The George Miller Family: Finding Value in Adversity

Motivation. Ingenuity. Perseverance. Resilience. These character traits are found in all of our “Miner Recollections.” They seem to rise from the coal miner’s desire to “take care of family” in a time when assistance programs were not available for those in need of housing, heat, food, and income. George Miller was born in 1859 and married Ellen Shreve in 1879. They lived in Bedford, Pennsylvania, where George was a farmer. By 1894, George and Ellen had moved to Frostburg and were the parents of seven children. About this time, a black cloud began to hover over the Miller family. George, now a coal miner, was injured in a mining accident and never regained the use of his legs. Motivation. Ingenuity. Perseverance. Resilience. When the door closed, George found a window to open, and he began to operate a grocery store on Broadway. George and Ellen’s eldest son, Jacob, had his leg amputated after falling under a moving train. Jacob continued to work as a one-legged miner for the next twenty years. George and Ellen’s daughter, Elizabeth, was widowed at the young age of 22, when her husband died from a gunshot wound, leaving her with two small children.

The black cloud continued to cast a shadow over the Miller Family. Consolidation Mine No. 7, better known as the Klondyke Mine, was the largest mine in the state, measured by coal production as well as the number of men employed. In 1909, the mine produced 795,949 tons of coal. It had two slope openings, 6,000 feet long. Coal was pulled through these slopes to the surface and the tipple by two large engines, where it was dumped and shipped via the Carlos branch of the C&P Railroad. The mine was ventilated by a large fan. Water was drained through a ditch into the Hoffman Drainage Tunnel, which had been completed four years earlier. One of George and Ellen’s sons, James, worked at the Klondyke Mine alongside his friend and brother-in-law, Charles Hunt. Charles was married to James’ sister, Ester Miller. On June 26, 1909, tragedy struck the Miller family again when James Miller and his 27 year-old brother-in-law, Charles Hunt, were killed by a fall of top coal at Consol No. 7. The men were just finishing up the day’s work after placing a bench prop for protection. As they finished loading the last car, they knocked out the prop, causing the roof to give way, killing them both instantly. Charles had been working as a miner for less than a month.

Motivation. Ingenuity. Perseverance. Resilience. The newly-widowed Ester Miller Hunt faced adversity head on, taking a lesson from her paraplegic storekeeper father and her one-legged mining brother Jacob. She became a “washer woman,” supporting her two daughters in their rented home on Beall Street. In 1913, she married Thomas Garrettson. They moved to the newly-constructed mining town of Jenkins, Kentucky where two additional children were born. Sadly, the black cloud did not disperse. Thomas Garrettson fell victim to a debilitating mental illness. He spent the remainder of his life in a mental institution. Ester eventually moved back to Maryland and married John Collins. She died in 1942 at the age of 54.

In Frostburg, year after year, George Miller and his family continued to display toughness and resolve. George lost the use of his legs. George and Ellen’s son Jacob lost a leg. Their son James lost his life in a mining accident. Two of their daughters were widowed with children, leaving four grandchildren fatherless. Mental illness proved to be a daunting challenge for their daughter Ester. Motivation. Ingenuity. Perseverance. Resilience. As we all strive to create a better life for our children and grandchildren, we tend to offer up “opportunity” on a silver platter. How do we teach these core values in the 21st century that were so painfully learned by our 19th and 20th century mining ancestors?

How can you help?

The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of the state Route 36 and the national Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor our Georges Creek Valley miners and name those who perished while mining. Tax-deductible donantions can be mailed to the Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF, P.O. Box 765, Frostburg, MD 21532.

Please email: Polla Horn or Bucky Schriver to share your thoughts and stories.

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