1911-1915. — 12 photographs.
Lea Henderson Miller and Mary L. Fey were married in 1891 in Rolla, Missouri. In 1902, they sold their farm and moved with their five children to another farm in South Dakota, where three more children were born. They spent seven years in South Dakota, but it was hard to make a living for their large family when the crops failed and they had to depend on what they could make from selling cream for all their needs.
The children were growing up (the oldest was seventeen), and they would soon need employment for more than just one man. They decided, after many hours of planning and study, that they would move to Canada. They made the trek across half of South Dakota and then through North Dakota to the Canadian border, with all their household necessities loaded in a covered wagon. The oldest boy, Lloyd, drove the team on the wagon, and the next three oldest children rode with him. Lea drove a team on a two seated buggy, and Mary and the younger children rode with him. They all enjoyed the camping along the way.
The Millers crossed the border at Portal. It was too cold for camping any longer so they came the rest of the way to Edmonton by rail, arriving there in November, 1909. The children went to school in Edmonton for two years while their father worked at various jobs with his horses. 1911 saw three Miller men working for Canadian National Railway in Edson, Alberta. The family moved to Edson and lived in tents until November. In October, twin girls were born, but only one of them survived.
In 1911, the Edson Trail was cut through from Edson to Grande Prairie, and there was lots of talk about the good land in the Peace River Country. Good land was what the Millers were looking for, so they made their plans for the trip to Grande Prairie. They thought it best to travel early in the spring when the weather would be warmer but the lakes, rivers and muskegs would still be frozen. Realizing that there was a need for Stopping Places on the Edson Trail, the Millers set one up at the foot of Breakneck Hill, about forty miles out of Edson, to accommodate travelers going north.
Breakneck Hill got its name, so they were told, from an Englishman’s misfortune. Someone had told this man that he would have to “roughlock” on the steep hill. Instead of roughlocking his wagon, he hobbled his oxen before starting down the hill. The result was that the weight of the loaded wagon sent the oxen stumbling headlong down the hill, ending up at the bottom with broken necks and a wrecked wagon.
They operated their Stopping Place for the winter of 1911-1912, and during that time their three month old baby became ill and died. She was taken back to Edson and buried beside her twin sister.
The Miller family left their Stopping Place on March 1, 1912, heading for Grande Prairie on the famous Edson Trail. One sleigh was loaded with machinery, and on the other sleigh they had built a tight floor and erected a tent over it for their living quarters. The caboose held the cook stove, trunks, food supplies, furniture, clothing, and bedrolls for ten people. The younger children had hand sleighs that they hooked on behind the big sleighs. That was fun for them, and when they came to a steep hill they were the first ones to the bottom. The noon stop was only long enough to feed and rest the horses, and make lunch for ten hungry people. The evening camp was the one they all enjoyed. Lloyd and Everett looked after the horses, Eunice helped her mother cook their supper in the caboose, and the rest of the kids helped their dad gather wood for a campfire, around which they gathered to rest and eat their supper.
The Millers arrived in Grande Prairie within the month of March and set up a more comfortable camp for the family, while the men began looking for suitable land. They stayed there for almost a month. Lea couldn’t find land around Grande Prairie, but there were reports of land being surveyed for homesteading in the Pouce Coupe Prairie area, about a hundred miles northwest of Grande Prairie. Lloyd and Lea made the trip there and were pleased to find an area where there was lots of grass for the horses and acres of land that could be easily broken to grow grain. They returned to Grande Prairie and filed on two quarters along Rock Creek. During the month they spent looking for land, they found several lakes between Grande Prairie and Pouce Coupr that were full of muskrats. The boys began trapping them and soon had many pelts to sell.
It was a warm day when the Millers began the last leg of their journey. They now loaded what they could on two wagons and stored the rest of their belongings. The trail wasn’t too bad as far as Beaverlodge, but from there on it was very rough. The creeks and the sloughs were all full of water, and it was very muddy, making for slow going. Some days they only went ten miles, and all but the youngest children walked behind the wagons, wading through sloughs and exploring along the way. There were no bridges across the creeks so trees had to be cut and bridges built, but after ten days of travel they finally reached the Pouce Coupe Prairie.
They stopped at Trembley’s, the only family on the prairie at that time. Mrs. Trembley and Mary Miller became good friends and visited when they could. The Millers were now just fifteen miles from their homesteads. On May 15, 1912, they set up camp on the N.W. quarter of section 33, Township 79, Range 14, West of the 5th Meridian in British Columbia, and began building their new home.
The first log cabin was used only one winter, and in 1913 the Millers built a second log home and a barn. When Lea Miller applied for a Post Office, the first log cabin was made into a postal facility to serve the new district. A name had to be submitted and the name chosen was “Rolla” after their home town in Missouri.
This collection of photographs was compiled and preserved by Eunice (Miller) Tower and passed down to her daughter Belva (Tower) Ireland. In 2002, Belva donated copies of the photographs, along with the Biographical History and descriptions of the photographs, to the Grande Prairie Regional Archives.
Scope and Content
The fonds consists of 12 photographs which document the Miller family’s trip over the Edson Trail, their stopping place at Breakneck Hill, the camp at Grande Prairie, and the homes they built when they reached Pouce Coupe Prairie.