Sarah Alice Miller

Sarah Alice Miller

San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, USA
Death 13 Aug 1879 (aged 7)
Gilroy, Santa Clara County, California, USA
Burial Colma, San Mateo County, California, USA
Memorial ID 180255932 · View Source
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This article was written by Pat Snar, Director of the Gilroy Museum located at 195 5th St.(408) 848-0470.

There is a great deal of myth and legend surrounding Sarah Alice Miller, youngest child of cattle king Henry Miller.

Sarah Miller is said to have been eight, nine, ten and twelve years old when she died, according to various accounts. She is also to have had her tragic accident in San Francisco, Gilroy, Los Banos, and in Mount Madonna. Once and for all, let us clear the air and convey the story of the life that was at one moment adventurous and bright and the next moment tragically ended too soon.

Sarah Alice Miller was born in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 1871. She was the youngest child of Henry Miller, the cattle king, and his second wife, Sarah Wilmarth Sheldon.

Her older siblings were Henry Miller Jr., born in 1863, Nellie Elizabeth Miller, born in 1865, and Sarah Wilmarth Miller, born between 1867 and 1869. “Little Willie” died before her first birthday and was the first Miller child to be buried in the family cemetery along Castro Valley Road.

Sarah Alice was the favorite of her parents. Her brother, Henry, was a sickly child and developed rheumatoid arthritis as a young man. Nellie was quite contrary and reacted badly to both the death of her sister “little Willie” and the birth of Sarah Alice.

Like her brother and sister, Sarah was taught to ride at an early age. She received most of her instruction from her uncle, Perry Robinson, Manager of Bloomfield Farm near Gilroy, and from a private riding instructor engaged to train the budding horsewoman in the ways of side-saddlery. Sarah Alice was already an accomplished rider by age three and continued to improve on ever more challenging mounts.

Taking after her father, Sarah Alice loved the outdoors and cherished the time the children spent at Canal Farm, Bloomfield Farm, and at the family’s summer retreat, Mt. Madonna. Here she was left on her own, roaming the pastures and hills, playing with the calves, and talking with the efficient cowboys.

She quickly gained an appreciation for riding astride but could not convince her father that this was sensible for the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Had she survived, Sarah Alice may well have been the child to carry on her father’s business. She was independent enough to avoid the confines of a Victorian upbringing and even at an early age showed a keen interest in the ranching and meat business her father was building.

A good student, Sarah Alice was, however, interested more in mathematics and science, especially horticulture, than other girls her age. This interest would have made her an excellent candidate for a college education and held her in good stead in the powerful business circles in which her father traveled. Mr. Miller wrote numerous letters to the children’s nanny detailing what he considered a proper education for his son and daughters.

Unfortunately, Henry Jr., though often sick, did not have the keen interest in his father’s plans for his future in the meat business. Since the children were taught by tutors and their school hours were spent in the library of their San Francisco home, it was easy for Sarah Alice to listen more to her brother’s subjects than to her own.

Sarah Alice began also at an early age to wish she was a boy and took every opportunity to do anything her brother was allowed to do. This included wearing her brother’s outgrown clothing. Numerous letters were also written to the housekeeper in San Francisco directing her at first, to regularly remove Henry Jr.’s old clothes and give them to the poor. However, when it was discovered that Sarah Alice was going through the bags in the basement and hiding her treasures in her toy chest, directions were given to burn the used clothes.

Sarah Alice did give in to her father’s wishes that she dress and act more ladylike on special occasions and when photographs were to be taken. However even on these occasions, Sarah did make a “statement” by overdressing or wearing outlandish combinations of clothes, stockings, shoes, and accessories.

Not yet reaching her eighth birthday in 1879, Sarah Alice Miller was enjoying a typical summer at Bloomfield Farm. Her father had made her the gift of a yet more spirited horse named Dan.

Sarah spent most of her waking moments in the saddle becoming one with her new friend. Wednesday, August 13 dawned gloriously and Sarah Alice was up early for a ride before breakfast. This was a rare day, for she breakfasted with her father before his day of consultations with ranch managers began. They talked of Sarah’s plans for the day and her excitement over her new mount.

Joined on horseback by her sister Nellie, and several other family members in a buggy, Sarah led the small party into town in the afternoon for shopping and a stop at the soda shop.

Just south of where Bob Lynch Ford is today, Sarah’s horse struck a squirrel hole and went down with Sarah still aboard. As Dan floundered on the ground trying to regain his feet, he rolled over on little Sarah Alice, crushing the child to death. Minutes later, Dan was killed with a well-placed bullet as it was discovered that his leg was badly broken in two places.

The limp body of Sarah Alice was conveyed to Bloomfield Farm by the sorrowful group and was returned to San Francisco with her parents on the 4 p.m. train. She was placed in the family vault in Laurel Hill Cemetery near the Miller’s San Francisco home. However, her parents felt this place was too cold and lonely for their little flower, so Sarah Alice was brought by a private funeral train to Gilroy for burial in the family cemetery on Bloomfield Farm. A large cortege of family, friends, and townfolk followed the little coffin to its resting place along Castro Valley Road.

In 1928, the Miller’s cemetery was abandoned. Sarah Alice and other family members were cremated and placed in the family vault at Cypress Lawn in San Bruno. Family friends and favorite ranch hands were removed to what is now Gavilan Hills Memorial Park.

Sarah Alice is said to have been seen riding Dan amid the fog swirling at Mt. Madonna or rocking quietly on the back porch of the house at Castro Valley Ranch. The small, unsettled spirit still longing for the open spaces her father loved so deeply.

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  • Created by: sgrant
  • Added: 11 Jun 2017
  • Find a Grave Memorial 180255932
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Sarah Alice Miller (20 Dec 1871–13 Aug 1879), Find a Grave Memorial no. 180255932, citing Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo County, California, USA ; Maintained by sgrant (contributor 47356486) .