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Old West Legends IconOLD WEST LEGENDS

How Hollywood Met the American Old West


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By Bill Platt


How The Old West Has Been Defined

People refer to the 'Old West' as the 'Wild West' or simply the 'West'.

No matter how what they might call it, many look upon the American Old West as a wild and dangerous place that existed in the last half of the 1800's in the American Frontier, west of the Mississippi River in the United States.


Even Europeans who dislike or fear George W. Bush are quick to call him a "cowboy", in a derogatory manner, as if his being from Texas automatically brands him as being like the outlaw cowboys that died at the O.K. Corral on October 26 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.


Indian War Painting

The siege of New Ulm, Minnesota, painted by Henry August Schwabe, 1907.

Many other people from around the world romanticize the American Old West. They conjure images of cowboys, Indians, guns, cattle, buffalo, trains and the simple life when they imagine the world of the Old West.

GunsmokeTelevision, radio shows, and movies have all contributed to the romanticism of America's Old West. Television brought us Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Movies have come through time to further emphasize people's romantic ideas of the Old West. Movies that come to mind include Far and Away in 1992, True Grit in 1969, Two Mules for Sister Sara in 1970, Dances With Wolves in 1990, and Tombstone in 1993. And then there were my two favorite westerns of all-time, Support Your Local Sheriff and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which both came out in 1969.

(People love their westerns, and the Internet Movie Database gave them the chance to rate their favorite western movies here: http://www.imdb.com/chart/western)

People Still Think The West Is About The Cowboys And Indians

Even in today's communication age, some people still believe that Oklahoma and Texas exist as it did in the 1890's. Back in the late 1980's, I had traveled to Florida. While there, someone asked me where I was from. When I said Oklahoma, they had this puzzled look come across their face.

After a moment or two, this individual seemed to have made the connection they were looking for. She asked me, "So, how did you get to Florida?"

I was confused. I said, "Well, I drove."

She responded, "Oh, so you stopped along the way and bought a car?"

I said, "No. I had the car before I left."

I could see a "deer in the headlights" moment, and then I heard her soon-to-be-famous words, "I thought everyone in Oklahoma rode on horses and in wagons. What about the Indians? Do you all still have problems with the Indians?"

True story. No kidding. It is hard to believe, I know. I would not have believed it myself if I had not been there to hear it.

Yes, some people believe that we still live as we did 100 years ago.





Going West

Prior to 1848, the people who lived in the American Old West were primarily the military men and lawmen, mountain men who often worked as trappers and/or traders, the Native American population, cattle ranchers and their hands, and farmers.

Then on January 24, 1848, the news of James Marshall's "Gold!" erupted from Sutter's Mill, California. Suddenly, everyone wanted to go west.

"Go West Young Man!" was the cry that reverberated around the globe. "Thus began one of the largest human migrations in history as a half-million people from around the world descended upon California in search of instant wealth."

(For more information about the California Gold Rush, visit this site: http://ceres.ca.gov/ceres/calweb/geology/goldrush.html)

The Historical Story Of Indian Territory

Indian Territory, also known as I.T., was established in 1830. The intent of the establishment of the Indian Territory was to have a place in which to relocate the Eastern Native American Tribes. In its early days, Indian Territory actually covered most of modern-day Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.

Indian Territory was not a territory by the legal established definition of a territory for several more decades. In the beginning, there was no government or laws governing Indian Territory. It was simply the place that was set aside to be occupied by the Native American tribes.

In 1854, the American government decided that they needed to increase the lands that could be used by their growing population. So, at this juncture, they reduced the overall size of Indian Territory to cover most of what is now Oklahoma.

During the Civil War, the Five Civilized Tribes who owned most of the land comprising Indian Territory, gambled their lot on the southern Confederate States. When the South lost, the Five Civilized Tribes lost more of their lands under the new treaties that had to be negotiated with the victors in Washington, D.C.

Beginning with the Osage Reservation Act of 1872, the federal government began to treat Indian Territory more as a legally defined "territory".

In 1889, the federal government finally established a federal court for the management of the Indian Territories. And then on April 22nd 1889, the "Unassigned Lands" of central Oklahoma were opened to white settlement. 50,000 people, who were called "Boomers", settled the "Unassigned Lands" that day.


Then in May of 1990, Indian Territory was divided into Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. Over the next several years, various "land runs" permitted the various sections of Oklahoma Territory to be settled.

(For more information about the multitude of "land runs", check out this timeline: http://marti.rootsweb.com/land/oklands.html)

The Cherokee Outlet Land Run Of 1893


The famous opening of the Cherokee Outlet that was the backset for the movie "Far and Away", took place on September 16, 1893.


Oklahoma Land Run

Oklahoma Land Run.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!



When the Cherokee Outlet was opened, there were 7 original counties: O, L, K, P, Q, M and N. It was mandated by law that the settlers of each county would select the new county name after the run. The names selected were Garfield, Grant, Kay, Noble, Pawnee, Woods and Woodward.

The Establishment Of The 101 Ranch In Northern Oklahoma

Originally bound for California, Colonel George W. Miller found himself often sidetracked into various business ventures on his trek west.

In 1893, Colonel Miller founded his 101 Ranch in north central Oklahoma near present day Marland, Oklahoma, south and west of Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Colonel Miller became good friends with Chief White Eagle, the chief of the Ponca Nation. The Ponca Nation is situated to the south of Ponca City, Oklahoma, and just east of the 101 Ranch site.

In 1903, Colonel George Miller died and the ranch was taken over by his three sons.

At its height, the 101 Ranch which was located in Kay and Noble counties in the Oklahoma Territory was comprised of a full 110,000 acres. It became the real nexus between the American Old West and the world-famous 101 Wild West Show, which featured cowboys and Indians in the flesh and show dates around the world from 1905 to 1931. Even the shows at the ranch were noted to have attracted more than 65,000 spectators at various times.


The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery poster, courtesy Library of Congress.


Hollywood Meets The Wild West

Among the many notable accomplishments attributed to the Miller's and their 101 Ranch Wild West Show, was their role in the revitalization of the western genre in Hollywood.

The first movie ever made of the western genre was The Great Train Robbery in 1903. By the end of the decade, most believed that the western was dead.

In 1911, the Miller's signed a contract with the New York Motion Picture Company and its' subsidiary studio, the Bison Company.


The 101 Ranch served as the backdrop for several Hollywood films, and the stars of the 101 Wild West Show staffed hundreds of early westerns. More than 100 cowboys, cowgirls and Indians from the 101 Ranch Wild West Show participated in various Bison Company westerns.

Even the great Will Rogers did a short stint with the 101 Wild West Show, before moving to Hollywood to become world-famous. Will Rogers is just one of the many famous names that came through the 101 show on their rise to stardom. Many of the names of 101 performers became so famous in their day that you may even recognize them today: Bill Pickett, Tom Mix and many others.

If you want to know more about history, pick your favorite search engine and go hunting. You would be surprised how much wonderful history exists on the World Wide Web.


Copyright Bill Platt - All Rights Reserved.

Added March, 2006

From Legends' General Store

Custom Greeting Cards - Combining our great vintage photographs with words, wisdom and proverbs of the Old West, these photo cards are unique to the Legends' General Store.




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