The Real Wild West The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West

Michael Wallis

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

672 Pages



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Founded in Oklahoma in 1893, the 101 Ranch created one of the most exciting and influential traveling rodeo shows ever to tour the country. Featuring countless cowboys and cowgirls, including such Western legends as Buffalo Bill, Geronimo, Will Rogers, and Bill Picket, it was only a matter of time before the 101 Ranch caught the glittering eye of Hollywood.

From the legendary cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail to the origins of the mass entertainment industry, Michael Wallis masterfully reveals the enthralling history of not only the 101 Ranch, but also the last days of the American Frontier.


Praise for The Real Wild West

"Wallis is the first writer to tie together the 101 Ranch's many stories."—The New York Times Book Review

"After reading Wallis's lively history, even readers who had never heard of the 101 Ranch will feel as if they've known of it all their lives. At its height, George W. Miller's 101 Ranch, so named in 1893, covered 110,000 acres in what is now Oklahoma. It was not only a ranching empire but also a western legend. In fact, as Wallis tells it, the 101 played a critical role in creating the West as it came to exist in the American popular imagination. The 101 staged elaborate Wild West shows and was largely responsible for Hollywood's infatuation with the West (which in turn was responsible for the country's infatuation). Will Rogers, Tom Mix, and the famous African-American cowboy Bill Pickett performed in the 101's shows, and the ranch itself was a favorite filming location for many early Hollywood westerns. Readers will quickly turn the pages, as Wallis portrays larger-than-life characters such as Lucille Mulhall, billed as the 'original cowgirl,' of whom Wallis writes: 'Weighing less than a pair of fancy Mexican saddles, Lucille not only threw steers and busted broncs but also stalked prairie wolves, branded cattle, and roped as many as eight running range horses at once. She was an absolute showstopper.' Miller's sons kept the 101 alive until the Depression, after which the ranch was divided into small farms. Full of amazing stories—virtually a who's who of popular Western culture—Wallis's book tells a tale of people in whom genuine accomplishment and show-biz promotion fused in a marriage as quintessentially American as the idea of the Wild West itself."—Publishers Weekly

"If ever there was a miniseries waiting to be made, this is it."—Entertainment Weekly

"It's hard to imagine a better fit between subject and author than Michael Wallis and the 101 Ranch. The book is a very good read."—Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove

"There is no other writer who could have recreated the fun and games and drama of this extraordinary saga better than Michael Wallis. Every character and episode spring and hump and vibrate from page to pagem happening to happening."—Jim Lehrer

"For decades the story of the 101 Ranch and the Miller Family has delighted young and old alike . . . Wallis's book will serve as an outstanding and entertaining guide to an institution that has played a significant role in the history of our great country."—Gene Autry

"After fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, George Washington Miller left his native Kentucky and, like many other Southerners, set out West. Building a new fortune by bringing up herds of cattle from Texas, he and his sons eventually established the 101 Ranch—one of the biggest, most famous, and longest-lived of the old West—near the present Ponca City, Oklahoma. The Miller brothers were early pioneers in the rodeo business; Bill Pickett, the famous black cowboy who created the sport of steer wrestling, rode and performed for the 101, which ran a renowned Wild West show for many years that included nearby Ponca and Otoe Indians. (During oil boom times, it was charged that the Millers obtained oil leases from Indians in unscrupulous ways.) The Millers also provided many riders and stock for early Western movies. Wallis has written a lively account of this fascinating family that in many ways exemplified the best and worst of the Old West and helped translate it into popular mythology. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"A wild and woolly history of a cowpoke mecca. Missouri-born writer Wallis has spent the better part of his prolific career explaining Oklahoma to the rest of the world. With [this book] he turns his attention to the big chunk of the state that a famed ranch took in for several decades: the 101, owned by the Miller Brothers dynasty, a 110,000-acre spread that produced cattle, grain, and western myth in roughly equal portions. The western myth element, as Wallis ably shows, came from the Miller Brothers' well-tuned sense of self-promotion: onto their ranch came such characters as Geronimo, Will Rogers, Buffalo Bill, and Tom Mix, the last a Hollywood cowboy who worked on the ranch for a short time. (Another Hollywood cowboy, John Wayne, learned 'how to ride and how to walk with a cowboy's rolling gait' under the tutelage of a 101 alumnus, [the pioneering Hollywood stuntman] Yakima Canutt.) With an eye for the Big Picture and a sweeping style, Wallis traces the fortunes of the ranch from a political and economic powerhouse to its eventual decline some decades ago. Along the way, he turns up some nicely pointed commentary that has not been often used before, such as historian Emerson Hough's remark that 'the chief figure of the American West, the figure of the ages, is not the long-haired, fringed-legged man riding a rawboned pony, but the gaunt and sad-faced woman sitting on the front seat of the wagon, following her lord where he might lead.' Wallis gives those sad-faced women room to speak in his book, but as might be expected, the rootin'-tootin' cowpokes speak louder, blustering from roundup to feud to the occasional gunfight. This is western history told with twang and flair, and fans of Lonesome Dove and Louis L'Amour should eat it up."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Michael Wallis

  • Michael Wallis is the award-winning author of Route 66: The Mother Road and several other books. He is also the co-author of Mankiller: A Chief and Her People. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Michael Wallis
    Michael Wallis