101 Ranch founder George Miller always encouraged his three sons to think big, and in 1905 Joe, George and Zack Miller took his advice to heart. The three boys gave the already highly diversified 101 Ranch a new direction when they conceived the idea of going into show business, staging what they called “Oklahoma Gala Day.”
By this time, the ranch, first founded on leased property in Indian Territory in 1879, was located on thousands of acres that sprawled across both sides of the Salt Fork River south of Ponca City. In 1904 the brothers had visited the St. Louis World’s Fair where they witnessed large crowds taking in spectacular displays of Western showmanship. They also accompanied a traveling Wild West Show to New York in early 1905, and those two trips gave rise to plans for their own spectacle at the 101 Ranch. It would showcase the skills of their cowboys and ranch employees, as well as draw on Oklahoma’s large Native American population. Thanks to the consent of the U.S. Army, their plan included the appearance of captive Apache leader Geronimo, who was brought to the ranch from Ft. Sill to shoot a buffalo from an early-day steam-driven car called a “Locomobile.”
To assure the show’s success, Joe Miller found a way to cast the national spotlight on the new enterprise. He began publishing the ranch’s own newspaper, the Bliss Breeze, in the nearby town of Bliss. The scheme earned him an automatic membership in the “National Editorial Association,” enabling him to forge an alliance with several newspaper writers and persuade them to hold their 1905 national convention in the Oklahoma Territorial Capital of Guthrie. A side-trip included a visit to the 101 Ranch, where the brothers played host to newspapermen and the public, entertaining them with a rodeo and Wild West Show that featured emerging stars of future movie and rodeo fame.
When the dust settled that day in June 1905, the reported 65,000 people witnessing the first “101 Wild West Show” got their money’s worth and so did the Millers. The dozens of national newspaper editors present had more than enough material to write stories that excited audiences all over the country, propelling the 101 Ranch into the world of big-time show business.
Future movie star Tom Mix was one of the featured performers in the Miller’s first show. The former Guthrie bartender knew horses and riding from his boyhood days in Pennsylvania and had earlier been invited to work at the 101 Ranch. His initial reviews as a working cowhand were less than flattering as some Miller cowpunchers claimed they had to teach him to properly saddle a cow pony. One even observed he was “really not much of a cowboy,” because “he could get lost in an eight-acre pasture.” He said it was Mix’s job to “hang around the ranch and look pretty,” and there was no doubt Mix’s penchant for showmanship was the primary reason for his hiring. As the Millers prepared for their first show, Mix and other would-be performers traveled to New York with the already-established Wild West Show of Oklahoma rancher Zack Mulhall who billed Mix as “Tom Mixco, the “Mexican horse runner.” The odd description may have taught Mix and, later, his publicist, how easily he could reinvent his life story, something he did many times over during his career to the consternation of his biographers who still have trouble separating fact from fiction.
The handsome, dashing young cowboy sporting his trademark white hat excelled as a horseman and pistol shot in several subsequent Miller shows and eventually was offered a role in the 1910 Hollywood silent film, Ranch Life in the Great Southwest. It started a long and successful movie career that forever featured him as a “rough and ready cowboy.” Mix made a reported 336 films between 1910 and 1935 and historically is viewed as Hollywood’s first Western megastar, credited with helping define that genre for all cowboy actors who followed.
The first “101 Wild West Show” also starred Lucille Mulhall, whose family had moved to Oklahoma Territory from St. Louis in 1890. The Mulhalls quickly adapted to ranch life and Lucille’s father Zack began staging roping and riding contests that featured his own children. By age ten, Lucille was considered a top cowhand. Even though her mother tried to raise a “proper lady” by sending her to boarding school in St. Louis, her father gave in to her pleas to come home and enrolled her at a private school in nearby Guthrie so she could visit the ranch on weekends.
In 1899, “Colonel” Mulhall, as he was known by honorary title, started his own traveling troupe, dubbed the “Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers.” Naturally, the show starred daughter Lucille who rode her trained horse, “Governor,” dubbed “The Wonder Horse” by her adoring public. Later that year, the family was invited to play the county fair in their hometown of St. Louis, and their show eventually signed a young, mixed-blood Cherokee trick roper named William Penn Adair Rogers, later better-known as Will Rogers. It was Rogers who described Lucille Mulhall asthe “world’s first cowgirl and greatest rider of all time.” Lucille went on to fame as a world champion roper and the only woman to rope steers competitively with men.
Another cowboy-showman in the first 101 Ranch show was the incomparable Bill Pickett. The second of thirteen children born to former slaves Thomas and Mary Pickett, Bill attended school in his home state of Texas until the fifth grade, then went to work as a ranch hand to help put food on the family table.
Early on, the young cowboy observed how local ranchers sometimes used a special breed of bulldog to hold cattle down by biting their upper lip until they could be roped for branding. Pickett tried the technique on young calves by riding alongside the animal, dropping from the saddle and grabbing their neck. He then twisted the calf’s head upward and bit it on the lip, forcing the animal to the ground. As he grew to manhood, the small but well-muscled Pickett perfected this technique on the beef cows and longhorn steers that roamed the brush country of Texas. When he was eighteen, he performed in county fairs, demonstrating his “steer wrestling” method, which he called “bulldogging.” Bill and his brothers then formed the “Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association.” By the 1890s, he had performed his “bulldogging” specialty throughout most of Texas, leading to bookings at rodeos and shows across the Southwest.
Aware that blacks were automatically barred from entering most rodeo contests, Pickett’s agent focused on Bill’s mixed-Indian blood, promoting him as the “Dusky Demon.” After his appearance at the famed “Cheyenne Frontier Days” in 1904, the Miller Brothers signed him for their 1905 ranch extravaganza. On show day, spectators watched in awe as Pickett entered the arena and coaxed his horse into a full gallop behind a running steer. Riding alongside, he slid from the saddle, grabbed a horn in each hand, dug in his boot heels, twisted the head up, and gnashed his teeth on the steer’s lip, forcing it to fall on its side. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and “steer wrestling,” or “bulldogging,” soon became recognized as an official rodeo event. In the years since, Pickett’s technique has been modified to eliminate the actual biting of the steer’s lip, but it remains one of the seven official rodeo competition events.
In 1907, Pickett became a full-time 101 Ranch employee and signed a permanent contract with the Miller show. When not on tour, Pickett fell into the familiar routine of a regular ranch hand. When he died in 1932, Pickett’s funeral was said to be one of the largest ever held in Oklahoma. Zack Miller paid the ultimate tribute by calling him “the greatest sweat-and-dirt cowhand that ever lived.” Pickett was buried on a hill not far from the 101 Ranch house where his cowboy comrades placed a marker. In 1971 the legendary Bill Pickett was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum, and in 1989 he was named to the Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame.
That first 101 Wild West Show on thirty acres of pasture near the Salt Fark River led to several years of national and world tours and launched the careers of many famous rodeo and motion picture stars. The history of the show and the 101 Ranch will be celebrated in Blackwell, Oklahoma, Friday and Saturday March 27 and 28, 2020, at the Kay County Fairgrounds Event Center. Among many show and ranch artifacts will be Bill Pickett’s chaps, Lucille Mulhall’s riding skirt and mementos from Tom Mix’s enduring career. Other Western memorabilia for display and on sale include original cowboy gear, firearms, assorted antiques, rare photos and ephemera.
The show, presented by the 101 Ranch Collectors’ Association, is open to the public Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more great stories, check out the March 2020 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.
Let’s Take A Trip – Part 1
After almost two years of Covid, testing, vaccinations, boosters, illness and death, wearing masks, staying indoors and away from others, severe thunderstorms, tornados, and now war in Europe, it’s time to get out and away from it all for at least a day.
Let’s get on I35 North of Ardmore and begin our trip in the Arbuckle Mountains. Stop at every scenic turnout to enjoy the awe-inspiring views of the trees, valleys, and rocks that according to archeologists formed during an earthquake eons ago.
Reached by a narrow twisty highway, a sight comparable to a miniature Niagara Falls is soon revealed. Cascading 77 feet, Turner Falls is majestic. Formed by Honey Creek, it empties into a beautiful blue lake.
Although it may be tempting, climbing to the area behind the falls and sliding down the falls is prohibited by law because more than one person has drowned attempting lt.
Be sure to visit Collins Castle, built in the early 30`s of native materials as a summer home for Dr. Elizabeth Collins, a professor at Oklahoma University. It was once headquarters for the Bar C Ranch.
The entire park covers 1,500 acres and includes swimming areas, camping areas, cabins, hiking trails, caves, a water slide, trout fishing, and Look Out Point, featuring telescopes allowing you to view the entire park.
A zip line, diving, scubas, and floating on inner tubes entertains many visitors.
Children play areas, a trading post and majestic scenery attract more than 250,000 visitors each year.
Come for a day or a week and enjoy all the park has to offer.
A Versatile Venue
Fields that once were prolific with wheat have now found a new purpose at P Bar Farms in Hydro, Okla. Now, colorful sunflowers abound, attracting visitors from all across the state who come for photo opportunities. In another 10-acre section, specialty corn is grown specifically to be mowed to a specific pattern, transforming into a maze that sees upwards of 15,000[LM1] visitors annually.
It’s not that Loren and Kim Liebscher couldn’t make a traditional farm work; it’s more that they were looking for something fun to do for a few years.
P Bar Farms is named for Travis Payne, Kim’s father. “We used to farm traditionally here. We were farming and her dad got sick. I kind of lost my love to farm, so I began praying that God would give me something to put the fun back into farming,” Loren shared.
It was just two weeks later that God delivered a sign that would change the course for P Bar Farm. “I read in a Progressive Farmer magazine about a guy doing a corn maze in Nashville, Tenn. We found out that the first Annual Corn Maze Convention was only two or three weeks after that,” he said. “So, we drove to Salt Lake City for the first convention, and that’s how we got started.”
Loren and Kim admit they knew nothing about corn mazes, but they learned plenty during the convention. “The Convention was actually part of a franchise company that was looking to add farms. We joined, and for the fee they gave us all the secrets and designs for the maze and everything,” Loren explained.
After a few years, the Liebschers opted out of the franchise. “We felt like we knew what we were doing by then,” Kim said.
The first P Bar Farms corn maze was grown and cut in 2001, but then 9/11 happened. The uncertainty that plagued the country made its way to Hydro, and it wasn’t a given that the corn maze adventure would even get out of the gate. “We thought that was going to be the end. We had hoped that if we got 1,000 people to come during that first season, at $5 a person, we’d be doing well. A $5,000 addition to your income is pretty good for a farmer,” Loren said. “That first year we wound up having close to 5,000, even with 9/11. We had one customer explain it to us. She said, ‘I’ve never felt so safe having my kids so lost, but it’s a family farming operation, and nothing’s going to happen here on the farm. It has that good feeling where people feel safe and comfortable.”
Kim added, “We just wanted to have something fun that was light-hearted. We didn’t anticipate being busy – we were just having fun. We thought we could do it, but if not, we don’t have anything to lose.”
With the success of the first year, the Liebschers knew they would do the corn maze again. They built a barn and added a new concession stand. They also interviewed some tough critics; teachers that came out to the farm. “We had a retired schoolteacher that worked for us, and she said if you want to get the truth to interview teachers. So, we created a survey that all the teachers filled out, and everything that came back said it was wonderful, a great concept, and a great idea,” Loren said. “But, they added they weren’t coming back until we got indoor bathrooms. That was the number one request from the teachers, so we definitely made that change.”
As the interest in the corn maze grew, P Bar Farms continued to expand. First a petting zoo was added, and then a new barn. With more requests for parties, more buildings went up. The Liebschers wanted the property to resemble an old family farm, so they purchased an old home in Hinton, Okla., and moved it in. “We wanted to use it as a bed and breakfast. That never really worked out, but we rented it for a while. Now it’s regularly booked as an Airbnb. People like to get away and get out in the country,” Kim shared.
There have been very few noticeable failures in the past two decades. The only other memorable one was a venture with a greenhouse. “With the wind in Oklahoma, that didn’t work for us. We had put asphalt in the bottom of our greenhouse, so we used that and put in a new party barn,” Loren said.
Soon a pumpkin patch was added to compliment the maze and the rest of the farm. “We’ve always had a pumpkin patch. The problem is pumpkins can be really hard to grow if you don’t rotate them, so we don’t do that real well. Our first year we had more than we could sell, but after that we really were going through them. Now we’re going through 15-20,000 pumpkins a year, and we can’t grow that many, so we just buy them,” Loren added.
It was only a few years ago that the Liebschers added a sunflower patch to the mix, taking up a few more acres covered by the pivot. “The first year they were fun and pretty, but we didn’t have a lot of visitors. This year has been different, and I think our daughter is probably the reason for that success. She has a marketing degree and it’s been unbelievable,” Kim said. “Oklahoma Tourism did a post about a ‘mystical sunflower patch.’ Now people are here all the time while they’re blooming to take photos.”
The sunflower patch is just a few acres, but the Liebschers feel it’s the perfect size. “We have found that the smaller the patch, the better people take care of it,” he said. “Plus, sunflowers are tricky. They either make it or they don’t, but this has been a very good year for them.
Read more in the October issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.
The Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society’s Oral History Collection
Listen not only to hear, but also to see and to act.
Listen to the words of the pioneers of Conservation and envision what they have seen and what they hoped for, and then practice it today and tomorrow on Oklahoma’s farms and ranches and within its growing urban areas.
That’s getting down to the subsoil or rather the essence of the Oklahoma Conservation Heritage Oral History Collection.
Just over two years ago the Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society announced the launch of this priceless conservation collection of passion, knowledge and effort.
The Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society partnered with the Oklahoma State University Library to record and archive interviews with individuals who have made contributions to conservation in Oklahoma. Audio, video, and transcripts of the interviews are posted digitally in the new Conservation Heritage Section of the OSU Library’s oral history collections. Interviews are available to researchers and the general public.
Oklahoma holds a unique place within the American conservation movement as the epicenter of the worst man-made ecological disaster in history, the Dustbowl. Out of the 1930s conservation districts were created by local farmers and ranchers who recognized the need to implement voluntary conservation practices on private working lands. Over the course of the last 80-plus years, Oklahoma has been a leader in the adoption of practices that benefit the health of our soils and water while building resiliency on our farms and ranches.
The Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society was formed in partnership with the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Chapter of the Soil and Waters Conservation Society and the RC&D Association. The Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society believes these interviews will preserve the storied and proud history of conservation in Oklahoma. This collection is a celebration of individuals and programs that have contributed to making Oklahoma known across the country as a leader in conservation.
Let us give you a couple of examples – Creede Speake, Jr., and Hal Clark – out of the many outstanding interviews you’ll hear in this collection.
Speake, born in Ardmore, Okla., in 1924 and a long-serving board member of the Caddo Watershed Association and of the Arbuckle Conservation District in Oklahoma, recalls his youth and his early interest in learning to be a pilot. He discusses some of his experiences serving during WWII and the Korean War and explains choices he made regarding his career as a rancher. Speake also talks about his involvement with conservation issues in his region and in the state and in particular his role in obtaining easements for upstream flood control structures.
A ways into the interview, Speake discusses managing grasslands. He said, “Native grass in this country is the most valuable thing you can have. You don’t have much at all, just management. Keep the weeds off of it, don’t have to fertilize it, but the four major native grasses we have here, they’re good. You get better gain and everything off of it. I wish everything I had was native grass. We’ve got a lot of Bermuda and other kinds of grass we have to fertilize.”
Clark, a graduate of Texas Tech University with a degree in Animal Science and Range Management, recalls his youth in the Panhandle of Oklahoma and Texas, relocating a couple times due to his father’s work, and his earliest memory of the impact of a flood. He discusses his early awareness of the issue of erosion and explains some conservation practices he has used to combat it. He also shares some of his experiences as a longtime member of the Cimarron County Conservation District (Oklahoma’s farthest western county) and his time as a member of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
Clark said, “We have a drier climate in Cimarron County, so it affects us in a lot of ways. The conservation challenges we have—Jimmy Emmons at (Dewey) County can grow a rotational crop that we can’t at Cimarron County because we don’t have the moisture. I wish we had rotation crops, something that could be plowed up (to improve the soil). I planted—on my farm, I planted Austrian winter peas a couple of times. Like that, it’s a legume. Cattle did pretty well on it, and I plowed it under to help the texture of the soil, because that’s the big issue now, people understanding what’s really underground—what’s in the soil that makes up what we’re trying to utilize to grow our crops or grass, so that’s a really important issue right now.”
Trey Lam has farmed on his family’s operation near Pauls Valley, Okla., for more than three decades and has served as the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission for more than five years. He has extensive knowledge of soil health, and he will quickly say that the bulk of it came from those two sources. He is quick to say that to lead in conservation you need to listen to soil health mentors and to the land itself.
“Please take the time to listen to these great Oklahomans tell their story of bringing our state back from an environmental disaster,” Lam said. “What a fantastic project teaching history in the first person. Conservationists want to leave the land better for the next generation. Now that generation can learn how these pioneers did it. We owe a huge thank you to the Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society.”
Sarah Blaney is Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
“Oklahoma’s conservation history is not just ours, but that of the entire nation,” Blaney said. “Many of the practices that have been adopted in soil and water conservation started right here in Oklahoma. It is wonderful that for generations to come, people will be able to learn from these conservationists. The Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society should be commended for doing an outstanding job preserving this important piece of rural, agriculture history.”
Ben Pollard is President of the Oklahoma Conservation Historical Society.
“We are most appreciative of the efforts of the Oral History Research Program at the OSU Library for working with us to create this collection,” Pollard said. “We have a proud conservation history in
To listen to the 23 completed oral histories, please visit: https://library.okstate.edu/oralhistory/digital/ or okconservation.org/history.
Read more in the July issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.
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