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Hollywood and rodeo cowboys got their start in wild west shows that became popular around 1900. Three of the more popular wild west shows originated in Oklahoma from the Mulhall Ranch, the Pawnee Bill Ranch and the Miller 101 Ranch.
Perhaps the most popular of all the wild west shows originated on the miller Brothers 101 Ranch near Ponca City.
The 101 Ranch was a sprawling 110,00 acres of leased Indian lands that spread across four counties. It was founded in 1879 by Col. George W. Miller, a Confederate veteran.
When col. Miller died in 1903 the ranch was taken over by his three sons--Joe, Zack and George.
In 1905, Joe started the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, an expansion of the yearly rodeos that featured roping, riding, Indian dancers, bull-dogging and shooting. From 1905, to 1939 the 101 Ranch Wild West Show thrilled audiences all over the world.
Bill Pickett was one of the most famous performers in the 101 Ranch Wild West Shows. He was the inventor of bull-dogging, a rodeo event known today as steer wrestling. He joined the 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1907, and toured with the show throughout the world until 1914.
Bill Pickett also performed in a number of motion pictures and is credited with being the first black cowboy star. Richard E. Norman Studios, an all-black film production company, featured Pickett in Crimson Skull (1921) and The Bull-Dogger (1922), both filed in Oklahoma.
Bill Pickett died on April 2, 1932. He was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1972, and in 1989, was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. His legacy lives on in the annual Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
Iron Tail is notable in American history for his distinctive profile on the Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel of 1913 to 1938.
Books about the 191 Ranch in the UCO Archives:
The Real Wild West: the 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West by Michael Wallis;
the 101 Ranch by Ellsworth Collings.
The Fabulous Mulhalls
Zach Mullhall's ranch near Guthrie covered 80,000 acres in Oklahoma Territory.
Zach started a wild west show starring his daughter Lucille, the world's "first cowgirl" who became a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt and Will Rogers. Lucille appeared in the Mulhall's Wild West performances along with her siblings Mildred, Georgia, and Charlie.
Will Rogers started his show career on the Mulhall ranch as did Tom Mix.
Lucille was among the first women to compete in roping and riding events against men. She starred in Mulhall's Wild West show, the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West show, and in vaudeville.
"Miss Mulhall, Belle of Oklahoma, Lariat Expert" New York Times, April 9, 1905.
Lucille Mulhall's popularity was due to her skill with her rope, unusual balance on her horse, and her diminutive sie and ladylike demeanor. Most important, she was authentic, coming from a genuine ranch background. She was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1975 and National cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1977.
Books in the UCO Library featuring Lucille Mulhall:
Women of the Wild West by Dee Brown
The Original cowgirl: the wild adventures of Lucille Mulhall by Heather Lang
Gordon W. Lillie (known as Pawnee Bill) was the earliest of the Oklahoman Wild West showmen.
Gordon Lillie first became acquainted with the Pawnee Indians in 1875 in Kansas, during their removal to Pawnee, Oklahoma.
By the time he was nineteen, Gordon Lillie was working in the Pawnee Indian Agency in Indian Territory as a teacher and interpreter. in 1883 he was recruited to help coordinate the performance of the Pawnee troupe in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.
While traveling with the Wild West Show in Philadelphia, Gordon met May Manning. They were married, after a courtship of two years, on August 31, 1886.
In 1888, the Lilies formed their own wild west show and began touring the country.
The show featured the equestrienne and sharpshooting skills of Pawnee Bill's wife, May Lillie.
Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show was not initially a success, but in 1888, Gordon Lillie became one of the leaders of the Oklahoma Boomer movement, and his involvement in the opening of the Unassigned Lands brought him into the national spotlight.
He established a successful wild est show called "Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West" which traveled the United States and Europe.
By 1891, Pawnee Bill was being featured in "dime novels" like those in the Wide Awake Library.
In 1902, Pawnee Bill published his own book, "Pawnee Bill's True History of the Great West Thirty Years among the Pawnee Indians" in which he presented himself as a friend of the the Indians, an adventurer, a rancher, and a proud Oklahoman.
Books about Pawnee Bill in the UCO Archives: The Big Break, race and Gender in Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West 1888 by Alyce Vigil; Pawnee Bill: a biography of Major Gordon W. Lillie by Glen Shirley, and Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West: A Photo Documentary of the 1900-1905 Show Tours by Allen L. Farnum
Legacy of the Wild West Shows. Wild West shows generated widespread interest in Western culture that led to the creation of western films, the development of modern rodeos, and an appreciation of the pow-wow tradition of Native Americans, but the most pervasive legacy of the Wild West shows has been a lasting vision of the romance and adventure of the American West.
The University of Central Oklahoma recognizes the university's main campus is located on the traditional lands of the Caddo and Wichita people. Visit the UCO Land Acknowledgement website to learn more.