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The King Of Ranchers
He never packed a gun or led a posse or burned down a homesteader's hut, but in his time Henry Miller owned more land than anyone else in the West.
August 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 5
He had no time or inclination for elegant parties or entertainments, and he seldom consorted with the other nabobs of the Far West—the Fairs, Huntingtons, Hopkinses, Stanfords, and so forth—scorning them because he believed they had made their fortunes by sudden strokes of luck rather than by hard work. Such pleasures as he took were feudal in nature. He loved to spend his Sundays presiding over a great barbecue at his summer home on Mount Madonna near Gilroy, surrounded by his family, his children and grandchildren, his ranch superintendents, and his workmen.
When automobiles came on the market, Miller was urged to buy one but resisted, saying that that would be a silly thing for a man who owned ten thousand horses. Finally, in 1909, he got a big Pierce-Arrow along with a chauffeur—or a “chiffonier,” as he always pronounced the word. And in that he continued the rounds of his empire, the uniformed chauffeur imperturbably driving the Pierce-Arrow along river beds, across sage brush fields, and up rocky hills.
Miller’s estate at his death was appraised at forty million dollars, a sizable increase over the six dollars he had started with, though somewhat diminished from its peak at the turn of the century. After his death an attempt was made to continue the enterprise as before, but it did not prove feasible, and within a few years all but a few acres of the land had to be sold off. Times had changed since Miller began, and California, with land urgently needed for industry, subdivisions, oil wells, and more intensive agriculture, could not afford the luxury of so much territory devoted to pasture. An epidemic of hoof-and-mouth disease took a heavy toll of Miller’s herds. And cash was needed to meet the inheritance taxes.
These were some of the reasons the holdings dwindled. But there was certainly also a personal reason. Miller’s had been a one-man empire, built and maintained by an individual of peculiar drive and talents. When that man died, it was simply not possible to find another who could hold such an empire together.