Joaquin Miller

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Joaquin Miller
Joaquin Miller

Joaquin Miller was the pen name of the colorful American poet, essayist and fabulist Cincinnatus Heine (or Hiner) Miller (March 10, 1841, or alternatively September 8, 1837, or November 10, 1841 - February 17, 1913).

His parents were Hulen (sometimes “Hulings”) Miller and Margaret Witt who married January 3, 1836 in Union County, Indiana. Most family researchers give his birth date as September 8, 1837 and his birthplace as Liberty, Union County, Indiana. The Miller family was probably of German extraction, and may have attended the Four Mile German Baptist, or Dunkard, Church in Union County, IN, where people named Miller, Witt, Fahl, and Petry (family names) were founding members. While a young boy, the Miller family moved to Oregon and settled in the Willamette Valley, establishing a farm in what would become Lane County. Accounts differ, giving the family’s move to Oregon as early as 1842, but it was probably between 1850 and 1852.

Miller's exploits included a variety of occupations, including mining-camp cook (who came down with scurvy from only eating what he cooked), lawyer and a judge, newspaper writer, Pony Express rider, and horse thief. As a young man, he moved to northern California during the California Gold Rush years, and had a variety of adventures, including spending a year living in a Native American village, and being wounded in a battle with Native Americans. A number of his popular works, Life Among the Modocs, An Elk Hunt, and The Battle of Castle Crags, draw on these experiences. He was wounded in the cheek and neck with an arrow during this latter battle, recuperating at the Gold Rush-era mining town of Portuguese Flat.

About 1857, Miller supposedly married an Indian woman named Paquita (she may have been a Modoc Indian, and the relationship was probably that of a "country wife") and lived in the McCloud River area of northern California; the couple had two children born in California or Oregon. Miller married Theresa Dyer (alias Minnie Myrtle) September 12, 1862 at Port Orford, Oregon and had three children with her. The couple divorced in 1869. Miller married third, September 8, 1879, Abigail Leland, in New York, New York.

He was jailed briefly in Shasta County for stealing a horse, and various accounts give other incidents of his repeating this crime in California and Oregon. Spending a short time in the mining camps of northern Idaho, Miller found his way to Canyon City, Oregon by 1864 where he was elected the third Judge of Grant County. His old cabin in Canyon City is still standing. He later removed to Eugene, Oregon.

After losing his bid for a seat on the Oregon Supreme Court, and a failed marriage, he left the Pacific Northwest and spent some years traveling, living in and visiting (among other places) England, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Brazil. He eventually returned to settle in California, where he grew fruit and published his poems and other works. He was championed, although not enthusiastically, by Bret Harte and Ambrose Bierce. Bierce, who once called Miller "the greatest-hearted man I ever knew" also is quoted as saying that he was "the greatest liar this country ever produced. He cannot, or will not, tell the truth." Miller's response was, "I always wondered why God made Bierce."

Called the "Poet of the Sierras" and the "Byron of the Rockies," he may have been more of a celebrity in England than in his native U.S.

From 1886 to his death 1913, Miller resided on a hill in Oakland, in a home he called "The Hights" [sic]. He planted the surrounding trees and he personally built, on the eminence to the north, his own funeral pyre and monuments dedicated to Moses, General John C. Frémont, and Robert Browning. The Japanese poet Yone Noguchi began his literary career while living in the cabin adjoining Millers' during the latter half of the 1890s. The Hights was purchased by the city of Oakland in 1919 and can be found in Joaquin Miller Park. [1] It is now a designated California Historical Landmark.

Miller's poem "Columbus" was once one of the most widely known American poems, memorized and recited by legions of schoolchildren. Miller is remembered today, among other reasons, for one of his poems:

“In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still.
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.”

His poems include Songs of the Sierras, Songs of the Sun-Lands,and The Ship in the Desert.

  1. ^ Alameda California Historical Landmarks. Office of Historic Preservation. Retrieved on November 2, 2005.
  • Biography
  • Joaquin Miller Park
  • Miller wounded
  • Poem by Miller in the Mount Shasta Collection
  • Works by Joaquin Miller at Project Gutenberg
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