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David J. Miller, Biographical Sketch

Born: 1831

By Rick Hendricks, Ph.D.

New Mexico State Historian


David J. Miller was born around 1831 in Alabama to parents who were natives of Maryland.[1] Nothing is known of Miller's early childhood, but he spent two years during his youth living with the family of Tejano patriot José Antonio Navarro of San Antonio.[2] Miller had been placed with the family for the purpose of learning the Spanish language. He spent much of his time on Navarro's San Gerónimo Ranch north of present-day Seguin, Texas. Years later he stated that he feared he did not appreciate and use the opportunity to learn Spanish because hunting, fishing, and running with the vaqueros and peones occupied as much of his time as did his Neuman and Barretti Spanish-English dictionary and the works of Miguel de Cervantes.[3]

Miller moved to Austin in 1850 and remained there until 1854.[4] While in the Texas capital, Miller filled the position of translator at the General Land Office of Texas under Commissioner Stephen Crosby. He departed Texas on 18 October 1854 to become translator in the newly created office of the surveyor general in Santa Fe.[5] Lawyer and historian Malcolm Ebright has demonstrated that Miller exercised what might well have been undue influence over the decision-making process of Surveyor General William Pelham through his role as translator. Ebright cites as an example the mistranslation—perhaps intentional—of a key phrase in the 1832 grant petition of Manuel Martínez in order to grain a favorable ruling for his heir, Francisco Martínez, in the adjudication of what came to be known as the Tierra Amarilla grant.[6] The effect of the mistranslation was to make the grant appear to have been an individual grant when a correct rendering of the Spanish would have made it clear that it was a grant to a principal settler at the head of a group of settlers. Pelham recommended confirmation of the grant in 1856, and Congress, acting on the surveyor general's recommendation, confirmed the grant to Francisco Martínez in 1860.[7]

In the summer of 1858 Miller was one of seven members of a nominating committee from Precinct 4, Santa Fe County, named to select delegates to the upcoming Democratic Party convention.[8] Miller was also one of the ten men chosen as a delegate, an indication of the esteem in which he was held. Further evidence of his prestige is found in a public meeting that was called in mid-November 1859 to seek a remedy to the situation created by the interruption of communication with the States across the Great Plains, which had been interrupted by Indian activity.[9] Miller was one of two secretaries named to a committee that was formed.

On 2 March 1861, the commanding officer in Santa Fe informed Surveyor General John A. Clark that the post did not have sufficient troops to hold the city against the advancing Confederate forces and that he was leaving for Fort Union the following day.[10] Clark packed the field notes, plats, and office records in boxes, including the archives relating to Spanish and Mexican claims brought before the office for investigation. On the morning of 3 March Clark sent the documents to Fort Union in a government wagon, and then he left for the fort, arriving the next day. The boxes arrived safely on 6 March and were safely stored in the fort. Clark left behind the furniture, stationery, books, and all the Spanish documents relating to land titles in New Mexico that had not yet been brought before the office of surveyor general for investigation.

Miller was left in charge of the government property and the building. When the Confederate troops arrived on 11 March, Miller handed over the building. When the Confederates were finally driven from Santa Fe on 8 April, Miller took possession of the building, minus much of the furniture, stationery, and other property. The archives, however, had not been disturbed during the occupation. On 20 May the records were brought back to Santa Fe from Fort Union, and the office of the surveyor general reopened.

Miller was both clerk and translator of the office of the surveyor general. Surveyor General Clark's annual report for 1863 included a notation that during his unspecified, authorized absence during that fiscal year, Miller had charge of the office and was received $1 a day for this service.[11] The proposed budget for the translator for 1865 (two years hence) was $2,000.[12] The salary account for the fiscal year ending 30 June 1864 gives some idea of Miller's activities and actual earnings. Miller was paid $78.35 as clerk and $48.91 as translator in September 1863, $500 as a translator in December 1863, $85.71 and 36.96 as clerk in March 1864, $49.45 as clerk in April 1864, and $40.45 as clerk and $335 as translator in June 1864.[13]

The Daily New Mexican began publishing a Spanish language edition called Nuevo Mejicano Diario on 9 July 1868. David J. Miller appeared on the masthead as translator, and an article noted that he would be working for the newspaper in that capacity, noting that his abilities as a translator were well known throughout the territory.[14]

Miller was also an active Mason. In mid-October 1868, members of Santa Fe Royal Arch Chapter 1 were notified that they were to attend the first convocation under their recently received charter, which was to be held at the Masonic Hall in Santa Fe on the first Monday evening in November.[15] Miller was the secretary of this RA chapter. He was also a member of Montezuma Lodge No. 100 and served as its secretary.[16]

An item appeared in the Spanish language version of the Santa Fe newspaper in June 1869 that was taken from El Mexicano de Texas, published in San Antonio.[17] The Texas newspaper noted that La Sociedad Méjico-Tejana admitted Miller as an honorary member on 22 May. Society members Calixto Núñez and Marín Treviño introduced the proposal, and it was accepted unanimously. The newspaper noted that Miller had made a generous philanthropic contribution to the society, which they acknowledged.

On 7 October 1870, Miller purchased half of the quarter of the Pecos Pueblo grant that John Ward owned.[18] In this way the federal official charged with assembling and reviewing private land claims became privately interested in such a claim. Between 1874 and 1882 Miller provided research assistance to Lewis H. Morgan, a lawyer from Rochester, New York, who was among the first men to take an anthropological interest in the Pueblo Indians. He undertook trips to pueblos on Morgan's behalf and used the opportunity to learn about Pueblo land. In addition to his partial interest in Pecos Pueblo, Miller purchased 14,249 acres of the Pablo Montoya grant and 5,000 varas in the path of the rail line from Kansas to California.[19]

When Henry M. Atkinson became surveyor general in 1876 he retained Miller as translator and chief clerk. The Daily New Mexican applauded the decision noting that

Miller has been in the office since it was organized in 1854 and what he don't know about is not worth knowing. He is a fine scholar in Spanish and English, and one of those amiable, genial persons who do a world of good, having contentions with no one. His friends, and that means everybody who knows him, will be happy to hear that he is to remain, and General Atkinson will have no occasion to regret his actions in the matter.

In August 1877, New Mexico Masons met in Santa Fe to consider the establishment of a Grand Lodge in New Mexico. Up to that time, the lodges in New Mexico were under the Grand Lodge of Missouri. After a series of organizational meetings, the Masons gathered on 7 August and approved a constitution and selected the name "The Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of New Mexico." An election and appointment of officers was held, and Miller was selected as Grand Secretary. [20]

Miller compiled a table of all the private land claims in New Mexico based on claims filed in the office of the surveyor general as of 30 June 1880. There were a total of 197 grants, 77 made by Mexico and 120 by Spain.[21] The preparation of this document was a summing up of Miller's work in New Mexico. It might also have led him to reflect on his life to that point. Within weeks he departed for Austin, Texas, where his brother resided. He left on 18 October 1880 Miller twenty-six years to the day since he departed Austin for Santa Fe. In all that time he had not seen his relatives.[22] Word from Austin about Miller's visit found its way into the Santa Fe newspaper.

Mr. Miller is struck with the great changes in Austin since he left here. He sees but few persons that were familiar to him then, and these have advanced from childhood and youth into manhood and old age. It is a long time—twenty-five years—but it seems to have rested lightly upon this esteemed gentleman.[23]

While he was in Texas, Miller also visited Galveston, where he had also lived for a time before moving to New Mexico. He was back in Santa Fe by early December 1880 after having spent about a month and a half visiting family and friends in Texas.[24]

Upon his return to Santa Fe, Miller took up the matter of the administration of the estate of François Mallet, by authority of his parents in France.[25] Mallet was a French architect brought over to work on the Cathedral of Santa Fe. On 1 September 1879, John B. Lamy Jr., nephew of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, shot and killed Mallet because he believed his fellow Frenchman was involved in an illicit relationship with his wife, Mercedes Chávez.[26] Mallet's parents directed Miller to deliver to Captain Louis Felsenthal a double-barreled shotgun that formed a part of their deceased son's estate. Mallet's parents gave Felsenthal the gun, which was said to be a fine fowling piece and very valuable, in appreciation of Felsenthal's friendship with their son.

At the end of December 1880, a group of leading men gathered to revive and reorganize the Historical Society of New Mexico.[27] The society had been founded in 1859, but had not functioned during the Civil War years. The notables selected 26 December for the meeting because that was the date of the original meeting in 1859. The old constitution was submitted and after minor changes adopted as the constitution for the future. Miller was among those who adopted and signed the constitution.[28] His membership on the board of the Historical Society of New Mexico brought him into contact with influential individuals with an interest in acquiring land. He participated with fellow members and made presentations at meetings.[29] His position as corresponding secretary gave him an opportunity to gather information about New Mexico. A notice in the 1882 edition of the Legislative Blue Book of the Territory of New Mexico requested old documents and newspapers related to the family history and settlement of the territory.[30]

On 22 February 1881 the United States Patent Office issued patent number 237982 to Hugh S. Joines for a new and useful improvement in nut locks. Jones assigned one half of the patent to Marshall A. Breeden, and Miller.[31] This development is unusual in that there is nothing else in Miller's history that hints at his being an inventor and may indicate that he had Breeden were merely financial backers of Jones's invention. Breeden was a native of Kentucky and a lawyer. For much of the 1870s and 1880s he was Assistant Attorney General of New Mexico.[32]

At a meeting of leading citizens at the Santa Fe courthouse in September 1881, Miller was a chosen a member of a committee named to receive the remains of William Frederick Milton Arny, who had been Secretary of New Mexico for five years and interim governor in 1866.[33] The committee was to meet the train at the depot and transport the remains to the courthouse where they would lie in state. The funeral procession was to begin at the Palace of the Governors. Miller was also one of the pallbearers.

In March 1885, Miller was once again traveling to visit his brother in Austin, Texas, when disaster befell him. News of the event reached Santa Fe in the form of a letter from Judge W. B. Sloan dated the 11th and written onboard the train near Wellington, Texas.[34] The letter was addressed to Captain John Gray and brought the unfortunate news that Miller had acted so strangely as to convince everyone that his mind was seriously affected. It was all the judge could do, aided by the conductor and brakeman, to keep Miller from being very violent at times during the journey. In October Thomas Gwyn received another letter Miller's brother Austin, Texas, which stated that the David was still in a critical mental condition, and there was little hope for his permanent recovery.[35]

In June 1886 a committee consisting of Edward L. Bartlett and John Gray announced a public auction of the estate of David J. Miller, a lunatic. For sale were one hundred shares of capital stock of the Santa Fe Progress and Improvement Company, with a par value of $10 per share; two and two-thirds town lots on the south side of the Santa Fe River; all Miller's interest in the Toltec and Bernalillo mining claims and locations, situated in Los Cerrillos mining district; a piece of land in the northeast portion of the town of Santa Fe; another lot on the south side of Santa Fe; another lot of land just beyond the Aitcheson Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad depot in Santa Fe and a small fraction of a lot about 20 by 30 feet east of the above mentioned lot. The sale was to take place at the office of the Probate Clerk on Saturday 3 July 1886 at 10 a. m.

[1] United States Federal Census, 1860, Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory; and United States Federal Census, 1870, Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory.

[2] "A Public Custom in Texas," Weekly New Mexican, 30 May 1880.

[3] Ibid.; "José Antonio Navarro, 1795-1871," (accessed 24 September 2010); and Henry Neuman and Guiseppe Marco Antonio Baretti, Neuman and Barretti’s Dictionary of the Spanish and English Language: Wherein the Words Are Correctly Explained, and a Great Variety of Terms Elucidated (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, & Wilkins, 1827).

[4] The Daily New Mexican, 7 November 1880.

[5] The Daily New Mexican, 19 October 1880.

[6] Malcolm Ebright, The Tierra Amarilla Grant: A History of Chicanery (Santa Fe: Center for Land Grant Studies, 1993), 7-8, 16-18.

[7] Ibid., xvii.

[8] "Junta Democrática Nacional," Gazeta Semanaria de Santa Fe, 14 August 1858.

[9] Junta Pública en Santa Fe," Santa Fe Gazette, 19 November 1859.

[10] "Report of the Secretary of the Interior," in 37th Congress, 3rd Session, House of Representatives, Executive Document No. 1, Message of the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress at the Commencement of the Third Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress, Vol. 2 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1862), 122.

[11] Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office for the Year 1863 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1864), 95.

[12] Ibid., 97.

[13] Executive Documents Printed by Order of the House of Representatives during the Second Session of the Thirty-eighth Congress, 1864-1865 (Washington; D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1865), 1: 104.

[14] "Las Traducciones," Nuevo Mejicano Diario, 9 July 1868.

[15] "Santa Fe R. A. Chapter No. 1," The Daily New Mexican, 21 October 1868.

[16] "Masonry at Santa Fe," The Daily New Mexican, 11 December 1869.

[17] "David J. Miller," Nuevo Mejicano Diario, 18 June 1868.

[18] Hall stated that Miller was a southern sympathizer who had come to New Mexico after the Civil War. Given that he moved from Maryland to Texas, he might well have been a southern sympathizer, but first went to New Mexico in 1854 not after the Civil War.G. Emlen Hall, Four Leagues of Pecos: A Legal History of the Pecos Grant, 1800-1933 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984), 100.

[19] Miller sold his interest in the grant in 1873. Ibid., 103, 104-105.

[20] "New Mexico Grand Lodge History," (accessed 28 September 2010).

[21] "A Useful Paper," The Daily New Mexican, 2 October 1880.

[22] The Daily New Mexican, 19 October 1880.

[23] The Daily New Mexican, 7 November 1880.

[24] "Personal," The Daily New Mexican, 5 December 1880.

[25] The Daily New Mexican, 9 December 1880.

[26] The Daily New Mexican of Sept.25, 1880; and "The French in New Mexico," (accessed 28 September 2010).

[27] Jacqueline Dorgan Meketa, Louis Felsenthal: Citizen Soldier of Territorial New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), 86.

[28] "The Historical Society," The Daily New Mexican, 28 December 1880.

[29] Last Night's Lecture," New Mexican Review, 22 July 1883.

[30] Hall, Four Leagues of Pecos, 103, 312 n. 41.

[31] "Hugh S. Joines," (accessed 28 September 2010).

[32] Robert J. Tórrez, UFOs Over Galisteo and Other Stories of New Mexico's History (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004), 109.

[33] "The Arny Meeting," The Daily New Mexican, 21 September 1881; and Lawrence R. Murphy, "William F. M. Arny: Secretary of New Mexico Territory, 1862-1867," Arizona and the West 8: 4 (winter 1966): 323-38.

[34] "Sad News," Santa Fe Weekly New Mexican Review and Live Stock Journal, 19 March 1885.

[35] "Round About Town," The Daily New Mexican, 12 October 1885.