LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER

by

June English



 
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FRESNO COUNTY

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There were men of authority who thought the Indians were not entirely to blame. Three commissioners were appointed by the U. S. Government to investigate and come to terms with the Indians of the San Joaquin Valley. Redick McKee, George W. Barbour, and O. M. Wozencraft arrived at the Fresno River in the early spring of 1851 with a detachment of U. S. soldiers to deal with the Indians in a peaceful manner. Part of the forces remained on the Fresno River at a place they designated as Camp McLean and the others crossed the San Joaquin River to the south bank and here they constructed Camp Barbour, a small two-room fort of logs.


Convincing the hot-headed and angry miners that peace could be had without further bloodshed was a failure and the Mariposa Battalion fought its skirmishes and had urged, coerced and forced over 1,500 Indians to appear at Camp Barbour. Two weeks after Camp Barbour was completed, a treaty was signed (?) on the 29th of April, 1851.


When Friant Dam was completed in 1944, the Native Sons of the Golden West removed the sturdy digger pine walls of the first fort in this part of California as the waters of the San Joaquin River rose to create Millerton Lake. For ten years, the logs lay on a hilltop. All had been numbered before dismantling. It was reconstructed in Roeding Park in the city of Fresno and was dedicated on November 14, 1954 and is now a museum.


Fort Miller was officially established on May 26, 1851. Lieutenant Treadwell Moore, in command, named it Fort Miller in honor of Major Albert S. Miller, a famous soldier and commander of the U. S. troops garrisoned at Benicia. Major Miller died at Benicia on December 7, 1852, at the age of 49.


Between forays into the Sierra looking for the escaped Tenaya, chief of the Yosemite Valley Indians, and protective patrols guarding the miners, Lt. Moore oversaw the beginning of the construction of the fort. The fort was laid out in a quadrangle adjacent to, but not including, Camp Barbour.


Oscar Noren, native of Reedley, noted historian and expert on local Indian culture and languages recently recorded his reminiscences of the appearance and location of the fort as he remembered them. He described the fort as being located on a bench about 600 feet south of a great curve of the river, about three miles above the face of Friant Dam. He said most of the original pine and adobe brick buildings were still standing when he saw them last in the late 1930's. They had been constructed so well, they would have endured for many years had not the dam been built and water covered the site.


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