The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show was just the most visible face of a vast economic empire based in Oklahoma. The 101 Ranch, located near Ponca City, in what was then known simply as Indian Territory, was the largest cattle ranch and farm in America, comprising 110,000 acres. It was founded in 1893 by Colonel George Washington Miller, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War from Kentucky. When he passed away a decade later, the ranch went to his three sons, Joe, George Jr and Zack.
Inspired by their neighbor the showman Pawnee Bill, the Miller Brothers began to present shows of their horsemanship and other rodeo related skills on the ranch. They expanded to a large touring show in 1907, at the Jamestown Exposition, honoring the 300th anniversary of the Founding of Virginia. They toured the U.S. and Europe for several years, though the coming of cinema and the First World War made profitability a struggle throughout the show’s entire existence. Meanwhile oil was found on the ranch in 1911 (the company that was founded to extract it eventually became ConocoPhillips), which helped float the Wild West Show through foul weather and fair. Among the many performers who appeared in the show over the years were Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, Jack Hoxie, the actual Geronimo , African American bulldogger Bill Pickett and Rodeo Queen Lucille Mulhall, daughter of the Wild West showman Zack.
After nearly being stranded in Europe in the middle of the World War (while the U.S. was still neutral), the younger brothers lost interest but the Ahab-lke Joe strove to make a success of it. When he died of a possible suicide in 1927, and George died in a car accident two years later, the show became Zack’s responsibility. He was able to keep it going through the New York World’s Fair of 1939. Zack passed away in 1952.
To learn more about show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous