Saturday, January 30, 2016

HGB Podcast, Ep. 101 - Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch

Moment in Oddity - Elmer McCurdy Stuffed

Elmer McCurdy was a bandit. He made a huge mistake in his criminal career when he decided that his next robbery would be of a passenger train in 1911. For some reason, he thought the passenger train was going to be loaded with thousands of dollars. He forced the train to stop and boarded the train. Despite his efforts, he only made off with $46. Lawmen went after him and finally caught him. They shot him dead. McCurdy's body was taken to the local undertaker and he was embalmed with an arsenic preparation. Time passed and no one came to claim McCurdy's body, so the undertaker sold the body to a traveling sideshow to serve as an exhibit. Over the course of 60 years, McCury's body traded hands from sideshows to haunted houses to wax museums. When that kind of time passes and the number of previous owners grows, the fact that the prop is actually the embalmed corpse of a man becomes forgotten. McCurdy finally ended up at an amusement park funhouse. The TV show "Six Million Dollar Man" decided to use the funhouse as a filming location in 1976. People were fooling around and poor Elmer McCurdy's finger broke off and everyone quickly realized that this stuffed prop was actually the body of a human. The cops were called and the Los Angeles Coroner was able to figure out that the body belonged to McCurdy. He was then buried at Boot Hill Cemetery in Dodge City, 66 years after he was shot to death. An embalmed human corpse being mistaken as a stuffed prop, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Ham the Chimp Goes to Space

On this day, January 31st, in 1961, Ham the Chimp was launched into space from the Cape Canaveral space center. During the Soviet/US Space Race, it was decided that it would be best to test the effects of space travel on animals before using humans. An intelligent animal would be needed. One that could be trained to push buttons. The American test facility had 40 chimpanzees available and from that roster, eight were chosen to go through rigorous training. Once the training was done, there was no doubt that Ham was the best candidate. His journey to space was a 17 minute long suborbital flight in which he reached a speed of 5,857 mph, reached the altitude of 157 miles above the Earth and Ham experienced six minutes of weightlessness. Blue lights were used to indicate to Ham when he needed to push certain buttons and he performed perfectly. Everything went fine until Ham was returning to Earth. His return capsule suffered loss of atmosphere. If not for his special space suit, he would have died. Because of this success, the first man was launched into space on May 5, 1961. That man was Alan Shepard. Ham the Chimp became an instant celebrity after his successful space mission. He appeared in several TV shows and in documentary films. He retired to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. where he lived for 17 years until his death on January 19, 1983.

Miller Brothers 101 Ranch (Research Assistant April Rogers-Krick)


The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch was a 110,000 acre cattle ranch in the Indian territory of Oklahoma before statehood.  It is located near Ponca (Pong kuh) City in the Northern part of Oklahoma.  Colonel George W. Miller was a larger than life man who founded the Fabulous 101 Ranch in 1893.  The 101 Ranch was the birthplace of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and one of the early focal points of the oil rush in northeastern Oklahoma.  It was the largest diversified farm and ranch in America in its day and is now a National Historic Landmark. Today, very little is left of the ranch, but it would seem that several spirits still call the property home. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the 101 Ranch.

On September 16, 1893, Col. George W Miller along with his wife Molly, three sons Joseph, Zack, and George Jr. and daughter Alma, staked their claim in the Cherokee Strip. Miller had been born in Lincoln County Kentucky in 1842. He was a veteran of the Confederate Army. After the Civil War ended, the Colonel set his sites on California, but he never got there. He stopped in Bliss, Oklahoma where he would make his claim. This claim was in the rich bottom land of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, some six miles southwest of what is modern day Ponca City, Oklahoma.  Here Col. Miller relocated his growing cattle operation.  This would be his third ranch effort within the northern area of Indian Territory.
 
In the spring of 1895, Col. Miller began to plow 2000 acres of virgin prairie. His plan was to plant the land in order to winter Texas cattle.  By that fall several thousand additional acres of wheat was sown and produced 35 bushels an acre.  Seeking to expand his cattle and agricultural interest following the opening of the Cherokee Strip by land run, he and his sons began buying additional property along with lease agreements from the Ponca Indian Tribe. The 101 Ranch expanded to some 75,000 acres of pasture and farm land.  With hard work and good fortune, the Ranch grew to an estimated 110,000 acres. 

In January 1903, Col. Miller passed away from complications of pneumonia and the ranch was taken over by his three sons, Joe, George Jr., and Zack. Molly and Joe took the Colonel back home to Kentucky to be buried. Upon returning home, the family continued with plans to build a new home. The new house, which was a large white frame house characteristic of prosperous families of the day, was finished by Christmas of 1903. It became known as the White House.

After taking over the daily business and running of the 101 Ranch, the Miller brothers built a herd of 25,000 longhorn and developed experimental and highly successful agriculture applications. Led by Joe Miller, the brothers additionally developed large herds of Holstein, Shorthorn, and Hereford dairy cattle along with Duroc-Jersey hogs. Their swine production alone resulted in their ability to ship 10,000 hogs a year to market.  They also planted large orchards.

In 1905, the National Editorial Association of St. Louis made plans to hold its annual newspaper editors convention in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Joe Miller scheduled an entertainment gala for the influential visitors at the 101 Ranch. Drawing inspiration from a quickly passing period of America's Old West, the Miller brothers put on an extravaganza they promoted as a “Round-up”. Souvenir programs offered during the event additionally billed the Oklahoma Gala as a Cowboy Reunion, Indian Celebration, Buffalo Chase and Historical Exhibition. At least 200 local cowboys, ranch hands, and Indians took part in the show and arrangements were made to have imprisoned frontier warrior Geronimo brought to the ranch under military guard from Fort Sill.  With assistance, the aging warrior killed a buffalo in the arena from a motorcar, signed autographs and sold souvenirs.  The Millers also advertised in area newspapers they would offer a $1000 prize to anyone who would submit to being scalped by Geronimo!


The event took place on June 11, 1905 and more than 65,000 people were in attendance.  Overflow crowds easily filled a huge grandstand built for the event.  Performing ranch-honed skills, cowboys and cowgirls paraded about the huge grandstand that was located on the south side of the Salt Fork River. Vividly costumed Ponca, Otoe, Kaw, Missouri, Tonkawa, Pawnee, and Osage Indians took part along with
marching bands, soldiers and ,of course, Geronimo.  Along with Geronimo’s mock buffalo hunt there was trick riding, bucking horses and a performance by the Bulldogger from Texas, Bill Pickett. Pickett was of African-American and Cherokee descent and was the son of a former slave. Pickett invented the technique known as bulldogging. This involves grabbing cattle by their horns and wrestling them to the ground. It can be quite dangerous. Pickett was famous for this technique and his performance in numerous wild west shows. And he eventually even acted in movies. He died in 1932 when a bronco kicked him in the head. The gala ended that evening with an unannounced frontier style wagon train attack by Indian performers.

This incredible performance garnered national attention for the 101 Ranch and brought them into the venue of western entertainment.  The show was so successful, Joe Miller and his brothers formed the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and it began to tour the United States in 1907. Joe was a highly skilled equestrian. By 1914, the 101 Ranch Wild West Show began touring Internationally.  They performed in England, the European continent and South America. Several of the performers who joined the brothers in the show were Bill Pickett, Lillian Smith, who was a trick shooter and rival to Annie Oakley, Bee Ho Gray, who was trick roper and highly skilled with the Australian black snake whip, Tom Mix, who was Hollywood's first mega western star and starred mainly in silent films, Mexican Joe, who was an expert rider and roper and for whom Jim Reeves' song "Mexican Joe" was written, and the master wild west showman himself, Buffalo Bill Cody. During WWI, the 101 Ranch Wild West Show took a hiatus from 1916 to 1924.  In 1925, the Miller Brothers entertained the King and Queen of England along with an estimated 700,000 spectators during thirty-three performances.


The 101 Ranch itself was much more than just cattle and crops.  It was a community of industry, unseen by anyone in Indian Territory before this time.  In 1908, a lawyer and oilman from Pennsylvania by the name of Earnest Whitworth Marland showed up at the 101 Ranch looking for oil. Marland would eventually become a governor of Oklahoma. Marland walked and studied the ranch property and the surrounding vicinity that included outcroppings of rocks and geologic formations and rolling prairie.  At that time, the 101 Ranch included about one hundred thousand acres.  Only about ten thousand of the acres were owned outright by the Miller Brothers, the remainder of the lands were held under lease from the Ponca Indians. 

Mr. Marland was convinced that the Ponca Indian cemetery was a distinct oil formation.  He told George Miller he would agree to drill a test well if he would give him a lease on the 101 Ranch lands and help him obtain the necessary leases from the Ponca Indians. It took a large amount of time to convince the tribe members to give them a lease on the cemetery and on the surrounding land. And we're actually shocked they did with how the Native Americans revered their dead and burial lands. In February 1909, the first location was staked.  The lease included 10,000 acres on the 101 Ranch and 4,800 acres from the Ponca Indians.  The lease on the cemetery was sold to George Miller provided he would not drill within the area where they were burying their dead.  A half interest was given to Marland on condition he would do the drilling. 

The first well drilled near the headquarters of the 101 Ranch was a non producer.  About five miles from the first, the second well was drilled.  At a depth of five hundred feet, an extraordinarily large flow of gas was struck in the spring of 1910.  An old Ponca Indian named, Running-After-Arrows, witnessed the bringing in of the first gas well on the 101 Ranch.  He had never seen or heard such a thing before.  George Miller, who was present, explained to him in the Ponca language what a gas well was, but Running- after-Arrows could not understand the roaring gas coming from the interior of the earth.  He considered it to be an evil omen and a sign of coming destruction.  “Uh-h, no good, no good,” he grunted “Beautiful country all die now. Cattle die. Ponies dies. No good, no good. Beautiful country soon all gone.”  No one knew that the Indian’s prophecy would soon come true.  The plains became spotted with oil derricks and herds of cattle gradually gave way to huge tank farms.

The production of raw materials was still very important to the 101 Ranch and they continued to market them. The ranch produced virtually every kind of raw product- wheat and corn, cattle and horses, hogs and chickens, alfalfa and kafir, fruit and vegetables, buffalo and elephants, camels and longhorns, ostriches and peacocks, work mules and cow ponies, the bizarre and the common. Yes, you heard that right, this ranch had elephants, peacocks and ostriches. *Ever eaten ostrich? It's not like chicken. It's a red meat and very delicious!* The ranch had its own meat packing plant where they employed all the modern processes of slaughtering, packing, and distributing meat products.  It had a daily capacity to process a hundred hogs and fifty cattle.  It provided huge cold storage and cooling rooms for the proper handling of meats. The surplus hogs and cattle were slaughtered in the plant and the sugar-cured hams and home cured meats were sold in large quantities.  The meat products were sold and delivered by refrigerated trucks within a one hundred mile radius of the ranch. 

Soon after starting the packing plant, a large amount of raw hides accumulated.  The price offered for them by the tanners seemed to be extremely low compared with the price of finished hides, so the Miller Brothers built a large tannery close to the packing house.  Soon after the tannery was built, a large cyclone swept it away, leaving only the foundation.  A second tannery was built and operated for only a short time when it too was destroyed, this time by fire. A third tannery was built, but the cost of the tanned hides had dropped from fifty cents a pound to three cents a pound. The Miller Brothers, ever resourceful, pivoted and began making harnesses and saddles. 

The 101 Ranch had its own dairy as well.  A modern dairy barn and creamery were built and housed five hundred registered Holstein cows and took care of the dairy products.  In connection with the dairy there was a modern day ice cream plant, cold storage and cooling rooms for the proper handling of the dairy products.  The dairy was capable of taking care of milk from five hundred cows.The milk was made into butter, ice cream and cottage cheese. The dairy products were sold and delivered by refrigerated trucks for miles around the ranch including merchants in the towns of Marland and Ponca City.  The dairy also had a large shipping trade in butter, ice cream, and cheese. 

The Miller brothers were among the first to produce moving pictures.  Performances in roping, trick riding, bronc riding and bulldogging for movies were staged on the 101 Ranch rodeo grounds.  Finding it difficult to feed the hundreds of actors at lunch time while out on location, Will Brooks, a cousin of the Miller Brothers, had the idea to provide a sack lunch for everyone.  The sack lunches consisted of sandwiches, cakes and fruit. Each sack would contain the same kind and amount of food.  At lunch time the actors and crew would line up and march by, each taking a sack.  Water, coffee and milk were available for those who might want a different drink.  All the food was produced on the ranch.

The 101 Ranch operated a general store. It was the mercantile center in northern Oklahoma for a number of years.  Originally started as a supply place for their large number of employees, the Millers eventually expanded until the store became a supply center for fifty miles around.  It was a combined department store, which also carried ranch products of all kinds and Indian Store operating somewhat as an old time trading post. The 101 Ranch Café evolved from the old “ranch chuck house” to a modern day restaurant.  The café was furnished, pleasingly designed and tastefully decorated.  The café chefs prepared delicious meals and every piece of food with the exception of olives, sugar, and coffee was produced on the ranch. A special building was erected and equipped for the cider and canning industry.  Approximately two hundred barrels of cider were manufactured each fall.  All of the cider was pasteurized, thus keeping it sweet and making it possible to market at any time.  Several thousand pounds of apple butter and jelly were manufactured annually as well. 

A modern laundry was operated by the Miller Brothers.  It was equipped with modern machinery and did all the laundry work of the ranch, including that for its employees.  In addition, it served the needs of the surrounding county. The ranch had its own machine, blacksmith, woodwork, and repair shop.  The shop was equipped with all the power machinery and tools needed in these line of work.  Two blacksmiths were kept busy shoeing horses and repairing farm machinery.  In addition to the ranch work, the shop served the needs of the farmers of the surrounding community.

There was an ice plant with a capacity of ten tons daily maintained on the ranch. The plant provided ice for the ranch and its employees as well as the farmers of the community.  Three large cold storage plants were provided for the proper handling of the meats and perishable products of the ranch.  The ranch had its own electric light plant, system of waterworks and general power plant.

One of the most interesting industries was the novelty factory.  All kinds of Indian rugs, beaded belts and clothing, drums, bows and arrows, silver jewelry and much more were manufactured in the factory by Indians employed by the Miller brothers.  A large assortment of souvenir leather goods such as cowboy belts, boys’ chaps and vests were also manufactured and sold. But just as Running-With-Arrows predicted years back, all was soon to come crashing down.  By 1927, The Miller Brothers realized they were slowly losing everything. The 101 Ranch and Wild West Show were plagued with mortgages, crop failures, low prices for stock and bad seasons for the show.  Throughout the 1927 tour, the Wild West Show encountered foul weather, fierce competition, rising expenses, and injuries to personnel and spectators, which often ended in costly litigation.

The afternoon of October 21, 1927, Joe Miller who was only 57 years old, was found dead on the floor of his garage. Beside him was his car, which was idling and the car door was open. A pocket knife and several screws were on the running board. The attending physicians and others called to the scene surmised that Joe had been tinkering with the car engine and had been overcome by carbon-monoxide fumes. It was decided that Joe would want the show to go on.  So with Zack Miller and his nephews running the show, the 101 Ranch Wild West Show launched another six month tour in April 1928. On the home front, George Miller tried to manage the ranch and pay off mounting debts due to crop loses, a severe decline in oil and gas royalties, and ironically, the heavy financial drain of the road show. 

In late January 1929, George spent a week in Texas looking over new oil properties and inspecting a wildcat well being drilled southeast of Big Spring.  He returned to Oklahoma and on the evening of February 1st he met a few cronies at Ponca City’s Arcade Hotel for an evening of cards and conversation.  In the wee hours of the morning of February 2nd, after playing numerous games of pitch and having several rounds of drinks, George left.  During the night, a combination of sleet and snow had begun to fall and city streets were slick and dangerous.  His friends tried to convince him to stay, but always a gambler, he bet his pals that even with the foul weather and bad roads he could be at the ranch in record time.  Fifteen minutes after his big Lincoln roadster roared off into the dark, George Miller who was just 47 years old was killed.  He died instantly at about 2:00AM on Highway 77 southwest of Ponca City. His car apparently had skidded and overturned on an icy curve.  When he was found, his body was pinned beneath a front wheel with his head crushed. 

Faced with numerous problems and on his own now, Zack Miller, who was 50 years old at the time of George’s death, fought on.  Even with the all the financial issues, he managed to produce the Wild West road show for three more years.  By the end of 1930, as creditors closed in on Zack and the 101 Ranch suffered a net loss of more than three hundred thousand dollars, he stubbornly took the show on the road one more time. He tried and failed to sell the show. On March 24, 1932, everything on the ranch save for the White House and its contents went on the auction block. Zack who called the public auction “legal robbery” was arrested and briefly detained for chasing lawyers with his shotgun. After posting bond, he returned home and to his bed, suffering from what doctors diagnosed as a nervous breakdown.  On April 2nd he received more bad news.  Bill Pickett, the faithful bulldogger, had died in Ponca City hospital, two weeks after having been kicked in the head while taming an unbroken chestnut gelding at the 101 Ranch. Pickett was loyal to the Millers and the 101 Ranch to the end, so he was buried near the stone "Monument to White Eagle" that was south of the ranch headquarters.  Others buried on that windswept hill along with Pickett were James E “Curbstone Curby” Smedley, an ox-team trainer for the Miller’s show, Henry Clay, a black cowboy who had taught Will Rogers some rope tricks, Gladys Hamilton, the nine-year-old daughter of one of the ranch's hired hands and Jim Gates, a farm laborer who had been shot to death at a dance.  Pickett’s favorite bulldogging horse, Spradley, was said to have been buried nearby too.

Throughout the years Zack Miller had many ups and downs.  On January 3, 1952, Zack Miller closed his eyes for a final time at the age of 73.  He died in Texas where so many years before his father had swapped hog meat for steers to start the Miller Kingdom.  Zack was brought home to Oklahoma, back to the land he loved. He was laid to rest close to the banks of the Salt Fork, deep in the earth of Cowboy Hill. All these years later, there is hardly any physical trace of the 101 Ranch remaining.  The land was divided up and eventually all traces of the buildings were either lost or delapidated.


In 1987, a mysterious fire destroyed the historic 101 Ranch Store, which for many years had served as the home of Zack Jr and his mother Marguerite who took her own life there with a revolver in 1963. There are numerous stories of haunting activities on the 101 Ranch and some paranormal groups have had their own experiences and caught a few EVPs that are rather scary to listen too. Numerous witnesses say melancholy cowboy melodies and residual phantom voices can be heard around the site. 

A group called The Society of the Haunted has been to the 101 Ranch to investigate several times.  Cathy Nance, their case manager, details a time when they were in the basement of the White House, which was the only building remaining on the property. They received positive EMF meter readings, which could not be debunked by checking electrical connections because there is no working electrical wiring on the ranch now. After a thunderstorm passed, they were able to make EMF contact with what they believed was an entity that haunts the basement of the White House.  It is said that on many occasions this unknown entity has answered a few question. This is a picky spectre though. Ask too many questions or get too pushy and it leaves. Cathy said that after a particularly intense question session, the entity told them to leave audibly and this was heard by all members of the group.  The same group has claimed to hear drum beats coming from down by the river. 

The group Oklahoma Ghost Patrol claims to have had camera trouble everywhere on the property and cemetery hill. The only place where their equipment has worked properly is in the basement of the White House. Another local paranormal investigator claims to have been touched in the basement ruins. Third World Paranormal reported, "Our team had a handful of things happen to them while on the property. We experienced shadow figures, disembodied voices, voices captured on the ghost box, strange noises (bangings coming from the metal closet in the basement area), smells, anomalies in pictures, K2 activity, and being touched. Tommy made the spirit of Zack Miller upset by accidentally calling him Joe. Hildy kept feeling like there was someone on top a building looking at us. One of the quirks always experienced at Cowboy Hill for sensitive people, is when they touch Zack's headstone it feels like a surge of static electricity."

April grew up in Ponca City and before she moved away twenty years ago, she had her own experience at the 101 Ranch ruins.  She's not sure if the experience was paranormal in nature or not. One early evening, as she was driving near the 101 Ranch, she decided to stop and check out the historical site. She could hear what sounded like hooves beating across the prairie. And she could hear what sounded like soft songs on the winds along with the whoops and hollers of invisible cowboys.  She felt as though she could sense the many different souls that had passed through the lands. Was it all in her head? Whether it was her imagination or a real supernatural experience, she knows that there is no way a person can stand on the grounds of the 101 Ranch and not be overcome with the possibility of what once was there and all the emotions enveloped in the land.

The 101 Ranch seems to have been a city unto itself. It was a marvel in the production of nearly everything the Great Plains were known for from dairy, to cattle raising, farming, oil drilling and much more. Have the spirits of disturbed Native Americans risen to haunt the land? Are the former residents of the 101 Ranch still living here? Is the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch haunted? That is for you to decide!

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