LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER

by

June English



 
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FRESNO COUNTY

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Dr. Leach's personality was considered "incendiary". His temper was fiery and his disposition made grown men behave, women shrink in awe, and children hide in terror. Still, he was thought of a kind man and a fine doctor. Many families have left good words about the doctor in their reminiscences. He died on March 18, 1897, in Fresno.


Andrew Firebaugh and his family occupied the Fort Miller Hospital for awhile. The town of Firebaugh was named for him as he had established the first ferry there in 1854. Here at the fort, his daughter Emma Leonora was born on May 26, 1866. She lived but twelve years and was buried beside her father and infant brother on the ranch they purchased from the Schultz family. (See the story of Peg-Leg Paden in a previous issue.) The monument still exists although it has been leveled several times in the past 90-plus years by accidents on the road and each time restored. It is located on the Crabtree Ranch near the road to Tollhouse. The Firebaugh story would fill a book.


The only other child recorded as having parents who lived at the fort and who was born there was Led F. Winchell. He died at the age of 60. He is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California, with other members of the Winchell family.


The 1872 Fresno Expositor lists a daughter born to Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Adams on June 14th. The only reference to an Adams in my files is of William Adams, born in Canada about 1838 and who was a clerk at Tollhouse in 1877.


On January 9, 1873, Samuel Goodwin's wife gave birth to a daughter at the fort. I can find no record to show that these two families lived at the fort. They may have come to Dr. Leach for medical help. There were comments made in the very early days that Dr. Leach refused to deliver babies and left that business to the midwives. How much later in his medical career he aided in birthing, I do not know, but he did at times, quite reluctantly.


Early writers have stated there have been many families who stopped at the fort for a short time and there must have been many other births. Hopefully, other records will be discovered some day and we can add to the births now known to have occurred at the fort. Births were never officially recorded in the early days and later records were carelessly kept and cared for. Newspaper announcements did not begin until 1870 in Fresno County and before that the Mariposa papers carried the announcements until 1856. We have a blank 15-year period for birth records of Fresno County. The national census listed the family increase every ten years and that is some help in tracing the location of and the births in our pioneer families.


The Fort Miller Cemetery

Laben Matthews was a very early settler of Fresno County and his name is found in all the first documents. He was an active participant in county affairs. In 1879, two of his children and three others were playing at the old Millerton school situated near the bank of the river. The children frequently spent their lunch hours panning for gold under the river bank, collecting enough for spending money. The bank collapsed on the children and when they were uncovered, they were all alive but Johnny Matthews, aged 14. He was buried in the Fort Miller Cemetery.


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