So glad you enjoyed reading about the Miller Brothers. That must have been an amazing thing to see–especially when you take a look at the panoramic pic of the ranch.

    Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to pop in, Maggie!

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  34. You know, I knew I’d heard of the 101 Ranch somewhere before…I went back to look and I was right. Back around 1940, the famous Western singing group the Sons of the Pioneers self-published a fan newsletter, and one issue featured an interview with a real ‘old-timer’ working in Hollywood who’d traveled with the 101 Wild West show. He said the Millers bought horses down in Mexico and swam them across the Rio Grande, then trained them and sold them as polo ponies.

    Of course, a lot of the tales spun in old Hollywood can be taken with a grain of salt, but there’s so much interesting stuff in your post here that I’d be willing to believe a lot!

  35. Hadn’t heard of the 101 Ranch before. Thanks for a most interesting post. It is really a shame that all traces of such a large operation were pretty much wiped away. It is a shame the times worked against it keeping up with the changes happening. Most of the big names in western shows and entertainment passed through their doors.

    Liked the excerpt from FIRE EYES. They sound like good men.

  36. Hi Elisabeth,

    That is pretty amazing about the ponies–and I truly could believe they did that. How wonderful it would have been to have been able to record some of the old timers’ stories told in their own voices and preserved for the ages. Thanks so much for sharing this additional tidbit about the 101 Ranch. Very interesting!

    Cheryl

  37. hi Patricia,

    I know…it just makes you feel sad for the whole thing, doesn’t it? Sort of like the Titanic going down and being lost all those year before they found it and began the recovery operations. We still have the pictures and such from those days to show what it was like, but I guess that there was no one who was willing to buy the ranch itself and take it over, even as an operational ranch. That lack of preservation, to me, is just almost criminal.

    Glad you enjoyed the excerpt from FIRE EYES. They are very good men, and I have often thought about writing a book with Tom as the main character. LOL
    Cheryl

  38. I think a book with Tom as the main character would be great. Older characters are often the “supporting cast” but seldom get to shine in their own right. Age is no deterrent to love and caring. Tom and Miss Amelia deserve to realize their hearts’ dreams and find their HEA.

  39. Cheryl,
    Enjoyed the article and web site. My great uncle, Bill Caress performed with the 101 Miller Bros Wild West…I have his collections of photos etc. and have enjoyed looking at them over the years. He was a clown, working with Joe Lewis, Billy Lorette and Dan Dix…he was in movies with Tom Mix and Buck Jones.

    One item that I have is a Christmas Card from Tom Mix…Do yoy know of any collectors that might be interested in my collection?

    Thanks,
    Dave

  40. I have an original 1915 panoramic Photo of the 1915 101 Ranch Crew (original Frame)this photo is amazingly clear and includes Cheif Iron Tail(posed for Indian Head Nichol) George Miller, E.W. Marland, Tom Mix, Bill Picket and approx. 245 Indians, Cowboys, Cowgirls, etc…..I bought this from Jack Keathley and I would like to sell it.
    I also have many post cards from thr 101 Ranch if you know anyone interested.
    Please let me know..Thank you…Ed Kaiser

  41. Zack T. Miller was my great great grandfather. I am interested to find and possibly procure some items from the 101 Ranch and the show days. Very little was kept and passed down in the family from those days. I appreciate anyone to contact myself and let me know what you might have… photographs, posters, various items from the ranch or show itself? Many thanks. Dan Miller.

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