I sought and received the forgiveness of my sins in August 1861, at a camp meeting at Bird’s Chapel, in Dade County, Georgia. My conversion was so definite – I may say, so sweet and so satisfactory -followed by so great peace – which I could never be made to doubt that I was reconciled to God. My consecration was so full as not to leave a hoof behind.
I immediately erected a family altar, and while it has been a rule of my life to keep up family worship, we have neglected it at times, to our great spiritual loss. Soon after my conversion or even before, I felt impressed that I should preach the Gospel and asked the church after a few years, for license to preach; and in October, 1870, the Quarterly Conference gave me the license.
Timidly, I undertook work as a local preacher. I always wanted to join the Conference and be a traveling preacher and spend my whole time in the work. But I did not join the traveling connection. I have done what I could as a local preacher.
In May 1876, Bishop Wightman ordained me as a local deacon at Russellville, AR. I have done some little supply work, and feel now that I should have joined the Conference, yet I may not be entirely to blame for not doing so. And now the day is far spent and I am in the evening of my life, and the results of my work are with the Great Head of the church. Amen.
Well, (again looking back) the war was now over, the South subdued and our entire Southland almost all devastated, the people poor and discouraged. I am at Lavergne, Tennessee, on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, sixteen miles from Nashville, in a great country – with only $500.00, which we have saved in the last year. I have been at work for the United States government at pretty good wages; have traded, run the blockade from Nashville, and sold to Negroes such little things as I could get out of Nashville undetected. My wife and my two girl babies compose my family.
My brother, George, who lived in Arkansas, was with us. He persuaded us to return with him to Arkansas. So about the 15th of July 1865, we hired a man to take us to Nashville – gave him $5.00 for the trip. At Nashville we got aboard a steamboat, and went down the Cumberland River to Smithland, thence down the Tennessee River into the Ohio, thence down the Ohio to Cairo, Illinois. We there took the big boat, “Ben Stickney,” and ran down the Mississippi to Napoleon, where we took the Glide No. 3, for Little Rock, Arkansas. At Little Rock we purchased a wagon and team and moved overland to Polk County, arriving at my father’s farm on August 1st.
Our people were all poor now and in a hard shape financially. So we had to begin at the bottom with only a few dollars in cash, and our living to buy. I did not like Arkansas, and thought I would go back to Tennessee, but George always influenced me, and we stayed. So we are here yet.
View of Eagle Mountain in Polk County, AR.
I got hold of a few hogs, a pony, a cow, a bull-tongue plow, a sprouting hoe – and went to work. I would turn the pony out on the grass with a bell on. We would hunt him in the mornings. We had no bedsteads except scaffolds pinned to the wall. We lived three miles from Shady Grove Church and schoolhouse. There we went to church, where the Rev. W. Wakely baptized me and received me into the M.E. Church, South.
I worked hard and saved as much as possible. We lived a rather hard but happy life. We were 150 miles from a railroad and market. That first fall I went to Center Point and bought two bales of cotton, and took it to Little Rock. Sold it for 36 cents a pound. Bought a few supplies – a barrel of salt for $6.50, a pair of cotton cards at $2.00, some little Oznaburge at 60 cents a yard, a little coffee at 60 cents a pound. I was gone three weeks on the trip.
I began to get acquainted, and secured a little school to teach at a little log cabin where the village of Silver Center now is. Wade Hilton had a little water mill just down on the creek. Sometimes we could get some corn ground and when the creek was low, he could not grind. The next nearest mill was on Big Fork, ten miles away. We would go down there and stay all night. Maybe we would get a peck of meal and maybe not. We would grit the corn and make hominy, but we would scrape about some way to keep from starving.
There was not a steam mill in the whole county, a county that was sixty miles long and fifty miles wide. There were not more than three hundred voters in the whole county. How is that for neighbors?
Game was plentiful. Anybody could kill a deer if he could shoot. I could not see them until they had left me. Cattle could be bought cheaply. We would dry the beef and it would answer for meat and bread. Acorns were plentiful and the hogs would thrive on them. We did not feed the cattle. They would live through the winter on the range.
Was I what you would call a pioneer? No, there were then old settlers. I could name a few of them, but there is not need. I write these little details down to impress on you boys some of the troubles and trials through which the older generation has gone in order that you may be a little happier and a little better.
An Autobiographical Sketch of My Life, by John Thornton Miller
Miller lived from 1839-1923
online at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gadade/biographies/miller.htm