James Kinsey Miller, who watched Denison grow from its earliest infancy, once grew cotton where Main Street Mall now stands at 500 West Main. Earlier, the spot was the location of Walter Jennings Furniture Store.
Miller was around when the first train rolled into Denison in 1872, having purchased 500 acres here from Samuel R. Caruthers for $1,000 in 1866.
A house he built soon after is said to have served as a stronghold against Native Americans in the early days. One story passed down through the years is that a Native American was hanged in the huge bois d’arc tree that stood in the front yard. Originally the house was simply built to be near the trail to Baer’s Ferry across the Red River.
Miller was born in Macon County, North Carolina, on Dec. 10, 1826, and came to Texas in 1852 in one of the wagon caravans that at that time were moving south and westward. He settled about five miles west of Sherman when the county seat was only a settlement of three general stores and a large pecan tree grew where the Grayson County Courthouse now stands.
After the two month trek from North Carolina to Sherman, the journey to Denison in 1860 was a short one and Miller brought his family to a log cabin on the banks of the spring.
Six years before leaving North Carolina, Miller married Miss Arrena Taboe and 12 of their children were born before they arrived in Denison. Two more were added after they arrived here.
First record of Miller’s property was a 1,000 acre grant to W.R. Caruthers by Anson Jones, president of the Republic of Texas. After Caruthers’ death, his son Samuel R. Caruthers took the west half of the 1,000 acre grant and his mother, Mrs. Martha Jane Caruthers, took the east half of the acreage.
First record of the Miller’s house itself is in 1887 when the Millers designated their homestead as the area embraced by Perry, Washington, Maurice and Bond on which the house is situated. Later, the property where the house is located was narrowed to a 120 feet by 372 feet plot between Walker and Johnson streets.
The house that is located at 1401 West Walker was given an official Texas Historical Marker several years ago. The marker reads that a Miller daughter was the first known native of Denison. Actually she was the first known native of this area since Denison had not been settled at the time. Texana McElvaney was the first baby born in Denison.
The historic house still stands but it is encased in the front two rooms of the house. It was built over a stone cellar that had been made into a fortress with holes along the walls where rifles could be placed in case of a raid.
Mr. and Mrs. Harry Carlat acquired the house in June 1919 and the Carlat family lived there for 42 years. Later, it has been occupied by the Warren (Cap) Blood family.
The house was possibly moved a short distance many years ago. When Miller deeded the property to Addison Lea on Oct. 22, 1889, the document read “also the building now situated in the northwest part of Denison and known as our old homestead, said building to be moved off the land on which it is now situated at the Instigation of the City of Denison, Texas.”
It is believed that the house could have been built on Walker Street or Perry Avenue and after establishment of the city and platting of the property it was moved to conform. There is no record.
Miller was the first “utility magnate” of that time as his spring fed water for the other settlers. He granted a plot of ground for each church denomination struggling to establish a church. It was said that Miller built a log schoolhouse so that his children could be educated. After the town was incorporated, it was said that he donated land for the site of Forest Park with the provision that it be used for a public park. He also is said to have given the city a deed to every other lot in the business section of town at that time.
Some historians questioned the credit given the Miller family including Forest Park in the center of town. A deed on file in the county clerk’s records at the Grayson County Courthouse says that Forest Park was donated to the city of Denison by the Denison Town Company.
Miller’s obituary appeared in the Jan. 18, 1908, edition of the Sunday Gazetteer. That article called Miller “the first settler of Denison 40 years ago.
The article read in part: “J.K. Miller, one of the most noted and best known Grayson County pioneers died last Saturday at the home of his son, Dr. Miller, at Basin Springs near Sadler. The deceased was 80 years old. He was the best known of Denison pioneers casting his lot more than 40 years ago. The first Baptist Church is built upon part of his original farm. He served his church, Mount Pleasant Baptist, faithfully as a deacon and charter member.
“During the Civil War Mr. Miller served as frontier guardsman and scout under Col. Bolden and Col. Diamond. He endured all the hardships of those perilous times.
“Up to the time of his death, he clearly told interestingly of Indian attacks and hardships of the settlers in obtaining the necessities of life.
“He watched Denison grow from its earliest infancy. He traded 50 ponies for part of the land that now forms some of the most valuable of Denison property.”
One story passed down by family members was that a panther appeared when some women were washing at the spring. Miller got his gun and tracked the panther that made the largest tracks he had ever seen in this area.
Another story was that his wife once went to the spring and found a Native American with a broken leg. She tore her apron into strips and made a splint for his leg so he could return to his village. After that, the Millers would find a deer or other kill on their porch from time to time expressing thanks for her kindness.
Miller was still around when the first train rolled into Denison in December 1872. He watched the town grow from its infancy.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.