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
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
· Joaquin Miller by O.W. Frost,
Alaska Methodist University, Twayne Publishers, Inc. New York, 1967
on Selected Poems
Cup of Gold
in the Sierras