The Milliken Museum Society kicked off its lecture series in honor of a longtime local historian Wednesday.
The work of Charles Sawyer, who died in 2012, who chronicled the life of town founder Henry Miller and the history of the Westside was celebrated in front of the museum in what organizers are hoping becomes an annual event.
“We had put a lot of thought into trying to figure out what would be the best way to recognize Charles’ work,” said Dan Nelson, Milliken Museum’s curator. “He wrote five books on local history. If you knew Charles, you know he liked to talk so I couldn’t think of a better way of giving a tribute to Charles than having a lecture series.”
The series opened with guest speaker Jamy Faulhaber giving a presentation titled “Henry Miller, a Great-Grandson’s Oral History, and the Legacy of Miller & Lux.”
Faulhaber recounted information about Henry Miller and his business partner Charle Lux that she received from interviews with Miller’s great-grandson George Nickel and additional research she’s done through the years. Faulhaber also gave a history of Miller and Lux and the influence they had on the Westside.
She began with a description of the two men.
“They were different in temperament and different in style,” she said. “Charles Lux was a man of his own. He was tall, handsome and well dressed. Henry Miller was exactly the opposite. He was short, a bit squat, temperamental.”
The pair were German immigrants who met in San Francisco during a joint venture buying Texas cattle.
Faulhaber said Lux gets overlooked because of Miller’s importance to the Westside.
“He (Lux) was the money man. If he hadn’t secured the capital, Henry Miller couldn’t have bought the land,” Faulhaber said. “He opened doors for the Miller and Lux (company) that Miller couldn’t.”
Lux bought land in South San Francisco and Miller owned farmland in Gilroy. Both properties served as stopping points on the cattle drive to San Francisco. The men supplied the meat markets in San Francisco in the latter 1800s.
Miller and Lux bought land 13 miles outside of Los Banos after a trip to the San Joaquin Valley, Faulhaber said.
“Henry Miller stumbled upon it, not because of the land, but because he stumbled on a breed of cattle he’d never seen before,” she said. “They were big and fat and he was used to buying Texas longhorns who were short and small and pretty stringy when they hit the dinner table.”
Through the 1860s and ’70s, Miller and Lux continued to purchase land in the Central Valley. Eventually, their Mexican land grants alone represented half of the 300,000 acres they owned in California. Faulhaber said the land was a means to getting access to water for their cattle.
Miller purchased a stake in a San Francisco canal company and provided the right of away for building on his land. Miller supplied the equipment, livestock and workers needed for the project. Other canals followed, which alleviated flooding on the Westside.
In 1897, Charles Lux died; Miller and the company continued.
Los Banos became an incorporated city in 1907. By 1908, Miller and Lux owned 80 percent of the canal companies, Faulhaber said.
Miller’s health started declining. He died in 1916, but his legacy lives on. Miller has a road, school and a plaza bearing his name in town. His headquarters is one of the town’s landmarks.
Sawyer edited and published four books about Westside history: “The Road Over,” “Moving On,” “One Man Show” and “Our Sport.” Much of his work was connected to Miller, and the Milliken Museum is home to many items Miller owned.