Joaquin Miller Monuments

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Joaquin Miller Notes:

Growing up in Oakland, Joaquin Miller was a real presence to me. We needed to memorize several Joaquin Miller Poems in school, most notably “Columbus”. Miller was also a longtime friend and ‘member’ of the family. My Great grand parents worked for him. Miller called my Great Grand-Father “Capitan” due to his service in the Civil War. As a private he fought in the First Battle of Bull Run. He looked upon him as his Foreman and all of the monuments discussed in the article were built by him working for Miller.

There is Browning’s Castle which remembers the time after his success in London when he became fast friends with Elizabeth and Barrett Browning. They’d lived for several years and bought property in Italy. Money from the sale of that property enabled him to buy land in DC (I surmise) and then the property in Oakland. There he hoped to build a retreat for writers and artists.

In addition to the other sites mentioned in the article Fremont’s Castle, Moses Pyramid, the Pyre plus, there was a large cross to be planted of cyprus trees. When I was living in San Francisco on the 21st Street Hill there was a terrible freeze in the winter that froze all the eucalyptus trees. Standing in my garden and looking across the bay clearly still visible was a jagged dark green cross. I investigated and despite the building of the road through the park many of these original trees are still there.

My Grandfather initially lived nearby with my great grandparents and knew both Miller and grew up with his daughter Juanita. We also knew Juanita as a rather eccentric old lady who engaged us in remembering her father.

At the time, Juanita lived in a small “spanish style” 1930s House at the foot of the cascades near JM’s statue. The first time she gathered us kids to perform in One of Joaquin Miller’s plays she offered us tea and some eucalyptus cookies, which we laughed about and infect still remember. The house was quite overgrown and to a small child quite odd, as was Juanita.

Juanita performed scenes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, she performing the Queen of the Fairies in wispy veils and hair strewn with flowers. This was done with the girls selected to perform. They danced around the reflecting pool at the bottom of the Cascade Stairs not far from Joaquin Miller Road as it bends around Woodminister.

The rest of us were got up as “Indians” and sat through Miller’s play “The Days of Old, the Days of Gold, The Days of Forty Nine.” This followed speeches and other performances during the annual Joaquin Miller Day Festival. Stilll I remember freezing as the fog rolled in as the afternoon wore endlessly on.

My father, grandparents and others in our family all knew Juanita. My grandfather in fact knew her since he was a very young man as my Great Grandparents worked with and for Joquin Miller.

When building these Monuments Joaquin Miller in (I believe) his Autobiography, refers to my Great Grandfather as his Foreman and as the “Captain” who worked to build the Monuments. He called him “Captain” because Azariah joined the Union Troops in the Civil War and fought in the First Battle of Bull Run. His account I still have in a small Army Issued beautiful leather Journal.

When he returned to Minnesota he was Married to Sarah Isabel. They had several Children but Indian Wars and illness forced them to come to California on the 2nd Train to cross the North American Continent. Settling first in Dixon, Solano County after several years they Joined Joaquin Miller on the Heights, as Miller called them to build an Artists Colony.

The monuments were a part of his idea to make the Heights a pilgrimage location to draw people to Diamond, then the end of Bay Area ‘civilization’, and then up Lincoln Avenue to his artists retreat in the hills. As a very young boy I remember climbing into Fremont’s Castle in an attempt to see the Golden Gate the way Fremont did in the 19th Century. Also wondering about Moses and the Brownings, whom I knew nothing about.

My Great Grandmother, Sarah Isabel Darling was one of a very active group of women activists, poets and writers working in the Bay Area at the end of the 19th Century. She having mastered the typewriter became a great help to Miller in transcribing his poems and other writings. We know from notes she prepared the manuscript for his Autobiography when it was published at the end of the Century.

Several books of her poetry are available in the California Room of the Oakland Public Library. It is my hope to publish some more gleaned from the several hundred poems she had published during her lifetime. She died in 1914 so, alas, I never knew her. From her writings however a most remarkable woman is discerned.

She wrote a lovely remembrance of Joaquin Miller’s mother who also lived with them on the Heights. Her personal recollections paints a caring view of his mother and somewhat of him, whom she obviously knew quite well.

When we moved from the Bay Area to Washington, DC in 1974 I was startled to find Joaquin Miller had also lived in DC having built a log cabin atop the 16th Street Hill, directly up from the White House. There he lobbied Congress to offer him the job of Secretary of Indian Affairs. He invited members of Congress to come up to his cabin and regaled them with ‘Indian dances’ and recitations of poetry. It must have been quite a spectacle. The view from there to the US Capitol is stunning even today. Then few buildings, many more tress must have made the rough surround of the Capitol and even more impressive vista.

For some reason still to be researched, Millers log cabin was disassembled log by log in the 1920s and moved to Rock Creek Park beside the creek, where it is still maintained by the US Park Service. The Sign I read many times driving through the park says “Miller’s Cabin”. Always I’d assumed it was an extant example of a cabin owned by the miller on the nearby mill. But no, stopping to read the historic marker one finds it was the cabin Miller built for his unfilled project of becoming the Secretary of Indian Affairs.

A group connected with me to do some readings of Joaquin Miller’s poetry as well as my Great Grand-Mother at their regular Poetry Readings on Tuesdays in the Summer in Rock Creek Park. That was when I found out the connection between Oakland and Washington DC. No longer able to fit inside the cabin they met outside at picnic tables along the creek edge.

My family sold their property in the Heights to the City of Oakland in the early 1900s when the Park Service determined to remember Joaquin Miller and his (and my Great Grandfather’s) Monuments on the hill tops. Later as a part of the Roosevelt Administration efforts to relieve the effects of the Depression the WPA and the California Writers Association built Woodminister — a wonderful tribute — one might say a partial realization of Joaquin Miller’s idea of an Artists Retreat in the Oakland Hills.

Several years back wanting to revive Joaquin Miller Day, I worked with Anne Woodall, the Oakland Recreation Department for about five years to make this happen and celebrate the Recreation Department’s Anniversary. Another purpose was certainly to remember my Great Grandparents and Joaquin Miller and my time there freezing as an 'Indian".

The plan was for me to fly out for the Weekend Festivities on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Needless to say, I did not make the trip, and missed the opportunity to revive Joaquin Miller Day and hoist myself once more up into Fremont’s Castle to see the Golden Gate.


03/18/20 - It takes a bit of research online to find the precise locations of these monuments, but it is worth it. Plan on doing a little bit of walking, potentially up short and steep hills, depending upon your route. The entire park is gorgeous and worth visiting.