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Ed Miller - Little known Orchard Homes Pioneer

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‘This Old House’ Has a History Rivaled By That of the Pioneers That Built It

By John A. Forssen

This started out to be a story about an interesting old house in Orchard Homes, but it is more than that – it’s the tale of a man, his pioneer mother and father, and a ranch that was the beginning of a big chunk of Orchard Homes.

Ed Miller was born 66 years ago in the house now shaded by the magnificent maple tree.

He still lives there and he says, “I couldn’t think of a better place to die.”

The house is on South Third street near Niberta[1] street, almost north across Third from Hawthorne School.

But the lines of the dwelling are not parallel with the streets or the school.

The reason is simple; it was there long before the streets were.

The first portion of the house was constructed in the 1870’s, making it one of the first homes south of the river in the entire valley.

The maple tree, its huge size testifying to its age and the fertility of Orchard Homes soil, was planted 68 years ago. It was a twig from a maple at the home of “our neighbors across the river, the Flynns,” Miller relates. The Flynns were early settlers in the Hell Gate community approximately across the Clark Fork River from the Miller place.

On the place is an even older home, the homestead cabin of Miller’s mother’s aunt and uncle. But the old log cabin is not on its original site; it originally stood at about where the intersection of Seventh and Niberta streets is now.

In the Miller house is a mirror which was brought by Miller’s mother’s aunt and uncle when they came to Montana in the early 1860s. The mirror, in its plain wooden frame, was brought up the Missouri on a steamer to Ft. Benton and then hauled by horse across the mountains.

Miller’s father at one time took it to Cedar Creek, pioneer gold mining camp near Superior, where it was the only one the miners had seen in that part of the country.

“The miners used to come from miles around to shave in that mirror,” Miller said.

The Miller ranch at one time included 400 acres in an L shape, straddling Third street for nearly a mile, and extending east along Seventh street to Reserve street.

The Miller place and the 160 acre Higgins ranch to the east formed the largest portion of what is now Orchard Homes, development of which was started in 1901 by Cobban and Dinsmore.

Edward Miller’s father, also Edward Miller, first came to Montana in 1863. Born in Ireland, he was brought to this country at the age of 2 by his parents, who settled at Bangor, Maine. He joined the California gold rush in 1849, sailing around the Horn in a three month voyage.

With the Montana gold rush in the early 1860s, Miller moved along, arriving at Virginia City in 1863. He worked as a miner in Alder Gulch and Confederate Gulch and staked his own claim in Cayuse Gulch. Later he moved to Last Chance Gulch, and went to the Cedar Creek country when gold was struck there in 1868.

At about the same time he homesteaded the place on Third street, as a neighbor to Mr. and Mrs. Michael Farrell. They had a going farm, with 27 head of dairy cows. Later, after Ft. Missoula was founded, they sold milk to the Army.

A few years later, their niece Elizabeth Sheriff, became ill with malaria at her home in Indiana. Hearing of it, the Farrells invited her to live with them, since they knew that many soldiers at Ft. Missoula had recovered from the disease after being assigned here.

She came in 1886, and the Farrells and their niece soon after moved into Miller’s home at his invitation; he figured somebody might as well use it while he was off in the hills, mining.

Elizabeth Sheriff became the bride of Miller in 1886, the same year she arrived. They had four sons, Ed, John, Robert and Patrick, and a daughter who now lives in California.

The Millers were leading citizens of the area, and their home was a center of social activity, especially among young people. In 1902, they added the front portion of the house completing it as it now stands.

The same year, they sold the ranch, with the exception of 30 acres surrounding the old family home. Mrs. Miller wanted this reserved so that the house would remain and so that she would have some elbow room.

But when Orchard Homes was developed, Third street cut almost through the center of the 30 acres.

The elder Miller, who was nearly 20 years older than his wife, died in 1909. The widow continued to live in the house until she died in 1942.

Its sole occupant now is Ed Miller, the oldest son, who is a story in himself.

He is a bachelor and a rugged individualist of the old school who lives the life that makes him happy, without regard to the world.

This consists mainly in mining one of his father’s old claims in the Superior area. The mine I three miles from the nearest road, and Miller has two burros, a mule and a horse to provide transportation.

During the worst of the winter, when he can’t be out mining, he lives in the old house. Once a frequenter of dances, shows and other entertainments, he now stays home while he is holed up for the winter – and enjoys himself. He cooks on a wood range and carries water from the well in the front yard. He also gets along with an outdoor toilet.

The above story is from The Daily Missoulian, March 27, 1955.



[1] This may have been Hiberta street’s original name.

Last Updated on Friday, 05 January 2018 17:04