Mary Emma "May" Lillie

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Mary Emma "May" Lillie (Manning)

Death: 1936 (66-67)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William R. Manning and Mary E. Manning
Wife of Gordon William "Pawnee Bill" Lillie

Managed by: Private User
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About Mary Emma "May" Lillie,Mary.html

Mary Emma Manning was considered to possess an untamed will, and married the famous Wild West showman and performer, Pawnee Bill, in 1886 who was nine years her senior. For her wedding gift she received a pony and a Marlin .22 target rifle. In 1888, they launched Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West show which later became the Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show. May Lillie starred as a sharpshooter and expert “lady rider.” This Wild West show business, which she co-owned with her husband, at its peak employed 645 people, 400 horses and steers, a herd of twenty buffalo, elephants, and carriages. Lillie managed the ranch that held the buffalo. Under her direction the ranch thrived and she worked hard to promote the conservation of buffalo in the United States.


Mary E. "May" Manning (March 12, 1869 - September 17, 1936)

Mary Manning was born on March 12, 1869 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her parents were William R. and Mary Manning. May had two sisters, Elmira and Elizabeth Manning and a younger brother, William B. Manning. May also had three half brothers, Samuel, Edward and Albert Eager. Mary Manning married Gordon William Lillie (who became famous as Pawnee Bill) in 1886 at her parent's home in Philadelphia.

Gordon Lillie's wedding gift to his bride was a pony and a Marlin .22 target rifle. A natural shot, May traveled the country as the “Champion Girl Horseback Shot of the West.” Lillie starred his petite wife in his Wild West shows as a sharpshooter and expert “lady” rider. She was one of the first women to perform as an equestrian and shooter in American Wild West Shows. While on tour in 1907, May gave a speech to women in Chicago, she said: “Let any normally healthy woman who is ordinarily strong screw up her courage and tackle a bucking bronco, and she will find the most fascinating pastime in the field of feminine athletic endeavor. There is nothing to compare, to increase the joy of living, and once accomplished, she’ll have more real fun than any pink tea or theater party or ballroom ever yielded.”

Eventually May and Gordon settled in Pawnee, Oklahoma on Blue Hawk Peak. They built a cabin, established a buffalo herd, and, in 1910, and completed work on their Arts and Crafts style home. In 1917, May and Gordon adopted a son whom they named Billy. He died in an accident at the ranch in 1925. While her husband was on tour, May was the hands-on manager of the Lillie buffalo ranch. She believed in the buffalo’s importance to the heritage of the American West and to Plains Indian culture. May was active in the Women’s Relief Corp and was a member of the Eastern Star. She starred in “May Lillie, Queen of the Buffalo Ranch,” a film produced at the ranch. In 1936 she and her husband celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in Taos, New Mexico. In September of that year they attended a local celebration in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While driving back to their ranch that night Gordon lost control of their vehicle. May died on September 17, 1936 as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.

In 2011, May Lillie was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame for her tireless work during her Wild West Show career as well as her role in the preservation of the American bison.

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Mary Emma "May" Lillie's Timeline