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Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum
This 500-acre ranch, all that remains of the original 2,000 acres, was the home of Gordon W. “Pawnee Bill” Lillie (1860–1942), nationally known as the developer and star attraction of “Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.” Lillie purchased the land in 1902 from Blue Hawk, a Pawnee chief and medicine man who had selected for his allotment a tract of high land overlooking Black Bear River, naming his ranch in honor of the former owner. Lillie and his wife, May, hired architect James Hamilton (who had been a financial backer of Lillie’s Wild West show) to design their house, which was completed in 1910. The structure is an asymmetrical, rustic, fourteen-room dwelling of buff-colored stone quarried from the ranch and laid with red-colored mortar. With its red-tiled roof, half-timbered stucco gables and generous porches and terraces, the design is a hybrid of Craftsman and English Tudor styles.
When the Wild West Show was dismantled in 1914, Pawnee Bill retired to his ranch and concentrated on building up his herds of buffalo and cattle. An innovative and enterprising stockman, he was also a conservationist. Of the millions of buffalo that had roamed the West, by 1900 there were only a few herds in captivity. Pawnee Bill owned the second largest of these with a goal of perpetuating and developing the finest specimens.
The ranch also includes the original blacksmith shop and a one-story, side gable cabin of saddle notched logs that was built in 1903, and served as the Lillies’ first residence on the property. The roof is clad with wood shingles and has exposed rafter ends. The interior of the cabin is divided into three rooms with four-over-four wood windows and a large fireplace in the central room. In 1926, Lillie built a stone barn with a central aisle to accommodate his growing livestock operations. The gambrel roof is metal, painted red to simulate terra-cotta panels, and a large overhang on the east elevation is supported by six stone columns.
The State of Oklahoma acquired the property in 1962. It is now owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society, which operates the ranch as a historic site. In 1970, a museum was built on the site to house exhibits on Pawnee Bill, ranching, Wild West shows, and the native tribes of Oklahoma. Named the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum, the site is open for visitors and can be rented for events. Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show is recreated at the ranch annually in June.
“Pawnee Bill.” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Brown, Erin G., ed. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2009.
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