JOAQUIN MILLER RETURNS TO CANYON CITY - SUMMER OF 1907

An article by C.G. McIntosh, teacher, tells of being with Joaquin Miller on his return to visit Canyon City in the summer of 1907.

"If that is my cabin, I did a good job of putting on the shingles. But I should not have recognized it. Those trees are not as I planted them. There is a shirt on the line too which I know is not mine. I never had but one in those dear old days."

And then, Joaquin Miller, the Sweet Singer of the Sierras, took the photograph which he was examining into a stronger light, swept the silvery lock that dangled lower over his shoulder, adjusted his eye glasses and with his index finger, located the lines of the lowlying hills which surrounded the cabin of his early home.

A look of intense earnestness - or was it something more - shown in his face as he continued. "Yes, it's all changed here beyond recognition, but the contour of the hills seem the same forever more. This (pointing to the cabin) is my work! This, (indicating the sweep of the hills) is God's." And with a supreme reverence that thrilled speaker and hearers alike, murmured, "Holy, Holy Hills." It is given to many men to love nature, but few could interpret her secrets as did Joaquin Miller!

"See where the eternal forces are ceaselessly at work repairing the devastation of man." He observed the large area of divided upland placer land. "Nature abhors a wound, and even an open scar. She slowly but surely softens and hides them by some of her magical art. The steeper edges of this cut are already smoothing out, and hardy grasses and brave blossoms are colonizing in the scant soil of the ruins. These hills are emblems of charity."

We were on a drive over the old Marysville Camp at the foot of Canyon Mountain, and often as some beautiful or familiar scene was brought into view, the venerable poet would bare his head in its majestic presence: "You understand" was his only comment when I brought the team to a stand-still at such times.

Canyon City was given rise to many good men and to a few that were great, but of them all Joaquin Miller alone rose from "holy hills" to a place of light in the world of letters.

In 1864, Joaquin Miller (Cincinnatus Hiner Miller) arrived in Canyon City from the Willamette Valley with his wife and baby. He brought with him a small herd of cattle and some fruit trees. He planted the fruit orchard in this region. It was at this time that the cabin, now known as Joaquin Miller's Cabin, was built. Here the man with his family lived for six years before going into the world to win fame as a "Poet of the Sierras." He served as Grant County Judge from 1866-1870. His cabin is still preserved in Canyon City on a lot where the Herman and Eliza Oliver Museum is located. It was moved from its original location, but still stands on historical ground, for it stands near the banks of Canyon Creek, and seems to blend in with the ancient hills across from it.

With the new and popular name of "Joaquin" replacing Cincinnatus Hiner given him by his parents, he became famous and widely known throughout the West and California as a poet and writer. His middle name was given in honor of the county physician who was in attendance at his birth. "Heiner" which appeared in his early books, may or may not have been a printer's error. His first appearance in print had been a letter in defense of the Mexican bandit, Joaquin Marietta, which resulted in his friends calling him "Joaquin." The name pleased him better than his own, and he adopted it as his pen name. The following lines by Joaquin Miller were written about 1866 on the back of the register of a debating society organized by him, which met in the Good Templar's Hall:

Vanity has destroyed more lead than steel
In men who condem (sic) as ill there is so much of goodness still
In men who pronounce as divine there is so much of sin and blot
I hesitate to draw a line between the two, where God has not.


In 1868, Miller's first book of poetry "Specimens" was published by William D. Carter in Portland. The type was set up by George H. Himes, later founder of the Oregon Historical Society, and who always regretted he had not saved a copy of Miller's first edition. The first book and Miller's second, "Joaquin et Al," were both ignored by American critics, even the "Bards of San Francisco Bay" to whom Miller dedicated the second volume.

Chagrined, as well as discouraged, Miller went to England, the mother country of the poets. But the English publishers of 1870 were unimpressed and Miller was forced to print 100 copies of his "Pacific Poems" at his own expense. Success was immediate and staggering. The London literate lionized the painstakingly crude frontiersman with the delicate writing touch. Miller captured entire drawing rooms of British intelligentsia, dazzling them with his velvet coat, hip boots and the bear rug he threw on the floor to comfort him as he spouted his own writings.

He remained in Europe for some time, returning to America in 1883 to build a log cabin in Washington D.C. He returned to California in 1885 and died in Oakland, February 17, 1913.

His best known works are "Crossing the Plains and The Yukon." Who does not remember his poem "Columbus" with each verse ending in the ringing words "Sail On - Sail On- And On." Those were brave words of encouragement meant to dispel any fear.





The following is from a newspaper article dated March 15th, 1954, wherein Mrs. Edith [Hazeltine] Clifford shares her many early memories of Grant Co., Oregon with one reporter.

Mrs. Clifford "blew up" a little when asked by a Portland newspaper reporter about Joaquin Miller, "poet of the Sierras", a former county judge in Canyon City. She said "At one time we lived across the street from Miller - he was known by his right name, Cincinnatus Miller, then", Mrs. Clifford recalled. She said "Neither mother or I liked him. His wife, Minnie Myrtle, a Coos county girl, was a fine person and wrote better poetry than Cincinnatus did".

Please click here to read the article in its entirety.





Regarding his birth; The following excerpt is taken from an introduction to Volume I, of Joaquin Miller's Poems, published in 1917:

"I see that my birthday is set down in some books for 1841, and in others for 1842. This comes from the loss of the Bible...Papa gave the former year, according to his recollection of the trivial event, while mother insisted on the latter, both giving the same day of the month....I was born in a covered wagon, I am told at or about the time it crossed the line dividing Indiana from Ohio."

It's believed by most biographers that having been born in a covered wagon was another one of Miller's fabrications.



The following was taken from an issue of the Portland Journal reprinted, May 16th, 1914 by the Grant County Blue Mtn. Eagle.

Colonel Henry E. Dosch discusses, C.H. "Joaquin" Miller

When I went there, the county had been recently organized. Canyon City was settled largely by the left wing of Price's Army. They had left Missouri and most of them were southern sympathizers. W. Lair Hill was Co. Judge and Tom Brente was Co. Clerk. At the next election Mike Goodwin, a saloon keeper, was elected Co. Clerk. and as he knew nothing about the duties and could not afford to neglect the saloon, he made me his deputy. C.H. Miller had been elected Co. Judge. He had been an express messenger, a miner, had tried his hand at running a newspaper, and had lived with the Indians. When I knew him first, he was a devout admirer of Byron. He tried to imitate Byron in every way even to limping like Byron. I was his unwilling victim. He was constantly writing poetry and coming into my office to read it to me. He was a picturesque character for he wore his hair long and wore high boots, tucking the trousers into one boot and letting the other trouser leg cover the boot. He was really a pretty able lawyer and very gentle man, but I wasn't very crazy about his poetry. He sent his verse to The Times Mountaineer at The Dalles publishing it under the name of John Smith, Jr. Later he ran a good deal of his verse in the Blue Mt. Eagle at CC under his own name of C.H. Miller. Still later he adopted the name of Joaquin Miller and when he went to England, his picturesque attire and his western manner made a big hit. His wife, Myrtle Miller, to my mind was a better poet than her husband but her verse has never been published except in newspaper form.




Yreka Journal
Wednesday, July 17, 1872

We are informed that Joaquin Miller has written a new work relating to matters in Siskiyou County, entitled "The Shadows of Shasta," containing incidents of the early history of this county and Northern California, being a sort of romance, with an Indian heroine, as usual.




RECORDS OF SHASTA COUNTY,
Tuesday, July 19, 1859

The People of the State of California against Hiner Miller.
In the Court of Sessions in the County of Shasta;
July Term, A.D. 1859.

Hiner Miller is accused by the Grand Jury of the County of Shasta by this Indictment of the crime of Grand Larceny, a felony committed as follows:

That the said Hiner Miller at the County of Shasta on the 10th day of July A.D. 1859 one gelding horse of the value of Eighty Dollars, one Saddle of the value of Fifteen dollars and one bridle of the value of Five of the property, goods and chattels of one Thomas Bass then and there being found, then and there feloniously and wilfully did steal, drive and take away, contrary to the Statute in such case made and provided and against the peace and dignity of the People of the State.

JAMES D. MIX - District Attorney

Names of Witnesses - THOMAS BASS - WILLIAM KAPPEL

State of California,
County of Shasta - I, H.J. Van Horn, Clerk of Court

Sessions in and for said County, do hereby certify that the foregoing is a true copy of the Indictment this day presented to the Court of Sessions by the Grand Jury and now on file in my office.

[Seal] Witness my hand, with the seal of said court affixed at Shasta this 19th day of July A.D. 1859.

H.J. VAN HORN, Clk. C.S. By A.C. TAYLOR, Dy.
[Endorsed]

Court of Sessions, The People vs. Hiner Miller
Indictment A True Bill
D.D. HARRILL, Foreman G. Jury. Filed July 19th, 1859.
H.J. Van Horn, Clk. D.S. by A.C. Taylor.




From the Yreka Journal
Saturday, July 17th, 1886

JOAQUIN MILLER, who formerly resided on Deadwood Creek in this county, for a short time during the '50 period, before removing to Shasta county, and now has become famous as a literary genius, writes the following letter to the Shasta Courier from San Francisco under date of July 2d: "I paid a flying visit to your mountains and restful mountain town a few weeks ago, and hoped to be back with you soon; but now I find duty calls the other way and I must, for a time at least, return to my cabin in Washington and again exchange blows in the battle of life with the follies of the time. Meanwhile here is some words for you in one of my weekly letters to the great Chicago Times. And further on, within the next few weeks, I shall devote one or two entire letters to the tied-up resources of the dear old California Piedmont, Shasta county; for I owe all that I am to the fine air, and majestic splendor of your mountains. Besides that, I am under boundless obligations to the boys of Shasta who stood so faithfully by me when we were all away up in Idaho and I was running express; and also when we had settled down in Northern Oregon, and I was running for Judge. And by the way, Fred Adams, the old Californian from Siskiyou, who ran against me, is now a looming candidate for the nomination for Governor on the Republican ticket. And let me say this of my sturdy old antagonist of a quarter century ago; no better man ever wore boots than Fred Adams. His hands are clean; honor and integrity are entirely his. I hope he will be nominated. And, if that ticket is to win, I hope he will lead it. But I am wandering from my subject, as we all will when we get to talking of the boys, and of old times. I set out to say that I have bought a bit of ground from the railroad; and I now ask nothing more of either God or men than to sit down by my little mountain stream, plant some grapes on the red hillside sloping to the sun, and rest, and rest, and rest in dear old Shasta.

"I forgot to say that only a few weeks ago I was far up in the mountains all alone on a visit to an old battlefield, where I was badly hit when a lad, and stopped over night in Shasta city on my way back. But I did not make myself known because I was thinking, thinking. And then nearly everybody was dead, and one don't like to be bumping his head against a tombstone at every question. And so as I hoped to return soon, I did not see any of the few remaining old familiar faces. Thirty years is a long, long time. But I went out on the porch of the old hotel when it stopped raining, and the stars came out. The same splendid moon, and so close and so clear! I could almost hang my cane on the horn of it. And the wondrous stars! Large and glittering as the great glittering nuggets we used to gather from the gulches in the days of old. I tried to imagine that the boys were all there still; still strong and young - still dreaming in their cabins of the loved ones at home, instead of resting forever on the hill sides of Shasta; or wandering, like myself, far away, beaten and battle scarred, hoping to strik it yet. Boys, we will strike it yet, up in the stars! With love to you and yours.

JOAQUIN MILLER."



LINKS TO OTHER GOOD SITES FEATURING MILLER AND HIS POETRY


Joaquin Miller - California's Poetaster by Joel GAzis-SAx
Joaquin Miller - Born Nov. 10, 1841.
Joaquin Miller-Poet of the Sierras
Joaquin Murieta-The Legend
Joaquin Miller Home
A Concise Biography of Joaquin Miller
California's Cup of Gold
Yosemite
Dead In The Sierras
Joaquin Murieta
In San Francisco
Twilight At The Hights
The Wild West in Piccadilly
Joaquin Miller (1837-1913)


1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved


Return to Grant County, Oregon Home Page
Return to Oregon @ gesswhoto.com