-by Greg Hoots-
It’s not often that a generic term’s origin which describes a person’s vocation or hobby can be traced to a single individual, but in the case of the moniker, “cowgirl”, the word did not exist until it was bestowed on a young Oklahoma girl, Lucille Mulhall. Lucille Mulhall’s story is bigger-than-life, just as was her personality. However, to tell her story adequately, one must start at the beginning, and at the beginning was her father, Zack Mulhall and the Mulhall Wild West Show.
Zack was born Zachariah P. Vandeveer on September 22, 1847 in Cooper County, Missouri, near the town of Boonville. His parents were Zachariah P. Vandeveer (b 1817) and Malinda Loving Vandeveer (b 1830). The elder Zachariah Vandeveer was a prosperous farmer and slave owner who operated a farm which adjoined his brother-in-law Tim Herd’s farm, and his father, William farmed nearby, as well. Zachariah had a flamboyant older brother, Logan Vandeveer, who moved to Texas as a young man, taking up arms in the fight for Texas independence. Vandeveer was badly wounded at the battle of San Jacinto where he was part of the first wave of men attacking Santa Anna. After recovering from his wounds, Logan Vandeveer was awarded over 1,400 acres of land in Burnet and Travis Counties, near the location of Austin, Texas, today. He soon became a famed Texas Ranger, and was known throughout Texas as a prominent cattleman. By 1850, Logan Vandeveer was a major supplier of beef for the United States Cavalry, and his ranch continued to grow in size.
By 1853, Logan Vandeveer was actively urging his father, brother, and brother-in-law, still in Missouri, to move their families to Texas and join in the prosperity that he was enjoying. Finally, his family members relented, and his father, William Vandeveer and his wife, Rachel, his brother, Zachariah and wife, Malinda and son, Zachariah, and Tim and Martha Hurd and their children all moved to Bastrop, County, Texas, located just southeast of Austin. Within a year of moving to Texas, Malinda Loving Vandeveer died, leaving Zachariah and his extended family to raise young Zachariah, then seven-years old.
In late August of 1855, Zachariah Vandeveer, Logan Vandeveer, J. C. Bradley (Logan Vandeveer’s foreman), and two other men took a herd of cattle and drove them to New Orleans where Logan Vandeveer had a buyer for the livestock. Within days of their arrival in New Orleans four of the five men contracted yellow fever, and on September 2, 1855, Logan Vandeveer died, and two days later, his brother, Zachariah died from the disease. The third member of the crew died on September 9th, and the fourth was taken ill on September 8th, a day before J. C. Bradley wrote to the ranch, advising them of the death of Logan and Zachariah Vandeveer in New Orleans. The bodies of the three men were not returned to Texas, but instead they were placed in graves in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. J. C. Bradley died just a few months later.
Logan Vandeveer had married Lucinda Mays in 1838, and the couple had seven children who lived on the Burnet County, Texas ranch. Crushed by the loss of her 40-year-old husband, she felt incapable of caring for young Zachariah, now an orphan. Tim and Martha Hurd, deeply affected by the loss of Martha’s two brothers, decided to return to Cooper County, Missouri, but they, too, were unsure that their home was the best place for Zachariah.
Malinda Loving Vandeveer had a sister, Susan Loving Mulhall, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri. Susan Loving was married to Joseph Mulhall, a prosperous butcher who owned the Mulhall Packing Company. The Mulhalls were financially successful, and they were happy to take Malinda’s orphaned son, Zachariah and raise him as their own. Zachariah, well-accustomed to new environments even by the age of nine, adjusted to life in the Mulhall family well. He began using a new name that would be his for the remainder of his life: Zack Mulhall.
The Mulhalls also had a niece, Mary Agnes Locke (b. 9/1859), who was, like Zack, unofficially adopted by the Mulhall family. While the Mulhalls had a large family, both of their own and by adoption, they spared no expense on the children’s education and rearing.
Both Zack Mulhall and Mary Agnes Locke were sent to Catholic schools in St. Louis, and then, each was sent to South Bend, Indiana to complete their education. Mary Agnes attended St. Mary’s of the Woods Academy where she excelled in the arts and science and became an accomplished pianist. Zack enrolled in the Brothers’ College, now known as Notre Dame University. The young man, however, had little interest in his studies and dropped out of college twice, the second time for good.
Returning to St. Louis, Zack landed a job with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, ferrying cattle across the Mississippi River. Soon, the young man was promoted to the position of assistant livestock commissioner for the railroad. That job entailed arranging and providing the transportation of all of the cattle handled by the ATSF, west of St. Louis. His job allowed Zack to travel freely across Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and he became well-acquainted with every cattleman in the American West.
Mary Agnes Locke returned to St. Louis from St. Mary’s as a refined, smart, talented, and beautiful lady. Zack had become successful with the railroad and hoped to start a family, and he was smitten with the elegant Miss Locke. The two were married on November 17, 1875.
In April of 1879 Mary Agnes Locke Mulhall gave birth to her first daughter, Mary Agnes “Bossie” Mulhall. Less than a year later, she gave birth to Zack P. Mulhall Jr. On March 26, 1882 she gave birth to a second son, Logan Vandeveer Mulhall. Six-months later, the Mulhall’s three-year-old son, Zack Mulhall Jr. passed away on September 8, 1882. On October 21, 1885 Mary Agnes Locke Mulhall gave birth to her second daughter, Lucille Agatha Mulhall.
As Zack Mulhall’s work with the ATSF required him to travel in Kansas and the Western states, Zack was often away from the family’s home in St. Louis. His cattle enterprises led Mulhall to the Oklahoma Territory, so it wasn’t a surprise that in about 1885, Zack Mulhall happened to be conducting business in the southeast Kansas town of Parsons, located just 30 miles north of Indian Territory. It was in Parsons that Zack became acquainted with a seventeen-year-old girl, Mary Smith, who was working as a waitress at a roadhouse.
Mary Smith was born in 1870 or perhaps as census reports suggest, 1869, in Illinois, the third daughter of William V. Smith and Martha Haskett Smith. By 1870, the Smiths had moved to Jefferson County, Iowa where they resided for just over ten years. In 1875, the Smiths had a son, William, but by the 1880 census, Mary’s oldest sister, Laura had moved to Republic County, Kansas, where she lived with her mother’s brother, Eli Haskett and his family at Belleville, Kansas. By 1885, Laura had married William Little, and the couple farmed in Jewell County, Kansas at Burr Oak. In that census, Mary Smith, said to be 17 years old at the time, lived with the Littles, but by the end of the year, Mary had moved to Parsons, where she took a job as a waitress.
Zack Mulhall was infatuated with the young Miss Smith, and he wasted no time in making promises to her of a good life together. By July of 1887, Mary Smith was pregnant with Zack Mulhall’s child, and on April 23, 1888, she gave birth to a son, Charles Mulhall. Evidence suggests that Charley Mulhall was born in Missouri, and it may well be that Zack had moved Mary Smith to a St. Louis apartment by the time she gave birth.
While Mary Agnes Mulhall maintained their home in St. Louis, Zack traveled across Kansas, Texas, and Indian Territory (and Oklahoma Territory) for the ATSF, while becoming heavily involved in the cattle business. In the late 1880s, he headquartered his cattle business at Winfield, Kansas before making his big move to Oklahoma in the “Run of 1889” when portions of Oklahoma were opened to settlement. It was during his time at Winfield that Zack Mulhall became acquainted with the Millers of the famed 101 Ranch in Oklahoma. In addition to “regular ranching”, the Millers operated a traveling Wild West show, and Zack was drawn to the show business side of ranching.
Insofar as Zack Mulhall already had extensive experience in Oklahoma, gained both while working for the railroad and as a cattleman, he decided to join the race for land as a “boomer.” Some hopeful settlers known as “sooners” encroached into the area earlier to gain an advantage over other homesteaders, but Mulhall was confident that his knowledge of Oklahoma would be all of the advantage that he would need.
On April 22, 1889, settlers gathered along a line near Orlando, Oklahoma, waiting for a cannon to be fired by the U. S. Cavalry, signaling the opening of “Old Oklahoma” for settlement. A train packed with settlers sat at the station, waiting for the signal to begin the run. When the gun fired at noon, five men on fast horses raced toward the ATSF station to the south called Alfred. Zack Mulhall organized the group of men that included himself, Sam Matthews, Arch Elliott, Dude Butler, and W. H. Matthews. The men claimed land in the area surrounding ATSF’s Alfred Station, arriving by horseback well before the train rolled into the depot. Zack Mulhall claimed the land closest to the ATSF depot, a spot where he had constructed a dugout while moving cattle through the area some years earlier.
It was an amazing accomplishment that Zack Mulhall was able to conduct all of his business for the railroad while operating a thriving livestock business in the West, and still maintaining two separate homes and lives in St. Louis. When the Mulhall family moved to Alfred, Oklahoma Territory in May of 1889, they first lived in the dugout, but as soon as the hotel was constructed in the boom town, the family moved into it until their new home was built.
The town of Alfred grew in leaps and bounds with the coming of the boomers, and when Zack petitioned the Santa Fe to change the name of Alfred Station in 1890, noting that there were two stations with that name on the Santa Fe line, the railroad readily changed the name of the town to Mulhall.
When the Mulhall family arrived in “the Territory,” Zack and Mary had three children, a son, Logan, and two daughters, Agnes “Bossie”, and Lucille. All three of the children loved living on the ranch, and Logan and Bossie immediately began learning to ride and rope. Lucille, only four years old, insisted on joining her older siblings, and soon she was riding and roping, as well. Lucille later acquired an additional interest; she became an accomplished horse trainer. While Zack Mulhall still maintained a large cattle herd, his interest paralleled that of Lucille or vice-versa. He had over a hundred head of fine horses at his ranch.
Once the Mulhall family had moved to Oklahoma, Zack was able to move Mary Smith and her son, Charley into the Mulhall home at 4643 Washington Boulevard in St. Louis. After Mary and Charley moved into the Mulhall house, a new name was in order for twenty-year-old Mary Smith, one which would stay with her for the remainder of her days. She became known as Georgia Mulhall but some modern records identify her as Georgia Smith and Georgia Casey. Zack Mulhall reportedly represented Georgia to the neighbors as his wife.
Insofar as Zack was often traveling for the railroad or his other business and private interests, Mary Locke Mulhall became the official or unofficial manager of the Mulhall Ranch in Oklahoma, and it grew in size from it’s original 160-acres to a massive 80,000-acre ranch. In 1891, Mary Locke Mulhall gave birth to a son, Marmaduke Mulhall who died within the same year. Shortly after losing Marmaduke, Mrs. Mulhall became pregnant with twins, Mildred and Madeline, both of whom died in childbirth.
During the early 1890s, Zack Mulhall was tied to considerable controversy concerning the order to all of the big cattlemen to remove their herds from the Cherokee Strip before the opening of the land in 1893. In the early years, Mulhall ran thousands of head of longhorn cattle on the Cherokee Strip. Throughout the decade, Mulhall’s reputation grew in the West, as did his wealth, measured in cattle, horses, and acres.
With the settlement of the Cherokee Strip, Zack Mulhall looked for other opportunities in the cattle business. He was aware of the rich “tallgrass” lands in the northeast Kansas Flint Hills, and in the early 1890s, Mulhall leased land near Alma, Kansas to pasture his cattle. Accounts presented in the Alma News, noted that Zack Mulhall shipped 22 carloads (railroad cattle cars) of cattle from Alma in the fall of 1891.
Meanwhile, all of the Mulhall children on the ranch, Logan, Bossie, and Lucille, were well on their way to becoming expert riders and ropers, and they were good ranch hands. The children’s mother taught all three of the kids how to read and write and the fundamentals of a basic education. Mary Locke Mulhall had sent Bossie to St. Louis to a convent for her higher education, and she desired the same for Lucille. Bossie had excelled in school in St. Louis, and she often preferred to spend time there rather than the ranch. Lucille, on the other hand, wanted more than anything else to be a ranch hand. In the battle of wills, Mrs. Mulhall prevailed. Her insistence that Lucille attend the convent school was bolstered in 1895 when Lucille suffered a leg injury while riding, and while she was “laid-up” from her ranching chores and her horse-training, her mother decided that it was time that Lucille attend the convent school in St. Louis. While Lucille did her best at her studies, she was painfully homesick for the ranch, and she was filled with melancholy by her very presence at the school. In her book, Lucille Mulhall: An Athlete of Her Time, author Cynthia K. Rhodes describes the girl’s time at the convent, quoting one of the Sisters, “Lucille was a ‘good child’…but I’ll be glad when Spring comes,” one of the Sisters wrote, “and we can send her home. It’s breaking her heart to stay here—so far from the ranch”
Just as Lucille was about to complete her first year at the convent, another tragedy struck the Mulhall family. Lucille’s older brother, thirteen-year old Logan Vandeveer Mulhall contracted diphtheria and was ill for some months before dying just short of his 14th birthday. Zack Mulhall was crushed. Logan was his oldest son, and he had made many plans for the young man’s future that would never come to fruition. Lucille became the heir apparent of Zack Mulhall’s dreams for the future. Cynthia Rhodes noted, “The death of Logan changes Lucille’s life. Not only because of the grief she must had felt, but her father became a dominant figure in her life. With his death, the Colonel turned his tremendous ambitions and affections more than ever to Lucille.”
When the school year was over, Zack Mulhall traveled to St. Louis to escort Lucille home to Mulhall. Her parents believed that Lucille would be better served the next year by attending St. Joseph’s Academy in Guthrie, Oklahoma, only 20-miles from the Mulhall Ranch. This would allow Lucille to return to the ranch on the weekends to train her horses and practice her riding and roping. Upon Lucille’s return to the ranch from St. Louis, Zack Mulhall purchased a sorrel colt for Lucille as a coming-home present. Lucille named the colt, Governor Ferguson, and she began training the horse immediately. Rhodes notes, “Every day for two hours, Lucille worked with her horse Governor…She didn’t allow anyone else to handle him…at a command, he learned to pick up a wooden handle dinner bell with his moth and swing his head while the bell rings; given another command, he would sink down on his back legs and sit upright like a dog. He learned to play lame and hobble around, favoring one leg at a time. He could bow to an audience, dance to music, rear on his hind legs and walk on his knees.” While Lucille became a first-rate rider and roper, she really came into her own as a horse trainer. Lucille’s horses weren’t one-trick ponies, but were, instead, highly disciplined and well-trained performers, as well as top-notch ranch horses.
Zack Mulhall continued to live dual lives with his family in Oklahoma and with Georgia Smith and their son, Charley Mulhall in St. Louis. On August 23, 1895, Georgia gave birth to a daughter. Twenty-five-year-old Georgia Smith, with her infant daughter on her shoulder, boarded a train in St. Louis under the escort of Zack Mulhall. Their destination was Mulhall, Oklahoma Territory.
Zack Mulhall must have had a story. He was never without one. In this case, Zack’s fabrication rang with too much truth. The young lady was an unwed mother, and she was bringing her just-born infant to give to Mary Locke Mulhall to raise as her own. In fact, the story went, the baby had no name, and “Mother Mulhall” was allowed that privilege, and the baby girl began her life as Mildred Madeline Mulhall, named by Mary in memory of her twin girls who died in childbirth. After a brief visit, Georgia returned to St. Louis. Cynthia Rhodes writes of Georgia’s decision, “Years later when the Mulhall children learned the truth, ‘Georgia told them it was the hardest thing she ever did to give up her baby.’”
In September of 1896, Zack Mulhall landed a new job, marking his departure from the ATSF where he had worked for twenty years, as he accepted the appointment of General Livestock Agent for the Frisco Railway. The Arkansas City Daily Traveler of September 24, 1896 gave notice of Mulhall’s new job. “A dispatch from St. Louis states that Zack Mulhall, who has been the livestock agent of the Santa Fe for many years, and is well known to all the stockmen of the country, has been appointed general livestock agent of the Frisco Railroad and will have headquarters at St. Louis.”
By the late 1890s, Zack Mulhall’s ranch spanned 15 square miles, and despite his success in cattle ranching and horse breeding, Zack had a new ambition. Like his friends, the Millers of the 101 Ranch, Mulhall wanted to create a traveling Wild West Show and tour the country, maybe the world. By this time, his daughters Bossie and Lucille had become remarkable riders and ropers, and Zack was confident that he could attract a large array of Western stars to travel with his troupe. One young man that Mulhall employed first at the ranch and later with the Mulhall Wild West Show was Will Rogers, a teenager from Claremore, Indian Territory. Forty years later, Rogers wrote of his early days in the business with Mulhall in a memorial tribute to Zack Mulhall published in 1931, “My Show career kinder dates from the time I first run into the Col. It was in 1899 at the St. Louis fair, (not the World’s fair) just the big St. Louis fair they held every year. They had decided as an attraction that they would put on a roping and riding contest. They were not called Rodeos or Stampedes, in those days, they were just what they are, a “Roping and Riding Contest.” I was pretty much of a kid, but had just happened to have won the first and about my only Contest at home in Claremore, Okla., and then we read about them wanting entries for this big contest at St. Louis. Well, someone sent in my name, and the first thing I knew was I was getting transportation for myself and pony to the affair. Well, I went, and Col. Zack Mulhall had charge of it. He was then, and had been for years the General Live Stock Agent for the Frisco Railroad system. That was a very important job in those days, for it took in all the live stock shipments on their whole line. He knew every big cattleman in the Southwest, and almost every body else.”
The 1899 St. Louis fair was Mulhall’s Wild West Show’s first big engagement, and Zack savored the moment. Will Rogers made his first show appearance at the event, and another cowboy from the Mulhall Ranch, Tom Mix launched his career in show business with the Mulhall show at the same contest. Fourteen-year-old Lucille was the darling of the show, and it was at this event that Col. Zack Mulhall, the ringmaster of the event, proclaimed Lucille Mulhall as America’s first cowgirl. Rogers remembered, “Lucille was just a little kid when we were in St. Louis that year, but she was riding and running her Pony all over the place, and that was incidentally her start, too. It was not only her start, but it was the direct start of what has since come to be known as the Cowgirl. There was no such thing or no such a word up to then as Cowgirl. But, as Col. Mulhall from that date drifted into the professional end of the Contest and show business, why Lucille gradually come to the front, and you can go tell the world that his youngest Daughter Lucille Mulhall was the first well known Cowgirl. She became a very expert roper, and was the first girl that could rope and tie a steer, not only do it, but do it in such time that it would make a good roper hustle to beat her.”
Just as Zack made plans for his Wild West Show, he had another big idea that he had planned for home. His son, Charley Mulhall was ten years old, and Zack saw an opportunity to achieve two personal goals by moving Charley to the ranch to take his rightful place as Zack’s only son, and at the same time, he could groom the boy to be a member of the Wild West Show. A bolder and more unusual part of the plan entailed bringing his mistress, Georgia Smith, to live at the ranch as “an adopted daughter”, while becoming a member of the traveling show, as well. The book, “The Papers of Will Rogers”, edited by Arthur Wertheim and Barbara Bair noted the brazen plan hatched by Mulhall, “Mulhall brought the buxom, dark-eyed girl home with him to the Mulhall ranch in Mulhall, Okla., allegedly as a kind of adopted daughter. It soon became apparent to Mulhall’s wife that her husband was sexually involved with the young woman. Mary Agnes Locke Mulhall privately confronted her husband about his relationship with the girl, and as a result Georgia Smith, then known as Georgia Mulhall and accepted by the younger Mulhall children as their sister, was ostracized from the family ranch.”
While Georgia returned to St. Louis, Charley remained at the ranch, and “Mother Mulhall” became mother to the ten-year-old boy. Georgia, however, was still advertised as Zack Mulhall’s daughter, and for a number of years, she traveled with the Wild West Show. Will Rogers remembers, “Georgia Mulhall traveled with the family show for many years. Although she did not ride particularly well, her dark good looks were featured prominently in photographs advertising the show. She participated in the opening ceremonies and lent her beauty to dramatic skits and such acts as the stagecoach robbery, wherein she appeared as a passenger. Her generosity and gregariousness made her a favorite of journalists seeking interviews about the show. She continued to tour with the family when Lucille began her vaudeville act, Lucille Mulhall and Her Ranch Boys, appearing in the publicity for the act but not on stage.”
In the rough and tumble world of the 19th century American West, Zack could hold his own with the best and worst of all kinds. Ten years before the opening of his Wild West Show, Zack Mulhall was in southwest Kansas, having preferred charges in Wichita against three men accused of stealing Mulhall’s cattle in the Territory. After posting bail, one of the men, L. F. Landers spotted Mulhall in Anthony, Kansas, and according to the Canal City Dispatch of January 18, 1889, “Mulhall was walking down the street unarmed, when he met Landers. The latter upon seeing him drew his pistol and said: “You’re the —- — —— who has been doing all this work,” and fired. The smoking weapon was wrenched from his hand before he could fire again, and Mulhall reeled and fell to the pavement with a bullet in the left thigh…The physicians say the wound is not dangerous, but it will be some time before he will be able to be around.” After that altercation, it was common for Col. Mulhall to carry a gun of his own.
In 1900, Zack Mulhall organized a group of his trick riders, including his daughters, Bossie and Lucille to perform at the big Rough Riders reunion in Oklahoma City. One of the featured attendees of the event was Theodore Roosevelt, a candidate for vice-president of the United States, running on the Republican ticket with William McKinley. Roosevelt became close friends with Zack Mulhall, and the former Rough Rider also became acquainted with Bossie Mulhall and her kid sister, Lucille. Two months after assuming the Presidency due to McKinley’s assassination, President Roosevelt invited Miss Bossie Mulhall to the White House, to be accompanied by her illustrious father, Col. Zack Mulhall. It was reported that it was Teddy Roosevelt who bestowed the title of Colonel upon Mulhall, and the honor preceded Zack’s name for the remainder of his life.
The engagements for the Mulhall Wild West Show continued to grow, as did the show, itself. No show was bigger than the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, held in Zack Mulhall’s hometown. The World’s Fair engagement was the biggest show in which the Mulhall family had every performed. Apart from the prestige of headlining at the World’s Fair, the gig lasted for six months, and Zack Mulhall saw the fair as an opportunity to launch his show into national and international prominence. The World’s Fair opened on April 30, 1904 and ran to December 1, 1904.
By 1904, Georgia Smith was a part of the Mulhall Wild West Show, despite the fact that she traveled to each event independently of the Mulhall show. Much of her work was as a publicist and public relations liaison for the show. When the Mulhalls came to town for the World’s Fair engagement, the family and several of their traveling stars stayed at Georgia Mulhall’s home in St. Louis on Washington Boulevard.
Cynthia Rhodes described the family dynamics, “Lucille and Bossie accepted Georgia as a sister and Charley as their brother. They became close companions when they traveled together on the Wild West show circuit. Lucille, Bossie, Georgia, Charley, and later Mildred learned to respect their father. Zack Mulhall had a controlling personality. He demanded and received complete loyalty from his family. He dominated the whole family.”
When the Mulhall show opened at the World’s Fair, the stars of the show were Bossie and Lucille, the cowgirl sister act. In fact, the 1904 St. Louis fair marked the peak of Bossie Mulhall’s professional career. Her riding and roping abilities were extraordinary, and her nickname, Bossie, was adopted by American playwright, Charles H. Hoyt for his character, Bossey Brander in his farcical comedy, A Texas Steer. The play was later made into a silent film staring none other than Will Rogers in the lead role as Cattle Brander. Bossie’s visit to the White House brought her to national attention, and when Theodore Roosevelt planned his inaugural parade in March of 1905 in Washington, D.C., it was Bossie Mulhall who led the procession.
In 1904, Lucille, at the age of nineteen, was as good of a rider, roper, steer wrestler, and bronc rider as any man walking. As there was no organized women’s rodeo when Lucille was in the prime years of her career, she just competed against men with remarkable success. Her presence in any rodeo arena was certain to fill the stands, and that fact was not lost on her father, Zack.
The show had been running at the World’s Fair for six weeks, and it was an unbridled success. When Col. Mulhall had negotiated the concession for his show to perform at the fair, he had faced some difficulties in that another show, Colonel Cummins’ Wild West Indian Congress and Rough Riders of the World, had obtained the entire concession for the fair, a position which came with a building and arena on The Pike (the fair’s broad boulevard on which entertainment and concession venues were located). Cummins’ show emphasized the Native American tribes, and at the St. Louis fair, the Frederick Cummins’ show featured over 750 Native Americans in their cast, including 51 Chiefs from various tribes, along with numerous cowboys and trick riders. The famed Apache Chief Geronimo was a headliner in the Cummins show. Mulhall’s contract with Cummins called for Lucille and Bossie to have featured performances at the show, along with Zack who acted as master of ceremonies for their act. His contract also called for Mulhall to provide all of the horses for his show. Col. Mulhall’s horses were stabled on the grounds with the Cummins’ horses, and the Colonel was pretty particular about who handled his horses and how they were handled and fed.
The Cummins show had a huge arena, with an entrance on the north side of the Pike, and it was in this building that all of the fair’s shows in which the Mulhalls performed were held. It was a difficult position for Col. Zack Mulhall, because Col. Frederick Cummins was a flamboyant cowboy and showman, and it seemed at times that the stage wasn’t big enough for two Colonels.
Col. Mulhall had already tangled with one of Cummins’ men, Frank Reed, the man in charge of the horse stables. Mulhall had taken issue with Reed removing one of Mulhall’s horses from the stable in direct violation of Zack’s specific orders, and without a doubt, the Colonel had dressed-down Reed. The dispute was reported in some detail in the Weekly Oklahoma State Capital of June 25, 1904, “There had been some trouble for some time between Mulhall and Reed. The latter says it was because Mulhall tried to run things, although he was only an employee, like Reed…Mulhall went to the stables, and noticing that one of the horses had been used, asked Reed what he had been doing with the horse. Reed told him that he had ridden the horse when he went after the strays. This was after the show last night. A bitter quarrel followed in which Mulhall pulled his gun, and threatened to shoot Reed. The latter not being armed, he desisted.”
The rift between Mulhall and Reed was far from over. Later that same day, Reed was quoted as saying that he would shoot Mulhall the next time the two met, and that promise was relayed to Zack Mulhall as a warning. That meeting wasn’t far away. It was Saturday night, June 18, 1904 when, after the show concluded, Zack Mulhall emerged from the Cummins building on The Pike surrounded by his family and his show’s cowboys. The group came face-to-face with Frank Reed and several of his men from the Cummins’ show. Two stories emerge as to what happened next. Frank Reed claimed that after the two men exchanged words briefly, that Zack Mulhall pulled a pistol without warning and shot three times, wounding Reed and two other men. There is no dispute that John Murray (also spelled Murrah), one of Mulhall’s cowboys who was also armed, was shot in the side; likewise, Reed sustained two wounds, one in the neck and one in the arm, although neither was considered life-threatening. A bystander on The Pike, Ernest Morgan, an eighteen-year-old boy from St. Louis, was shot in the stomach, and his wounds were so serious that multiple newspapers reported that the young man had died.
Mulhall’s story differed in several respects. He insisted that Reed had pulled a gun first and had fired before Zack pulled his weapon and returned fire. One of the Cummins cowboys on the scene, George Fay, claimed that he had observed Reed with a pistol which he passed to another Cummins cowboy before the authorities arrived. Fay made that very allegation before the grand jury that investigated the melee.
Zack Mulhall was immediately arrested and taken into custody, leaving his daughters standing on The Pike, crying, while the Mulhall cowboys were angry and near riot. It was claimed that a large contingency of Cummins’ Native American performers had gathered at the scene, and that several of the Mulhall cowboys had pulled their guns and pointed them at the Cummins Indians, clicking the unloaded weapons in their face. The Cummins show boasted 750 Native Americans in their ranks, and many of those individuals were armed, as well. Finally, the Mulhall cowboys departed the fairgrounds, defusing the perilous situation.
A friend of Col. Mulhall’s, Hal Corbett of Paducah, Kentucky, identified himself at the shooting scene as Zack Mulhall’s attorney, and he immediately advised Mulhall not to speak to authorities, while the lawyer began the procurement of bail for the accused shooter. The next day, bail was set at $20,000 for Mulhall’s release on various charges, including attempted murder. Another friend of Mulhall’s, Ed Butler, posted the $20,000 to guarantee the Colonel’s presence at trial.
Almost immediately, the fair management barred Zack Mulhall from the fairgrounds and banned any further performances by the ringmaster. As an addendum, the fair management noted that Bossie and Lucille Mulhall, noted crowd-draws, could continue to perform on the grounds. While the sisters competed in the concluding contests at the fair, their nightly performances ended with the Colonel’s banishment from the World’s Fair. Mulhall was able to lease facilities just a mile north of the fairgrounds at the Del Mar racetrack, where the Mulhall Wild West Show continued to perform and wow crowds, albeit off The Pike. The Mulhall family and the troupe’s cowboys all followed Zack to the new arena where the company performed throughout much of 1904 while Zack awaited trial.
Zack Mulhall’s problems in St. Louis during the big fair were not quite over. While his Wild West show at the Del Mar track was very successful, problems ensued. Mildred Mulhall, the nine-year-old daughter of Georgia and Zack Mulhall, was the newest performer in her father’s shows. Like the other Mulhall girls, she began riding and roping by the time she was five-years-old. Wertheim and Bair quotes the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of August 16, 1904 in their book, The Papers of Will Rogers, noting Mulhall’s further legal problems in St. Louis, “He (Zack) was arrested for “exhibiting a girl under 14 years of age” when he allowed nine-year-old Mildred to ride a mustang pony in the arena during a Mulhall show at the Delmar Race Track in St. Louis in August, 1904.” By 1905, Mildred Mulhall was traveling with the Mulhall’s Wild West shows.
In January of 1905, Zack Mulhall stood trial in St. Louis on the charge of felonious assault on Ernest Morgan, the bystander who was shot and seriously wounded in the gunfight on The Pike. No charges were filed with regard to the shooting of either Reed or Murray, as the state centered its case around the wounding of the eighteen-year-old St. Louis man.
The trial was held in Judge Foster’s Circuit Court on January 26, 1905 with a jury of twelve men hearing witnesses. Zack Mulhall arrived at the courtroom, surrounded by his family and his attorneys. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat of January 27, 1905 described the Oklahoma cattleman’s appearance, “Mulhall entered the courtroom…yesterday in excellent spirits. He was strikingly dressed, wearing his habitual broad-brimmed sombrero and a fancy vest. He chatted with his attorneys, and to his friends he confidently predicted acquittal.”
The state’s case centered around the testimony of Ernest Morgan, the bystander wounded in the shooting on The Pike. Morgan used crutches to take the stand, despite seven months having elapsed since the shooting. Morgan related that he heard the verbal altercation between Mulhall and Reed and was drawn to the fight. The young St. Louis man claimed that Reed did not draw a weapon and that Mulhall drew his gun, discharging it three times. Morgan stood by his testimony, despite considerable cross-examination by Mulhall’s attorney.
Col. Zack Mulhall testified in his own behalf, telling of the ongoing feud between Reed and himself. Mulhall’s story differed in many respects from that of Morgan. The Colonel’s testimony was recounted in The Topeka Daily Capital when he recalled exiting the Cummins building onto The Pike saying, “he had not gone far before he saw Reed draw a revolver. He begged him to put it away, and when his request was met with a refusal, he walked rapidly toward Reed and they began to scuffle. In the row his revolver was accidentally discharged once, and he shot twice at Reed, inflicting minor wounds each time. Many shots were fired, he said.”
The defense produced two cowboys who were present for the gunfight, including John Murray, one of the three men wounded in the fight. The Topeka Daily Capital continues, “John A. Murray, a roper and rough rider connected with the show, testified that from six to a dozen shots were exchanged, one of which wounded him in the stomach. Louis Young, another member of the show said the heard Reed say, “I’ll kill him,” meaning Mulhall, “before night.” He said the firing was so rapid and furious that it sounded like firecrackers, and that he was knocked down in the melee. A. B. Ashcroft, another showman, said Reed asked him early in the evening not to go away, as he might need him in his efforts to keep out of jail.”
Frank Reed, the other party to the gunfight on The Pike, had disappeared before the trial, and the State was unable to offer his version of the events of June 18th. Mulhall’s attorneys contended that many shots were fired during the fight, and that the first of the gunfire was initiated by Reed, who had planned an armed confrontation with the Colonel. A fairly convincing argument for self-defense was presented by Mulhall’s attorneys, and when the jury retired to deliberate, the feeling in the courtroom was that Zack Mulhall would be found not guilty.
The jury deliberated for a full day before reaching a verdict on January 27th at 9:00 pm. The verdict was sealed and the jury was allowed to return to their homes for the night. By the time the jury returned to the courtroom the next morning, Zack Mulhall, impeccably dressed and holding a cigar, awaited the verdict with his attorneys and daughter, Bossie at his side.
Once the court was called to order, the verdict was unsealed and read. Zack Mulhall was found guilty of assault without malice and the jury fixed his punishment at three years of hard labor in the Missouri State Penitentiary. When the verdict was read, Bossie Mulhall burst into tears, openly weeping on her father’s shoulder.
Georgia Smith was extremely distraught over the Zack Mulhall’s trial and the potential of his felony conviction; so much so, in fact, that she was taken ill and had to be attended by a physician. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch of January 26th, 1905 reported, “Miss Georgia Mulhall, the only grown member of her family in the city has been ill at the family home, 4643 Washington Boulevard, for two weeks and her condition was so serious Thursday morning that her physician ordered the nurse in attendance not to tell her of the verdict rendered by the jury in her father’s trial. It is thought that anxiety over the impending trial of her father has unstrung her nerves and the physician will not permit mention of the subject by anyone in her presence.”
Mulhall’s attorneys quickly prepared a motion for an appeal and submitted it to the court while Zack paced the floor at the defense’s table. Upon presentation of the motion, the judge set Zack Mulhall’s bond at $2,500 for the appeal, and Charles Lemp immediately posted the bond for Mulhall who walked from the courtroom, his overwrought daughter at his side.
Despite Zack Mulhall’s conviction and his pending appeal, the showman set his sights on a higher target, a premier appearance at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Every spring the Horse Association held a big horse show at “the Garden”, and in April of 1905 the headlining show at the annual Horse Association Fair was Zack Mulhall’s Rough Riders Congress. Zack Mulhall was traveling to Madison Square Garden with his family by train, along with special cars which contained the show’s horses and other livestock. Accompanying him were Bossie, Lucille, Charley, Mildred, Georgia, and the family’s longtime friend, Will Rogers, and Tom Mix and numerous show cowboys. The Horse Association Fair in 1905 ran from April 24th through April 29th.
The Mulhall family took New York City by storm. It had been some time since Easterners had seen women on horseback, or more shockingly, women riding astride. When the four Mulhall girls posed and paraded on horseback for the cameras while advertising the fair, crowds watched and disapprovingly clucked their tongues at young female equestrians. When the Colonel posed for the camera with his four “daughters” on horseback in front of Madison Square Garden, all of his dreams had come true.
In July of 1926, Zack Mulhall wrote an article for the 101 Ranch Paper, remembering Will Rogers and the big show in New York. Mulhall wrote, “Will Rogers was an inmate of my home for a number of years, being treated always as one of the family and a welcome guest in my home. Will was always witty beyond measure. As I have said, he was a member of my family much of the time during the early days, and from the time he entered my home it was almost one continuous laugh…During Rogers’ first appearance at the Madison Square Garden, when a wild steer got away from Lucille, Rogers followed it clear up to where the band was playing. The steer was frightened, trying to find a place to get away and in these attempts ran one of his horns through the bass drum. Rogers jumped on the steer’s back and rode him into the arena.”
After the Horse Association Fair in New York City in 1905, the Mulhall troupe continued to perform at contests and fairs across the country. In June of 1905 the entire Mulhall show appeared at the 101 Ranch Show in Indian Territory. Seventeen-year-old Charley and his nine-year-old sister, Mildred, both joined the Mulhall show that year at the Madison Square Garden event, and the 101 Ranch show would be the last event where all of the Mulhall family “stars” appeared.
Shortly after the 101 Ranch show, Bossie was kicked by a horse and seriously injured at the Mulhall ranch in Oklahoma, and then, in November of that year, Bossie’s horse reared and fell backward onto the twenty-eight-year-old rider, leaving her critically injured. Bossie had long suffered from a non-specific respiratory illness, and she remained bedfast for months. On February 9, 1906, Zack was summoned home from St. Louis as it was feared that Bossie’s death was near, spurring Mulhall to take a “special” train back to Oklahoma to be at his daughter’s side. Bossie survived the brush with death, but retired from performing with the family show. Around 1910, Bossie married Mulhall dentist, Dr. W. C. Wolfe, and the couple moved into a home in Mulhall, and in 1913, Bossie gave birth to a son, William (Billy) Wolfe. In 1916, Bossie contracted pneumonia and died at the family farm in Mulhall. Dr. Wolfe was unable to raise three-year-old Billy, and the toddler was moved to the Mulhall ranch, and, once again, Mary Locke Mulhall, Mother Mulhall, raised the youngster as her own.
Cynthia Rhodes describes Mother Mulhall’s dedication to her family, however unusual its structure, “Mrs. Mulhall gave birth to eight children, five of them died in infancy. In those days, there were few medicines to help cure diseases and doctors were miles away. The death of each child brought deep grief to the Mulhall family…Lucille had three sisters and two brothers. Her sisters were Agnes, whom everyone called Bossie, Georgia, and Mildred. Her brothers were Logan and Charley. Logan was Lucille’s older sibling, and Charley was her younger half-brother. Georgia was not Lucille’s sister, although she loved her as a sister. Charley and Mildred were her half-brother and sister. None of this matters to Lucille. The Mulhall family was a close-knit bunch, and family was family. In this family, their father, Zack Mulhall dominated everyone.”
As 1905 drew to a close, Zack Mulhall’s legal problems resulting from the World’s Fair shooting demanded his attention once again. Ernest Morgan had filed a civil suit in district court in St. Louis against Zack Mulhall, asking for $20,000 in damages for the injuries the young St. Louis man sustained in the shooting at the big fair. The case came to trial on December 19, 1905 in the court of Judge Ryan. Seated behind Zack Mulhall at the trial were Lucille, Georgia, Charley, and Mildred. Like the criminal case in which Mulhall was convicted earlier that year, Ernest Morgan was the main witness as the plaintiff, and as in the earlier case, Zack Mulhall and several of the cowboys working at the World’s Fair Wild West show testified in Mulhall’s defense. The testimony was unchanged, Morgan insisted that only three shots were fired and all came from Mulhall’s gun. Morgan claimed that one of the shots that passed through Frank Reed’s neck then entered the St. Louis man’s abdomen, passing through his pelvis, shattering his hip socket and damaging his leg bone. Mulhall’s attorneys noted that witnesses claimed that as many as a dozen shots were fired by Mulhall and Reed, and the defense attorneys insisted that Morgan’s position in the crowd would indicate that the shot which wounded the young man came from Reed’s direction and not from Mulhall’s gun. Mulhall’s lawyers contended that if only three shots had been fired in the fight, one of the bullets would have had to make a sharp 90-degree turn to have struck both Reed and Morgan.
Another interesting revelation made at the civil trial was that when young Morgan was wounded at the fair, Zack Mulhall hired the best surgeons in St. Louis to operate on the man, and then Morgan was taken to the Mulhall home in St. Louis where the “Mulhall daughters” nursed the wounded man until he recovered sufficiently to return home.
The jury deliberated the arguments and testimony, and returned a verdict finding Zack Mulhall liable for damages in the amount of $5,000, which the Oklahoma showman paid.
Lucille Mulhall, the darling of the Wild West show, was not without her suitors. Perhaps the first young man who was enthralled by Lucille’s good looks and her enthusiasm for riding and roping was none other than Will Rogers. Rogers was six years older than Lucille, and Zack made it clear to Will Rogers from the beginning that Lucille was off-limits to the witty Oklahoma roper.
In 1906, Lucille Mulhall gave birth to a daughter whom she named Margaret A. Mulhall. As with Georgia’s children whom Mary Locke Mulhall raised as her own, Margaret Mulhall was raised on the Mulhall Ranch as the daughter of Zack and Mary Locke Mulhall. On September 17, 1907, Lucille Mulhall married Martin Garrison Van Burgen, a baritone singer in Mulhall’s traveling show. In January of 1909, Lucille gave birth to a son, William Logan Van Bergen.
Less than a year later, Lucille, herself, ended up in court in St. Louis where Price Taylor, a Wild West showman, sued Mulhall for the return of a $450 diamond ring that he had given the famed cowgirl at her father’s ranch, claiming a promise of betrothal. Insofar as Lucille was married to another man, the claim seemed to lack merit, and the judge ruled in favor of Lucille Mulhall in her assertion that the ring was just a present and not a promise of marriage.
In March of 1914, Martin Van Burgen filed suit in an Olathe, Kansas court for a divorce from Lucille Mulhall, charging her with immorality. He charged that for the prior year Lucille had refused to live with him and had spent the year traveling with a Wild West show. Further, he claimed that Lucille was romantically involved with a member of the show. A divorce was granted by the court, and Martin Van Burgen was awarded custody of his son, William.
It was not until October of 1907 that Zack Mulhall’s legal problems in St. Louis were finally resolved. Early that month, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that errors made in the original 1905 trial precluded Mulhall’s plea of self-defense, and the case was remanded to Circuit Court in St. Louis for retrial. By that time, the witnesses had disappeared; Frank Reed refused to take part in any prosecution and John Murry had died at the hands of his brother-in-law. The county prosecuting attorney opted to dismiss all charges against Zack Mulhall, and the Oklahoma cattle baron left the courtroom a free man.
The Mulhalls continued to tour, especially in venues in the Midwest and West. It was Friday night, April 22, 1910, and the Mulhall Wild West Show was appearing at the Kansas City Convention Hall. One of the acts performed by the troupe was the “stagecoach holdup” enactment, where a racing stagecoach is overtaken by a band of Indians. The stagecoach was one which had just been purchased by the Mulhall show, reportedly a “rickety old-timer” that had not been in use for more than fifty years when the Mulhalls used it for the first time in Kansas City. While it was the normal practice for the Mulhall show to use a team of two horses to pull the stage, Charley Mulhall decided to add two additional horses to complete a four-horse team to pull the stage. To accomplish that change, the Mulhalls rented a team from a local livery stable and hitched them to the show’s team and stagecoach.
Charley Mulhall was driving the team while another Mulhall cowboy “rode shotgun” while sporting a Winchester rifle as the coach rolled into the arena. Inside the stagecoach were four women, including Blanch Wilson, May Turner, Lucille Vernon and Georgia Mulhall. The coach made a lap inside the arena, and as they made their way down the west side of the arena, the Indians were spotted and the guard began firing the Winchester. The rented horses bolted at the gunfire and ran wild, sheering a king-pin on the coach hitch, severing the tree and the team from the coach, which resulted in Charley Mulhall being dragged across the infield by the just-disconnected team of four horses as the stagecoach careened directly into the arena fence, crushing it while trapping all four women inside the coach.
Blanch Wilson’s left leg was broken and her left hip crushed. May Turner stood for a moment after being extricated from the wreck, only to collapse into unconsciousness, requiring her to be carried from the scene suffering from internal injuries. Lucille Vernon miraculously escaped injury in the accident, but Georgia Mulhall was badly injured, as she suffered a broken left arm and a crushed elbow. It was speculated a week later in the press that Georgia would never use the arm again. Georgia was carried from the arena and loaded in an ambulance with Lucille and Mildred at her side. Zack Mulhall ordered the two girls to mount their horses and go into the arena and perform for the crowd as Georgia was taken to the Century Hotel where Zack Mulhall had transported private physicians to perform surgery on the injured women.
Recovery from her injuries was very slow for Georgia. Her arm would never be the same again. While she continued to do some publicity work for the Mulhall show, Georgia retired from performing in the arena. Perhaps the accident made her retrospective, but at 41 years old, Georgia desperately wanted to free herself from Zack and the life on the road with the Mulhall Wild West Show. The last reported show appearance for Georgia Mulhall came in July of 1913 when Charley Mulhall was appearing with Zack, Georgia, and Lucille in Arlington and Beckman’s Oklahoma Ranch Wild West exhibition in Winnipeg, Canada.
Wertheim and Bair write of Georgia Smith’s attempts to establish a life for herself separate from Zack’s control in The Papers of Will Rogers, “Georgia Mulhall tried repeatedly to break away from Zack Mulhall’s influence and establish a separate life for herself. At one time she became engaged to marry another man, but he died suddenly and shockingly after eating the dinner prepared for the wedding party the night before the ceremony. No one else at the table became ill. Zack Mulhall was known to be furious about the impending marriage, and the circumstances of the young man’s sudden death were therefore questionable. Many believed that Mulhall had poisoned the man, but no autopsy was done and no proof of the cause of death exists. In 1917, Georgia tried again, this time marrying a young man from Ireland named Casey, who had courted her for some time. This effort, too, turned to tragedy, for she soon discovered (upon intercepting a telegram from Casey’s daughter entreating Casey to come home because his wife was critically ill) that her husband, unknown to her had another wife and family back home in Ireland. The marriage was annulled, but Georgia kept the name of Casey and remained living in Parsons, Kansas.”
Georgia’s later years were difficult and distressing. Wertheim and Bair write in The Papers of Will Rogers, “In later years Georgia Casey was severely impoverished. After breaking off with Zack Mulhall in mid-life, she worked at a series of temporary jobs, including one as a child-care provider for a family in Augusta, Ga. As an elderly woman she was reunited with the Mulhalls when her granddaughter, Mildred’s daughter, Martha Fisch, learned the truth about her, sought her out and invited her to come live close to her family in Guthrie, Oklahoma…Martha Fisch continued to care for Georgia until the older woman’s death from cancer (in 1955).”
Georgia’s last appearance with the Mulhall show in 1913 was Charley Mulhall’s last show with his family troupe, as well. Later that year, after appearing with his mother, Zack, and Lucille at Arlington and Beckman’s show in Canada, Charley married a Mulhall show cowgirl named Lulu. The union was short-lived; Lulu filed for divorce in 1914 claiming that Charley had deserted her three days after the wedding. A year later, Charley married Iva Park, the daughter of a Montana rancher. The couple lived briefly in Montana before moving to California around 1918. They had three children, two sons and a daughter. In California, Charley found employment as a stuntman in the movie industry, specializing in stunts involving riding horses. Work in the movie industry was sporadic, and by the end of the 1920s, Charley and Iva had divorced, and by the early 1930s, Charley had returned to Oklahoma.
Throughout the 1910s, Lucille Mulhall launched her own troupe of performers who toured the vaudeville circuit. Charley and Mildred joined Lucille along with a battery of trick riders and ropers enlisted by the Oklahoma cowgirl.
Mildred Mulhall toured with the Wild West show from 1905 until 1913. Her mother, Georgia Smith toured with the show until her severe injury in Kansas City in 1910. Charley was ten years old before he moved to the Mulhall Ranch, and he knew full-well that Georgia was his mother and that she was the mother of Mildred, as well. In 1911, when Mildred turned sixteen years old, Charley told the truth to Mildred, identifying Georgia as her birth mother.
Like her sisters, Mildred had become an expert roper and rider and as the youngest Mulhall daughter, she was the new darling of the show. In 1913 while in Key West, Florida, touring with the show, Mildred met Weller Carmichael, a successful real estate developer. They soon married, and the 17-year-old girl retired from her career with the Wild West show to become a housewife. She and Weller Carmichael had two daughters, Virginia and Martha. By 1931 Mildred’s life was in upheaval. Her marriage, strained because of her husband’s infidelities, was near its end. Mildred’s oldest daughter married that year, and then, within months of each other, both Mary Locke Mulhall and Zack Mulhall died, leaving Lucille alone at the ranch. Mildred took her younger daughter, Martha, and moved to Mulhall, Oklahoma into the ranch house where she had spent her first seventeen years of life. Charley returned to the ranch, as well, and the three former rodeo stars who were, above all, family, were residing together at the Mulhall Ranch in Oklahoma once again.
Despite their flamboyant lifestyles, their wealth, and the enormous fame enjoyed by the Mulhalls, their lives were bereft. Lucille’s daughter, Margaret, had avoided the limelight of the Mulhall family, having never appeared on the stage or with the Wild West show. Unfortunately, her life of anonymity had not insulated her from sadness and depression. On May 28, 1928, Margaret Mulhall took her own life in Oklahoma City by ingesting poison. The Luther Register of June 8, 1928 reported on the young lady’s death, in a story emblazoned with the headline, “Motive For Suicide Will Remain Secret”, reported, “Refusing to the last to tell why she took poison a week ago, Mrs. Margaret Mulhall Reed, 25 years old, (editor’s note: she was actually 22 years old) daughter of Zach Mulhall, pioneer rancher and showman of Mulhall, died in a hospital here Sunday…Physicians and nurses said the girl never would discuss the matter. She was found Sunday night, May 28, lying on the sidewalk at Fifth Street and Hudson Avenue. Other than to say that she took poison, the girl made no statement. She is survived by her parents and one sister, Lucille Mulhall, all of Mulhall.” The lie that Margaret Mulhall had been forced to live for her whole life, the same fabrication that was the foundation of the Mulhall family, followed the young lady to the grave where the truth of her parentage remained obscured.
In May of 1919, Lucille Mulhall married Texas oil tycoon Tom Burnett. Notice of the betrothal appeared in the Wetumka Gazette of May 9, 1919 in a story bearing the headline which read, “Lucille Mulhall Marries” with an additional banner, “Famous Cowgirl Captured by Burk Burnett Son.” The story revealed, “A marriage license has been issued here to T. L Burnett, of Iowa Park, Texas and Mrs. Lucille Bergen, of Mulhall, which reveals a romance based on oil. Burnett is a son of Burke Burnett, and is rated as a millionaire, having production in the Texas field that yields an income of nearly $10,000 a day. The bride is one of the best known women in Oklahoma, being the daughter of Zach Mulhall, and claims the world championship as a cowgirl, roper and horsewoman. She was an especial favorite of the late President Roosevelt, and was frequently a guest at the White House while he was President. The bridegroom announced that he would commence drilling operations on the Mulhall ranch, twelve miles north of this city, and would test out the acreage there to a depth necessary to settle the question of whether or not oil and gas could be found in Logan County.” The marriage marked the unofficial retirement of Lucille Mulhall from performing.
The drilling samples taken on the Mulhall ranch did not yield sufficient oil to merit the full-scale drilling of wells. It wasn’t just the oil exploration that was disappointing for the Burnetts. Their two-year marriage had struggled, and in March of 1922 Lucille filed for divorce from the Texas oilman. The divorce was granted two months later, and news of the divorce appeared in the May 21, 1922 edition of the Muskogee Daily Phoenix, “The Daily Oklahoman tomorrow will publish an account of the divorce of Lucille Mulhall, widely known horsewoman of Mulhall, Okla. from Tom Burnett, northwest Texas millionaire stockman, on grounds of incompatibility. The decree was granted about ten days ago, the newspaper says, it learned and under a settlement agreed upon, Miss Mulhall is to receive $200,000 in cash and deeds to approximately 5,000 acres of Texas land.
The divorce action was filed two months ago after the couple had been married about two years. They have been separated for the last seven months, it was said. Burnett, who is a son of Burk Burnett of Ft. Worth, on whose ranch the Burk Burnett oil pool was discovered, has in recent years been a rodeo promoter in the southwest and his former wife participated in numbers of roping and horsemanship contests. She at present is on her father’s Oklahoma ranch.”
In 1922, Zack Mulhall turned 75 years old. His days of performing had dwindled to almost nothing. Lucille had returned to the ranch in late 1921, as it was a rock of stability in her otherwise unstable life. She hadn’t performed in more than three years. While she sorely missed the life of a world-champion rodeo star, her body had paid a stiff price in the form of broken bones, torn tendons, and a variety of injuries sustained in 25-years of riding, roping, and ranching.
It isn’t clear who arranged the appearance, but on September 7th, 8th, and 9th of 1922, the Mulhalls returned to the rodeo arena at The Pottawatomie Indian Fair and Rodeo held on the Reservation at Mayetta, Kansas. The event featured performances by “hundreds and hundreds of Indians in full costume from seven tribes”, featuring “Indian War Dances, War Costume Parades, Scalping, Games, etc.” Advertisements for the event proclaimed “A Complete Rodeo under Direction of Colonel Zack Mulhall will be staged each afternoon.” The fair billing continues, “Miss Lucille Mulhall Champion Roper of the World, will take part in the performances each day.”
In a kind of last man standing club, Zack and Lucille performed like they were at Madison Square Garden, once again. Charley was out in California, Mildred was in Florida, Georgia was struggling to survive in Kansas, Bossie was gone; it was just Zack and Lucille for one last hurrah.
On January 19, 1931 Mary Locke Mulhall, “Mother Mulhall” to so many, passed away at the age of 78 after a battle with cancer. Her husband of 55 years, Zack Mulhall, and her daughter, Lucille were at her side at her death at the family ranch at Mulhall, Oklahoma. Mary Mulhall was loved and respected by many. Cowboy humorist, Will Rogers spoke of Mother Mulhall with a special reverence. In a 1931 newspaper column, Rogers wrote of her, “Mrs. Mulhall will always be remembered by me as just about as fine a character as I have ever known. She was a grand old Lady. She had many trials and hardships, but she stood up under them like a Saint.”
Eight months later, on September 18, 1931, Zack Mulhall died at his ranch at Mulhall, Oklahoma. He was 84 years of age. Col. Mulhall died with his daughter Lucille, his grandson Billy Mulhall (Bossie’s son), and his close friends, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Ralston at his bedside. Will Rogers eulogized Col. Mulhall, describing him, “He is of the rugged old Cowman type that is passing out…He was a natural showman, loved the spectacular, but never had any fakes. His shows were the best. Neatness was one of his hobbies. His life was miserable trying to keep me presentable…He was generous to a fault. When Col. Mulhall had money, we were all rich. When he didn’t, well you wouldn’t hardly know it. He never hollered; he never squealed; he took misfortune with a smile.” Zack Mulhall was buried on the family plot on his Mulhall Ranch.
After Zack’s death, Lucille remained at the ranch, and soon after, Charley, Mildred, and her daughter, Martha joined Lucille at the old home place. There were no more rodeos for the family and no more Col. Mulhall as ringmaster. The ranch, once 80,000 acres had shrunk to a fraction of its size, as piece by piece the Colonel had been forced by financial circumstances to sell property.
On December 21, 1940, Lucille and Charley had been entertaining their nephews, Harry and Jean Breezley, and the party was driving north of the ranch on a Sunday morning with Jean Breezley at the wheel, Lucille in the passenger seat, and Charley, his wife, Ester, and Harry Breezley in the back seat when their car crossed the center line, hitting a truck head-on. Jean Breezley and Lucille Mulhall were killed instantly. The other passengers in the car were not seriously injured. Lucille Mulhall was 56 years old.
In 1933, Charley married Ester Childers, and after Lucille’s death in 1940, the couple moved to Yukon, Oklahoma where they worked for several years at the Cimarron Flying School. Charley eventually fell ill and was confined to a nursing home where he took his own life in 1958.
After Lucille’s death, Mildred purchased the Mulhall Ranch at a sheriff’s sale and demolished the old ranch house, building a new home on the property. Mildred sold the remaining ranch and farm ground in 1946. She married Owen Acton and moved to Guthrie where she was very active in community and church affairs until her death in the mid-1960s.
After Mildred’s death, her daughter, Martha Fisch, became the surviving member of the Mulhall family who had resided on the family’s famed ranch in Mulhall, Oklahoma. Martha Fisch cared for her grandmother, Georgia Smith until the latter’s death in 1955, and from Georgia, Martha inherited the remnants of the Mulhall archives. Georgia had kept scrapbooks of photos and show-related memorabilia which created the definitive archive of the family’s colorful lives. Martha Fisch was generous with numerous researchers and writers in sharing the rich history of the Mulhall family.
Lucille Mulhall’s Last Ride
After Zack and Mary Mulhall’s deaths in 1931, Lucille settled into quite seclusion on the old ranch, caring for her horses while enjoying the simplicity of a private life. In the back of her mind, she must have wondered if she had ridden in her last professional event.
In her 50th year, Lucille’s body had slowed and stiffened from the years of injury and abuse. In April of every year in Guthrie, Oklahoma, a large parade and celebration is held honoring the early “sooners” and “boomers” who settled in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. When the invitation came to Lucille Mulhall to be the grand marshal, leading the Run of 1889 parade, she saw this as the opportunity to officially close her professional career, and she accepted the offer.
The Daily Oklahoman of April 23, 1935 reported on Lucille Mulhall’s final public appearance, but the article read much more like a eulogy than a contemporaneous reporting of a parade and fair:
“The “most fearless and intrepid” horsewoman in the world, “whose wizardry with a lariat amazed the crowned heads of Europe” had come to the end of her last parade.
As Lucille Mulhall turned away from the head of the five-mile ‘89ers procession at Guthrie Monday, and walked “Old Red” down a deserted side street, the pony’s head may have drooped. But Lucille sat erect, the confident, proud showman to the end.
A waiting stable hand took the reins of docile “Old Red” so that the “world’s first cowgirl” might dismount safely.
The booted right leg which had often whirled her from the back of a galloping pinto to the horns of an arena-shaking steer caught on the cantle of the saddle. The “greatest beauty of the Oklahoma Territory” lifted it over with an effort, and the few who saw winced.”
Once she was a vivacious, devil-may-care blonde in a divided skirt and white silk shirt which enhanced her charms as she passed in review before presidents, kings, and worshiping throngs. The thoughtless observer might see her now as only a gray, time-penciled old woman.
Her figure is matronly, but her carriage is regal. She has the simple dignity of a beautiful woman who enjoyed her worldwide fame and let the years slip by gracefully.
This episode is another bead on her rosary of memories. She probably will not have many more to string.
“I rode in this parade because I thought maybe it would be the last time I’d have a chance,” she said from astride her horse as she put on white buckskin gloves. “In any event, it’ll be my last. Of course, it won’t be the last time I’ll get on a horse, I’ll ride as long as I can throw a leg across.”
With those words, the career of America’s first cowgirl and the finest rider and roper of the 20th century, came to a close.
Categories: Biographies, Photo Friday
Thank you for this well-researched and well-told story about the Mulhall family. I’ve been working on them myself for about 10 years, trying hard to separate fact from fiction. My older sister was born a Mulhall, granddaughter of Charley. I thought I was brilliant when I figured out that Georgia Mulhall was Mary Smith and I’m posting a weblink of this to my family tree to show I’m not the only one who knows it.
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Marvelous article on the Mulhall family My husband is the grandson of Ida Park & Charley Mulhall Your article filled gaps & expanded on many stories that were passed down In particular, I found the information about Georgia’s story interesting as we have found scant info on her (Ruth could’ve told me about Smith name!) Again, fun article to read whether related or not so thank you
Thank you so much for your kind words. It was a wonderful article to write. Thanks, again.