The Final Days
By Laci Jones
The 101 Ranch was a great success for several decades under first, G.W. Miller, then his three sons — Joe Miller, George Miller and Zack Miller. As all good things must come to an end, the 101 Ranch was no exception.
“There were, no doubt, many causes contributing to the break-up of the 101 Ranch, but there seem to be at least three major ones: death, debt and depression,” wrote sister, Alma Miller England in the 1937 book “The 101 Ranch.”
After the fatal car accident of George Miller in early 1929 and Joe Miller’s death of carbon monoxide poisoning two years prior, the 101 Ranch was left to the last of the Miller brothers, Zack Miller, and two of his nephews.
It was known among family members that Zack lacked the financial and management capabilities to keep the ranch, the wild west show and their other endeavors afloat. As if the loss of the two Miller brothers were not enough, Oct. 29, 1929, also known as Black Tuesday, put another nail in the coffin for the 101 Ranch.
Believing the Great Depression would not last long, the only living Miller brother signed the dotted line of a mortgage of more than $500,000 to fund the daily ranch operations, according to Michael Wallis in “Real Wild West.” Trying to keep the 101 Ranch together, Zack took the 101 Ranch Wild West Show back on the road.
Attendance of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show decreased, despite great reviews. Zack still continued to sink money into the show. The debts continued to increase as revenue continued to decrease. In a panic, Zack produced the traveling show just one more year in 1931 with the hopes to sell the wild west show.
Meanwhile, the ranch was falling apart with legal battles, economic struggles, debt and closing departments that resulted in the unemployment of loyal 101 Ranch workers. The two Miller nephews, who were dedicated to preserving the ranch their grandfather and fathers built, eventually moved on to establish their own careers.
All alone after the final unsuccessful year of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, Zack returned to the ranch. As the creditors closed in, Zack’s last resort was to hold a conference, where he cried, “Save the ranch, preserve its traditions,” according to England. On Sept. 16, 1931, the Miller family lost control of the 101 Ranch, according to Wallis.
“If Colonel Zack Miller could have had the support of his dead brothers, there is no question but the 101 Ranch would have weathered the world’s economic upheaval as it did the panic of 1893,” England wrote.
A rancher from Winfield, Kan., Fred C. Clarke, was appointed the general operating receiver of the 101 Ranch. His original intentions included restoring the ranch to its former glory. Instead, Clarke decided to break up the land, leasing to individual farmers and liquidate all other assets in a public auction.
Read the July issue to learn more!