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Funeral At The 101
The Beginning Of the End Of The Fabulous Empire

Joe Millers Funeral

     There has been scores of big ranches that once covered the western United States from Mexico to Canada, but the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch of Oklahoma was the most fabulous. It lasted longer than most and reached it's peak after the other big outfits had disintegrated.

      The ranch consisted of 101,000 acres. At it's peak it swelled to 110,000 acres, taking up three towns, Bliss (Marland), Red Rock, and White Eagle. It was also spread over parts of four counties, Noble, Pawnee, Osage and Kay. It's 300 miles of fence cost $50,000 and it's shipping pens on the Santa Fe Railroad at Bliss could hold up to 2,000 cattle.

      The ranch produced and manufactured everything to make it self-sufficient, employed hundreds of people, had it's own churches and schools, and built hundreds of miles of good roads for ranch use as well as public travel.

      It was founded by Colonel George Washington Miller, a Confederate veteran, from Crab Orchard, Kentucky, who had a vision of a cattle empire in the Indian Territory. Along with his wife Molly and three sons, Joseph, George, and Zack a Ranch was soon built and a empire sprung up along the Salt Fork River near now day Marland. But Mr. Miller didn't live long to see the full scale of his ranch for in April of 1903, the Colonel passed away from double pneumonia, leaving the operation of the ranch to the three sons.

      Joe was the head and the smartest, with George the financial genius and Zack the trader. Under there eyes the ranch was built into a fabulous Empire until it fell victim to three major things, death, debt and the Great Depression.

Joe Miller

George Miller

Zack Miller

     The first was the death of Joe Miller, on October 21, 1927. On this Friday afternoon, Joe had just returned from the 101 Ranch Store, where he obtained some groceries to use at home. He was expecting the homecoming of his wife, Mary, and infant son, from Grand rapids, Michigan, and was in an up-tempo mood. Apparently, he had gone to work on the family car, with the garage doors partially open. He had started the car to ascertain just what was the matter, and after working over the car for some time, he straightened up and was immediately stricken by poison gas of carbon monoxide. He was found later by William Brooks, cousin and agricultural superintendent of the ranch.

      Apparently he had the car running for a considerable amount of time, for the hood was up, and on the running board were his pocket knife, which he had been using as a screwdriver, and several screws which he had loosened from the motor. When the attending physicians arrived, they stated that it was an accidental death.

      The next day the headlines read, "Thousands of Friends, Employees, Mourn Sudden Passing of Mr. Joe." His body was laid in state at the White House on the Ranch, and his funeral slated for Monday, October 24, at 2:00 PM.

      An audience estimated at thousands filled the lawn, and overflowed out across the expanse towards the Ranch Store and its accompanying buildings and extended itself in cars up and down the highway while the last rites were held for Mr. Joe Miller.

The Ranch Mansion where Joe's funeral was held on the front porch.

      Services were held from the south porch of the Ranch Mansion. incredible numbers of floral pieces and individual bouquets formed walls of tribute. They were banked over and around the rooms inside the home. A large piece bearing the symbol "101" stood at the base of the coffin, as an American flag hung suspended above the steps. It possibly was the most colorful and decorated funeral ever held in the state of Oklahoma.

     Rev. G. Frank Sanders, pastor of the Christian Church of Ponca City, delivered a funeral oration in which he eulogized Col. Joe Miller as "the man who made two blades of grass grow on the Oklahoma prairies where but one grew before."

     An unusual feature of the funeral was the "death song" by the Ponca Indian Chiefs, headed by Crazy Bear and Horse Chief Eagle, son of White Eagle. after the song, there was a moment of silence, the Horse Chief Eagle pronounced a brief oration which was translated by James Williams, the interpreter.

     "Our brother, Joe, Mr. Joseph C. Miller, he is one of us. He is gone. When he went away, it meant more than anything else to Indians. The Indians cry. Because our brother, Mr. Joe Miller, will not be good to us anymore. He has raised us from boys, some of us. Mr. Joe Miller gave us encouragement. God is right God, so the Indian say. He gives each man a time. We all have a time. You see the paint on our faces. We do this because of our brother, Mr. Joe Miller, who lived with us all these years is dead. That is all. We are sad."

     As Chief Eagle finished his oration, he placed a Chief's feather and a tobacco pouch and pipe on the body of Col. Miller.

     After the service, for nearly an hour, thousands marched slowly past the coffin. the large flag was lowered across the entrance and the immediate friends of the family were left to say their good byes in privacy.

     The casket was then placed in the hearse, drove northward, past his Ranch Drive home, to the cemetery at Ponca City. Hundreds not attending the service at the Ranch had waited in cars along the road to the cemetery and gave their silent tribute as the funeral procession passed by.

      Col. Joe Miller was laid to rest beside his mother, Molly, who had died 15 years prior to his death. His grave lies today underneath a grove of elm trees that Joe loved so much during his life.

     The death of Col. Joe Miller had a deep impact on the spirits of the two surviving brothers. While they were struggling to carry on the ranch affairs without him, the death of the second brother, Col. George Miller, occurred in a car accident. This death took the financial wizard out of the picture and left Zack to handled it alone.

The 101 Ranch General Store

     The second major cause of the 101 Ranch was the financial debts incurred during the years leading up to the economic depression. When the depression hit, the Ranch suffered heavy losses from operations. The Miller brothers borrowed large sums of money from time to time in order to keep the various ranch enterprises going on a productive basis. They judged the economic condition prevailing at the time to be only temporary, so they placed mortgages with large insurance companies, and banks on various portions of the Ranch lands as security for these loans, totaling over a half a million dollars.

      When the economic depression hit full blast, they didn't have any cash reserve to meet such an emergency, the mortgages, notes, interest and taxes became due in the regular course of time, and the 101 Ranch encountered serious financial difficulties.

     Then the bottom dropped out of the oil business. Cattle sold at their lowest figure. Wheat became worthless. Corn and hogs brought practically nothing. Drought harried the lands. There was no markets, no sales, no net profit. The Ranch operation came to a standstill and the debts mounted. The Great Depression was the third and final cause in the fall of the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch.

     Today, the only remembrance left of the empire is the foundation of The White House and a few historical remnants of the 101 Ranch. So it's sad to say that on October 21, 1927, marks not only the funeral of Joe Miller but the beginning of the end of the "Fabulous Empire".