Mr. Perry Homer Miller and his assistant rode the first box-car of lumber on the first train that pulled into Spur, Texas; but the Millers brought more than wood to the rolling plains. Prospects for business looked goo. The country afforded no competition. Only small, twisted mesquite bushes and soft cottonwood trees feathered the edges of the blue sky that covered this vast western part of Texas. The lumber never reached its yard. Farmers and new town settlers met the train and bought it off the car.
Mr. Miller and his wife were among the graduates of the pioneers' school of hard knocks. Perry, born September 18, 1857, on a farm in Sugar Valley Community, Georgia, remembered seeing his grandmother conceal food from marauding Yankee soldiers. One took a chicken from the pot on the fire place hearth. At 21, Perry left the Old South for bright promises in Texas. From a cousin he learned of a job with a lumber company in DeLeon. He started from the bottom, stacking lumber, hauling it, and doing odd jobs. To give himself a little position, he always stood when he drove his dray.
It impressed Miss Ella Rich, a school marm. She admired this clean, tall, straight, young man. Miss Ella was pleasingly plump, a vivacious little brunette with black shining eyes. She could toss a merry laugh anytime. After attending country school as far as it went, she passed examination at Sam Houston State Normal College for a teaching certificate; obtained a teaching position when a school board member handed her a Latin book to read. She laughed about it later, "I got the school, fortunately, he didn't ask me to translate."
Cash for teaching was "hard to come by", so Miss Ella took turns boarding in the homes of her students. "At one place; we had the last of the beans, weevils and all. The rest of the family ate them, so I did to," she laughed about it the rest of her life.
"Our mother cooked our dinner in an iron pot over the fire place. She poured up the food, filled the pot with water, and put it back over the fire. When the children had finished eating, she called, 'Come here, Luther!' Sticking the dish rag in the pot of warm water, she washed all the children's faces with it." Mrs. Miller paused for a merry, little laugh and sighed, "But I enjoyed teaching even if some of my students were bigger than I."
Young Perry Miller aspired to "keep Miss Ella in a manner above which she was accustomed" so he decided to go into a partnership mercantile business in Gorman, Texas. He daringly, asked an older friend to loan him a great deal of money in those days, Two Hundred dollars. The man counted it out; young Miller admitted he had no collateral. "But I'll sign a note!"
"You'll pay me when you can; no need of a note." This example of confidence he never forgot. He married Miss Ella at the home of her parents on August 7, 1895. Honesty did not turn out to be the best policy immediately. His partner left him with barely enough money to repay the loan.
Again Texas made bright promises, still further west. Large tracts of land were to be put on the market by the Swenson Land and Cattle Company. The Fort Worth and Denver Railroad was to extend its Burlington line 65 miles west to Stamford, Teas. New town sites were to be laid out. Mr. Miller jobbed around Camey, Fort Worth, and Mineral Wells waiting for the big opportunity. His best job got down to cutting and stacking his own wood. With nothing better to do, he stacked it meticulously and laughed the rest of his life about people coming by and offering him a wood cutting job.
Finally, the railroad reached Peacock, Texas. Mr. Miller unloaded lumber for the first building. Mrs. Miller insisted on coming, too. They slept in the office on a "feather bed" and had one quilt for cover.
While Mr. Miller sold lumber, Mrs. Miller sold watermelons. "Those farmers wouldn't think of selling a melon to a friend, they just gave them away. Those farmers had little enough pocket money, so I just told them to bring me their surplus melons." When the work crews for the railroad come by, Mrs. Miller rolled the farmers' melons out on the front porch of the lumber yard. "Those crew men were glad to have those delicious melons, and those farmers certainly could use that extra cash.
When the railroad was extended to Jayton, Mr. Miller set up his second lumber yard. Finally, the railroad was completed to Spur, and Mr. Miller built the third of his Tri-County Lumber Company. In this town, they built their first home, fifteen years after they were married.
Life became more than lumber. Seventeen people were interested in chartering a Baptist Church. Mr. Miller, an ordained deacon, helped a pioneer preacher, J.V. Bilberry, arrange for the organization meeting. Rev. S.P. Clement, Associational Missionary, presided as the charter was drawn up and adopted. The little church was not always able to manage its financial affairs consistently, and Mr. Miller "stood good for some of the bills." Sometimes he collected extra money to meet the pastor's salary.
As first president of the Women's Missionary Society, Mrs. Miller managed chicken dinners, ice cream suppers and bazaars to augment the church income. She conducted a little service for an infant who died when the church was without a pastor. She collected crates of eggs for the orphans from farm women who had no money to give. She visited the hospital and found people with no place to stay while their loved ones were hospitalized. She brought them to her home. Shed's toss a merry laugh and say, "We'll water the soup some more!"
One cold winter night a norther raged outside. Mrs. Miller put company to bed in one of their two bedrooms. She said gracious words, "Now, are you comfortable? Do you think you will have enough cover? Are you sure you are going to be warm enough? In the other bedroom, Mr. Miller was getting down his overcoat, shaking the dust out of rugs, and hunting up old lap robes to keep a cousin, bedded down in the dining room, Mrs. Miller and himself warm.
Another guest from the hospital reached into the dresser drawer one morning and pulled out a comb. As she scratched down to her scalp with it, she said, "My, this is a good comb. I have a breaking out in my head, and this comb 'sure' does make it feel good."
Some women express creativeness in painting, music, and art; but Mrs. Miller expressed herself in cooking. One who knew her well, said, "Mrs. Miller gets up to eat." Sometimes she served fried chicken, gravy and home-made biscuits for breakfast.
A turkey dinner was Mrs. Miller's masterpiece. Doctors had not discovered calories or cholesterol, so she was unhampered in her zeal. She stretched her dining room table to its full length. She baked the biggest turkey she could find in the country to place at her end of the table. She covered the rest of the table with dishes of all kinds. She crowded friends and relatives elbow to elbow around it, then asked Mr. Miller to say the blessing. At the amen, she rose form her chair.
Jovial, and very plump in her later years, she wore a navy blue silk shirt waist dress with a multiple diamond brooch at the neck. She smiled warmly at all gathered around and waiting. Her greying, black hair was pulled up on top of her head ina soft knot. Her keen black eyes surveyed the huge breast of the turkey carefully as she took the bone handled knife and fork to slice the first piece. As the juice oozed from the succulent piece of white meat and ran down the sides of the fowl into beds of rich cornbread dressing, she gave herself another little smile of satisfaction. Her reputation of being the best turkey cooker in town was still intact.
As the Millers evaluated themselves, lumber, hospitality stretched to a fine point, even churches were not their best investments. Colleges and universities had a hard time getting started in the new west because few people were college minded. The value of a college education had not been determined in this new culture. Mr. and Mrs. Miller were one of the few who saw the potential and helped support the institutions. "The best investments you can make is in human lives." So a well-worn path was beaten to their door by young people seeking help for higher educational opportunities.
In 1924, the Millers sold their Tri-County Lumber Yards to the Norris Lumber Company of Houston and went into semi-retirement. They toured the country in a new Chrysler sedan. They stretched their suitcases in a rack on the running board an left for cool Colorado.
"Oh, now!" Mrs. Miller would interrupt him. "It's there!" he'd declare. "Patsy," as he decided to call her instead of Miss Ella. "Patsy keeps punching me in the very same spot. She keeps saying 'Now, Perry, I want you to slow down here. Do you remember the Jones, the Smiths, the Strawbridges we knew when we first moved to Gorman. I think they live in this town now. You just stop right here! I'll ask those folks sitting on that front porch. I'm sure they will know our friends and can tell us where they live!"
Mrs. Miller was never phased by Mr. Miller's teasing, "And do you know, they did know those people. We didn't have a bit of trouble finding our friends, and we had the nicest visit, ever!"
"But I'm developing a corn between my shoulder blades," persisted Mr. Miller. "If it's not somebody she knows, she's punching me to stop, here, now Perry . Look at that apricot tree over there. You know those people can't use all of those apricots. I'm sure they will be glad to sell us at least a bucket full. We'll pick them."
"Yes," continued Mrs. Miller. "And do you know they gave us the nicest gallon bucket full for a dollar. We had more fun picking them. I made preserves out of the ones Perry and I didn't eat.
"But that corn's growing," Mr. Miller persisted. "We came to this adobe town high in the mountains of New Mexico, and I thought this is one time I'll drive through undisturbed, but no! 'You remember Mr. Brown. He still owes a little on his note. I know he's just forgotten about it. It will only take fifteen minutes to remind him."
And Mrs. Miller finished the story, "Perry, that reminds me. Did you mail him his paid-up-note?"
Mr. Miller grew old, still clean, straight, tall and with dignity. He parted his shining, white hair a little off center; wore stiff, white collars that came up to his chin and rounded off on eight side of the knot in his conservative tie. A diamond stick pin held the tie in place. Rubber garters worn at the elbows allowed the stiff white cuffs of his shirt to show just so much below his coat sleeves. In winter, he wore a navy blue suit. In summer, he wore a grey suit. When he worked in his yard, he wore a clean pair of grey and white stripped denim coveralls. He was dressed just so one warm afternoon as he raked some weeds in his yard. The stroke came suddenly and he died on May 28, 1935. He was buried in the Spur Cemetery, another community project he had helped to start in his youth.
Mrs. Miller continued to live in Spur. Her office was her living room where many people came to visit, to be advised, to be encouraged, to be comforted, and to borrow money. She carried on her business affairs, writing her letters ina beautiful Spencerian style with an old fashioned pen staff and pen while others pecked away at a typewriter.
Hospitals still intrigued her. Hotels and tourist courts had run her out of one area of operation, but she developed others. Since she couldn't bring the bereaved home, she stayed at the hospital with them. When Mrs. Miller left town, people began to ask, "Hose sick now?"
The Millers had no children of their own, but they were Auntie and Uncle to many relatives. A little boy and his mother had visited Mrs. Miller one afternoon. The yard was full of children who had come to see Auntie. When the little boy left, he carefully looked at each child; then asked his mother, "How may tonsils do you think Mrs. Miller will have removed this time?"
"With your blood pressure, in this August heat!" screamed her friends. "The doctors have just gotten you back on your feet. Suppose you drop dead on the bus or in a town where nobody knows you!"
Mrs. Miller reached for her phone and called the undertaker. "Spencer, I just wan to see beautiful Colorado one more time. If I die on the way, will you promise to come after me?"
"Mrs. Miller, as long as it's in the continental United States, I'll come for you."
Mrs. Miller saw beautiful Colorado one more time, and several other things. "If I could die the way I want to, I'd just go to bed one night and not wake up the next morning." She sighed. "But one does not choose how he dies." Mrs. Miller did, she died just that way on November 14, 1948.
by: Jane Godfrey
Source: History of Dickens County; Ranches and Rolling Plains, Fred Arrington, ©1971
Spur mourned Friday for one of its best loved citizens, P. H. Miller, who passed away Thursday afternoon at 3:05. Death came not unexpected to another of the city builders after he ha been ill since Tuesday, following a stroke of heart failure.
Services for Mr. Miller were held at the First Baptist Church where he had served as a charter member and one of its deacons since 1909 when the church was established. Dr. M. F. Ewton, present pastor, will be assisted by Rev. G. W. Parks of Roscoe, Rev. A. P. Stokes of Afton, Rev. J. V. Bilberry. And Rev. W. B. Bennett of Spur. The church was filled with relatives and friends at the service. They came to pay their last respects to one who had befriended many in the 26 years he had lived in Spur. The services were held at 3:00 in the afternoon, interment following in Spur Cemetery in charge of Bill Kinney. The Masonic Order of Knights Templar conducted a service at the cemetery.
Dr. J. D. Standifer, President of Hardin-Simmons University. Abilene, delivered a short address in eulogy of his old friend, Mr. Miller, following the short talks of the ministers.
Mr. Miller was born Sept. 18, 1859 at Sugar Valley, GA. He came to Texas in 1883. For a number of years he lived at Fort Worth where he was in 1909 when the Fort Worth and Denver began construction of the Wichita Valley railroad from Stamford to Spur. Seeing the opportunities in the new western country that was beginning a period of development that is still going on today, Mr. Miller came farther west and followed this branch line railroad, establishing lumber yards in towns along its line to the end at Spur with the opening of each town, Swenson, Peacock, Jayton, Girard and Spur, operating under the name of P. H. Miller Lumber Co. He aided in the development of these towns and making his home at Spur.
When the Baptist Church at Spur was organized in the winter of 1909 Mr. Miller was one of its charter members and for 26 years has been a leader. He has given freely of his time and money to the church, ably assisting a small group to build this Christian organization to the high point of over 50 members today.
Mr Miller was a blue lodge Mason and a Knight Templar. He never aspired for political office although assisting and rendering services in many occasions of civic and community development.
In 1924 he sold his lumber interests to the W. H. Norris Lumber Company and since that time has looked after farming and other business interests.
Survivors are his wife, a brother, W. A. Miller of Goodlist, TX; a nephew, W. H. Miller of Abilene; a cousin, Miss Jennie Shields of Spur and a number of nieces and nephews in other parts of the state.
©The Texas Spur, June 4, 1936from the records of Lillian Grace Nay
Funeral rites for Mrs. Ella R. (P.H.) Miller, age 79, who died suddenly of a heart attack early Sunday, Nov. 14, at her home in Spur, were held Monday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 3 p.m. in the First Baptist Church with Rev. P.D. O'Brien of Big Spring officiating.
Burial followed in Spur Cemetery under the direction of Campbell's Funeral Chapel.
Mrs. Miller was born November 26, 1868, in Kaufman County, Texas. She completed the common school courses and attended Sam Houston Normal College, Huntsville, Texas, and taught school for a number of years.
She met and married P.H. miller on August 7, 1895, at DeLeon, Texas, where he was in the mercantile business. They established a lumber business of the frontiers of Texas, and were among the first to come to Spur, having arrived on the first train at the beginning of the town in 1909. Mr. and Mrs. Miller continued their lumber operations in Spur, later opening yards in Peacock and other nearby places.
Among the first community works of Mrs. Miller was the organization of the Baptist Church in Spur. She gave her time and financial assistance, and at the time of her death, was the only charter member who had kept her membership continuously in the church. She has assisted Hardin-Simmons University in many ways and gave much time and financial aid to the Hendricks Memorial Hospital, Abilene. She had been active in all civic and church work in Spur, and was at all times ready to aid in any undertaking that was for a better Spur.
Mrs. Miller is survived by a sister, Mrs. George Barnes, Spur, a brother, Will Rich, DeLeon, and a cousin, Miss Jennie Shields, who had resided with her here for a number of years.
Pallbearers were F.F. Vernon, Henry Gruben, Horace Gibson, Walter Gruben, Elmer Hagins, W.B. Francis, Chap Reese and A.M. Walker.
©The Texas Spur, November 18, 1948
In Memoriam,Only by death did Mrs. Ella (P.H.) Miller confess human limitation, so broad and vigorous was her life. Few have lived so full a life. Kindly human sympathy abounded in her every day living. True value of her services were keenly felt by her entire community as well as to all who learned her character and were strengthened by her solid virtues.
Always faithful to the trust that God had given her as a teacher, she never was found lacking in the duties of life. The last active hours of her life were spent preparing the lesson to be taught to the Dorcus Sunday Scholl Class of the First Baptist Church on Sunday, Nov. 14.
Laying her bible aside, she retired. At ten minutes past two a.m., the summons came and her spirit took its flight back to the God who gave it. The class, instead of listening to her voice, sat quietly and reverently with tear dimmed eyes near the temple of clay and in muffled tones spoke of their love and appreciation of her faithful and efficient teaching throughout the years.
She loved her church and the cause for which it stands. She was loyal to its every member and diligent in promoting its program. Her interest was not limited to her local organization and she attended many state wide meetings as well as the one world wide meeting.
Her love for God and His righteousness as revealed in His word was profound. Her deep sympathy for those who suffer found her ministering in quietness and strength. For the unfortunate she had a word of encouragement. So often she loved the sinner while loathing the sin and was ever ready to render aid. Her wise counsel was sought by many in times of stress and strain. Her sound judgment and keen sense of humor helped many over the rough places. Her faith in God and His grace, not her works, was her assurance of eternal life. But surely her works shall follow.
The tributes paid by her pastor, Rev. Melvin Ratheal, Dr. R.N. Richardson of Hardin-Simmons University, Mr. W.M. Collier, Supt. Of Hendricks Memorial Hospital and her good friend and former pupil, Rev. P.D. O'Brien, were most fitting and appropriate to her life, as were the tributes paid by the host of friends who gathered to pay their last respects.
©The Texas Spur, November 25, 1948Transcribed June 5, 2005, by DCHC members
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