Editor’s note: For more than 13,000 years, Native Americans have lived along the waterways of the Pacific Northwest. Columbia River tribes share the names of waterways they call home: the Entiats, the Wenatchiis, the Chelans, the Lakes, the Okanagans and the Methows.
Members of the Miller family are the longest known continuous residents of the Methow Valley. Descended from indigenous Methows, their story is told through generations by the intricacies of their artwork, their native language, their connection to the land and their dedication to building strong communities.
They generously agreed to share their story with the Methow Valley News. In a five-part series, we will share the history of the Methows through the Millers. Following is the final installment.
The Miller family’s story is intertwined with the Methow Valley’s history
By Joanna Bastian
The establishment of Wenatchee as a central Washington economic hub can be credited to the great-great-great-grandfather of the Miller family in the lower Methow Valley: Sam Miller.
Wenatchee’s first store served as a post office and bank. Operated by Miller and two of his friends, the Freer brothers, it was located at the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers — a popular gathering spot for Northwest Native Americans.
Chos Chostq, also known as Nancy Paul, was traveling with her Methow Valley family when they rested at the river confluence. There, she met Sam Miller. The two fell in love and were soon married.
Miller kept detailed records of the Miller-Freer trading post transactions. Rod Molzahn, a writer and Wenatchee historian, has studied the ledger books for years. Molzahn gives lectures and has written papers about the commerce that built Wenatchee.
The ledger includes such famous Native American names as Entiat chief Shil-Ho-Saskt and Wapato John from Lake Chelan. The records show that Native Americans paid promptly for their purchases with cash. Miners also paid up front. Chinese miners had individual accounts totaling hundreds of dollars.
White settlers had a very different relationship with the store. “They usually arrived with little or no money but with an immediate need for supplies and food staples,” Molzahn explained. “Sam gave them credit until their gardens and fields began producing.”
Miller realized that the settlers needed a labor force to haul logs, build fences and clear land. He also knew that settlers could not afford to pay workers. In the store’s ledger, it becomes apparent that he found a solution for everyone. The accounts show that he extended credit to the settlers so that they could pay Native Americans cash to help build their homes and clear the land. The settlers repaid Sam with lumber, logs, vegetables and labor hours at the store.
Back to the Methow
Miller and the store were thriving. Nancy Miller, however, grew sadder with each day. She spoke little English, and her husband only knew a few basic words of Salish. Nancy became more and more homesick with each passing month.
In a Wenatchee World interview, dated Feb. 9, 1978, Jerome Miller spoke with Bernice Gellatly Greene about his grandmother Nancy Miller.
“She stuck it out for a couple of years. She went back to the Methow where her baby was born. She named him Samuel C. Miller Jr., giving him also the Indian name Yahwhaskeent for her maternal grandfather,” Jerome Miller said. “Samuel C. Miller Jr. became my father. My grandfather took good care of them. He always saw to it that they never lacked for anything.”
Soon after Nancy left, Sam Miller’s friends and co-owners of the trading post, the Freer brothers, both passed away, leaving five young children and two young widows — who were also Native American. Sam raised the Freer children as his own, and made sure the Freer wives were provided for. The women continued to live and work at the trading post after their husbands died.
Sam lived out his life in Wenatchee, passing away in 1906 at the age of 78. The adult Freer children cared for him in his last years.
Nancy Chos Chostq lived to be almost 100 years old in the Methow Valley, at her home along the bend in the river below the bluffs at the mouth of the Methow River. She is buried in the family cemetery in the Methow Valley.
The Wenatchee Valley Museum has the original journal of the Miller-Freer Trading Post from 1872 to 1889. The site of Sam Miller’s store can be seen from the Haran Nature Trail in Wenatchee. The store itself was preserved and moved to the Pioneer Village at the historic Cashmere museum.
Sam Miller brought people together from all cultures to create and nourish a thriving community. He worked with Chief Moses to help preserve the Native American culture that had suffered war, disease and discrimination.
The Miller family continues to preserve their culture and create thriving communities. Education and community service are treasured family values.
Jerome Miller, Sam’s grandson, married Agnes Peter from the Moses Tribe. They had two children: Lewis and Mary. Lewis served on the Pateros School Board for decades, while Mary worked with Jerome to preserve the Salish language and stories by recording elders narrating their history in their native language. Jerome and Mary then transcribed those recordings, creating a phonetic dictionary of the Salish language with linguistic professors from the University of Victoria, B.C.
Lewis married Elsie Grunlose from the Entiat tribe. They had seven children: Lewis Jr., Roberta, Leon, Thomas, Cyndy, Vernon and Mark. Lewis Jr. served in the U.S. Navy as an officer and flew 235 combat missions in the Vietnam War before retiring from the military. He served as a medical rescue pilot in Utah for several decades before he retired to the Methow Valley.
Roberta worked as a cultural anthropologist and lobbyist to advance human rights. Thomas’ son Tommy recently graduated from Harvard Law School with honors and works with the Colville Confederated Tribes to advocate for Native American issues. Cyndy works to preserve traditional artistry through weaving. Mark is a physical therapist, and after the 2014 Carlton Complex Fires he is working with other community members to create a nonprofit support and resource center in Pateros.
Despite hardship and adversity, the Miller family continues to preserve its cultural history, while advocating for human rights and creating educational opportunities for future generations. “We are the Millers” is an empowering family motto that encompasses strength, perseverance and compassion for their family and community.