LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER

by

June English



 
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FRESNO COUNTY

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Editor's Note: With the recent resurgence of interest in Fort Miller, and its possible future reconstruction, this article may be of some interest. It is a combination of two articles which were originally published in the April 1968 and July 1970 issues of the Ash Tree Echo.

The Inhabitants of Fort Miller

Tales of frontier life bring to the mind pictures of a fort, commanded by daring young officers sallying forth from the stockaded walls and leading the blue-clad young soldiers into battle for the protection of the settlers and miners of a region. It was an exciting and picturesque part of our western history. Exaggerated fables were published in eastern newspapers, as well as books describing the heroism and adventurous life of the frontier soldier, and were eagerly read by those who envied such brave men.


The Indians felt differently about these isolated military communities in their land. Wherever the white soldiers were located, there soon followed the subjugation of their people—seldom peacefully. They hated the common soldier who was usually very ignorant and often cruel. The misfits of the western world made up the usual complement of the forts. Enlistment in the army was often an escape from legal justice and the ranks were filled with men who could not adjust to a law-abiding life. There were instances when the white settlers felt the same as the Indian about the soldiers. However, without the particular toughness of this type of man, the frontier would not have been settled as quickly as it was. The very violence of their natures made it possible for them to adapt to the way of life needed to survive. The officers must have been exceptional men to be able to command these unruly frontier soldiers.


Construction of Fort Miller

The need for Fort Miller repeated the pattern shown elsewhere in the west, although the nature of the Yokuts people in this region was generally peaceful, except for the Chowchillas located along the Chowchilla River on the Valley floor.


Life here for the Indian was nearly idyllic. Food was abundant, sufficient even in times of drought. The climate was clement. Apart from the Chowchillas and occasionally the Tache Indians adjacent to the old Tulare Lake, their lives were of peaceful bent. Wars were infrequent, formalized and of short duration. Violation of territorial rights and raids for women were the basic causes. Murder was an offense against the family concerned and was settled by death of the killer or payment to the family.


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