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7:02 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

Days Past: Widow's sons among Prescott's first railroad men

Courtesy of Carol Powell<br> William S. Miller, Clara Olmstead’s son, came to Prescott as a child. As a young man, he became a local railroader and had a long career with the SFP&P and AT&SF. A widower as a result of the 1918 flu epidemic, he is shown here with his two young daughters circa 1923.

Courtesy of Carol Powell<br> William S. Miller, Clara Olmstead’s son, came to Prescott as a child. As a young man, he became a local railroader and had a long career with the SFP&P and AT&SF. A widower as a result of the 1918 flu epidemic, he is shown here with his two young daughters circa 1923.

Clara S. Olmstead was born in November of 1839 in Elkader, Iowa. Her father, Samuel Baldwin Olmstead, was an enterprising farmer with an extensive dairy farm from which he realized a handsome profit. They were the third white family to settle in Clayton County, Iowa, on the west side of the Mississippi River during the time of the stone rebuilding of Fort Crawford (1829-1831) east of the river near Prairie du Chien, Wis. Baldwin, as he was known, was supplying his butter and cheese to both Fort Crawford and up-river at Fort Snelling (present-day St. Paul).

When Fort Atkinson in southeastern Wisconsin was established to protect the Winnebago Indians, the materials for its construction and supplies for its troops were assembled at depots along the Mississippi River and at the site of the new fort. The Olmsteads, who had been supplying goods to Fort Crawford and Fort Snelling, now extended their transactions by obtaining a contract for Fort Atkinson. They supplied hay, along with butter, cheese, meat and lumber to the forts.

In 1846, the regular army troops were removed from Fort Atkinson to serve elsewhere and by 1849, the fort was abandoned. Baldwin took his family north with some of the troops from Fort Snelling to help build a new fort on the Mississippi River in Minnesota. Fort Ripley was located on the west bank of the river near the Crow Wing River confluence. Baldwin, living on the east bank of the Mississippi opposite the fort, continued to provide agricultural products for the garrison there as he had done in Iowa and Wisconsin. He built a large hotel on his ranch property and also ran a lumber business. In 1868, he sold his hotel, moved to Morrison County, Minn., for a period of about two years, and finally moved to Lampasus, Texas.

Baldwin was known as an explorer, lumberman, politician, hotelkeeper and contractor. He was very active in the Democratic territorial/state civic affairs wherever he lived. He was involved with Iowa politics, named as a delegate to the 1844 State Constitutional Convention and was instrumental in drafting the Iowa constitution and facilitating the building of federal military roads between forts. In Minnesota, he was also active in politics and served as a member of the 2nd, 5th and 6th territorial legislature and was elected President of the Council (Senate) in 1854. He was a man of considerable ability and obtained many Government supply contracts, but he was also reckless and drank to excess, which kept him a poor man.

In 1856 while living near Fort Ripley, Baldwin's daughter, Clara, married Franklin Howard, a retail dealer at the fort. Frank and Clara had five children by 1866. There is no record of Frank after that time, but clearly something happened to him because Clara and her children moved to Texas about 1870 with her father and extended family, where she met and married Louis Miller, a tailor, at Fort Concho, and had several more children by him.

Clara's parents died in Texas and she, Louis and their children headed for the Arizona Territory in 1884. Louis was killed by an Apache Indian raid on their wagon train. Clara and the children ended up in Prescott where she raised the family by herself. Four of her sons became railroad employees after the first north-south line entered Prescott in 1893. The "Peavine," as it was known, made a huge impact on the lives of the Millers. Two sons, Baldwin and Charley, started out with the Santa Fe, Prescott and Phoenix line (SFP&P), but both eventually moved to Washington State and worked for the Great Northern RR. A son, Otto, transferred to the Santa Fe line out of L.A. and worked there until his death. William Service Miller was the only son who remained in the Prescott-Wickenburg area with the SFP&P (in 1911, changed to Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe).

Clara's son, William, married and had two daughters. His wife, Anna, died in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, leaving the small children, Pearl and Clara (named after her grandma) in William's care. He survived his bout with the flu and tried mining for a while, but went back to the Peavine until July of 1945, when he died of a heart attack while at the throttle of the train near Wickenburg.

Clara S. Olmstead Howard Miller died May 29, 1906, in Phoenix, spending the last 22 years of her life in Arizona.

The author of this article is the daughter-in-law of William's daughter, Clara.

This and other Days Past articles about the Miller and Olmstead families are available on Sharlot.org/library&archives/history/dayspast and via RSS e-mail subscription.

The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Scott Anderson at Sharlot Hall Museum Archives at 445-3122 for information.