Christmas cheer rises easily in the hearts of the plainsmen. They’re a lot of big children, dearly loving a treat and a merrymaking, and they enter with zest into the plans of the Miller brothers for their Christmas celebration. The Christmas tree is a revelation to the tenderfoot. A giant tree growing at some suitable spot is selected, and is decorated from ground to topmost tip with Christmas trappings and gifts to the “boys.” Underneath, more are piled and nobody is forgotten. The tree isn’t cut down and carried into the house, Eastern fashion, but stays where it grows, forming the centre of an uproarious circle of “high jinks,” and the house goes out to it. The gathering includes scores of the “boys” who have ridden in from afar on their best cow ponies, both men and horses decked in their bravest, which is pretty brave. An interesting crowd it is; some are seasoned men born and bred out on the plains, tough of fibre and brave of heart; some are weak-lunged college chaps, seeking healtn in the open; others hail from all corners of this ant foreign countries, of whom there are no questions asked; men from Mexico; men from the Texas “Panhandle”; educated men; unschooled men; but all good men and true, and filled this day with a merry humor and a brimming measure of Christmas “Peace and Goodwill.”
That this Christmas party is of rather large proportions can best be imagined when it is understood that there are some three hundred “hands” on the ranch and nearly a thousand Indian landlords, for the Millers do not own the entire range, but lease a portion from the native owners, many of whom are keenly alive to the fact that the Christmas festival of the white man calls for the consumption of many seductive viands and participation in much jovial merrymaking. Not that the red man is given to emotional display of any kind—but these particular Indians have acquired a grateful comprehension of the ranchman’s kindness and desire for their advancement, and take more than a passing interest in all that pertains to him.
Not a few employees of the “farm” are Indians graduated from Carlisle and similar schools. They have advanced to the standard of the white man in most essentials and have naturally come to sympathize with his sentiments and respect the rites he observes.
The distribution of presents consumes but a small part of this gala day. There is likely to be a buffalo hunt, but you must be very careful not to kill a buffalo, for there are now but few ranches in the country which can boast of herds of bison within their own boundaries. There will be a polo game, played on ponies that the Miller brothers train specially for that purpose, and there will be exhibitions of lariat-throwing, shooting, rough-riding and sports of all kinds that would make many a “Wild West Show” turn pale with mortification. There will be girls, too, who can show you a few stunts in “broncho-busting” and fancy riding, shooting and many a trick learned at the round-ups. At night there, is sure to be a dance, and the fun will run high as the tall young ranchmen with bandannas tied on their arms to signify that they are “girls” get mixed up in their parts and all but queer the quadrille. No dearth of men here! Girls are at a high premium and receive enough attention to keep their eyes sparkling like silver trimmings on a new saddle.
The scene in the big ranch house lacks nothing in picturesqueness. The electric lights are softened by paper shades the girls have fashioned; Christmas greenery is everywhere; the telephone jingles with greetings from this, that and the other outlying quarter, and if these “cow-punchers” are grown men three hundred and sixty days in every year, they are assuredly cow-“boys” on this one day at least, they own the ranch, and are free to let their big hearts loose in a realm of frolic and feasting as wide as their own loved prairies.
—ZOË H. BECKLEY.
Addendum January 2006: Clark Gray has written us that he believes his great-uncle Bee Ho Gray, famous performer with the ranch, is one of the people in the photograph on the first page. For more on the 101 Ranch itself, visit the website of the 101 Ranch Old Timers Reunion.
Click pictures and drawings to download higher-resolution versions.
REMEMBER: Peoples' attitudes toward race, religion, and culture were a lot different when this was written! The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of TravelHistory.org or of Hidden Knowledge, Publishers.