LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER

by

June English



 
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FRESNO COUNTY

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John C. Hoxie married Mary Jane McKenzie at the fort on December 18, 1873. Mrs. Hoxie was the first teacher at Fresno Station after her graduation from San Jose Normal School in 1872. It was a private school and opened in 1873 with 15 pupils.


The lives of the McKenzies has been a subject of a past article. They came to the fort in 1854 under the command of Captain Loeser. Sgt. McKenzie's death on the 1st of January 1864 necessitated the return of his wife and children. This was during the occupation of the time of the Civil War and my source may be in error as to the date. Her subsequent marriage to Judge Charles A. Hart and their lives together and the acquisition of the Hart-McKenzie estate is an important part of our history.


In October of 1855, Bishop Ingraham Kip of the Episcopal Church came to Millerton and Fort Miller with a military escort. He stayed at the fort a few days and there he baptized a child and read services. In May of 1861, Father Daniel Dade came from Los Angeles to take over the new parish in Visalia. This Catholic parish included all the land he was able to cover in this part of the Valley. He soon became infected with malaria and his health required a change from the damp tule fog and mosquito filled swamp land to a higher, drier climate. He came to the Fort Miller Hospital and under the care of Dr. Lewis Leach and a family (not named) his health improved. When he recovered, he ministered to the needs of the Catholics in this area. He returned to Visalia and each spring he would appear, driving a horse and buggy and accompanied by a boy from his church he cared for the spiritual needs of his pastorate. He was a very popular man with all classes of the people from the highly educated to the barfly in the saloon. He gave advice to those who asked and comforted those who sorrowed. The first public Catholic service was held in the spring of 1863 and conducted by Father Dade in the double building then used as a courthouse.


Up to and including the spring of 1872, he continued his yearly visits and in September of 1872 he entered a monastery near Sacramento where he died a few years later.


The buildings were continually occupied during all these years by various families and individuals. The early residents of the county felt the reservation belonged to the people. There were no true land titles as there had been no complete or official survey. There was an office in the county government, but when the surveyor did work, it was to settle disputes over mining property and to lay out roads. Property simply changed hands and was sometimes recorded in the volumes that are now in the Hall of Records with simple descriptions such as " feet from Royal and Gaster's Store". "Squatter's rights" was the rule at the fort.


The fort became strategically important again with the advent of the Civil War. At the Baley mine near the Fresno River, now in Madera County, southern sympathizers met here as well as other secret places in California and threatened the shaky peace of this free state for awhile. A very large majority of the settlers had ties with the South and while the men talked of returning to join the Confederacy, only a few went home to fight. Most of the men had worked too hard to develop their ranches, farms and businesses to give it up so quickly and some felt they could do more good for the Cause by remaining here in case this state was taken over by those whose sympathies were with the South. They were part of an organization called the "Knights of the Golden Circle". It is a fact that approximately 90 percent of the Fresno County Militia roster contained names of men whose origins had been in the states that now constituted the Confederacy. Their duty was to protect the county in case there was a rebellion!


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