THE SPIRITS OF
THE 101 RANCH
South of PONCA CITY, OKLAHOMA
Every once in awhile, you run across a ghost story that is probably just too good to be true... but you just can't pass it up. That's just how I felt when I ran across this story.
This old tale has just about everything that you can ask for from an Oklahoma ghost story.... the open range, moonlit nights, cowboys, a campfire and of course, Will Rogers.
As a huge fan of the cowboy-philosopher, I just couldn't let this story go back without telling it.... so I'll leave the facts of the story to you to decide of they are true. As for me, I like to think that Will is still out there somewhere, still telling his jokes and still spinning that rope........
There are dozens of abandoned homes and ranches scattered throughout the state of Oklahoma and just a few miles south is a place where only memories, crumbling foundations... and maybe a few ghosts still remain. Forgotten here is what remains of the famous 101 Ranch and the three-story stucco house that was known throughout the state as the Whitehouse.
For those who don't know, the 101 Ranch was sort of a headquarters for the cowboys who made up the Oklahoma show business contingent of the early 1900's. As late as the 1920's, it was not unusual to come to the ranch and be greeted with the likes of Pawnee Bill, and his wife May Lillie, Zack, Joe and George Miller, Ike Club, Zack Mulhall and even Will Rogers himself gathered around a campfire swapping stories and singing along to the tune of May Lillie's guitar.
The Whitehouse has been gone for many years now, but the songs and stories still linger.... perhaps literally, for according to some, snatches of melancholy music and the sounds of voices singing can still sometimes be heard around the old ranch site.
Do the ghosts of the past still haunt the place?
Pawnee Bill was the leader of the "Oklahoma Boomers", a singing group that was based in Rock Falls in the early 1880's. He later formed his own Wild West Show before Buffalo Bill Cody persuaded him to come along on his. The two men never really got along but they created a legend that is still remembered today.
The old Pawnee Bill Ranch is now a landmark. It is located just outside of the town of Pawnee, right off of Highway 64.
The Miller Brothers, also raised in Oklahoma, owned the largest wild west show in the nation by the 1920's. They traveled extensively and used more than 100 train cars to go from town to town.
Colonel Zack Mulhall was also a part of the Oklahoma show business circuit and gave a start to a young cowboy who did rope tricks named Will Rogers. Even after Rogers became famous for his wit and humor, he remained one of the greatest ropers of all time.
Rogers was a frequent guest at the 101 Ranch, going out of his way to visit every time that he was in Oklahoma... which was none too often by the 1920's. He had become world famous thanks to his appearances in the Ziegfield Follies and in Hollywood movies. He was also a writer and radio personality whose words and voice were read and heard all over the country. Into the 1930's, Rogers' commentary on the news of the day brought laughter to the hearts of millions who suffered during the Great Depression.
One of Will's last trips to the ranch came in 1925 when he played an engagement in nearby Ponca City. After the show, he joined his old friends at the ranch. Nearly everyone was there... probably making it the greatest gathering of western show business stars ever assembled. Will roamed the crowd of his friends, joining in the songs, although many commented that his nasal twang was not overly suited for singing.
One things that May Lillie would remember later was that Will talked the ear off of anyone who would listen about his new great love..... flying. Ironically, ten years later, Will Rogers would be dead. He, along with his friend, Wiley Post, would perish in a plane crash at Point Barrow, Alaska.
As the years have passed the stories of the phantom voices and melodies near where the 101 Ranch stood have continued. Could they simply the sounds of coyotes howling in the distance, or just wishful thinking on the part of people like me?
If you ever get the chance to visit the place, I envy you. If you do, though, listen close.... because if you are like me and were born too late, it may be the only chance you'll ever have to listen to the voice of the genuine Will Rogers.
The old 101 Ranch was located a few miles south of Ponca City, Oklahoma in the north-central part of the state.
©Copyright 2003 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.Return to the Ghosts of the Prairie Home page