Josiah and Emily Miller Homesteaders at Orion, Alberta 1910-1918

Josiah Miller, Civil War Vet, Texan, Oklahoma land rush, and homesteader, picture about 1912

On December 9, 1909, it was announced that registration of the last surveyed land in Southern Alberta would take place at the Lethbridge Land Office and sub-offices on January 10, 1910. Regulations governing homestead entry stated that every male over eighteen years of age was entitled to obtain entry upon payment of a fee of $10.00. Application had to be made by the applicant in person, at the Dominion Land Offices.

In 1910, my great grandfather, Josiah Converse Miller, made the trips at the age of 70! He would be travelling with my grandfather, William and two other sons, Ira Lee and Hiram. The wagon ride along a rutted, muddy trail may have been the worst part of a new arrival’s journey to the land of promise that was touted as the land of sunshine and success. The four men would have come ahead on the train from Saskatchewan. No doubt, the train was overcrowded with migrants in the same pursuit of land, which meant overcrowded discomfort. Pairs of seats, facing one another, pulled out into hard wooden beds that would sleep two, above the seats, another hard wooden bed, the upper berth swung down from the wall like a shelf. Toilet facilities were non-existent and travelers had to utilize the train’s regular stops, which sometimes could be embarrassingly short.

The initial trip took several days. But finally the journey ended 55 miles southwest of Medicine Hat and then the homesteaders began to search among the prairie grass for the corner stakes that marked the quarter sections.

These were found in the N.E. corner of each quarter – four little square holes dug and in the center a homestead peg telling what section, township and range. Then back to the land office to file on the claim for $10. They got in line with hundreds of other men. Fortunately for them the weather was warm and balmy, they shed their heavy coats. The Dominion Land Act stated that after filing on the 160 acres of land they had to build a shelter and live there for at least six months of the year, for three years, and break at least ten acres a year to prove up. With a ten dollar bill, courage, hard work and prayer, Josiah and sons had one hundred and sixty acres to call their own.

There were no trees at Orion, Alberta, just sage and grass. The men loaded up wagons of lumber. That first night, long ago, when they found those section pegs again and pitched their tents, smelled the fragrant prairie grass and watched the sunset, listened to the coyotes yip, did they call it home? Home was a patch of nothing, in a flat immensity of the same prairie, with few signs of humanity. But where they stopped would be called home for the next 8 years for Josiah, and a little longer for Emily, William and Ira Lee Miller.

I took this picture in 2009, close to the Manyberries homestead started in 1910. The view is the same, only the caragana tree hedges, the fences and the land put under the plow make the scenery different.

On May 17, 1910 Josiah filled out his application for the SE 33-5-5-W4 and declared he was a citizen of the USA, with an intentionto become a British subject under the laws of Canada. On June 5th, 1913, he filed with the Department of the Interior, Dominion Lands branch a patent for the same section stating that he had complied with the Homestead Act:

Home 16×24 logs and lumber $500; Stable $200; Granary $200; Well $30; 4 miles of fencing $150; He had entered with his wife and 5 children.

In the year 1911 broke 25 acres and cropped 10.

In the year 1912 broke 12 acres and cropped 35.

In the year 1913 broke 2 acres and had in crop 37 acres. Josiah had 5 horses and 2 cattle.

Picture taken about 1912

William, the 5th child married Josephine Reinhardt on January 5, 1912 and brought her to his homestead, NW 27-5-7 with her four children. Josiah and Emily welcomed the children as their own.

Wedding picture of my grandparents, William and Josephine Miller, January 5, 1912

Ira Lee married Ruby Davies on June 18, 1912 and filed on his own homestead, NE 16-6-6 about 4 miles away.

Ira Lee and Ruby Miller wedding June 18, 1912

Hiram remained living at home, handicapped in his wheelchair and was not well and became withdrawn. It was sad for him not to have a family and a home of his own. Hiram read a lot and travelled about in his rig. Hiram was allowed his own homestead but resided with his parents, Josiah and Emily. He hired the work out and his farm prospered.

Celia owned a dress and millenary shop in Medicine Hat and Edward, well Edward was still moving about. (see blog, There’s a Storm Comin’ Tonight)

Josephine’s Mother Samantha Hendrickson Reinhardt Boyce, my grandmother Josephine Reinhardt Erratt Miller and Celia Miller picture taken about 1914

Many of the neighbors were bachelors. They looked wild and unkempt. Bill and Josephine would invite them for a meal. They lived such solitary and lonely lives. Josephine offered to cut their hair and made many a friend. The William Miller place was on the way to Seven Persons and many stopped and stayed overnight. She would feed anyone that came by, and many came.

In 1914, World War I broke out. Josiah was contacted by the U.S. Calvary. He was too supply them with as many horses as he could. The boys, Lee and Bill were sent out to buy horses for him. They had to be halter broken and inspected. Emily and Bill’s wife, Josephine fed the horse-breaking crew.

A Swedish family had settled a mile away. They did not speak English, except the father, who spent some time in Minnesota. Emily walked across the field to welcome them carrying two fresh loaves baked that day. She was shocked to see how they were living. Anna, was the mother of 5 children and there was soon to be another one. She looked sad and sick, but smiled and offered a cup of water. Her husband, Erik, was not at home, but Emily heard the gun as she was leaving and knew there would probably be rabbit in the pot that night.

Another older bachelor lives in a dugout, a few miles away. When invited over he enjoyed a Sunday meal and they found out he was a doctor from England and very intelligent. Doc was willing to help anyone but would not accept a reward. They asked Doc to go and check on Erik and Anna as the new baby had arrived. The doctor said Anna had to go to the hospital in Medicine Hat and he took her. Erik was alone with his family. A week later Eric came running across the field early one morning crying, “My Anna is dead!” The hospital did not know how to contact him and where she came from, and as she spoke no English, had buried her. She died soon after she got to the hospital and all Eric could tell them was, “My Anna is dead!” Erik had the heart breaking job of giving his children to someone else to raise. He had tears in his eyes as he told them one was going with a childless couple back to Ontario, one went to Medicine Hat, two were placed locally and the Baldwin family would take his baby to California. It had become very dry and Erik was giving up on his homestead and going to the Peace River to trap.

William’s wife Josephine, received a letter that her mother in Ohio was a widow. They invited her to come and live with them. In 1914 she came with a small trunk of personal belongings and her feather bed.

My great grandmother’s Samantha Hendrickson Reinhardt Boyce, solid walnut heirloom

Samantha was 70 and becoming frail but she helped with the housework, churning, punching down the bread and keeping the children busy with stories and games. It was a very dry year. There was very little cattle feed put up. The farmers went to the Pakowki Lake shoreline and mowed a patch of slough grass, raked and wagonloads were brought to the Miller’s farm. Some of the American neighbors are giving up on Canada and returning to the U.S. The Millers want to stay. The Miller’s step son, Herbert was learning to do a man’s work. He had a runaway while on the disc. He was jerked off and it was a miracle he wasn’t badly cut. The disc was bouncing from end to end and missed most of him except one foot. They took him into Medicine Hat, 55 miles away to have it sewn up.

I took this picture at a demonstration, but shows the horses and machinery of the time.

When every last bit of hay had been mowed and raked and stacked a trip to Elkwater to pick Saskatoons was planned. Locally ther berries had dried up before ripening. Edward arrived with a new car and took the family, on a two day holiday. Josiah and Emily and Hiram enjoyed the greenness of the hills and the tall pine trees. There were bonfires and singing; the fishing was good. Many washtubs were filled with the sweet berries.

Home again they had settled in for the night when they heard a horse a coming. It was their son Ira Lee. Someone had cut Hiram’s fence and run off all his livestock. They’d also taken Josiah’s 20 steers. Whoever had done this had probably planned when they knew the family would be away for two days and had a two day head start. At daybreak the men picked up the trail. It had been a while since Bill and Lee had done much tracking so Josiah was quick to jog their memories. By resting the horses every couple of hours they covered a lot of ground. Josiah’s years of patrol duty along the Rio Grande were recounted as they made camp around a small fire. The trail was heading north and they figured the herd was heading for sale in Medicine Hat. The next day cresting a rise and there spread out ahead of them was what they were looking for. The thieves were no where in sight, perhaps they’d seen the posse coming at them?

The rains came and the Miller’s had a good crop, 1915. The women had a wonderful garden. The boys dug a root cellar and they were able to store the potatoes, carrots and onions and turnips over the winter and had abundance. Newspapers were passed around the community. War in Europe is still raging on. Nellie McClung a Canadian author, social activist, suffragette and politician was garnering support for the women’s right to vote. Some agreed but she also wants to abolish the liquor trade. There was lots of heated discussion.

Son Edward came through the country with his car again and took Josiah and Emily into Medicine Hat with him. A car ride instead of a bumpy wagon, and a stay at the hotel where the meals were served on white tablecloths. The Eaton’s catalogue arrived in the mail, a mail order company with household goods and clothes. The school had a wonderful Christmas concert and at the end of it, Hiram took William’s children to Josiah and Emily’s home in his buggy. Later that night, December 21, 1915, Josephine and William Miller welcomed a curly blonde headed daughter. Josiah pronounced her beautiful and told them that he’d learned a French word in Louisiana to describe her – Belle. William and Josephine added May to it and named her Mabelle. Her nickname became Bubble, as she was such happy child.

1916, prohibition became law. The country became “dry”. The solution was simple and called moonshine. The bootleggers became notorious for the ingenuity in escaping the law. Josiah and Emily knew Edward, with his fast cars travelled the roads to Montana frequently. There were dreadful stories of the war in Europe as well as accounts of a vicious flu like illness. Ira Lee and Ruby had their second baby boy, Truman, a brother for Howard. Their third, Keith, was born the next year and Josiah joked that the Miller name will be around for a long time

Josiah Miller aged 77 and Emily his wife aged 66. The homestead at Manyberries, Alberta. When they married in Texas, June 17, 1868 I doubt they foresaw their future but the result was made from many decisions and almost 50 years of marriage. i

Christmas and New Year’s came and went in 1917, but the Miller’s were feeling impending doom. Josephine arrived to help Emily care for Josiah everyday. Doc came to see him and said nothing more can be done. Josiah’s heart was very weak and he developed pneumonia. William and Edward, had been to meetings that October, setting up the Manyberries Cemetery Company with 13 others. A share is to be $12.50 which entitled one to a plot. Some of the by-laws should make you smile: no horses allowed to pass through faster than a walk; no picnics allowed; all persons are prohibited from picking any flower, wild or cultivated.

Josiah died in his sleep January 28, 1918, the first victim of the Spanish flu, in the district. The physician listed his death as apoplexy. It was a sad family without Josiah. He guided everyone and enjoyed people and their stories. He was the first person buried in the Manyberries cemetery. The community planned to plant a caragana hedge around the cemetery and fence it. That couldn’t be done as the winter was too cold.

The announcement in the paper read:

Died at Manyberries, Alberta onTuesday, January the 29th, 1918. Josiah C. Miller in his seventy-eighth year

Funeral Will leave his late residence four miles N.W. of Town on Saturday, February 2nd, to the Presbyterian Church. Thence to the Manyberries Cemetery, where interment will take place. Unfortunately, the headstone reads J. C. Miller, 1840-1917, not the correct 1918, placed by his son, Herbert Miller, at a later date when there was money.

Josiah had a will, which was probated by his sons, Hiram and William and left all his worldly possessions to his wife, Emily, less any debts. Emily applied for Josiah’s widow pension from the Civil War and was entitled to a pension at the rate of twenty-five dollars per month, commencing March 7th, 1918. When Josiah died, William and Josephine took Emily into their home to care for her. She was 67 years old at this time. Hiram hired a neighbor girl, Edith Johnson who was a motherless 14 year old girl to care for him. Edith had 6 younger brothers and sisters, at home. Edith would later marry Edward’s son, Lawrence Ray. Edward and sons, Ray and Jesse, had opened a garage and were close by to help. Edward and Celia are going to take Hiram to Oosoyous, B.C. where there are hot springs to heal minds and bodies in the mud baths. That November, 1918, word was received the War in Europe had ended. In October, the province of Alberta mandated all wear masks outside their homes. This was the recommended method of prevention of the Spanish influenza. Treatments varied from whiskey, aspirin, Epsom salts and castor oil. The mustard plaster, made of dry mustard, flour and water was spread on cheesecloth pads and placed between flannel an the patient’s chest. It would reduce coughing. If left on too long, it would burn. Other poultices were made of bread, onions, salt and linseed oil.

On November 18th, 1919 Merle (Dusty) Converse Miller was born the fourth son of Ira Lee and Ruby. His second name after his grandfather, Josiah Converse Miller, who he would never know. 1921, Celia kept Hiram with her at Penticton, B.C. where she had a venture subdividing land along the lake that she had bought. Celia was a good business woman, way ahead of her time with lake front properties! Hiram died there at the age of 48. There was little feed again. William and his boys made an eight mile round trip to the Pakowki Lake, finishing up just as the snow began to fall. With a team and hayrack wagon, it was work forking up the hay and tossing aside the thorny wild rose and burr bushes, then trampling to make more room. The hay harvested was sufficient to winter the livestock, however, market price for cattle had not improved in 1922. Faced with another winter of feed shortage, the Angus cattle herd was reduced. That February, Celia, had taken her mother Emily to live with her where she had moved to Spokane, Washington. Edward had a job of chief mechanic for Greyhound. It had been a dry winter. William and Josephine buried her mother, Samantha, Ira Lee and Ruby welcomed a daughter, Eveyln March 17, 1922 and Beryl Josephine Miller was born January 2, 1923, to William and Josephine. When Beryl was six months old, there was just no money. William and Josephine left her in the care of Maybelle, 8 years old and the oldest son, Robert. Josephine worked cooking for the threshing crews and picked strawberries in B.C. William worked in the coalmines and as a teamster hauling lumber. Finally they settled near Frank Slide in Cougar Valley, in a little cabin by the river. Maybelle would tell her mother that Bob would do his share when little Beryl work up crying in the night. Though the nights were cold, he’d get up, wrap her in a blanket, turn on the old gramophone and sing and dance, cuddling her to get her back to sleep.

1923 Orion, the William Miller homestead. Shearing a sheep,
My aunt Beryl 1924 at Orion, just before they quit the homestead at Manyberries for good.

Things went from bad to worse. There was no money. The Miller boys’ would eventually move North just as their parents, Josiah and Emily, had done many years before. Bob took over the farm at Orion until 1928 when it was sold for pennies.

Emily Atkinson Miller died September 13, 1937 at Spokane, Washington aged 88. She had been a widow for 19 years. The two boys, William and Ira Lee were able to make a trip to see her in 1937, just before she died. Cause of death was senility or old age.

The signpost to find the homestead.

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