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The First Show

Gala Day at 101 Ranch in 1905 Drew 80,000

It's only a .10-cent tin cup but it holds priceless memories for Earl Henley of Tonkawa - memories of Oklahoma's "Gala Day" celebration at the once famed 101 Ranch in which he performed with his trained horse.

June 11, 1965, marks the 60th anniversary of that day, one of the states most illustrious occasions. A day when newspaper publishers and reporters throughout the nation were guests for a spectacular roundup at the "showplace of the Southwest". A roundup that gave impetus to the founding of the renowned 101 Ranch Wild West Show which later toured the United States and played before royalty in England.

The National Editorial Association held its 1905 convention in Oklahoma due to the efforts of the Miller Brothers (owners of the ranch) and Frank H. Greer, publisher of the Guthrie Daily State Capitol, then Oklahoma's largest newspaper. Col. Joe Miller and Greer attended the 1904 NEA Convention at St. Louis and promised the biggest wild west show in history if the association would stage the 1905 session in Oklahoma. The newsmen met June 7-9 at Guthrie and then came by train to the 101 Ranch near Marland (then Bliss).

He was on Program

And it really was a "gala day" in the life of Henley, longtime area resident who was 19 at the time and living the exciting life of a working cowboy on the 110,000 acre ranch. He appeared on the program with his horse "Dixie" in addition to rounding up cattle for the acts and doing odd jobs.

"It was one of those times that just stands out in your memory" he recalls, "the hot, dusty June day only added to the carnival atmosphere and people-they were everywhere! I can still see them walking from the trains to the exhibition grounds-it was one mass of humanity."

"The widely advertised Gala Day attraction really snowballed, Henley remembers, and provisions and transportation proved inadequate. Many of the spectators who came by special trains were unable to return that night and slept on the ranch grounds. Local farmers assisted with food and water ran out at the ranch.

Though some records place the number more conservatively, Henley believes that there were close to 80,000 people on the ranch that day. And no wonder what with such attractions as the Apache prisoner Geronimo, Buffalo Bill, Tom Mix, Bill Pickett and Lucille Mulhall, plus a buffalo hunt and barbecue, Indian sports and dancing, riding and roping contests, bands and a gigantic parade.

"You talk about western entertainment, that was one of thrilling display of skill and daring and it sure gave those newspaper people something to write about," he observes.

Henley's favorite memento of this vivid day in his memory is a faded red tin cup marked with a buffalo herd and "101 Ranch June 11, 1905". He points out, "Those enterprising Miller brothers (Joe, Zack and George) really capitalized on a necessary commodity that day by selling ice water from a huge stock tank in these souvenir cups for 20 cents. That was 10 cents for the cup and 10 cents for the water and if you wanted another dip-well that was another dime, which was quite a price in those days. But I guess it really wasn't so high after all because I've been offered as much as $100 for this cup.

Famed Apache Present

The biggest billed attraction of Gala Day was Geronimo and many rumors preceded his appearance, Henley says. One of the most prevalent was that he had a robe fashioned from white men's scalps. Chief of a Chiricahau band of Apache Indians, Geronimo was a prisoner at this time at Ft. Sill and government authorities allowed the Millers to bring him to the 101 for the event.

Henley has a picture of the famous Indian warrior as he appeared in the arena that day. Geronimo, as a part of his act, was to shoot a buffalo with his bow and arrow after three tries the cowboys came in to finish the job. Henley notes that this meat was later barbecued, mixed with previously prepared beef and sold in 50 cent sandwiches, which was also quite a price for 1905.

While at Ft. Sill, Geronimo was given permission to sell his hand-made bows and arrows on the Lawton streets and one of Henley's greatest regrets is that a bow and arrow he purchased from him for $1.50 in 1907 has been lost through the years. "It would certainly be a collector's item now" he reflects.

A genuine buffalo hunt in the huge arena was also a big drawing card that day, the former cowboy recalls, for large buffalo herds were nearly extinct and this representation was one of the last in the country.

Tom Mix Was There

Gala Day marked the debut of Tom Mix as a western performer and featured Buffalo Bill driving a team of buffalo.

The gay and gaudy rodeo offered many thrills, but to the youthful Henley the most exciting act was when Bill Pickett, Negro cowboy, performed for the first time in public his daring feat which originated the sport of "bulldogging".

Pickett jumped from his horse onto the head of a running steer and threw him by sinking his teeth "bulldog style" in the animal's tender nostrils. "I never saw anyone with as thick a neck at Pickett had." Henley says. "The cords were as big a man's thumb and would stand way out as he strained and twisted with the animal. Of course today the cowboys just throw the steer by hanging on to its horns alone and wrestling it down. But you'll have to admit it was pretty novel the way ole Pick did it."

Buffalo Treed Pickett

As daring as Pickett was, Henley laughingly reflects that soon afterward he was "treed" by a herd of buffalo on the ranch. While guarding a herd one day, Pickett got off his horse for a time and in the interval the horse slipped bridle and got away. The buffaloes started after Pickett and chased him up a tree where he had to remain overnight and well into the next day until other hands at the 101 missed him and came to his rescue. "I guess he knew when he met his Waterloo, even though he was a daredevil." Henley chuckles. "In addition to originating bulldogging, Pickett later had the reputation of being the only man in the history of bullfighting to handle a bull barehanded and unaided. This came about as the result of a reckless bet by Col. Joe Miller while touring with Pickett in Mexico."

Miss Lucile Mulhall, billed as the most daring horsewoman in the world at that time, performed on Gala Day with her trained horse "Governor" and rode two bucking bronchos in competition with the men-"winning hands down"-Henley says.

Miss Mulhall was the daughter of Zack Mulhall, owner of another early day ranch.

Twelve Bands Played

"There was more-much more" the old timer reminisces, "but the most fun to me was when I rode "{Dixie" in the eight couple presentation of the quadrille as 12 bands played "Turkey in the Straw". I trained Dixie with a French horn and spurs and she sure performed well that day."

Like Hollywood extravaganza, the Miller Brothers climaxed the colorful day with a colorful event-the burning of a pioneer wagon train by Indians in full regalia. "It was an impressive act and a sight I'll never forget." The 79-year old Henley relates, " to see those wagons coming over the hill, being attacked by the Indians and later burning in a spectacular blaze."

Among Henley's souvenirs is his official Gala Day badge which was signed by George Miller and marked with the program agenda.

However, life on the ranch wasn't all glamour and most of the time it was just plain hard work, seven days a week. "But you can't deny it was a thrill to meet such people who have become 'the greats' in our western history. People like Buffalo Bill, Hoot Gibson, Pawnee Bill, Tom Mix, and Will Rogers."

"I remember when I met Will. I was rounding up cattle near the Mulhall ranch and there sitting on the fence was Rogers typically chewing on a piece of straw. He wisecracked just like he later did on the stage; he was a real natural, that one."

Though only on the 101 Ranch two years, Henley has stored up a lifetime of memories. But he and his industrious wife keep busy with current interests and projects and believe that you can't live on memories; all you can do is save them for special occasions like-well, like June 11, 1965.

Ponca City News, date unknown
Written by Phyllis Asbury