LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER

by

June English



 
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FRESNO COUNTY

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Inhabitants, 1851-1856

Much has been written about the construction of Fort Miller and its purpose, but little is known about the people who lived there. An earlier historian of this area endeavored to find the names of the men who had been stationed there and those who had died while on duty during those years. He was informed that the official records of Fort Miller were destroyed in San Francisco by the fire that followed the earthquake of 1906. The only information source on the people who lived and died at Fort Miller is an occasional mention of a person in an old newspaper, a line in an obituary, or in an early history.


Peter William Fink was born in New York state about the year 1828. He was a 49'er and arrived in Fresno County in 1852. He had little luck mining and returned to his trade as a journeyman carpenter. He was in charge of the fort's construction, but for how long there is no available reference, not even in his published biography. He married Eliza Deakin on May 26, 1861. She had come to the Upper Kings River (Clarks Valley) with her parents in 1855. Peter Fink died in 1892 at the age of 75 and is buried in the Reedley Cemetery.


Lieutenant John Nugent was stationed at Fort Miller in 1853. He led troops from the fort to a threatened Indian uprising at Woodville in Tulare County. Cattlemen had insisted on stockading their cattle under a tree sacred to the Indians. The troops were able to restore order.


Earlier historians and settlers compliment the troops from Fort Miller. Unlike army troops stationed in many other parts of the west, these men treated white and Indian alike and did their best to keep order. The soldiers here were never attacked by the Indians. The Indians did fight with the civilian militia who were hungry to get their land and wanted to eradicate the Indians as quickly as possible. There were instances when the Indians were cruelly treated when they were "rounded up" for the signing of the treaty and their forced residence on the two reservations, one at the Fresno River and the other on the Kings River near the present town of Centerville.


Supplies for the fort came overland by contract freighters hauling huge loads drawn by oxen. Early in the history of the fort, it became evident that supplies could be brought by boat up the San Joaquin River as far as Sycamore Point, just about a mile above what is now the new Skaggs Bridge on Madera Avenue leading from Kerman to Madera. During the winter of 1851-52, the commander of the fort realized that a road would have to be built from the fort to Rootville (Millerton) where the new town was taking shape and ferries were being constructed to cross the river. A mile of road was cut away with soldier and Indian labor, and at the Point of Rocks black powder was used to blast away the granite boulders for the road bed. This was half-way between the fort and Millerton.


About ten years later, Judge E. C. Winchell and other prominent men, the moral men of the community, caused a law to be passed prohibiting the Chinese from living with the "Christian" folk in Millerton, though their businesses would be allowed. The word "segregated" was used in the new law and the many Chinese living near Millerton built shanties over firm rock and brick foundations near the Point of Rocks on the river side of the military road. The Chinese miners, laborers and gardeners lived there until the county seat was moved to Fresno Station in 1874 and they began to drift away. Some remained until the dwellings were burned in 1877 and the owner, Judge Charles Hart, decided not to rebuild them. The basements were still recognizable in the early 1940's. It is recorded in an early county document that these honorable men were fearful that the Chinese manner of dress, language and religion would corrupt their young and their very strangeness would endanger their women.


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