The Mulhall Ranch
Visiting the Mulhall Ranch in Oklahoma Territory was an experience not to be forgotten by city slickers, who were amazed at the endless acres of rolling ranch land and hundreds of head of cattle, stables of beautiful thoroughbred horses and the fine facilities for training race horses. The sprawling ranch house was beautifully decorated and the hospitality was generously extended. The Mulhalls were a fun loving family who made each guest feel at home.
Zack Mulhall was an adulterer who, while married to Mary Agnes, had a relationship that bordered on incestuous with a teenage girl he called his adoptive daughter. Mary Agnes was a pious woman who ignored her husband's philandering and cheerily raised his mistresses' children as her own. She even tolerated Zack Mulhall taking his mistress on the road for Wild West shows, where he passed her off to audiences and the press as his daughter. Today he might be accused of statutory rape, but in the twilight days of the American frontier, Mulhall rose to prominence as a cattle baron, entertainment impresario and presidential confidante. Along the way he launched the careers of two western icons, Tom Mix and Will Rogers, and established his daughter as America's first cowgirl.
Zack Mulhall and Mary Agnes were orphans. They married in 1875, when Zack was 28 and Mary Agnes was 16. Together they had eight children - four boys and four girls. Only two daughters survived childhood. One was Agnes, nicknamed "Bossie"; the other was Lucille. They were joined by another orphan, teenager Georgia Smith, whom Zack called his adoptive daughter. Zack met Georgia at a rooming house and took her into the family home. When Georgia became pregnant, Zack settled her in her own home in Kansas City. In 1888 she bore him a son named Charles. In 1895 they had a daughter, Mildred Madeline, named after the twin girls born to Zack and Mary Agnes who had died as infants.
In the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, Zack Mulhall staked his claim to 160 acres, land which would grow into an 80,000-acre cattle ranch in the Indian Territories. The next year he moved Mary Agnes and her two daughters on the claim. The place where the famous Mulhall family lived was the Mulhall Ranch, which was located fourteen miles north of Guthrie, Oklahoma, on highway 77. Much of the family ranch was unclaimed land. In addition some land was leased. The Mulhall family operated their show and cattle business from this ranch and had many visitors. Some of their famous visitors were President Theodore Roosevelt, and even the outlaw Henry Starr. Geronimo also was an admirer of Lucille's talent and gave her a beaded vest and a decorated Indian bow.
Zack Mulhall had settled a homestead near Alfred, in the Oklahoma Territory. There was already a town named Alfred, so railroad officials asked them to change it. Originally, the town of Mulhall was known as Alfred, named for Alfred Asp, the son of Oklahoma City attorney Henry Asp. The name was changed in 1890 by Avery Turner, supervisor for the Santa Fe to honor Col. Mulhall. Mulhall also served as the first mayor. Mulhall township is named after Col. Zack Mulhall, who was an early livestock agent for the railroad. Col. Mulhall filed a claim just west of the station and he, along with Sam Matthers and J. J. Cummings donated the first lots for the town.
Zack and Agnes developed their settlement into a working cattle ranch, where the Mulhall children learned to ride horses and rope cattle, skills that made them effective ranchhands even before their teens. At round-up time, cowhands from area ranches would stage friendly competitions to see who could be the best "cowboy". That is, to see who could throw the lariat most accurately, and who could rope and brand the most cattle the fastest.
Zack Mulhall also saw to Lucille's formal education. He sent her to Catholic boarding school in the territorial capital of Guthrie, 18 miles north of his ranch. As word spread of Lucille's prowess at riding and roping, Guthrie's mayor asked Zack to let Lucille and Bossie entertain visiting dignitaries with exhibitions of Western skills. When crowds responded well to his daughters, Zack formed an outfit called "The Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers." Thirteen-year-old Lucille was the star performer of the Wild West show.
With "Wild West Shows" becoming a popular form of entertainment throughout the United States, Zack seized the opportunity to go into show business. Zack gathered together the best cowboys he could find and formed "The Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers" in 1899. The show toured from 1900 to 1915. Zack and his talented children were the star attractions of the show, as were a number of undiscovered western performers who were just getting their starts in show business.
The first big break for Zack Mulhall's show business career came at the St. Louis Fair in 1904. In addition to showcasing Lucille, Zack featured a young trick roper nicknamed "The Cherokee Kid." It was the world's first introduction to Will Rogers, whom Lucille called Billie. When the St. Louis engagement ended, Zack moved Charley, his son by Georgia, from Kansas City to join the rest of the family on the ranch.
Mary Agnes Locke, matriarch of the Mulhall clan, was also a mother image to the young Will. Like his mother, she was known for her hostility and generosity. When he visited the Mulhall Ranch, he found a woman who treated him much as his own mother had, a woman who enjoyed his antics, was devout and a great lover of flowers.
Lucille was surprisingly strong and tough. In 1910, she drew the fury of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) when she accidentally killed a steer during a roping event. The SPCA took the Mulhall show to court, but the judge refused to believe that Lucille could have killed a steer. However, he fined her father and several other male members of the company for breaking a rarely-enforced law against roping cattle.
That same year, Zack's mistress, Georgia, joined the Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers. In posters and advertisements, she was billed alongside Lucille and Bossie as one of Zack's daughters. Zack added a dash of notoriety to the family image. A dispute over horses ended in a gunfight with Frank Reed, his chief hostler. Reed, another cowboy, and an innocent bystander were wounded. Zack was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to prison but prevailed on appeal. It was not his first gunfight. Fifteen years earlier, Zack was seriously wounded in a shootout. He lived his life on the edge of the frontier era, where the myth and reality of the Wild West blurred.
In 1903, Will Rogers joined Texas Jacks' Wild West show as a trick roper. Texas Jack billed him as The Cheerokee Kid. After a few months he left Texas Jack to tour Australia and New Zealand with the Wirth Brothers Circus. In 1904 he was back with Zack Mulhall. In 1905 Zack's troupe wowed New Yorkers with performances at Madison Square Garden. Zack Mulhall, a picturesque cowman of the old school, had a first rate wild west show. Will Rogers once cowboyed for Zack and in later years, as a syndicated columnist, often wrote in a nostalgic vein of his days with the Mulhall show.
In a story headlined "Cowgirls Ride Up Avenue," the New York Times reported how Lucille, Bossie and Mildred, along with their "sister" Georgia, paraded on horseback up Fifth Avenue. When she reached Central Park, Lucille quipped, "I wish Papa could get a piece of it and start a ranch there."
One particular spring, Zack's rheumatism, or some other galling ailment, must have had him out of action, for his cowgirl daughter, Lucille Mulhall, was slated to take the show on tour. Red Sublett, hearing word of the show being readied for the road, and wanting an opportunity to travel and see the country, rode over to the Mulhall ranch and was put on the payroll by Lucille. Red's special talent as a versatile rough stock rider got him out of the ranks and into a featured role with the Mulhall show. He would, it was claimed, ride anything that a saddle, a riggin', or a rope could be used on. Throughout the season the redhead was constantly being put to the test. Along with a wide and varied assortment of bucking horses, bulls, steers, and even a couple of high-jumping cows, he made a number of rides on mules, buffalo, zebras, and one ostrich.
Col. Zack Mulhall first met Tom Mix when he was a bartender in Oklahoma City. Mulhall was impressed with Mix in the stories he told, his athletic prowess and interest in horses and cowboying. Mulhall invited Mix to the ranch and Mix became a frequent visitor and struck up a fast friendship with Charley Mulhall, Col. Zack's son. Mix played some engagements with the Mulhall Ranch Show.
During the course of a drinking party at the ranch one night, Mix and Charley robbed the Mulhall Santa Fe agent. Railroad detectives were called and they went to the ranch where they found Mix and Charley asleep. In Mix's hat near his bed, was the loot taken in the robbery. The robbery was more a result of just orneriness rather than need, so with the loot recovered and Col. Zack's influence with the railroad there was no call for prosecution and the incident was forgotten. After the demise of the Mulhall Ranch Show and financial troubles which left Col. Zack near bankrupt, Mix influenced Charley to come to Hollywood and Charley was a stunt man for several years in cowboy movies.
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