LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER

by

June English



 
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FRESNO COUNTY

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Jordan was known as a man tight with money, one who wouldn't give full pay for a job done if he could get away with it. A miner, John Newton, listed in the 1852 Mariposa County Census, was probably the one man who had the last laugh over the greedy Captain.


The stock at the fort had to be fed and there were no cultivated fields of grain or grasses large enough to supply feed for the horses and oxen. Jordan contracted with Newton to supply all the wild afilari hay he could cut and cure and he promised to pay him 50 dollars a ton on the site. When Newton was ready, he told the Captain to send his men, but he wanted his money first. The Captain inspected the mountain of hay and reluctantly paid the agreed price. The Army wagons and soldiers were sent to the huge stack with orders to bring it all back to the fort.


Loud, long and appreciative was the roar of laughter as the story was told in the mining camps for years to come. Captain Jordan had been caught at his own game. Newton had covered a hill-sized granite boulder with hay and a stab with the hay fork met the resistance of the rock a foot beneath the surface. Newton was never seen again and no record of his name has been found in this region since that time. The cost was paid by the government, but one can imagine that Jordan had a lot of explaining to do! Jordan's humiliation must have been a traumatic shock. There is no written reference as to when he left Fort Miller, but it was probably soon after this affair.


The last serious trouble with the Indians was in 1856. Again, the white men had pressed the remaining Indians to the breaking point and a detachment from the fort and a civilian militia were sent to the Four Creeks area in Tulare County to restore peace. Captain Livingston was in command of the regulars and in this group was our old friend, John Dwyer, the little Irishman who threw the rock at the back of Charles Converse's head thereby creating the circumstance that caused the death of William Crowe. Dwyer spent the remainder of his life in Fresno County. Also stationed at the fort was Robert Brancford, who was reputed to have carried Dwyer across Death Valley on his back.


Life at Fort Miller, after the first exciting days, was probably the best a soldier could ask for. Situated at a picturesque spot, teeming with wild life, but still near enough to a busy frontier settlement for diversion. Opportunities to pan for gold when off duty gave the men a chance to earn money apart from their meager pay. Living at the fort offered well-built snug quarters, a doctor in the hospital and medicine in the apothecary shop, and trades that could be learned from the carpenters, blacksmith and other men with skills. Flowers bloomed on the post, and the breeze from the river cooled the area of the fort on the hottest day. Wild mountain berries, fresh salmon in season, and smoked salmon bought from the Indians, wild deer and antelope meat brought in fresh by Joe Folsom added to the usual dull diet of the frontier soldier. Millerton was nearby and if a man did not get into too much trouble, he was allowed to come back and sleep off the night before.


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