MILLER BROTHERS 101 RANCH.
In 1881 George Washington Miller first used the 101 brand on his cattle, establishing what would become one of the most recognizable names in ranching and western entertainment. A native of Kentucky, he migrated west after the Civil War, settling in Missouri and driving cattle from Texas to the railway heads in Kansas. Miller later moved his ranch to land leased from the Quapaws, in present northeastern Oklahoma, and resided in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Then he relocated his family to Baxter Springs, Kansas, and his ranch to the Cherokee Outlet. Miller also cultivated a relationship with the Ponca tribe, which was briefly displaced to the Quapaw Reservation. He suggested that the Ponca take land in the Outlet as their home.
In 1881 Miller dissolved his partnership with Lee Kokernut, precipitating the need for his own brand. Miller had been using the L K mark. Although there are several stories of why the number 101 was chosen, the most repeated tale claims that it came from a saloon in San Antonio, Texas. After the federal government forced the ranchers out of the Outlet, in 1893 Miller leased Ponca land and continued his operations. The ranch eventually covered more than one hundred thousand acres. Miller's three sons, Joseph, Zachary, and George Lee, gradually became more and more involved in the family businesses. The ranch diversified by growing wheat, cotton, corn, Kaffir, alfalfa, various fruit orchards, and vegetables. Livestock included cattle, bison, hogs, poultry, and several horse breeds.
In 1903 George Washington Miller died from pneumonia. His wife, Molly, had the ranch turned into a trust with Joe as the chair and Zack and George as the only other members. The three split the responsibility, with Joe running the overall operations and farming, Zack controlling the livestock, and George handling the finances. As the operations continued to grow, the Millers added their own electric plant, a cannery, a dairy, a tannery, a store, and several different mills. The 101 experimented with crops, creating improved strains of corn and walnut, apple, and pecan trees. Promoted as the "greatest diversified farm on earth," the ranch continued to prosper in the early twentieth century. In 1909 Ernest W. Marland spearheaded the search for oil on ranch land, forming the 101 Ranch Oil Company. The successful oil venture increased the Millers' profits.
The 101 earned most of its notoriety from the Wild West shows that it staged. Their show business career began in 1905 when the Millers invited the members of the National Editorial Association to Bliss, Oklahoma, and entertained them with a large exhibition, which they called "Oklahoma's Gala Day." The event showcased the skills of their ranch hands and American Indians, including the famous Apache Geronimo, who killed a bison from the front seat of a car. The show also featured Lucille Mulhall, George Elser, and Bill Pickett. The affair's success led the Millers to take the enterprise on the road. It toured seasonally beginning in 1907. The show had a hiatus from 1916 to 1925, initiated by World War I, before it mobilized again and ran until 1931. In 1924 the production again performed in Bliss for the National Editors' Association. The brothers took the show throughout the United States and worldwide, traveling to Mexico, Canada, Europe, and South America. In 1914 the cowboys and Indians performed for King George V and Queen Mary of England. In Mexico Bill Pickett aroused the ire of bullfighters and the crowd by trying to bulldog one of their famed prize bulls.
Several entertainers who continued their careers in the fledgling motion-picture industry had connections with the 101. They included Will Rogers, Tom Mix, Jack Hoxie, Mabel Normand, and Buck Jones. The Millers leased equipment and loaned employees to the Bison 101 Film Company, which produced Western films in California. The road show continued and recruited stars such as boxing champion Jess Willard. In 1916 the production combined with Buffalo Bill Cody and toured as "Buffalo Bill (Himself) and 101 Ranch Wild West Combined, with the Military Pageant Preparedness."
During the 1920s the 101 acts began to draw smaller crowds, which eventually led to financial losses, because the show competed with the burgeoning movie industry, circuses, and other venues including rodeos for audiences. In 1926 the Millers lost $119,970. The onset of the Great Depression drastically impacted the ranch, causing the family to fall deeper in debt. On October 21, 1927, Joe Miller died. Two years later, on February 2, George Miller passed away. Zack Miller could not pull the operation out of its financial woes, and in 1931 the 101 Ranch went into receivership. In 1932 a large amount of the land was divided and leased, and most of the personal property was auctioned. By 1941 the Federal Farm Security Administration had acquired most of the land and developed a farm resettlement program. On January 3, 1952, Zack Miller died.
Ellsworth Collings and Alma Miller England, The 101 Ranch (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937).
Fred Gipson, Fabulous Empire: Colonel Zack Miller's Story (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1946).
Michael Wallis, The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Larry O'Dell, “Miller Brothers 101 Ranch,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=MI029.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.
Related ResourcesJimmy M. Skaggs, ed., Ranch and Range in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1983)., The Gateway to Oklahoma History
101, Miller Brothers 101 Ranch documentary film, circa 1950
(F2013.134.2.0008 , WKY-TV Film Collection, OHS)