Day of the cattle king

Henry Miller’s birthday recognized as Gilroy marks sesquicentennial

Henry Miller’s Bloomfield Ranch home, seen here circa 1896. Bloomfield Ranch, located just south of Gilroy, was Miller’s business headquarters. Photo courtesy of Miller Red Barn Association

By Kathy Chavez

How many times have commuters arrived in Gilroy from northbound Highway 101 and noticed the three yellowish silos on the east side? Other than thinking, “I’m home!”, have they ever questioned what they were and how they got there?

The answer is they are simple concrete silos commissioned to William Radtke in 1911 by Henry Miller, the cattle king, to utilize for feed storage at his Bloomfield Ranch. The silos, the few white buildings along 101 at the junction of 101 and 25, and the red building by the railroad are all that is left of a magnificent 44-room mansion and vast farming outbuildings of the Henry Miller Bloomfield Ranch which lay more on the southeast side of what is now Highway 25.

Who is Henry Miller and why is there a Henry Miller Day Proclamation for the City of Gilroy on July 27, 2020, as part of the celebration of Gilroy’s 150th Birthday? Miller was very influential in the early formation of Gilroy. 

Henry Miller was born Heinrich Alfred Kreiser in Brackenheim, Germany on July 27, 1827, the only son of a butcher and his wife. Even as a child, Heinrich, not satisfied with herding geese and gathering firewood, wondered what the rest of the world was like. At the tender age of 8, Heinrich was apprenticed to become a butcher. Seven years later, having completed his apprenticeship and with his mother’s death, Heinrich left for Holland. A few years later he sailed to England and worked as a butcher where he became a Master Butcher. He learned to speak English reasonably well but with a strong German accent. Still not satisfied in his wanderlust, he saved enough money to sail to America which seemed much more promising in his dreams of becoming a wealthy man.

Landing in New York in 1846, Heinrich was challenged in finding sustainable wages. He happened upon a struggling butcher shop. Asking for a job, the butcher shop owner explained he could not afford a helper. Heinrich proceeded to show his skills at butchering and won a job. Customers were soon impressed with the new cleanliness of the store and the fine cuts of meat. The shop began to prosper. Heinrich soon saved enough money to purchase his own shop but still felt he wasn’t reaching his potential of becoming a wealthy man. 

In New York, Heinrich enjoyed the company of a newly found friend, Henry Miller. Heinrich and Henry began talking about the Gold Rush in California and how a fortune could be made there. Heinrich explained to Henry he could not afford a ticket just yet. Henry Miller went on to buy a ticket for the next steamer to San Francisco. The ticket was not refundable and non-transferrable. Henry ended up not being able to go either and gave or accepted less money from Heinrich in return for that ticket. Because the ticket was non-transferrable, Heinrich had to become Henry Miller. A name which Heinrich decided would be much more to his advantage in America and he was Henry Miller from then on.

Henry Miller arrived in San Francisco in 1850 with only $6 to his name. He quickly figured out that mining for gold was not his destiny. Before the gold rush, cattle were mainly used for tallow and hides but the huge influx of Easterners and their taste for beef brought new riches to the beef market. Henry used this to his advantage. He never wavered in sacrificing present comfort for future gains, lived very frugally and worked hard. Henry gained a reputation as a talented businessman after acquiring much cattle and property. 

In 1858, Charles Lux, a wealthy meat company owner, decided rather than compete with Henry, it was better to have Henry as a partner. Henry was known as “the man who knew dirt” and a strong taskmaster but fair man. Miller & Lux Company was born.

Lux was happy to remain in his office while his new partner scoured the new state of California for more cattle and property to grow their business. Henry was a very astute and creative businessman. One of his acquisitions was the Las Animas Rancho, land near what was to become the city of Gilroy. Henry continued to acquire land around Gilroy and ended up owning more than 20,000-plus acres. He built his beloved Bloomfield Ranch just south of Gilroy as his business headquarters. He, his wife, and three children enjoyed their home here and a summer home to escape the heat in what is now Mt. Madonna Park, where the ruins can be seen today.

He worked with the railroad company to extend the railroad, whose terminus was Gilroy, to Salinas through Bloomfield Ranch in exchange for his own railroad station to load his local cattle there. 

Henry enjoyed living in Gilroy and left his legacy here. Henry provided the Gilroy library with stone from his quarry along with furniture and artwork. The Miller Quarry is also where the stone originated for the Gilroy City Hall, which still stands at the corner of Monterey and Sixth. His concern for the lack of a local hospital prompted him to provide land and $200,000 to build a local hospital. His vast estate was not settled until 1962 when Wheeler Hospital was able to modernize with the Henry Miller Memorial Wing with the monies which had grown considerably in interest. He also left a fund to the city for the poor families of Gilroy which is still used today.

Part of Miller’s Gilroy Glen Ranch, now the ranch side of Christmas Hill Park, houses the Miller Red Barn. Built in 1891, Miller’s barn is now being restored and will stand as a salute to Gilroy’s past, present and future agricultural history. Join with the Miller Red Barn Association, who are restoring the Miller barn solely with donations and grants, in saluting this California Cattle King who changed the face of California agriculture with Gilroy’s Henry Miller Day, July 27, 2020!

Kathy Chavez, a native Gilroyan, is the secretary of the Miller Red Barn Association, one of the founding members of the committee to save Miller Red Barn from demolition.