George Miller: Living Legend
by Mikel Carmon of Buffalo, WY
If you’re reading this you most likely love and admire the workhorse. I do and what I really admire is a man that I met in 1990 on the Wyoming Centennial wagon train, which traveled from Casper, Wyoming to Cody, Wyoming. The Bridger trail was the route and our 30-day excursion was the beginning of a relationship with George Miller, a man that I truly cherish, love and respect. The Billings Gazette, in a recent article about George, quoted me as saying, “He’s the only man I’d ever cook for.”
George Miller is a man who loves the draft horse. He’s raised them, trained them and drove them for over 70 years. He resides in Absarokee, Montana with his wife, Dorothy, of 68 years. She’s another story all to herself. Let me just say that her spunk, forthright attitude and posture are admirable. And she loves George. And George loves her. It’s a marriage that has produced four children, Ted, Chuck, Georgette and Doris. Ted has passed over to the other side to continue his teamster abilities in different terrain. The remaining three have a relationship with their folks that is truly amazing to experience. Each in a unique way shares a respect for their father and his abilities that is remarkable and heart felt. The Miller family has adopted me and me them.
George is 90 years old now. We, George and I, just finished 48 days on the Bozeman trail wagon train which left Ft. Laramie, Wyoming on June 11, 2001 and arrived in Virginia City, Montana on July 28, 2001. Almost 700 miles with George and his beloved Conestoga, which he built in 1982. His son, Chuck, drove “Dan & Ready” and pulled the surrey that George also built. Mr. Miller’s hearing is challenged at times and it takes him longer to climb into the wagon than it did 5 years ago but the intellect and wisdom are there. I tell people to climb up in the wagon and just watch George drive. His hands with the lines held in them are sheer beauty and art to me.
Lynn Miller writes in The Work Horse Handbook, “There is a special, unseen, unheard, potential level of communication between horse and man which awaits those who are open to it.” George is not only open to it, he lives it through his driving, and respects the horse way and builds upon the relationship. His ability as a teamster is apparent, having won several teamster competitions over the years; the most recent being this year in Absarokee, Montana; the overall winner and received two silver buckles and the crowds adoration. It is a sight to see a man of 90 years with his walking stick, climb on the logs and hand his stick to his son, take the lines with “Dan & Ready” and ace the course. And then just as calmly and surely, sit in the wagon with his stick beside him and demonstrate how the obstacle course is maneuvered with ease.
If any of you are walkers, runners or hikers you know what an exertion going up a hill is. George knows that a team pulling a wagon that is loaded up hill is an extra expenditure of energy. So, given his respect of the horse and his willingness to pull load in the first place, George is of the old school, you stop and “lettum blow,” and then go up the trail a bit further and then stop again and “lettum blow.” George says, “watch their breathing, the sweat, their ears, they say it all.” George responds to all those nonverbal communications and the team in turns responds to George. It is a mutually cooperative relationship. Most people get either angry or very impatient or both when behind George. “Whats the problem up there, get the heck out of the road if you don’t know how to drive.” George will willingly pull over and then down the road, pass the team or hitch on to the team and pull them into camp. I’ve seen it. People that push and push their team and then they balk. “Its never the team,” replies George, “its always the driver.” There are two theories or philosophies that I’ve heard regarding driving up hill. 1: Its harder on the team to stop and then start a pull on the uphill grade, thus, they keep going and even trot up the hill or 2. Go a bit, blow the team, go, rest and blow, go….and so forth. I like the second approach. I’ve seen the results. The team is not spent, respects you and their confidence grows. I liken it to raising kids; it takes more effort to discipline and expend energy by taking time with them rather than letting them do whatever. It takes more effort on the teamsters part to stop, put the brake on, take the brake off, go up the trail and repeat. Individual laziness on the part of the driver is covered up by the unfounded logic of “it’s easier on my team just to go to the top.” George’s response to that is, “You carry 80 pounds on your back and go up the hill without stopping and blowing.” I’ve never seen anyone take him up on it.
Over the years I’ve spent following George and his wagon, I’ve been an outrider. I remember on one wagon train the New Pioneer group had their annual trip up on the Big Horns in Wyoming. George and I had our usual routine, he drove the team and I did camp chores, took the horses to water, George put the stove together, and I cooked . I’m not known for a Martha Stewart type approach. I was really wanting to learn more about harnessing, driving, the whole lot about teams and all that it entails. I remember saying to George, “Tell me what to do, I follow instructions and I want you to challenge me when I mess up”. His response, “Sounds awful bossy to me”. George’s way is quiet but don’t misunderstand me. When he has something to say, he says it. You don’t have to be a silver-tongued orator to get the point across.
The Miller family has hosted a yearly George Miller wagon train, with the price to go being just what it costs them. Last couple of years a caterer couldn’t be found so Chuck Miller, and wife Jean, set up their horse trailer with stoves, coolers and food and there you have it, great food on the trail. The first few wagon trains we each did our own cooking.
August 30, 2001, we’ll all meet in Absarokee to honor George and to drive from Absarokee, MT, to Reedpoint, MT, for labor day festivities and parade. George is working on his new sheepwagon; he’s always wanted one.
On a personal note, George has been the most influential man in my life. I do not say those words lightly. The governor of Montana just presented George with a certificate that honored him as a “master teamster.” I honor him as that and as a man that understands the ways of people and horses, two very different things.
George Miller’s business card reads: Too Old to Work, Too Mean to Die, Just Driving My Horses… lets all intend the same at his age.
George Miller, My Dad
by Georgette Schaeffer
Dad was born on February 4, 1911 in Iantha (that’s eye-an-tha) Missouri, the sixth child of eight, parents Joseph Butler Miller and Ellen (Hamer) Miller. Sisters, Charlotte, Wuanita, & Alice, brothers, Frank, Harrison, Fred & Glen, Dad is the only survivor. Married Dorothy (Kober) Miller on March 18, 1933, children Doris & Harvey Madison, Ted & Susan Miller, Chuck & Jean Miller, and Georgette & Don Scheafer. Ted passed away on October 13, 1998. 13 grandchildren, 23 great grandchildren, and 3 great great grandchildren.
Early life was spent on the family farm in Missouri, his father never owned an automobile or a tractor, all the farm work was done with horses. Dad quit school at age 16 and took any job he could get. He once applied for a job in a steel mill and the foreman asked if he could pour steel, “Sure, I can!” he said. It wasn’t long before the foreman realized dad did not have that ability, so dad had a job, but it was working one end of a broom. But he was willing to take any job, a work ethic he kept all his life and passed on to us kids.
He’s always loved horses and loved to break horses when he was young. He could always break a horse no one else could ride.
He has ranched, owned a sawmill, owned a Cat building roads, digging basements and ditches, and retired in 1977 from his own company Lines, Inc., building sub-stations and rural electric line all over Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Nevada.
Dad’s favorite thing to do is work with horses. He built his conestoga in 1982 and has put on countless miles since that time doing wagon trains all over Wyoming and Montana. He participated in the Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train, the Montana Centennial Wagon Train, has been on the New Pioneer Wagon Train in Wyoming several years, went 400 miles from Absarokee to Culbertson, MT in his wagon all by himself for the Culbertson Centennial. He has done an annual wagon train since 1992 here around Absarokee and has done a wagon train to the Reedpoint Sheepdrive on Labor Day for several years.
He has hauled the bride and groom in his surrey for many weddings, and hauled caskets to the cemetery for others on several occasions. He takes people on sleigh rides in the winter when there is enough snow and hay rides other times during the year. He has done countless parades in the summer all over Stillwater and Carbon Counties.
The first building to be used as a school in Absarokee was a very small log building, and the owner of the property where it was located was going to tear it down, so Dad persuaded the owner to let Dad dismantle the building. Dad took it apart log by log, numbered each piece and rebuilt it with help from a couple of other guys, down by Hawkins park, so a piece of history was preserved due to dad’s efforts.
Dad is loving, kind, a deep thinker, very inventive, knowledgeable and the most honest person I know, and thinks the rest of the world is just as honest as he is. He is very civic and community minded, he helped establish the senior center here in Absarokee, is and has been an active member of the Absarokee Lions Club, served as Chairman of the Absarokee School Board several years, and served on the Absarokee Water Board, that is just a few of the things he has been involved in.