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Illness Fatal to Picturesque Oklahoma Plainsman

Weekly Kansas City Star, 23 Sep 1923

Veteran Cattle Herder, Ranch Owner, Showman and Raconteur,
He Lived the Life of the West He Loved

(By United Press)
Mulhall, Ok.-
Col. Zack Mulhall, 84, colorful Oklahoma plainsman, is dead.

At the ranch where he settled forty-three years ago, the pioneer ranchman, one of the last of Oklahoma's picturesque frontiersmen, died Friday morning.

His daughter Lucille, who was the colonel's partner in his Wild West show enterprise; a grandson, Billy Mulhall, and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Ralston of Mulhall, his close friends, were at the bedside.

Mrs. Mulhall died only a few months ago and the aged pioneer's health had been failing since that time.

Zack Mulhall's death breaks another link in the chain which binds the modern West with the old frontier days when the 6-shooter was law and the men who practiced law that way were, in most instances, literally blasting a civilization out of the rough and ready country.

When men made the run into the Cherokee country, when "the strip" was opened, when men took kingdoms unto themselves, when they slept on guard against beasts and brigands, when they proclaimed dominions for cattle and staked out towns which since have become great cities, when they loved and fought, bartered and cursed, pledged their honor and paid with blood - all that was the background of Zack Mulhall's West. True, Colonel Mulhall was a showman in one period of his life. He loved to picture the wild West, perhaps with a touch of the theatrical to attract the tenderfeet audiences in the East.

But Zack Mulhall didn't turn showman until after his own career had been well turned in building the empire of the Southwest. He cherished the West and the people of the West. Colonel Mulhall was a friend of hundreds, Indians, Negroes, statesmen, men of the law, outlaws, showmen, politicians, bankers, lawyers, railroad men, cowboys, ranchers. Roosevelt knew Mulhall, liked him from the very first day they met at Mulhall's ranch house near the town of Mulhall. The colonel and his daughter, Lucille, a champion roper and pistol shot, visited Roosevelt in the White House. Mulhall also was a friend of Grover Cleveland and many a special favor was granted him by both Roosevelt and Cleveland. Those favors generally had to do with some recommendation sought for a friend. But there was a time when Zack Mulhall was spokesman for both the Indian and Oklahoma territories. Legends have been built up about this picturesque figure of the Southwest. Truth or legend, the story persists in Oklahoma that Roosevelt once considered - at least that - offering the governorship of Oklahoma territory to his friend Mulhall.

Colonel Mulhall first went into Oklahoma and Texas from St. Louis, where his first interests in the live-stock business began to shape his career. After he reached manhood, Zack Mulhall lived in "cow camps" in Kansas, Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory, New Mexico and Texas. In the early days he was liv-stock agent in Oklahoma and Texas for the Frisco, and later was connected with the Rock Island in that capacity. Colonel Mulhalls' work was to move as many loads of cattle as possibly from the frontier country for the lines he represented.

Mulhall had his own ranch development at Mulhall. He was ranging thousands of cattle every year. When he first went into that country he organized a working crew of 100 men and fenced in many thousands of acres. He defended it against enemy xx in real wild western style, maintaining an actual army to keep the xx in place. One day there was a knock on the door. A federal officer stood there. He told Mulhall he had a sorry task to perform. And before the rest of the officer's words could be uttered, the plainsman had given orders to his men to tear down the fences and reduce his holdings to a limit required by federal regulation. That was Zack Mulhall's way. He respected law, yet he was the first to resist persecution. And many times he gained his point by conciliation.

One day he was called to St. Louis by a railroad executive who complained trains in Oklahoma were being robbed so frequently that passengers were using a rival line. Colonel Mulhall was quick in action. He journeyed back to the cattle country and spent many days and nights trying to get in touch with Henry Starr, the bandit. Colonel Mulhall told the story himself:

"I rode on horseback to every place I thought I might find Starr. One night I kept an appointment up in the hill country of Northern Oklahoma where some other boys had told me I would be able to find Starr. I had a deputy United States marshall's commission. I came upon Starr beside a cliff where he could have shot me easily enough. I held my hands so that he could see I wasn't trying to get the drop on him. He said: 'Zack, what do you want with me?' I said: 'Henry, can't you see to it that the trains on my railroad are left alone? My boss is getting sore about all the holdups.' So Henry agreed, and from that time on our line wasn't bothered."

At the World's Fair in St. Louis, Colonel Mulhall clashed with the civil courts for about the first and last time. He was conducting a Wild West show on "The Pike," an avenue of shows and entertainments. He had a crew of Indians and cowboys and his daughter, Lucille, was staging a roping and Wild West act. The fiery colonel had a quarrel with one of the men in the show and there was a revolver battle one night when the crowds were heaviest on "The Pike." Three men were shot and Colonel Mulhall was charged with the offense. He was tried and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The Missour supreme court, however, remanded the case and eventually the charges were dismissed. However, the Wild West shooting scrape, which resulted in injuries to bystanders, was costly to the redoubtable colonel.

Colonel Mulhall claimed credit for taking the first Wild West show on the road as regular performance in the form of a circus. He starred his daughters, Lucille and Agnes, known as "Bossie" Mulhall, in their roping and shooting acts. He took steers and wild bronchos and opened in New York City. The sight of such Wild West performances caught the fancy of the East and he made money in the venture. Later, Mulhall had a position with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch shows.

Both Will Rogers and Tom Mix were in Mulhall's show and he claimed the credit for giving them their start.

He was a friend of the Miller brothers and in late years he was a familiar figure at the "white house," ranch home at 1010 ranch. Colonel Mulhall never got the circus and show business out of his mind. He liked to ride a gallant horse in parades, and Kansas Citians have seen him at the head of the 101 Ranch parade in years gone by.

Zack Mulhall was identified with the administration of Jack Walton, stormy governor of Oklahoma, whose regime ended in impeachment and ouster. Zack was loyal to Walton to the very last. He was one of many old-time Westerners who attached themselves to Walton in the capacity of the so-called "bodyguards." There was no doubt Mulhall, Buck Garrett and some of the other "guards" wore on their hips that which was a requite of the ob - an old-fashioned "six-gun." But no shots were ever fired.

Oklahomans scarcely will forget the appearance of Zack Mulhall on the witness stand in the course of the legislative inquiry into the Walton administration. There was Zack, rugged and bald, mustached and shrewdly eyeing everyone in the house of representatives. He knew he was before the enemies of his good friend, Jack Walton.

Those legislators, at least a known majority, were trying to show that Walton was unfit to be governor; that he was guilty of incompetence and malfeasance. They were out to show that the witness, Zack Mulhall, was on the state payroll as an inspector in the health department by appointment of Walton, and that Mulhall never had performed any services for the state.

Colonel Mulhall testified he was an inspector of communicable diseases."

"Where have you inepected lately?"

The colonel, thinking hard, mentioned a restaurant.

"What did you do there?"

"Well, I ate a little fruit from a big bowl in the front of the place."

It was a long time before the sergeants-at-arms could restore order. Oklahomans still laugh about Zack Mulhall's day on the witness stand.

Colonel Mulhall's land had been reduced considerably. Friends have said he wasn't a rich man. Perhaps not in terms of money, his friends say, but Zack Mulhall was rich in the life of the great Southwest. It was his country. And he loved it.

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