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Taft Miller

Taft Miller (1893-1982)

Taft was born at the Double O near Burns, Oregon, April 3, 1893 to George and Emma (Hartley) Miller; he was the 4th of 6 children. His siblings were Francis, Pete, Earl, Girlie and Baby. He also had three half brothers; Mark, Dave and George Bollenbaugh. Taft’s family ran cattle and horses. Taft was running horses with his Dad from the time he was big enough to “sit a saddle”. He put in a lot of time with the horses at Clover Swales in Catlow Valley in the summer time.

Taft was out on his own at a young age and worked for various outfits running horses with them. John Crow recalls when Taft was 14 he was working for Eaf Sizemore and they were helping the 7T Outfit run horses. After the gather was over John, then only 4 years old, wanted to go with Taft. Taft put John in his alforjas, on his packhorse Schroder and went back to Sizemore’s.

Taft rode a single riggin' Walker saddle and packed a long rawhide reata. He was well known for riding rank horses. People were always letting Taft on horses they thought could buck him off. John Crow recalls Taft drinking too much raisin wine and getting on a big bay outlaw horse. The horse tried his best but couldn’t buck Taft off. One time Taft needed a horse, so someone gave him an outlaw from a work team and he rode him too.

One time Taft’s horse went lame and he came upon the MC wagon and asked to borrow a horse. The MC boys thought they would have a little fun and gave him Chub. Chub had bucked quite a few of the MC buckaroo’s off. Taft mounted Chub and he blew. Taft got the last laugh as he rode out of camp on Chub.

Rankin Crow recalled meeting up with Taft on Chub out on the desert. Rankin wanted to see a little show so as they were shaking hands Rankin stuck the toe of his boot in Chubs shoulder. Chub went to bucking out across the flat. Taft was looking over his shoulder cussing Rankin with every jump. When the horse quit bucking Taft rode back to chew Rankin out. Rankin said that actually Taft got as much fun out of riding Chub as he did watching him. Sometime later Roy Clark asked the MC buckaroo boss, Ross Dollarhide, how Taft was getting along with Chub. Ross chuckled and told him Taft was using him for a wrangler horse.

All the outlaw horses Taft rode, the thousands of miles in the saddle across a barren snake infested desert running horses at a full gallop never knowing when his horse might stumble and fall, was nothing compared to bad moonshine which Taft said was the closest he ever came to premature death.

Many of the horses in the country at that time were branded. There were enough oreanas left that young ambitious men could get a start. Taft began his horse herd and broke many to sell. He branded his horses with the TAF brand. When Taft was 21 he homesteaded Catlow Valley.

Taft married Nellie Sitz, March 3, 1920. They had 7 children, Gene, Donald, Virginia, Lucille, Tiny, Joe and Jerry. In 1938 they moved from the homestead to Rock Creek Ranch which they bought. They raised cattle and horses but his real love was the horses. He was from the old school of horse breaking. He wanted them to use hobbles and have a foot tied up. He always said, “Don’t cripple the horse, you can always find another cowboy but you can’t replace the horse”. He would rope a colt and quickly tie up a foot then tell the boy they were all theirs. They would sack the colt out and soon as they could they would get on him and Taft would open the gate and let them outside, teaching the colt to move out.

He taught all his boys how to ride a bucking horse. Jerry recalls he’d have them take an average rein and tie a knot in the reins and he would have them tie their reata on good and tight and told them to hang on. Taft always said not to blame a horse for bucking, just sit up and ride. Stay on so you don’t have to chase your saddle the rest of the day.

Taft liked thoroughbred horses, narrow in front and high in the withers. He liked to see what was in front of him, he didn’t care what was behind him. Taft went many miles a day on horseback and wanted a good traveling, tough horse under him. Many of Taft’s horses ended up in his son's, Don or Gene’s bucking strings. They were rank and tough to ride. Some were Dandy Dan, Top Rail, Tar Baby and Weaver Fever. Two of the best bucking horses Taft recalled having were Box Dot and Trade Dollar. He use to ride them before they put them in the bucking string.

Taft loved the Buckaroo life that he lived. After retiring from the ranch he would still show up at all the brandings in the area with his long reata and he could still throw the big loops and make the long shots. He would always be there when the horses were being gathered. When he was in his mid 80’s a lifetime of hard long hours in the saddle slowed his body from getting a horseback. But you could still find Taft with a twinkle in his eye, plowing through the sage, jumping ditches, and kicking up dust, running horses in his red Toyota jeep, still young at heart. When the horses were corralled, Taft would stand for hours looking each horse over with a contented smile on his face.

Taft loved children and spent many countless hours with his grandchildren and others in the community. He would sit and whittle wooden tops, planes and animals. Every spring he would make willow whistles for each kid.

In 1968 Taft married Mabel Ackley and they lived in Frenchglen. In the early 70’s Taft’s Walker saddle and all the other saddles and tack was stolen from the Rock Creek barn. None of it was ever found. Taft rode a Sandy Saddle after that.

Taft was a skilled buckaroo that could ride the rankest horses and throw one of the longest loops. He was tough enough to conquer the sage covered alkali flats of Catlow Valley, yet tender enough to bounce a child on his knee.

His family still owns and operates the Rock Creek Ranch near Burns, Oregon.

Taft Miller was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in September 1997.