The Miller family has a long history in this part of West Texas. In 1896, Walter Spurgeon Miller, his wife, Lena, and their infant son, Clay Espy Miller, traveled by covered wagon to Fort Davis, Texas. W.S. Miller worked on area ranches and in the W. Keesey store in Valentine, Texas. Walter and Lena’s second child, John Keesey Miller, was born in 1902.
W. Keesey sold his Fort Davis general store in 1908 to a group of men who renamed it The Union Trading Company. W.S. Miller became a principal shareholder in the store and managed it. In 1911, W.S. Miller was a chief stockholder in The Limpia Banking Company, which was run out of The Union Trading Company. The Limpia Hotel was erected in 1913, and W.S. managed it (with the help of his wife, Lena) as well as The Union Trading Company. Their third child, Audrey, was born in 1915.
Growing up, young Clay “Espy” Miller worked on ranches, enlisted in the navy in 1918, and returned to Fort Davis when he finished his service. He bought the Grierson Place, southwest of Fort Davis in 1921, but often spent his evenings with his parents at the Limpia Hotel. There, he met his future bride, Lucy Conoly Foster, in 1923. Two years later they were married, and Espy bought the John Holland Ranch. In January of 1926, Espy and Lucy Miller lived in one of the abandoned officer’s quarters at Camp Holland until they moved into the headquarters at the base of the Sierra Vieja Mountains. They had three children: Clay Jr., Betty, and Lucy.
During the summer of 1932, the Miller family bought the W.T. Jones house in Fort Davis in order for the children to attend school there. Espy commuted to the ranch during the winter and the family spent summers there. The Millers were active in the town; became close friends with many of the early astronomers at McDonald Observatory, active in the Highland Hereford, the Soil Conservation Service, the Federal Land Bank, and the West Texas Historical and Scientific Society.
In 1937, and again in 1948, Espy and his brother, Keesey, bought neighboring ranches and added to the operation.
Clay Espy Miller Jr. attended Texas Tech University, was in the U.S. Air Corps and then graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in zoology. In 1949 he married JoEllen (Jody) Canada. Shortly after their marriage, Clay and Jody moved to the ranch to help operate it and raise their family. Along the way, they were active members of their community. Clay was on the NRCS and the ASCS boards as well as the Valentine School Board. He and Jody were founding members of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute near Fort Davis. They are members of the Highland Hereford Association.
Clay and Jody have always supported university science groups and scientific research on the ranch. During his University years, Dr. Frank Blair, Clay and 22 fellow students spent six weeks collecting small mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians. This collection is housed at UT Austin and Texas Tech University. Dr. Travis LaDuc, Curator of Herpetology of the Texas Natural History Collections at the Texas Natural Science Center has used the original study to return to the ranch over the years to determine what species are still here and if the 1949 study failed to document any species. In the early 1950s, Clay helped capture pronghorn antelope on the Rocker B Ranch in Texas and relocate them to the Trans Pecos Region. In 1962 Clay traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify for the protection of the Golden Eagle. Since 1936 Espy, Clay, and now Bill have recorded rainfall for the National Weather Service. The rain chart provides an interesting look at rainfall in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Jody has worked alongside her husband and also been active in civic and political organizations. She is a founding member of the West of the Pecos Cattlewomen, has held several local and state offices in Cattlewomen, and was on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board in the mid and late ‘90s. She has been active for many years on the Jeff Davis County Historical Commission and was chairman of the Democratic Party of Jeff Davis County for 45 years.
The Millers have been among several local ranching families who have sponsored an Alplomado falcon restoration beginning in 2002. The Peregrine Fund was able to release Aplomados using a “Safe Harbor” agreement. Unfortunately, with the drought of the last four years and the dearth of food, the Aplomado falcons are having a difficult time surviving. The Millers are seeing a few each year, and they have already seen three this year.