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Bee Ho Gray

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Bee Ho Gray

Bee Ho Gray  (1885 - 1951) Emberry Cannon Gray was born on April 7, 1885 in Leon, Chickasaw Nation in present day Oklahoma. His family moved to Cache, Indian Territory within two years. The small town of Cache was near Fort Sill. Emberry's mother was 1/4 Chickasaw. His father had been a Texas Ranger in the Trinity Division and later served in the Confederate Army.

Emberry grew up among the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa as Cache was the commercial center of their territories. He and his brothers played with the children of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. His parents became good friends with the Parker family. By the time Emberry was seven years old, he had started going by the name "Bee Ho". Quanah Parker gave him this name, which means "Brother of the Cripple" since Bee Ho's brother, Emmet Gray, was stricken with polio as a small boy and walked with a crutch for the remainder of his life. In about 1902, Bee Ho and his younger brother, Weaver, rode sixty miles on one horse to the town of Chickasha. They made the journey to view the Pawnee Bill Wild West exhibition. They were very impressed with the trick ropers and began teaching themselves rope tricks using clothesline and anything else they could spin. Within two years, both were performing with Wild West shows. Both brothers would enjoy amazing fifty-year careers in western performance. Bee Ho's skills included extremely intricate rope tricks, horse riding tricks, knife throwing, whip tricks, banjo and comedy.

He joined several major Wild West shows including Colonel Cummins' Wild West Indian Congress and Rough Riders of the World, Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West (which later featured Buffalo Bill and carried his name in the title), California Frank's All-Star Wild West, and The Irwin Brothers Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show. He operated his own Wild West show called Bee Ho Gray's Wild West for a few years starting in 1919. He also performed with various circuses including the Shriner's and Ringling Brothers.

In about 1912, Bee Ho accompanied Sioux Chief Iron Tail to Washington D.C. and New York where he modeled for artist James Earle Fraser as he worked on designs for the new Buffalo Nickel. He supposedly traveled with Iron Tail to act as an interpreter. Bee Ho won the World Champion Trick and Fancy Roper title at The Winnipeg Stampede in 1913 and held that title until 1916 when he lost it to Chester Byers.

Bee Ho and his wife, Broadway actress, equestrienne and horse trainer Ada Sommerville, spent many years as Vaudeville performers with both the B.F. Keith, Orpheum and Western circuits. Their show usually received top billing and was sought after across the country. They maintained a packed schedule of performances and literally played thousands of venues and shows during their career.Bee Ho performed in Erich von Strohiem's "Greed" in 1924. Bee Ho's performance was apparently cut from the film when the length was reduced by about 80%. According to a 1926 Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Republican newspaper article, Bee Ho displayed his skill with knife throwing in the film.

Bee Ho also performed in a number of more obscure, early western films from the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Bison Films and The Vitaphone Corporation including "Hey! Hey! Westerner". In May and June 1922, Bee Ho and Ada Sommerville were featured in a Broadway musical called "Red Pepper". The stars of the show were the famous minstrel duo, McIntyre and Heath. The show then went on the road for one year, closing in North Dakota in June 1923. Bee Ho added a trained coyote to his act in the early 1930s and began making radio appearances with his witty Oklahoma comedy. He appeared on stage and on the radio with personalities such as Bing Crosby, Will Rogers, Fred Stone, Joe E. Brown, Mary Beth Hughes, Eddie Nugent, Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard and many others. Many of the western stars who performed in the first half of the 1900s got their start with him at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West as they saw their way of life on the open range disappearing.

Ada Sommerville died in 1940 at the age of sixty-eight. Bee Ho continued with his act using other assistants to fill her role, but the days of Vaudeville were over and his career was relegated to county fairs, small corporate events and school benefits. He died in Pueblo, Colorado on August 3, 1951 at the age of sixty-six while visiting his sisters. Many of his friends and family members never knew what became of him. He is buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Pueblo, Colorado.

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