THE REAL WILD WEST: THE 101 RANCH AND THE CREATION OF THE AMERICAN WEST, by Michael Wallis, St. Martin’s Press, 652 pages, $35.00.
This vividly illustrated and colorfully written work examines how a mammoth, working cattle ranch founded in 1893 in northeastern Oklahoma became famous for Wild West Shows that portrayed the alleged romance and adventure of the frontier. Under the direction of the Miller brothers, Joseph, George, and Zachary, the shows toured the United States and Europe for nearly three decades and featured some of the West’s premier attractions and famous western performers, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Lucille Mulhall, acclaimed black cowboy Bill Pickett, and even the aged Apache warrior Geronimo.
Wallis details how the Miller brothers’ 101 Ranch became widely known for its cast of incredible characters, its international circus of exotic animals, and its hospitality to visiting American and European dignitaries. He also explains how the Millers became pioneers in the early film industry with Westerns that featured cowboy actors such as Buck Jones, Jack Mulhall, and Tom Mix.
The Real Wild West is an engaging study of how an enterprising family created an entertainment empire. Wallis could have eliminated much of the book’s early section that describes the Miller family’s ancestors and the cattleman’s frontier, yet he does show fascinating links among the cattle kingdom, the rodeo and shows, the motion-picture industry, and the mythology of the West in the popular imagination.
Richard H. Peterson is professor emeritus of history at San Diego State University and the author of several books including The Bonanza Kings.