Neighbor Relations People

 

Enos B. Miller

Of all the park neighbors, the relationship with Enos B. Miller is the most colorful. Miller lived just north of the park (his driveway was next to the Great Grave) from 1948-1953. Although he was a neighbor for a relatively short time, Custodian Garth and Superintendent Weldon both had their share of problems with Miller. He tested their public relations skills. The main issues included disputes over property lines, water and grazing rights, and Miller's right-of-way to his property. If it weren't for the import of these disputes, Miller's antics would be mere anecdotes. However, he raised water and grazing issues that are pertinent issues today.

Custodian Garth had his share of difficulties with Miller; perhaps more than his share. In 1949, Garth wrote a detailed memorandum to Superintendent Preston describing Miller's infractions, including destruction of government property (cutting trees), trespassing, and blocking the water from the irrigation ditch that served the millpond, particularly important since Marcus Whitman's grist mill timbers were visible under the water. Garth continued:

While I was working on the ditch Miller took two shots at me with his shot gun. The buckshot rattled all around me. Of course I was on his property at the time, but I had to be to repair the ditch. When I remonstrated with him, he again threatened me, saying he would shoot me anytime he saw fit. [80]

After referring this incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Attorney in Spokane warned Miller that such conduct was intolerable; Garth was told to stay off Miller's property. [81]

Relations with Miller frustrated Superintendent Weldon, too. Miller claimed that neither the mission nor neighbor Ray Sheldon had any right to "his" water. As a result, water was frequently diverted back and forth between Miller's fields and the park. In response to sharing the water, Superintendent Weldon reported that Miller was "really up in the air about it and wants to know 'what the ----- there is to see at the monument anyhow!' " [82]

The park's northern boundary line jumped back and forth between Miller's place and the park almost as frequently as the water. Dr. Cowan, a local physician who held a controlling interest in the Miller farm, opposed the monument development and never accepted any of the boundary surveys. Several times Superintendent Weldon found the government boundary markers damaged or gone. Finally, he said of the whole subject, "I've just dropped the matter of a Miller boundary fence until the greater issue of land purchase is solved." [83] Thus, the real issue was that Miller had something the National Park Service wanted: land. Superintendent Weldon tried to foster good relations with Miller hoping he would be more amenable to selling his property. Therefore, in 1950, Weldon granted him a special use permit for grazing five head of cattle on the three-acre "church tract," located near the base of Shaft Hill. In addition to improving the appearance of this "unkempt weedpatch" that had "little historic significance," Weldon hoped to encourage friendly relations with Miller:

It is my opinion that if we can keep the good will between the Service and Mr. Miller which at this moment apparently exists . . . we will have a better chance of some day acquiring additional land from him. Granting a grazing permit will show that the Service can at times cooperate with individuals and that we are not trying to run Mr. Miller out of the farming business, a point he may have felt was true at times. [84]

Superintendent Weldon's plan only partly succeeded: Miller's cattle kept down the weed growth but the special use permit did not create goodwill between Miller and the park. [85] Miller discontinued the permit in 1952, the same year he was approached about selling 15 acres of his property. Miller insisted on selling all of his 90 acres or nothing. Since the Whitman National Monument was not authorized to buy one square foot of land in 1952, let alone ninety, negotiations halted almost before they began. The next year, 1953, Miller sold his farm, moved, and Superintendent Weldon breathed a sigh of relief. While the issues did not disappear with Miller, at least the confrontations ended.

While Miller certainly provoked arguments between himself and Custodian Garth and Superintendent Weldon, his complaints were based on a perceived threat to his farming operations. Whether the issue was water rights or access to his property, Miller felt threatened by the park and as a result, opposed its expansion and operation. Living next to the park, Miller tolerated several annoyances: visitors parking in his driveway, late-night parties near the Great Grave, and difficulty getting to his field on the east side of shaft hill. While neither Miller nor Weldon had an easy six years, they managed to coexist in spite of a difficult situation.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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