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Teenager was in wrong place at wrong time

Staff writer

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail, a retelling of an 1864 encounter in which Indians killed a young settler will be at his grave site along the trail.

The site, known as Jones Cemetery, is five miles west of Lehigh on US-56 and approximately 0.5 of a mile north. The July 24 event will provide an opportunity for people interested in the county’s history to visit the spot.

The following summary of Ed Miller’s story is based on recollections, letters, and diaries written by old settlers and published in Marion County Record during 1911 and 1912.

Marion Centre was just four years old when Miller was killed in 1864. Miller, just 17, had settled in the fledgling community with his parents, Nelson and Jane Miller. He herded cattle on open prairies and had a reputation of being a good rider.

When early settler A.A. “Lank” Moore’s wife fell ill, he asked Nelson Miller if one of his sons could go to Turkey Creek in present-day McPherson County to bring his wife’s mother, a Mrs. Waterman, to Marion to nurse her daughter. Nelson sent his son, Ed.

Early in the morning of July 20, 1864, Moore gave Ed his fastest horse.

“Go as fast as you can, and when you get to French Frank’s place, exchange my horse for his fast horse,” Moore instructed Ed.

Riding at a fast pace, Ed headed northwest to the Santa Fe Trail. He soon passed Moore’s Ranch, near present-day Durham, and then rode southwest to French Frank’s Ranch, about three miles north of present-day Lehigh.

Ed found that Frank was away on his fast horse. He was upset because his horse had already run a distance of more than 20 miles.

He quickly ate some breakfast and at 8 a.m. set out on Moore’s horse for Turkey Creek Ranch, accompanied by one of French Frank’s employees, who turned back after three miles.

Thirteen miles later, Ed crested a hill and discovered a group of Indians approaching on their ponies.

Unknown to him, the Cheyennes had just passed through Turkey Creek Ranch and stolen 23 head of horses and mules.

One of the Watermans’ sons was curious about where the Indians were going. He climbed to the roof and, using binoculars, saw a lone horseman come down the trail and whirl around when the Indians started shooting at and pursuing him.

Ed’s only hope was to be able to outrun them. His heart was pounding and his horse, after the long ride of more than 30 miles, was panting loudly.

Ed outdistanced his pursuers for almost 12 miles before they finally caught up with him. They dragged him from his horse, killed, and scalped him.

There was no one to hear his pleas as he was pulled from his horse. His body was left to rot in tall weeds along the trail.

After several days with no sign of Ed or Mrs. Waterman, everyone at Marion Centre was uneasy and worried about what might have happened to delay them.

The Watermans arrived at Marion Centre a few days later, and everyone was bitterly disappointed to discover that Ed was not with them.

Moore, captain of the Marion County militia, commissioned four young men to search for Miller. They traveled northwest to the Santa Fe Trail, then southwest on the trail to French Frank’s Ranch.

As they topped a hill about four miles down the trail, an odor led them to a body lying just three feet from the trail. It was that of Ed Miller. It was full of holes from a lance and had a bullet hole through the head.

They dug a grave five or six feet north of the trail and buried the body.

Nelson and Jane Miller would never see their son again but took pride in the fact that he was one of many willing to risk their lives to make possible their settlement on the open prairie.

For years, the grave went untouched and unmarked. It received little notice although it was plainly visible from the windows of passenger cars traveling the Santa Fe Railroad built through the county in 1879. The grave was about 300 feet south of the tracks.

Other graves joined Miller’s grave, and the site became a small cemetery surrounded by hedge trees.

In 1912, more than 40 years after Ed’s death, the early settlers who had found his body relocated the grave. A black granite tombstone engraved with Ed Miller’s name, age, date of death, and who killed him marks the spot.

Garrett Maltbie, a high school senior, will be telling the story of Miller from 1 to 3 p.m. July 24.

To get to the gravesite, travel west on US-56 to 29th Ave. in McPherson County and turn north 0.5 of a mile. A grassy lane leads to a parking area at Jones Cemetery. Signs will be posted.

Last modified June 30, 2021

 

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