WILBER M. MILLER. A half century has slipped away since Judge Wilber M. Miller, one of Stevens County's representative men, came to Kansas, and thirty-two busy, fruitful years have passed since he became a resident of that county. He has been identified with the various developing agencies that have brought into being the leading industries of the state, and has been connected with public affairs and held judicial position for a long period.
Wilber M. Miller was born in Fountain County, Indiana, May 17, 1858. His parents were John and Eliza (Bonebrake) Miller, the farmer of whom was a practicing physician when he left Indiana and traveled in the old-time covered wagon, with his family and medicine cases, to Cherokee County, Kansas. His father, Willian Miller, was a native of Tennessee. He came in early manhood to Fountain County, Indiana, and his life was spent as a farmer near Harveysburg. He married a member of the old Timberman family, and of their children Dr. John Miller was the eldest, the others being: Abram, Samuel, Mary, wife of Robert Townsley; Lucinda, wife of Hamilton Townsley; Aaron, Nelson, Joseph and Edward.
Dr. John Miller had served in the Civil war before coming to Kansas, enlisting as a private in the Sixty-third Indiana Volunteer Infantry, took part in the battles of Fort Donelson and Pittsburg Landing, was then detailed for hospital service, and after two years became so ill that he was discharged for disability, with no expectation of ever regaining his health. But with a change of climate health returned and many useful years followed, his life being prolonged to eighty-two years and his death occurring in 1904, near McCune, Kansas, where he owned a farm and in which neighborhood he had ably practiced his profession. He belonged to the old school of medicine and made use of old remedies, their efficacy under his professional care producing marvelous results, as was particularly evidenced at one time when he successfully battled during an epidemic of meningitis and was the only doctor in this part of the state who never lost a case when called at the first symptom. He voted with the republican party. In his earlier years he was a Presbyterian, but later withdrew from that communion and united with a religious body that seemed to him of simpler faith. He belonged to the Masonic fraternity, and in that body, as everywhere, he was held in esteem.
Dr. Miller was twice married, and to his first union a son and daughter were born: Charles, who is a resident of Narcissa, Kansas, and Mattie, who married William Tucker and died in Sumner County, Kansas. His second marriage was to Eliza Bonebrake, who was born near State Line City, Illinois, and died in the same year as her husband at the age of seventy-six years. They had the following children: Wilber M.; Jacob, who is a resident of Wichita, Kansas; Thomas and Emma, twins, the former of whom lives in Idaho, and the latter is Mrs. William Riggs, of Sumner County, Kansas; Oliver, who is in business at Houston, Texas; and Turner, who lives at Parsons, Kansas.
Wilber M. Miller was ten years old when the family settled in the Joy lands of Cherokee County, after which for a short time he attended a primitive school, but for the most part during boyhood and early youth he had duties to perform incident to settling and acquiring land, particularly as he was the eldest son and his father was engaged with professional calls, often many miles away.
Mr. Miller was twenty years old when he started out for himself and went to Sumner County, although previously he had entered a tract of the Joy lands in Cherokee County and subsequently, in the litigation that followed against the Joy interests, assisted in winning the suit for the settlers. For a time in Sumner County Mr. Miller engaged in farming and then accepted a job as driver for a freighting outfit and for a year hauled Government supplies from Wichita to points in the Indian country like Fort Reno and the Cheyenne Agency. His wages for this dangerous work never exceeded $25 a month.
Mr. Miller drove into Stevens County on March 20, 1886. When he left home he had one little black horse, and in the meanwhile, while freighting and while farming near Oxford, he had accumulated additional livestock, and when he came to Stevens County he brought with him as a start, a good team, four head of cattle, some hogs and chickens, household goods and some farm machinery. His first work here was to file on his homestead, this being accomplished at Garden City, the northeast quarter of section 25, township 31, range 37, Harmony Township. On this land he built a two-room dugout and plastered it inside and roofed it with tar paper and sod, making a warm and comfortable dwelling. He built a similar shelter for his stock. For seventeen years Mr. Miller and his family lived in this lowly home, and then he erected his present four-room frame house, but the old dugout was used for storage purposes until some three years since. In 1918 his frame dwelling was replaced by a modern seven-room bungalow.
Mr. Miller broke out sod as soon as possible and put in a varied crop, millet, cane and garden stuff, and repeated the experiment in the following year to his satisfaction. From 1888 to 1893 he harvested excellent crops of wheat, but conditions under which it had to be marketed made the effect the same as a crop failure or a drouth. The farmers used expensive machinery in many cases to raise the crop and then were compelled to haul it a distance of forty Miles and accept from 25 to 40 cents a bushel for the grain. It was this reason that caused many farmers at that time to turn to broom corn and to feed crops and cattle growing. With the advent of the railroads grain raising has been resumed and shipping facilities prior to the World war had become adequate. Mr. Miller never embarked very extensively in the cattle business for himself, but has been a large feeder of stock for others and it has been profitable. He has made a feature of raising horses and was very successful in this line and probably because both he and wife had taken so much interest in their horses they were able, with remedies of their own, to save their animals when an epidemic occurred among horses in 1911, when many of their neighbors lost heavily. After a residence of twenty years Mr. Miller began to acquire more land. His cheapest quarter cost him $35 and his dearest cost him $80. This land had been mortgaged and abandoned, and the taxes standing against it measured up to its full value at the time. He now owns three quarters of the section on which he lives, and despite the numerous public offices he has frequently held has always continued to live on his farm.
An incident occurred when distress among the settlers began to manifest itself in which Mr. Miller bore a clever and humane part. Being the owner of but one calf and needing the milk it was taking for the use of his family, Mr. Miller traded the calf for a shotgun, and his expertness with it enabled him to provide daily for a long period the jack rabbit meat consumed under his own roof. He also shot this handy "manna" of the plains for such neighbor families as were threatened with hunger, and delivered them at their door.
Judge Miller was married in Sumner County, Kansas, February 7, 1883, to Miss Elizabeth Massey, who was born in Sanlock County, Michigan, April 24, 1865. Her parents were William and Mary (Perro) Massey, the former born in Sheffield, England, and the latter in Montreal, Canada, and of French ancestry. Mr. Massey came to the United States in 1835 and settled in Michigan, and from there came to Sumner County, Kansas, in 1875 and died there in July, 1891. The mother of Mrs. Miller survived until 1905. They were parents of the following children: Mrs. Mary Payton, of Cowley County, Kansas; Elizabeth, Mrs. Miller; John, of Cowley County; and Mrs. Annie Somerville, of Winfield, Kansas. The father of Mrs. Miller was married first to Mary Alifax, and their children were: William, of Blackwell, Oklahoma; Henry, of Sumner County, Kansas; Mrs. Sarah Meno, of St. Clair, Michigan; and Thomas, of Oklahoma.
The following children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Miller, all of whom were given common school advantages: John W., who is a farmer on the Miller homestead; Fred, who is a farmer in this section, married Clara Ramsey, and they have three children, Ethel, Ray and Roy; Mabel, who married Loyal Hogan, lives near Mr. Miller, and has four children, Dessie, Dorris, Marvin and Virga; Victor, who is a farmer near Moscow, Kansas, married Maud Ramsey and has a daughter, Nina; and Melvin, Clyde and Hazel. Mrs. Miller and four of the children are members of the Baptist Church.
Judge Miller was reared to venerate the principles of the republican party and to support its candidates. Shortly after coming to Stevens County he was elected a justice of the peace, served as such for many years, and during this time rendered some noted local decisions, notably in the case of libel between Carpenter and Hogan, that had its preliminary hearing in his court and later attracted much local attention. He very frequently performed marriages. In 1898 he was elected probate judge as a Populist and served two years on the bench, and after an interval of two years was re-elected, and in all served through four terms. As an indication of the fusions of the old parties and the formation of new ones, largely made up of the constituent elements of the old, Judge Miller was elected to the bench the first time by the populist party, once by the democrats, and twice later by the republicans. Although he had frequently attended local conventions he was never present when nominated. He has always been a friend of the public schools and has been almost continuously an officer in district 14.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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