August 20, 2015

The Miller Bros. Saved Prescott From Starvation

Sam and Jake Miller were two of the very first whites to lay eyes on the Prescott area when they arrived with the Walker Party in 1863.  But unlike the other members of that party, the Miller brothers stayed.  Had they not, the history of Prescott would have been much different and much shorter.

Imagine if "Prescott" was remembered only as an attempt to settle the area; an experiment that failed after only one year due to starvation and an Apache blockade of the town.

This could have very well been the case had it not been for the Miller brothers' nerves and the business they started in Prescott's earliest days.

When the Walker Party pressed into this country, their strategy for taking hold of the Prescott area was both simple and brutal: an immediate and deadly show of force.  Any Indians who stood in their way, or even questioned them, were summarily shot.

Within "a few weeks (of) entering the Navajo Indian reservation, the troubles of the (Walker) party commenced.  The Indians disputed the right of the pale face and without any parleying, Walker and his party opened hostilities, killing several and paving the way for the advance." (*1)

Fighting continued all the way to the Prescott area and when they finally arrived, "not a man of the party was missing, although some had been wounded by arrows." (*1)

They immediately broke into small groups and "struck out in different directions to explore." (*1)

Samuel Carson Miller 1840-1909
"On one hunting trip, near a creek, Sam spotted a doe with her fawn followed closely by a lynx. He chose to shoot the lynx, letting the deer get away. Sam, assuming that the lynx was dead, stooped to turn him over and the lynx caught him by the wrist. Sam shot the lynx three times in the head before the critter loosened his grip. Sam returned to camp with a mangled arm, no venison, and one very dead, dreadful cat." (*2)

The Millers found placer gold in the creek, staked their claim, and named the waterway "Lynx Creek" after Sam's escapade. Eventually the brothers made $6000 in gold and used it as seed money for several enterprising trades. (*4)

The first was a natural for the brothers.  Sam's major responsibility in the Walker Party was as "boss freighter." (*1) Indeed, they were the only anglos who had any knowledge of freighting in the area whatsoever.  Their freight business "had twenty-two teams with twelve mules and two wagons to each team. They collected anywhere from 15 to 25 cents per pound for a distance of 640 miles (*2) running from Prescott to Los Angeles via Wickenburg. (*3)

RELATED: 1870 Indian Wars: Outskirts of Prescott Sit Helpless

The winter of 1864 would determine if the anglos would be able to carve a city out of the middle of the wilderness.  People came to the area in search of gold and they indeed found it, but gold is worthless when there's no food to buy.  Such was the case in Prescott that dreary and desperate winter and the only people who could save Prescott from starvation were the Millers.

Navigating a harsh trek, they persevered through dangerous Indian country and were able to complete the trip, providing food for a very grateful Prescott.  From then on, they would always be considered heroes. (*3)

Since stagecoach service was infrequent at best, the Millers would occasionally take passengers along with them.

On one such occasion, Sam took a full load of merchandise along with a family and four young (and reportedly beautiful,) ladies through Wallapai country.  The many wagons parked for the night at Beale Springs and as the sun was setting, a war party surrounded the horizon above them.

"Suddenly the head man of the (warriors), Wauba Uba, rode up and demanded a 'treaty' saying that the horses,...mules and the flour was all" that they wanted. (*1)

Miller's response was the same one he learned from his days with the Walker Party.  He immediately "reached for his Hawkins rifle and sent a bullet crashing through the lungs of the Indian, tearing a hole in his body as big as his hand." (*1)

The rest of the traveling party quickly made ready for an attack, but it was unnecessary.  Miller rightly anticipated that the war party would be stunned by the loss of their leader and they indeed withdrew.  Even to his death, Miller felt strongly that if he had complied with the demands of the Indians, "a massacre would have followed...and the women would have been taken into captivity." (*1)

ALSO ENJOY: There Were Cars in the Prescott National Forest Before the White Tail Deer

In March of 1864, the brothers took squatters rights on some land about a mile from Prescott then called Spring Valley.  There they built one of the largest houses in the area (it was a 2 story, 14 room log building) and grew grain for their teams. (*2)  Spring Valley became "Miller Valley" and was later incorporated into Prescott.  Miller Road and Miller Creek are also named after the brothers. (*4)

Other Miller brothers' enterprises included the building of the Iron Springs Road where they charged tolls until they sold the road to Yavapai county in 1877. (*4)

Sam also started up the "Hardy Store" in October of 1864. (*5)

The Miller Freight Company was absolutely essential to both the survival and the quick growth of Prescott as well as the rest of the state.  In fact, it was the Millers who freighted all the state records the three times Arizona changed its capital. (*4)

Throughout his life, Sam Miller was both highly regarded and respected in Prescott.  People understood that if it wasn't for the Millers and the Walker party, there wouldn't even be a Prescott.  He was considered a man of his word.

A long parade of carriages followed him to his final resting place in October of 1909.  "It was due him, for in his earlier life no man was more generously inclined and none proved a better citizen then he." (*1)

(*1) Arizona Journel-Miner; October 8, 1909, page 4 col. 3.
(*5) Arizona Journel-Miner; October 5, 1864, page 3 col 1.

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