by Carol Powell
Nearly nine years ago, December 14, 2003, my first entry in Sharlot Hall Museum’s Days Past was published. I had posted information on the internet seeking help with my husband’s genealogy and, to my surprise, I had two replies. Both thought my husband’s ancestors were interesting enough to publish stories about them. One was the representative from the Genealogical Society’s Copper State Journal. In their July 2003 issue, they ran my article, “Just a Railroadin’ Family.”
The other person to contact me was a Prescott-based historian named Parker Anderson. He was not interested in William S. Miller, my husband’s grandfather, but in William’s brother, Louis Clair Miller.
My interest in Louis started simply because he was the brother of my husband’s grandfather. When I began researching the family history, he was just a name on a list of ancestors. His older sister, Pearl had married Fletcher Fairchild, a lawman in Flagstaff. I found bits and pieces of information, finally putting the puzzle together. As I followed each clue, it became a game and I imagined them and their lives and I had to find the next chapter so I could finish the story! It was a paper chase.
In the ensuing years, Anderson and I worked together to uncover a truly fascinating story. I travel all over the United States with my husband because of his work, while Parker Anderson has spent most of his life in Prescott, Arizona. In 2003, I was in Arizona because my husband was doing a construction project in Phoenix. We took a day trip to Prescott and spent the day with historian Anderson. We met at the gazebo at the Courthouse Plaza and visited the gravesite of outlaw Fleming Parker in Citizen’s Cemetery.
After that, Anderson and I exchanged information on the Millers through e-mail and snail mail. Initially, the only information I had on Louis was the date and place of his birth and death and the story of his being involved in a mine explosion in Park City, Utah in November of 1913. He wasn’t expected to live and he was left blind and had lost his right hand. His nurse fell in love with him in the hospital and they were married after his release.
Then I learned that Louis Clair Miller had been a constable in Prescott and himself a troublemaker who was jailed for forging a check in 1897. He became an accessory to murder while participating in an 1897 Prescott jailbreak with Fleming ‘James’ Parker. A deputy district attorney for Yavapai County was killed during the escape. Louis thus became an accomplice to murder and was a fugitive outlaw. He was apprehended and returned to Prescott. After his trial, Louis spent years in the Yuma Territorial Prison but was eventually paroled and went to Park City, Utah where he was critically injured in the mining accident.
On the other hand, Parker Anderson had been doing some in-depth research on the famous 1897 jailbreak in Prescott in which outlaw Fleming Parker and two other men, including a Louis C. Miller, escaped from jail. During the escape, Fleming Parker gunned down the Deputy District Attorney for Yavapai County. Anderson’s main interest was in the hanging of Fleming Parker on June 3, 1898. In the late 1890s, the story of Fleming Parker overshadowed any interest in Miller, but historian Anderson and I both think the life of Louis Clair Miller was the truly remarkable adventure.
Upon comparing notes in depth, Parker Anderson and I established, without a doubt, that Louis C. Miller the outlaw and Louis C. Miller the blind miner was the same person. He had received a life sentence in the Territorial Jail at Yuma for being an accessory to the murder committed by Fleming Parker during their jail break, but was paroled a number of years later. Upon his parole, Louis left Arizona to work in the Utah mines, where the explosion accident happened.
I find it amazing that so many relatives kept newspaper articles regarding family activities. My brother-in-law in California faxed me the story about Louis meeting his wife in the hospital after almost dying in the mine accident.
I had also become very interested in the life of Fletcher Fairchild, a lawman of high integrity until he was put to the test. Fletcher was married to Louis Miller’s older sister, Pearl and after the jailbreak in 1897, Louis headed for Jerome where he hid at the home of another sister. After finding his brother-in-law Louis hiding near Jerome, Deputy Fletcher put his unflinching standards aside and secured a private conveyance for him to the jail in Flagstaff to protect him from any mob violence. He also aided in the return of Louis Miller to Prescott for the trial.
After I left Arizona and returned to my home state of Utah, historian Anderson asked me to try and locate court documents in Coleville, Utah to see if Miller had received any money from a lawsuit he had filed against the mine where the explosion occurred. A family reunion took me to Coleville and I found the case file in the basement of the courthouse there and, yes, he did receive a settlement. Louis’ brothers were train engineers and two of them lived and worked in the Washington-Oregon area. We discovered that Louis and his wife moved there also and had a son named Granite. At that point, Anderson and I gave up hope of learning more, but we wondered about the final years of Louis C. Miller. I continued to travel with my husband, giving me time to research and write more articles for Days Past, always assuming that Louis C. Miller spent his last days as an invalid in the care of his wife, Emma, living off his settlement.
So what became of Louis Clair Miller after he was blinded in the Utah mine explosion? In 2009, Louis’ great-granddaughter, Dora Silberman contacted me with the details of his final years. Just as historian Parker Anderson was persistent that I go to the Coleville Courthouse, he also didn’t give up trying to find the end of Louis’ story. Last year, after I told him a descendant had contacted me, Anderson traveled to Portland, Oregon and met with the family and learned the rest of the story.
Dora’s mother, the only grandchild of Louis and Emma Miller, had kept newspaper articles and mementos. In his lifetime, Louis C. Miller’s name appeared in newspapers for various things in Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Utah. After the accident in Utah, Louis and his wife Emma moved to Seattle, Washington and then Portland, Oregon where Louis operated some businesses and became a speaker on German-American relations and other domestic political issues! A newspaper in 1916 carried a notice that read: “Blind Orator Will Lecture. Louis Miller, a blind orator from Arizona, will give a series of lectures relating to political economy covering a period of three days from December 13 to 15 inclusive, in the Keystone Hall, Eighth Ave. and Madison Street.” Earlier that year, on February 26, 1916 he lectured at the Seattle Press Club and spoke about people working out their own destiny by casting a vote.
There is no evidence that anyone in Park City, Utah realized that the unfortunate miner had once been “the man who broke jail with Fleming Parker in Arizona” some sixteen years earlier. There’s also no evidence that anyone in his later life connected the dots of his involvement with the Prescott jailbreak and subsequent prison time. He lived an extraordinary life including several brushes with death, but upon his death in Portland in March of 1932, his wife Emma was the informant on his death certificate and listed his occupation as a ‘lifelong civil engineer in the mining industry until his accident in 1913.’ Actually, he had worked as a miner only several months!
One wonders if Emma ever knew about his checkered past in Arizona. Perhaps she had married and spent 18 years with a man she never really knew.
See other Days Past articles for detailed accounts of the stories referenced above. Type Louis C. Miller in the search box for the complete list of Days Past articles about him.