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· Dan E. Miller (1839-1916)
It’s Wednesday, October 12, 1927. Houston Whiteside, 81, and Julia, 59, his wife, are at the corner of Main Street and Avenue B east, Hutchinson, Kansas. The condemned, but still standing, Reno County courthouse is on the southeast corner. The building just east of the courthouse is the aging, but open, Reno County Jail. It includes the sheriff’s residence.
“I still think the commissioners could fix the courthouse,” said Houston. “It’s no longer sinking.”
“They should just tear it down,” remarked Julia, “and send the bill to Emerson Carey.”
“No one has proven the damage is due to the Carey salt mine. At least the county kept the jail open,” said Houston, as he pulled the car up in front of the limestone building’s Queen Tudor architecture, then turned off the motor.”
“What are you doing?” asked Julia.
“Remembering,” he said.
“This is more than a jail. This is a home,” said Houston. “Fay and Cora Brown are making memories today, just like sheriffs and their families have done since 1888. In August that year, my sister and I attended a wedding on a Saturday night in the parlors of the newly opened sheriff’s residence.”
“Dan Miller was the sheriff. He had hired a deputy he could trust—one of his son’s—Ed. The young man was getting married to Odelia (or Delia) Bach. They were both 22 years old.
“I don’t remember everything about the wedding, but there were young couples attending who would be married within months, whether they knew it or not.”
“You and I met that fall when I visited Aunt Jennie,” said Julia. “It was after my father’s death in March. I must have been in Cleveland while you and Annie were here at the sheriff’s residence.”
“If you’d been at the wedding, you could have performed Mozart’s Non Mi Dir from Don Giovanni,” offered Houston.
“Honey,” said Julia, “that’s not appropriate for a wedding. Even though Donna Anna still loves Don Ottavio, she asks him to cease talking about marriage until she has had time to get over the tragedy of her father’s death.”
“Well, if you had been singing at the wedding, with your compelling voice, it would have been magnificent,” said Houston.
“Remember how the local Excelsior Club gave young adults the opportunity to meet and mix?” asked Houston. “The youth would gather at socials, have a meal, dance, and play games.
“Reverend James McAllister was the pastor who officiated at the wedding. He was from South Hutchinson’s M. E. (Methodist Episcopal) church.”
“Why are you thinking about him?” asked Julia.
“He had been the first pastor of their church and was well respected, but a traveling evangelist threw the church’s congregation and trustees into controversy. This man, F. C. Fegley, evangelized at Salvation Army meetings, and was discovered to have prayed on young women. There were a flood of charges circulating through the country regarding his immorality and total unfitness to preach the gospel and make conversions. Exposés called him the ‘saintly sinner’, ‘a peddler of religion,’ a ‘hypocrite,’ and ‘unworthy of the trust of Christians.’
“Was Reverend McAllister blamed for what Fegley did?” asked Julia.
“Not publicly, but he decided to leave his post to take a special course in theology at the Garrett Biblical Institute at Evanston, Illinois.”
“I also remember a boy who was transferred from the city to the county jail that festive Saturday night,” said Houston. “Clearly, the officer had brought the boy to the wrong door. Makes me wonder what he was thinking, interrupting a wedding. Earlier, the boy had been placed in the city jail for breaking into the Silver Moon restaurant, but due to family circumstances he was being held until he could be sent to the reform school.”
Daniel Edward Miller and Cecelia C. Edmunds were married in Clinton, Illinois, in 1863, where she was born. By the time they set off for Kansas, they had six children. After settling in Rush County, Dan was elected as county sheriff at least twice, serving in the years 1878-1879 and 1882-1883. The following year the Miller family relocated to Reno County.
As with sheriffs before him, Dan Miller spent a good bit of his time crisscrossing the county and country capturing criminals and transporting prisoners. He had the reputation in Reno County for being an effective detective and shrewd sheriff, but failed to capture enough votes to remain in office for a second two-year term.
“This jail was a busy place for holding prisoners, but the sheriff didn’t shy from entertaining,” said Houston. “Most of the time, the jailer, sheriff, and his wife, would be caring for ten to twenty prisoners. But Mr. and Mrs. Sheriff—Dan and Cecelia—would have dances for couples, too. I’m sure that Edward, and his fiancé, Odelia, had entertained together in the sheriff’s residence prior to their wedding.”
“I wasn’t at the wedding,” said Julia, “but you remember how bad I took it when Lee Miller died. He was only 27, died of typhoid fever. That boy was a universal favorite with all who knew him, especially his fellow workers at the News, where he began as a carrier boy and worked himself up to pressman. He was no ordinary pilgrim. He was honest, manly, and absolutely unselfish.”
“He was remarkable,” agreed Houston, “loyal to his friends.”
“Lee wasn’t the type of person to take credit for anything, even when he deserved praise,” said Julia. “He was the kind of man the world could ill afford to spare. He was quiet, jovial, and faithful, and would do anyone a favor.
“I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that when Lee died, a big chunk of Cecilia’s heart died as well. It seemed like the loss of that favorite son split Cecelia and Dan apart. It wasn’t long before she was back in Kansas while he remained in Galveston, Texas. I’m not sure when they divorced, but within a year or so Cecelia had moved to Abilene (Kansas) and was living with her mother, Matilda Burge.
“Lee died in Hutchinson in 1898,” said Julia.
“Cecelia died in Topeka in 1915,” added Houston.
“Daniel died in Junction City in 1916, at the home of one of his boys,” said Julia, “Separated in life, they were all buried in the same family plot at Eastside Cemetery.”
Note: The 1880 U.S. Census figures Dan E. Miller’s year of birth as approximately 1843; his gravestone proclaims 1839.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.
This is how I like history – storytelling!
Jim Potter says
Thank you, Alex.
Marilyn Bolton says
Interesting read, Jim. The Eastside Cemetery location brought thoughts of Stage 9’s Talking Tombstones. These characters would be interesting to portray!
Jim Potter says
Absolutely. I enjoy attending Talking Tombstones. A few times I’ve contributed information when they reenact former sheriffs.
Nice story, as always. That Reno County jail building looks impressive.
Jim Potter says
Yes, I would love to hear stories from the inside. Can you imagine the stories from the sheriff and family, the jailer, and the prisoners? Since I can’t time travel, research is the next best thing.
Jim, the headstones really add to your story. In my younger years, I loved visiting cemeteries and finding there old markers. It was the inspiration that led to “Never Waste Tears.” My family lived beside one of those cemeteries that many of my maternal ancestors were buried in. I wish I knew more of their stories.
Jim Potter says
Fascinating! You lived in the best place. Some people might not like living in the vicinity of a cemetery.
Jim Potter says
Alex grew up at Bull Run/Manassas, VA, near the famous Civil War stone bridge. People would find musket balls & belt buckles in the field around her house, AND she had no interest in history! I’m not judging. We’re all different. She was busy drawing & raising ducks. Thank goodness.
Interesting story with wonderful historical information. Thanks.
Thank you, Jim. I enjoy your stories more and more.