When neighboring townspeople returned home to their Brackenheim village in Württemberg, Germany during the mid-1800s boasting of the money they earned in a short time in America, Heinrich Kreiser, a young butcher’s apprentice, knew he would do the same with one exception: He planned to remain in America and never return to Germany. What Heinrich did not know was that he would drive more than one million head of cattle on more than one million acres in California, Nevada and Oregon in the early 1900s, more than any cattleman west of the Rockies. He would also establish America’s largest cattle and meatpacking enterprise and develop a vast gravity irrigation and canal system in California.

Heinrich Alfred Kreiser was born July 21, 1827, the only son and youngest of four children born to master butcher and cattle trader Christian Johannes Kreiser and his wife, Christina. Young Heinrich attended public school until he was 14. His teachers encouraged his special talent for math and admired his exceptional memory, traits he acquired purchasing and herding calves, sheep and goats for his father’s butcher shop. He disliked his father’s harsh treatment and the demanding workload; he failed to get along well with his three older sisters—Frederike, Elisabeth, and Karoline—and had no close friends so after his mother died in 1842, Heinrich left home.

Relying on his experience as a butcher, he found work in Holland for three years and in England for two years where he learned to speak English. Five years later at age 20, he had earned enough to sail to New York. As a butcher’s assistant in New York, he earned eight dollars a month and doubled his income by using the intestines of slaughtered hogs to sell as sausage casings on the side.

During this time in New York, he met and became friends with Henry Miller, an American shoe salesman, who helped Heinrich improve his English.

When news of the California Gold Rush spread, the two young men planned their adventure west. At the last minute, Henry Miller was unable to use his previously purchased non-refundable, non-transferable ticket to San Francisco via Panama. He offered his ticket to Heinrich, who pretended to be Henry Miller and boarded the steamer Georgia April 13, 1850. While waiting in Panama City for the ship to California, Heinrich, now known as Henry Miller, fell ill with the fever that claimed many lives. He spent three months in a hospital before he was able to board the steamship Republic. Henry Miller arrived in San Francisco September 24, 1850 with only the clothes on his back, his gold watch, a walking stick and six dollars. Not enough grubstake to mine gold. He immediately applied for citizenship because now he considered himself an American.

Meanwhile, he found work at a French butcher shop on Jackson Street. He slept and cooked for himself behind the slaughterhouse on what is now Grant Avenue. For eight weeks, he butchered sheep at two dollars a day to build his reputation as a master butcher. He slaughtered and dressed 100 hogs in three days—more than four times as many as other butchers.

When most of San Francisco and its butcher shops burned in the June 1851 fire, Miller leased a lot on Jackson Street, paid to build his own shop, and opened for business July 5. He bought a few calves on the San Francisco waterfront but later found cattle and hogs for a more reasonable price outside the city. His reputation for making superior quality pork sausages spread. He acquired brains and intestines from slaughterhouses as a special treat for his French customers. Business prospered. He hired an assistant in 1853 and entered temporary partnerships to gain additional capital.

Most California cattle were Spanish or Mexican longhorn, leaner and lower quality from a butcher’s viewpoint than sturdier American shorthorn. When Miller learned that a herd of American cattle driven from Salt Lake City arrived in the San Joaquin Valley, he bought the 300 head for $33,000. He later succeeded in breeding ideal cattle for beef production by crossing American shorthorn with Devon and Hereford.

Charles Lux, a German immigrant from Alsace and one of sixty competing San Francisco butchers, approached Miller about jointly purchasing a large herd of American cattle driven from Texas to Pacheco Pass. Miller agreed to buy the 1,600 herd at $67.50 a head and split the purchase price and profits from the meat sale.

On March 30, 1858, eight years after arriving in San Francisco, Heinrich Kreiser legally changed his name to Henry Miller, formed the partnership Henry Miller and Charles Lux Cattle Company that lasted almost three decades, and married Lux’s sister-in-law Nancy Wilmarth Sheldon April 14. Thirteen months later, Nancy and her unborn son died during childbirth. A year later, 32-year old Miller married 20-year old Elizabeth Wilmarth Sheldon, niece of his deceased wife.

As a youth in Germany, Henry Miller trained as a butcher’s apprentice for seven years and another seven years as a journeyman. To pass the master butcher exam, he had to make a fiddle string from sheep guts, cure meat and make sausage. He gained experience in raising and trading cattle, sheep and hogs. He learned the German emphasis on improving breeds and proper range management. In America, one man slaughters the animal and another works in the shop. Miller’s training and expertise gave him an advantage over American butchers.

Henry Miller planned to operate a complete meatpacking enterprise to include not only raising the livestock, but growing hay and alfalfa for feed, managing the soil and building dams and levees to irrigate the land in addition to a slaughterhouse and wholesale distribution and retail sales.

In 1858, Manuel Castro sold two of his nine leagues of his Rancho Sanjon de Santa Rita (Merced County) to Salisbury Haly, who, in 1861, sold it to William Dumphy, the latter deeding half-interest to Tom Hildreth. In 1863, Henry Miller secured his first foothold in the San Joaquin Valley when the land of Dumphy and Hildreth came into his possession along with the Double H brand that later became synonymous with the Miller and Lux Cattle Company. Miller established headquarters at Rancho Santa Rita, thirteen miles east from Los Banos.

Los Baños (Spanish for the baths) del Padre Arroyo, were favorite pools where early Spanish explorers and San Juan Bautista Mission padres, notably Padre Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta during 1808 to 1833, refreshed themselves during missionary trips into the San Joaquin Valley. American emigrants later changed the name to Los Banos Creek.

In 1859, Charles Lux bought part of the Spanish ranch Buri Buri used as grazing land for Mission Dolores and the San Francisco Presidio and built a country home there for him and his wife, Miranda Sheldon Fotter, a young widow he married in New York the year before.

After Tom Hildreth lost most of his American cattle herd in the 1861-1862 San Joaquin River flood, he sold 8,835 acres and all surviving animals to Miller in 1863 for $10,000. Additionally, Miller purchased part of the Spanish ranch Las Animas seventy miles south from San Francisco near Gilroy where he built his Bloomfield Farm. In 1865, Miller & Lux bought the entire Sanjon de Santa Rita ranch and livestock, including the Double H brand, for four dollars an acre. The level 50,000 acres of the finest grassland nine months of the year on the west side of the San Joaquin River became Miller’s favorite ranch.

By 1866, Miller & Lux bought the remaining Buri Buri ranch property to hold cattle and time their delivery to San Francisco for maximum profit. Santa Rita, Buri Buri and Bloomfield formed the foundation of the Miller & Lux empire connecting southern California cattle ranches with San Francisco markets.

Henry Miller, an outdoor person, spent his days riding horseback to scout water supply, soil conditions, topography, microclimates and to evaluate ranching and farming opportunities for the company. Charles Lux used his financial and refined social skills to cultivate business and political connections among the German community associations and elite of San Francisco. Henry Miller and Charles Lux became ideal business partners because of their contrasting personalities.

More than half the land Miller & Lux owned in California by the 1870s was former Mexican land grants lost by the original Mexican owners who could not afford attorneys to prove their titles because of the required documents in English. Tom Hildreth, owner of the Double H brand, bought parts of Sanjon de Santa Rita from the original owner Francisco Soberanes before President Abraham Lincoln signed the title confirmation certificate November 20, 1862.

In 1871, water was valued more than gold in California’s central valley. Miller & Lux secured water rights along the San Joaquin, Kern and San Benito rivers, constructed the most advanced irrigation system of the time to increase productivity of their ranches and farms, bought the San Joaquin & Kings River Canal & Irrigation Company and extended it seventy-eight miles by 1873. Within five years, they added branching side canals and ditches to become California’s  first large-scale canal system.

German immigrant Gustave Kreyenhagen built a store in 1870 at the old wagon road about three miles west from the creek on land leased from Henry Miller. An official post office established in Kreyenhagen’s store in 1873-1874 was named Los Banos after the creek. When the railroad reached the town of Los Banos in 1889, Miller & Lux laid out the present site by moving the post office and businesses five miles east to the railroad tracks. California Historic Landmark 550 in Los Banos Park at 803 East Pacheco Boulevard commemorates the site.

(California Historic Landmark 548 in the restaurant parking lot at the Canal Farm Inn, 1460 East Pacheco Boulevard, marks Miller’s ranch headquarters for the Los Banos division. The present inn was built on the ruins of Henry Miller’s 1873 ranch house.)

Miller & Lux gradually increased their holdings. In the 1890s, they owned land extending sixty-eight miles along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley from Firebaugh’s Ferry in Fresno County to Arroyo de Orestimba in Stanislaus County; thousands of acres in the Buena Vista Lake district of Kern County; 200,000 acres on the east side of the valley; thousands of acres elsewhere in California, including their original holdings in the Santa Clara Valley, and ranches and brands in northwest Nevada and southeast Oregon. They grazed 100,000 cattle and 80,000 sheep. When their animals were driven from any of their ranches to market in San Francisco, it was always possible to feed and rest the herd and vaqueros on Miller & Lux property.

Henry Miller employed white Americans as buckaroos, carpenters, blacksmiths for eighty dollars a month, and farm managers for two hundred dollars a month. He was known to treat his non-white workers well and highly regarded his long-time Hispanic vaqueros and German, Italian and other European immigrants who tended crops and cattle feed for eighty dollars a month. Chinese gangs built canals and levees. Sixty Chinese cooks earned twenty-five to thirty dollars a month serving at Miller & Lux ranches.

Miller annoyed his foremen, managers and supervisors by giving detailed instructions on the care of all animals, soil and agricultural management, raising seed, irrigation, production of lard and tallow, proper disposal of kitchen scraps and ordering supplies. Miller prepared for emergencies by building dams and levees against flooding and creating additional hay piles and alfalfa reserves against drought. He issued precautions against fire on all his ranches.

Miller & Lux and their Double H brand were so prominent and respected in the West that their checks were honored as cash.

HH Branding Iron

A Double H branding iron is displayed in the Spirit of the West exhibit at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon.

Henry Miller cared and felt responsible for the welfare of all Miller & Lux employees. He provided them with good food and housing, donated money or groceries to those in need or ill, paid for the education of many of their children, and presented Christmas gifts to all employees and their families.

Although his wife and children never lacked life’s necessities, Miller later regretted not spending more time with them. The first of four children born to his second wife died in infancy. Henry Miller Jr., born in 1862, Nellie Sheldon, born in 1865, and Sarah Alice, born in 1871, lived with their mother in a grand home on fashionable Rincon Hill in San Francisco most of the year when they attended school. Henry Miller joined his family there on special occasions.

From his Santa Rita Ranch headquarters, he arose daily before sunrise to ride horseback thousands of miles every year in heat, cold and rain to check all his ranches. He rarely saw his family for months at a time. Occasionally they visited him at the Santa Rita Ranch or spent weekends and vacations at Bloomfield Farm in the nineteen-bedroom mansion Miller built in 1888.

(In 1975, E Clampus Vitus Mountain Charlie Chapter No. 1850 dedicated a plaque at Mt. Madonna County Park, Santa Clara County, Highway 152 at Hecker Pass Road, describing all that remains of the Henry Miller summer retreat: one large foundation of his main house and two smaller foundations of homes he built for his adult children. Some fountain ruins, terraces, trees and shrubs that once graced the grounds of the estate survive.)

After his arrival in California, Henry Miller neither spoke nor wrote the German language. He disliked anything German and had no desire to teach his children the language, traditions or culture of his homeland. But when American doctors were unable to cure his medical issues, he returned to Brackenheim in the spring of 1875 and received treatment and rest enabling him to resume his business in California in the fall.

The first of personal tragedies struck when Miller’s youngest daughter, whom he affectionately called “Gussie,” was thrown from a horse and died at the age of eight. Miller then laid out the Merced County town of Gustine in memory of his favorite daughter.

Daughter Nellie married James Leroy Nickel, a Yale-educated lawyer, in 1884. Miller thought Nickel an arrogant city person and a terrible judge of character.

Henry Miller Jr. disrespected his parents, never attempted any productive work or desire to succeed in any occupation, and became an alcoholic.

The Miller & Lux legal agreement dated June 24, 1875, guaranteed that when one partner died, the other may continue to run the company for seven years without liquidating assets to pay any heirs. After Charles Lux died in 1887 at age 64, his heirs challenged the agreement. After years of litigation, Miller eventually bought out all heirs to become sole owner of Miller & Lux by the end of the century.

In 1891, the American Cattle Trust, a Chicago meatpackers organization that controlled the midwest meat markets, founded the South San Francisco Land and Improvement Company and Western Meat Company in an attempt to take over West Coast meat markets.  Two years later, Miller helped organize the Butchers’ Board of Trade of San Francisco and Alameda counties as a boycott.

Henry Miller believed his son-in-law lacked good managerial skills and leadership qualities and had no interest in the cattle business, but as a favor to his daughter Nellie, he appointed Nickel vice president of Miller & Lux.

After forty-five years of marriage, Henry Miller’s wife Sarah Elizabeth died July 21, 1905.

The 1906 San Francisco fire and earthquake burned the Miller & Lux slaughterhouse along with most of San Francisco’s Butchertown. Henry Miller saved his adult son from their burning home on Rincon Hill, but Junior died the following year at age 45 of a venereal disease.

Swift & Co. and Armour & Company focused on slaughtering and distributing livestock through wholesale networks. By 1912, Miller & Lux had combined land, water and ranch management, livestock production, wool-pulling establishment, slaughterhouse, marketing and sales of meat products to create America’s first agribusiness company.

When Henry Miller retired in 1914 because of failing health, son-in-law J. Leroy Nickel became president of Miller & Lux. Henry Miller died two years later on October 14 at age 89 in daughter Nellie’s San Francisco home. He was buried at the family estate on Mt. Madonna.

The holdings of the cattle baron who once grazed more than one million head of cattle on more than one million acres were valued at fifty million dollars. His estate was appraised at forty million dollars. Business acumen and a special talent for math enabled Henry Miller to remain debt free.

Leroy Nickel’s sale of the Miller & Lux breeding herd and Double H brand to Henry Miller’s rival Gustavus Swift in 1933 eventually led to the downfall of the Miller & Lux empire.

Formerly known as Heinrich Kreiser, the young German butcher’s apprentice in Brackenheim who had no close friends as a youth and failed to get along with his three older sisters, Henry Miller never forgot the difficulties of less fortunate outcasts. Although the young butcher disliked his German culture and traditions, the cattle baron remembered his roots. Henry Miller sent money for his sisters to come to California. When his sister Elisabeth died in 1870, Henry Miller and his wife reared her four children. After sister Frederike died in 1891, Miller arranged her burial at the Bloomfield Farm Cemetery. Miller paid education for his nieces and nephews and left all relatives well provided for in his will including trust funds for his great-grandchildren.

Henry Miller also bequeathed money to the city of Brackenheim for the poor on condition the city maintain the graves of his parents. In honor of the native son who pursued his dream and succeeded in America, Brackenheim not only named a school and a street after him, but rental from the Henry Miller apartment residence maintains the gravesite and supports social welfare causes.

Skull with Crocus




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It has come to my attention that the soft-cover print edition of my memoir, His Daughter’s Remembrance, is not and never was available at as announced after its March 2017 publication.

Excerpts, including photos not in the book, were posted on in June and July 2017.

Readers interested in my story may contact me for a soft-cover print edition.

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By Lee Schaefer

At seventeen, I dropped out of the tenth grade at Richmond Union High School in California to enlist in the U.S. Navy January 17, 1944.

The first time I saw snow was at boot camp in Farrugut, Idaho, where we learned discipline and teamwork. We marched as a group everywhere—to and from classes, on the parade grounds, and down the road to row boats on Lake Pend Oreille. Each of us took turns standing guard duty with a wooden replica rifle.Lee Schaefer Navy Photo

I graduated electrical school at the State School of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota, as a 3rd Class electrician’s mate.

On Liberty home, I rode a vintage “Jessie James special” train with wooden bench seats. Locomotive soot blew in through the open windows and turned the white stripes black on my Navy uniform. I spent Liberty at home in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving on to Camp Shoemaker, east of Oakland, a naval training center for personnel on the way to or from the Pacific theater.

At 5 a.m., I stood in line with hundreds of other recruits carrying seabags. Each of us reported our name and serial number to a yeoman who checked them off on his clipboard.

“You’re scratched,” he told me. No one knew why. Recruits don’t question authority. All my schoolmates left without me and I never saw or heard from them again.

Rumor circulated that for a little cash, a yeoman pulled your records to set aside for later release if you wanted to postpone deployment.  Your records went with you. Without your records, you couldn’t leave. Someone mistakenly pulled or switched the wrong records. I remained behind for two weeks’ work detail moving sprinklers to water the football field.

Every morning I checked the barrack bulletin board for my name to deploy with a group. Finally, it appeared. The next morning at 5 a.m., we boarded a bus to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. We were kept in the stockade to prevent any AWOL then packed like sardines on a ferry to a ship docked near the San Francisco Ferry Building.

The five day cruise to Hawaii in the hole of a ship with bunks stacked six high around bulkheads was hell. A large garbage can looked out of place in the center. Just outside the Golden Gate in rough sea (called the potato patch), we learned the purpose of the garbage can. On deck for lifeboat drills, wind blew vomit down like rain on everyone. I volunteered to wash pots and pans in the galley to keep busy so avoided throwing up.

I spent fourteen days at Aiea Naval Base in Hawaii waiting for assignment to a ship.

The chow line must have been a hundred feet long. When I learned of the shorter chow line and better food at the nearby submarine base, I ate there. The submariners’ barber shop gave better haircuts, too.

On Liberty, I rented swim trunks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where the submariners lived. To avoid hassle by the Shore Patrol, who enforced proper dress code or failure to salute an officer on the street, I sat on the beach all day and acquired a tan.

Finally, I was assigned to the O.H. Ernst, a transport ship with everyone who had been AWOL. I never knew why or how I got in that group. Marine guards patrolled the ship, ordering anyone sitting in one spot too long to keep moving.

I spent three months trying to catch up with the fleet for my assigned ship. At every port, the fleet had just left. On 13 September 1944, we crossed the Equator south toward Guadalcanal. Everyone received a certificate signed by Davey Jones and Neptune Rex for participating in a stupid ceremony similar to a fraternal initiation.

Equator Certificate

Anyone who worked received three meals a day; if not, two meals a day.
I needed something to do and asked the chief if I could see the engine room.

When the ship weighed anchor, the crew never knew where we were going. And when we got there, we didn’t know where we were until afterward.

We caught up with the fleet in Ulithi, a more or less safe harbor for ships because of a surrounding reef, where ships picked up supplies and personnel. I boarded my assigned ship, the U.S.S. Mobile, a light cruiser. The speed of light cruisers kept up with the carriers to protect them in the task force group.

Ulithi was also a recreation island with ball fields and gambling, dice and cards. I loaned cash to friends I knew and trusted at 10 per cent interest. All repaid the loans and my $20 month account increased.

The required dress code on the main deck was to cover up with dungarees-long sleeves and trousers and hat to protect burns from any torpedo explosions. If a man overboard, his hat turned upside down and knotted trousers filled with air helped keep him afloat.

We were in three severe typhoons. The ship lunged up and down and rolled from side to side. During typhoons, mess tables were tied against bulkheads and we sat on the metal deck to eat. Coffee spilled easily. People slid back and forth into each other pinned against bulkheads. Cooks were unable to cook in large pots and made only sandwiches.

Our task force group lost one of three tincans (destroyer) in the heavy seas. Tankers supplied ships at sea with fuel. In addition to their regular assignments, both tankers and destroyers delivered mail. In return, we sent over shop-made ice cream from our geedunk stand.

I watched generator gauges in fore and aft firerooms and sat in a chair attached to the deck. Cold air blew down a chute from the overhead ventilator on deck about 30 feet above water on the side of a stack. I braced myself when I heard a roar during heavy storms because that signaled cold salt water was about to rush down the chute and shower me.

I was in charge of the electrical system in turrets and moved around from power shop to fire control shop. Each group helped the other. We worked as a team. The machine shop drilled holes in 6-inch powder cans for coffee pots. The electrical group made hot plates. Every group had a hot plate and a coffee pot.  The bakery returned favors by baking extra cakes for us.

One of my jobs was to check ice buildup around coils in ice boxes. I “lifted” two cubes of butter from the officers’ ice box and from the captain’s ice box for our group.

Once a warrant officer came to the power shop and asked what we were cooking. The aroma of bacon and eggs floated through the ship. It was better than standing in the chow line of 3,000 personnel. You only went to the head of the chow line if you had to relieve someone on watch.

Blacks were segregated with their own uniforms (better jackets and caps) in their own compartment as mess cooks for the officers.

In the Philippines, we served protection for our carriers. Planes left on early departures. Japanese kamikaze pilots knew when our planes returned. Our assignment was to shoot down the kamikaze planes before they hit our carriers.

We returned to the West Coast shipyards (Long Beach, San Pedro and San Diego) a few times for refitting, new artillery or replacement personnel. On one return trip to the South Pacific, our ship altered course so the crew could observe Christmas before we crossed the International Dateline; otherwise, we would have missed Christmas.

We were at Okinawa during the entire campaign, and directed our guns for continuous 24-hour bombardment.  In Buckner Bay, a minesweeper ahead of us shot and exploded mines. Observers in “gooney birds” launched to locate enemy ground troops. Japanese sent out planes during our dinner hour to disrupt our meals and sleep.
A war correspondent came on board and said the Marines appreciated our artillery.
My general quarters station was in turret three on the electric deck. We burned out our gun barrels and returned to Guam for repair.

In Leyte Gulf, supposedly a safe harbor with submarine nets, a two-man Japanese sub got through and blew up a tanker.
“Stand by to take torpedo mid-ship!”
I assumed it stuck in the mud because that’s where I stood.
When the sub surfaced, we shot off its conning tower and took the two men prisoners.
As far as I know, the U.S.S. Mobile was the only cruiser to sink a sub.

We listened to Tokyo Rose call the Mobile, Biloxi and Birmingham “the three unsinkable ships”.

U.S.S. Mobile

Nighttime searchlights, horns and noise were everywhere on our last return to Leyte Gulf for supplies.
We heard the war was over but our cautious captain ordered lights out and quiet.

Two weeks after the nuclear bomb exploded over Nagasaki, we arrived as a member of the “Magic Carpet” fleet to pick up Dutch, Australian, British and American POWs from the Bataan Death March and transport them to Guam. Able-bodied American POWs walked from the prison through the jungle to the other side of the island where they boarded planes.

When we tied up midstream waiting our turn to pick up POWs at the pier, Marines stood guard around the ship listening for any tapping noises in case a fanatic tried to attach explosives to the ship.

The POWs had been isolated with no decent food for years. Many ate too much of our food and were unable to keep it down. We gave up our bunks so the POWs had a decent place to sleep. One Dutch POW traded a small Japanese flag for the second pair of shoes I kept polished to wear for inspection only.

Sasebo, a Japanese naval base at the inlet of the East China Sea, was heavily bombed in 1945. A Japanese harbor pilot maneuvered us through the 3.5-mile long, 1-mile wide Sasebo harbor littered with Japanese ships on their sides.

After a work detail returned from ashore, the boatswain piped his high-pitched whistle for everyone who wanted a souvenir to report to the main deck. Japanese rifles and bayonets found in a warehouse were issued. Our names were checked off as we were handed our souvenirs.


We were paid in occupation currency instead of U.S. dollars to spend in Japan, given curfews, and ordered not to enter any houses in Nagasaki.

Downtown Nagasaki was not destroyed. I bought a Japanese geisha doll in a glass case at a department store, and three 78 rpm records in a music shop: one recorded by Nipponophone Co., Ltd., Kawasaki, Japan; Polydor, manufactured by Nippon Polydor, Chikwonki Co. Ltd., Tokyo, and Teichiku, Made in Japan Teikoku, Gramophone Co. Ltd, Nara. The Japanese woman behind the counter did not understand English and I did not understand Japanese. The few customers in the store stared at me while one of them offered to translate.

We were in Nagasaki for an extended period while our captain presided as a judge at the trial of a crew member accused of entering a Japanese home, raping a girl, and killing her father.

For something to do during that time, we boarded trucks for a tour of the valley where the bomb exploded in the industrial area where torpedoes and ammunition were manufactured. Our orders were, “Don’t tell anyone you saw it.”

I signed up for the duration of the war plus six months and helped to mothball the U.S.S. Mobile at the shipyards in Everett, Washington.

I received an Honorable Discharge 16 May 1946 as Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class from the USNB Personnel Separation Center in Bremerton, Washington.

Service Ribbons




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December 7, 1941, Day of Infamy

December 7, 1941, Day of Infamy

December 7, 1941, Day of Infamy

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American schoolchildren learn the first Thanksgiving occurred when the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe shared a feast to celebrate the Massachusetts colony’s first successful autumn harvest in 1621.

American schoolchildren did not learn that East Coast Indians celebrated and gave thanks for their fall bounty for centuries before Mayflower pilgrims set foot on American soil November 11, 1620 at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe belonging to the Wampanoag Confederation, served as an interpreter who taught the Mayflower settlers at Plymouth how to survive in New England.

Around 1614, Squanto was captured as a young man along with 23 other Native Americans by an exploring English sea captain and taken to Malaga, Spain where they were sold as slaves. Squanto escaped to England where he learned English, found employment with a London merchant, sailed to Newfoundland, and made his way in 1619 to what is now Maine.

Squanto showed the Mayflower settlers how to plant and tend 20 acres of corn and use fish (herrings) to fertilize the soil.

Fifty pilgrims, Chief Massosoit and 90 Indians belonging to the Wampanoag  Confederation  attended the three-day Harvest Celebration of 1621.

Pilgrims used only a knife, a spoon, a large napkin and their fingers to partake of venison (the Natives brought five deer); wild turkeys, geese and ducks stuffed with herbs, leeks, wild onions and shelled chestnuts; eels, clams, lobsters, and mussels with parsley and vinegar; beans, sunchokes, stewed pumpkins, plums, melons, grapes, currants, cranberries, and sweet Indian corn pudding.

The harvest festival was not repeated for 10 years. The pilgrims and Native Americans lived in peace until thousands of settlers arrived and spread a plague that almost decimated the Indian population.

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington declared November 26, 1789 a day of thanksgiving to express gratitude for the creation of the United States.

During the Civil War, On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national holiday to observe the harvest festival on November 26, 1863 as an annual Thanksgiving Day celebration for family gatherings to feast and enjoy each other’s company.

In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving observance from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday to allow a longer Christmas shopping season during that difficult economic year. The change was made again in 1940, and Congress made it permanent in 1941. (The fourth Thursday is usually the last Thursday in November.)

The USA is only one of several countries to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving for a year of good harvest.

  • Canada observes Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.
  • Germany celebrates “Erntedankfest” (autumn harvest festival thanksgiving) the first Sunday in October.
  • The Chinese Moon Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month with a full moon. (October 4, 2017; September 24, 2018)
  • The island of Barbados in the Caribbean celebrates at the end of the sugar cane harvest.
  • The African nation of Liberia celebrates on the first Thursday in November.
  • Brazil thanks God for all good things in life on the fourth Thursday in November.
  • Since the 1948 American Occupation, Japan has observed November 23 as Labor Thanksgiving Day, an opportunity for unions and workers to celebrate their labor and production.

On Thanksgiving Day, present day Native Americans include a celebration of their survival.



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Frost on the Pumpkin

Frost on the Pumpkin

First snow of season, Friday October 13, 2017


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Mom felt well enough to accompany me on a two-week road trip across Nevada to Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon in my first car, a 1954 Ford Victoria. The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Sun Valley, Idaho, exceeded our expectations.

Craters of the Moon, Utah

Tetons through lobby window of Jackson Lake Lodge

Mom in Jackson, Wyoming

Yellowstone bear

When we arrived home, Daddy told Mom their friend and his coworker Agatha had filed for divorce.

As Mom’s condition gradually worsened, she consented to use a wheelchair.

I married and moved a 30-minute drive away across the bay to Marin County and continued to visit her once a week. By then she was completely bedridden. During one visit, she told me, “You are the apple of your father’s eye. I want you to know some things because I can get back at him only through you. He spends a lot of time at Agatha’s apartment in between chauffeuring her daughter to and from school events. Agatha wants to take my place. Promise me that when I die, you will take my cup and saucer collection. I do not want Agatha to have it.”

I could not believe what I was hearing, but I agreed to her request.

On my next visit, Mom was very upset. “Your father sold my shotgun. He took it and sold it without asking me. My father gave it to me,” she said as tears welled in her eyes. He taught me to shoot it and to hunt with him. Your father had no right to sell my gun.” And she cried.

Note: Years later I learned he gave it to my younger brother Ransom. It would have given Mom peace of mind to know that her favorite child inherited her .410 shotgun. I’ll never know why Daddy lied to Mom.

Mom hanged herself seven months to the day I married. Within hours Daddy showed me her death certificate signed by the family doctor. I scanned down to read the cause of death: strangulation, self-inflicted.

“This could ruin me,” Daddy said. “Promise me you’ll never tell. Ransom must never know this happened.”

Note: After publication of my memoir, a cousin informed me that all the family in Martinez knew immediately after it happened. If I had known, it might have eased my burden of keeping Mom’s suicide secret for 60 years.  I’ll never know why the father I adored, admired, and believed could do no wrong, lied to me and later disowned me.

Another note: After Daddy died 40 years to the day he married Mom, I obtained a copy of Mom’s death certificate. It was half the size of the original death certificate Daddy showed me the morning Mom hanged herself. No cause of death appeared; only the date and place. Daddy fixed it so Mom’s suicide would never surface.

A month after Mom died, Daddy asked if I would go with him to attend his father Pa’s funeral in Martinez. Pa had never been a grandfather to me or to Ransom. He disliked Mom because he blamed her for his wife Laura’s death. Laura was dying from a kidney disease with no hope of recovery. Mom offered to help care for Laura during her final days at home in addition to working as a registered nurse at the community hospital. When Daddy’s mother died four days later, Pa blamed Mom because she happened to be with Laura when she died. Pa never acknowledged me as his first granddaughter or Ransom as his second grandson. Every holiday season, an envelope addressed to Manfred Richards arrived by mail to our house saying “Merry Christmas, Son.”

Four generations of Richards

Left to right: Great grandmother Ida Roberts Jones, born in a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, holding baby Lynne Richards; father A.M. “Chick” Richards Jr.; and grandfather Arthur Manfred “Pa” Richards, 1934.


~ Fini ~



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