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Joaquin Miller - California Writer

1837 - 1914

The Buffalo Bill of American literature, Miller was a legendary figure. He was known as the "Poet of the Sierras." Divorced and defeated as a Canyon City judge, at 33 he went to London and became a famous bard, often appearing in buckskins. His parents were Quaker, and he became Quaker during the Civil War, buying a newspaper and using it to speak out against the war until he was suppressed.

A Concise Biography of Joaquin Miller

Joaquin Miller was born Cincinnatus Hiner Miller on September 8, 1837. In the introduction to Volume One of JOAQUIN MILLER'S POEMS, published by Harr Wagner Publishing Co. in 1917 however, Miller wrote,

"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."

In a 1967 Biography by O.W. Frost, Twayne Publishers Inc, however, Miller's biographer establishes 1837 as the year of Millers birth. Frost also identifies Miller's covered wagon birth as a fabrication.

The name Joaquin was adapted from the legendary California bandit, Joaquin Murietta. Joaquin Miller described his decision to adopt the name at the conclusion of the Poem "Joaquin Murietta," in Volume II of his collected works.

"The third poem in my first London Book was called 'California,' but it was called 'Joaquin' in the Oregon book. And it was from this that I was in derision called "Joaquin." I kept the name and the poem too, till both were at least respected. But my elder brother, who had better judgement and finer taste than I, thought it too wild and bloody; and so by degrees it has been allowed to disappear, except this fragment, although a small book of itself to begin with." (see the poem "Joaquin Murietta" below.)

Joaquin Miller's parents were Quakers. Miller's father was a magistrate in Indiana. In 1852, his parents relocated their family to Oregon, traveling with two heavily laden wagons, eight oxen yoked to each, a carriage and two horses. Miller's family at the time consisted of his parents, three young boys and a baby girl. The three thousand mile trip took seven months and five days. The family settled in the Williamette Valley where they established a home and farm.

Miller, while still a boy headed to California with another boy during the early gold rush. He worked in a number of mining camps. He reported that he was severely wounded in a battle between the settlers near Mt. Shasta and the Modoc Indian Tribe when an arrow pierced his face and exited the back of his neck. The arrow passed close to the base of his brain. Although he eventually recovered from the wound, he suffered both physical and mental effects of the injury for at least a year. He later had little recollection of that period of time. He later survived other battles with northern California Indian groups, and had several altercations with the law over matters relating to the ownership of livestock and gun play.

Miller left Northern California and traveled to San Francisco. From there he claimed that he travelled to Nicaragua by ship, and then returned to Oregon. O.W. Frost reports however that the trip to Nicaragua was also a fabrication. In Oregon Miller attended college briefly, taught school, studied law, and was admitted to the bar. The lure of gold in Idaho was more than he could resist. He again headed for the gold fields.

Miller returned to Oregon again at the beginning of the Civil War with enough gold to build a new home and purchase a newspaper. Although his autobiography claims that this money was made as a gold miner, O.W. Frost comments that Miller enjoyed only moderate success as a miner in Idaho, earning enough to acquire a number of horses. With these horses, Miller entered the pony express business with Isaac Mossman. After Wells Fargo bought the business in 1862, Miller returned to the Williamette Valley. In his newspaper, The Eugene City Democratic Register Miller plead for an end to the Civil War, adopting the Quaker creed of his father. Miller's older brother went to war, and never returned to Oregon. Miller's anti war editorials were suppressed, and he again turned to mining. He was eventually elected to the position of Judge in a Southern Oregon community.

Miller left Oregon in 1870 and travelled to London, where his first book, Song of The Sierras was published in 1871. Miller also published his second book, Life Among The Modocs, in Europe. It was a success in Paris.

Joaquin Miller returned from Europe, and settled in Oakland California. After the death of his father in a farm accident, his mother came to live with him in Oakland, where she spent the last twenty years of her life. An enchanting interview of Margaret Miller by Isabel Darling appeared in Sunset magazine shortly before her death. In his last years Joaquin Miller lived on seventy-five acres in the Oakland Hills with a full view of the Golden Gate. He named his estate "The Hermitage, Oakland Heights." It was later renamed "The Hights." O.W. Frost remarks that the spelling was intended by the poet.

Joaquin Miller visited the Klondike during the Alaskan Gold Rush. He returned to The Hights after six months, exhausted from his Alaskan adventures, with thousands of dollars of gold dust, and $6,000 from W. R. Hurst for his Alaskan letters.

In his later years Joaquin Miller became known as "The Poet of The Sierras." He was a colorful figure who was well known in California literary and social circles. Six volumes of his collected poems and other writing were published in 1909. Joaquin Miller died on February 13, 1913. Selected Writings of Joaquin Miller, and Unwritten History, or My Life Among The Modocs were published by Urion Press in the 1970's.


· Joaquin Miller's Poems [in six volumes] The Whitaker & Ray Company, 1915
· The Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller Edited and with an introduction by Stuart P. Sherman, Ph.D., University of Illonois,G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press 1923
· Joaquin Miller by O.W. Frost, Alaska Methodist University, Twayne Publishers, Inc. New York, 1967


Comments on Selected Poems

California’s Cup of Gold


Dead in the Sierras

Joaquin Murrieta