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Clell Miller Gets No Respect

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Clell Miller, aka Clelland B. Miller 1849-1876
Clell Miller, aka Clelland B. Miller 1849-1876

Clell Miller gets no respect. Maligned and also misunderstood. Misquoted and also misinterpreted. Down to the deadly hit Clell Miller took in Northfield, Minnesota, Clell’s life always ran amiss. Now, after Clell’s death, even his bones are missing. How did the James gang ever wind up with the likes of hapless Clell Miller?

Imagine my surprise, to learn that I live just two blocks from Clell Miller’s grandparents. Since Henry Logan and Mary Kenley Thurmond died together back in 1866, Clell’s grandparents have not gone missing at all. For almost 150 years, they have been right here in Danville, Kentucky, in plain sight. And, like poor Clell, no one has cared.

Tombstone of Henry Logan, Thurmond & Mary Kenley, grandparents of James Gang member Clell Miller. Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky.
Tombstone of Henry Logan, Thurmond & Mary Kenley, grandparents of James Gang member Clell Miller. Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky.

Moving here to Danville, Kentucky twelve years ago to write my five-volume history of the James family, Jesse James Soul Liberty, I made Danville my home base, principally because Danville is the geographic center of the James family’s history in Kentucky, ever since 1782 when Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, arrived with his Traveling Church. The Youngers, Pence, Scholls, Chinns, Hites, Vardemans, etc. – and now

Clell Miller’s family – lived among one another first around Danville, before moving to Clay County in Missouri. These families left an abundance of history in plain sight, still waiting today for the arrival of serious historians.

John Loyd Thurmond Jr. 1870-1946. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
John Loyd Thurmond Jr. 1870-1946. First cousin of Clell
Miller of the James Gang.

Often I take a refreshing walk over to Bellevue Cemetery after long hours of writing. Bellevue is an historic, tree-filled place, where Victorians went for Sunday picnics, courting, and family recreational diversions. Since Danville is where Kentucky separated from Virginia in 1792, Bellevue is populated also by countless blue blood figures of the Commonwealth’s frontier. I commune with them, just as I do with those in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Missouri.

Clell’s grandparents were not Kentucky blue blood. Henry Logan Thurmond and Nancy Kenley were just average, simple folk.

Earnest Clarence Thurmond 1873-1940. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
Earnest Clarence Thurmond 1873-1940. First cousin of
Clell Miller of the James Gang.

Henry’s father, Absalom Thurmond, first lived on Pistol Creek in Bedford County, Virginia, but he died in Wilkes County, Georgia. Two of orphaned sisters of Henry won land lotteries there. When Henry’s brother, John Thurmond, returned to Georgia from the Cain-tuc, people called him “Rich John.” His cousin Fielding Thurmond became captain of a Kentucky militia, during separation from Virginia, protecting the incoming flood of migrants, as did Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James. Fielding returned to Georgia, too. The orphaned Henry Miller, though, arrived in Kentucky sometime before 1808 to stay. Near Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Washington County, Henry married Mary Kenley. The couple spent some time in Logan County, at the time called “Rogue’s Harbor,” a place for killers, thieves, and con artists to flee Kentucky’s emerging new laws and local governments. By 1828, the couple settled more safely in the established, cultured, and Presbyterian community of Danville.

William Paschal Thurmond 1869-1952. First cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
William Paschal Thurmond 1869-1952. First cousin of Clell
Miller of the James Gang.

Henry and Mary Thurmond were in the mid-70s in April of 1866 when they both died. The couple had nine children, most of them from home, or dead. Henry and Mary recently suffered through the aftermath from the bloody battle at Perryville. Scores of wounded, maimed, and dying were treated in every quarter Danville could offer. Henry and Mary were here on the day when Frank James, Bud and

Donnie Pence and the Youngers rode into town with Quantrill, severing telegraph lines, isolating the train depot, and pillaging food and supplies while Frank casually stole some books from a store.

The gang rode off to Harrodsburg where Frank’s cohort Col. Jack Chinn lived. But the Pence brother’s in-law on the Union side, Maj. James Bridgewater, rode up from Stanford in hot pursuit, cornered the gang at Sally Van Arsdale’s house, and killed off a good number of them in the bloody shootout of a snowy winter’s night. Weeks later, Henry read in the news that Quantrill had died in Louisville’s Catholic hospital, and Frank James turned in his guns.

Soldiers were returning to Danville from Charleston, New Orleans, and Mississippi. They brought diseases with them. About half of the population in Danville was black, Most blacks had been freed long before the war. Those newly emancipated were joining the Union Army at nearby Fort Nelson just to be employed, leaving the town without much help. In sunny April of 1866, old and feeble Henry Thurmond died within weeks of his wife Mary, as hapless as did Clell. Their brains exploded unexpectedly with the excruciatingly painful disease of cerebral spinal meningitis.

By then, Clell’s parents, Emaline Thurmond and Moses W. Miller, were in Kearney, Missouri. Most of Clell’s uncles and aunts had settled in Ash Grove. Only Uncle Fielding and Aunt Cettie Thurmond stayed behind to bury Clell’s grandparents. Fielding, who died in 1896 and Cettie in 1909, now rest next to Henry and Mary.

Tombstone of Cettie Miller 1848-1907, first cousin of Clell Miller of the James Gang. Bellvue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky
Tombstone of Cettie Miller 1848-1907, first cousin of Clell
Miller of the James Gang. Bellvue Cemetery, Danville,
Kentucky

Exactly when Clell’s parents left Kentucky for Missouri is unknown. An early exodus of Baptist missions had begun in the 1830s. The same rebel preachers of Virginia who took Jesse’s grandfather, John M. James, into Kentucky now were sending missions into Missouri. John’s son, Rev. Robert Sallee James, was part of that effort in 1843. Brother William R. Cave laid out his half of Kearney in 1856, using the settlement land of his father, Uriel Cave. William’s great grandson, the late Darrell Cave, was sextant of Mt. Olivet Cemetery almost all his life. He assisted Judge James R. Ross, Jesse’s great grandson, and me when we reinterred Jesse’s twin children at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, following the twins’ exhumation in Tennessee. The James association with the Cave family reaches back to the American Revolution.

The cholera outbreak of the 1830s in Kentucky also sent other families westward. Alice Lindsay-Cole, Frank, and Jesse’s grandmother, married a second time to Robert Thomason. In 1836, the entire Thomason family was uprooting itself from Kentucky and going to Clay County, triggered in no small part by their neighbor Richard Mentor Johnson, who had just married his second slave woman. Johnson claimed he had killed Chief Tecumseh in the War of 1812. Now he was bent upon being elected president of the United States. He also had set up his Choctaw Academy and was bringing Indians back into the Commonwealth to be educated. Among some, that did not sit too well. They fought Indians and spilled blood to settle the land.

Nora Ruth Miller 1900-1964 & Annie Harwood Miller 1895-1993, second and first cousins respectively of Clell Miller of the James Gang.
Nora Ruth Miller 1900-1964 & Annie Harwood Miller 1895-1993, second and first cousins
respectively of Clell Miller of the James Gang.

When Clell was born on December 15, 1849, Moses W. and Emaline Thurmond Miller were well-established residents of Clay County. Clell never knew his grandfather, Jacob Miller, on the side of his father. He also did not know his Thurmond grandparents. But Clell probably learned that his papaw

Jacob Miller was one of those tough-minded Germans, like the Hite family. The Hites/Heydts all came from Germany, then to Pennsylvania, then into Kentucky, all ending up in Missouri. Despite what trouble Clell and his brother Ed Miller found their selves in, people around Kearney regarded their father Moses W. Miller well. Moses was a far more respectable citizen than his two sons, as shown by the expensive obelisk that graces his grave.

Since the Civil War ended, and especially after, Jesse was presumed to have killed Clell’s brother Ed, what Clell shared with the James brothers no doubt was a sense of family disaffection. Like the

James family with the James boys, Miller family cousins had little, if nothing at all, to do with Clell. Most had moved away, gone to Texas or Oregon. Isolated, Clell Miller never knew his Miller or his Thurmond cousins at all. Like the James family, too, Clell’s family spent their days building honest and respectable lives for themselves, for the most part ignoring Clell, or his brother Ed.

Darrell Mansur, a first cousin, four generations removed of Clell Miller 1848- 1846, aka Clelland B. Miller, shot and killed in the failed Northfield Bank Robbery by the James Gang, September 7, 1876.
Darrell Mansur, a first cousin, four
generations removed of Clell Miller 1848-1846, aka Clelland B. Miller, shot and killed in the failed Northfield Bank
Robbery by the James Gang, September 7, 1876.

Recently when I met Clell’s first cousin from his Miller side, now four generations removed, I asked Darrell Mansur about his family and about Clell. Having respect for Clell Miller was not at the forefront of Darrell’s mind. In fact, Darrel knew nothing at all about Clell Miller or Ed. I provided Darrell his genealogy of his Miller- Thurmond family and explained the murderous history it contained. Darrell then replied, “This is all new and a bit of a shock to me. It probably explains why I wasn’t told anything about that part of the family when I was growing up…”

Gee, Clell Miller, we hardly knew ya. Seems like your own family did not, either. Clell Miller gets no respect.

This article first appeared in the James-Younger Gang Journal in 2014.


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Tuesday October 19th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

☞Today in Old-West History — On today’s date 119 years ago, Sunday, October 19, 1902, notorious Old-West outlaw & fiddle player James Hardin “Uncle Jim” Younger (1848-1902) met his earthly demise at the age of 54 when he committed suicide by gunshot whilst on parole at Saint Paul, Minnesota.

☞Requiéscant In Pace, Jim Younger.

☞Jim Younger was one of the central figures of a band of the most desperate outlaws the Old West ever knew — the infamous James-Younger Gang, which was formed by Jim’s brother Cole Younger along with Frank & Jesse James.

☞Jim Younger joined the Confederate Army during the War Between the States (1861-1865) & served with Quantrill’s Raiders. In 1864, he was captured by Union troops & was imprisoned until the end of the War.

☞After the War, Younger worked on various ranches until he joined the James-Younger Gang in 1873. When his brother John was killed at Roscoe, Missouri in 1874, Jim left the gang & went out west where he worked on a ranch in San Luis Obispo, California.

☞In 1876, Jim returned to the gang, & on September 7 he participated in a bank robbery that became known as the Great Northfield Minnesota Raid. During that robbery he was shot & captured. The James brothers escaped, but Cole, Jim, & Bob Younger were shot up by a posse, arrested, & sentenced to long terms in the state penitentiary at Stillwater, Minnesota, where they were afforded celebrity status.

☞Jim Younger’s fiddle was one of the few possessions that he was allowed to have with him in prison, & he played it often. As time passed, Jim noticed that a little bird would appear most every day in the window of his jail cell. It seemed as though the bird came to listen whenever Jim played his fiddle. Jim was lonely & he befriended the bird which he named “Swipsy.” The bird would fly into the prison cell & Jim would always try to have crumbs to feed Swipsy. One day, a fellow prisoner killed the little bird just for spite. Jim then painted a picture of Swipsy on the back of his violin to remember his little feathered friend.

☞In 1898, the prison warden allowed the prisoners to throw a Christmas party at his own home, with Cole Younger portraying Santa Claus & Jim Younger playing his fiddle.

☞Paroled in 1901, Jim became engaged to his long-time lover Alix Mueller; however, because of the terms of his parole he couldn’t marry her.

☞On October 19, 1902, after a failed attempt to sell tombstones & then insurance, Jim Younger locked himself in his room, wrote a suicide note to Alix, picked up his revolver, & blew his brains out.

☞In 2013, Jim Younger’s fiddle, which was played by him at the famous 1898 Christmas party at Stillwater Prison, was sold at a Dallas, Texas auction for over $11,000.

☞The left-hand photograph depicts the image of Swipsy the Bird that Jim Younger painted on the back of his fiddle. The right-hand photograph depicts an undated studio portrait of Jim Younger.
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Tuesday October 5th, 2021
Stray Leaves Daily

For Drury Woodson James, founder of Paso Robles, CA., and all his descendants, PASO ROBLES FOUNDERS’ DAY 2021. See MoreSee Less

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