MILLER, EUGENE

Cameron W. Albin
Eugene Miller (1899–1948).
Eugene Miller served in both the House and Senate of the Texas legislature during the 1920s. Courtesy Legislative Reference Library of Texas and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

MILLER, EUGENE (1899–1948). Eugene Miller, attorney and Texas state legislator, was born in New York City on January 25, 1899, to Michael and Mary Miller, the former an occasional truck driver and the latter a domestic servant. Little is known of the Millers, who left little imprint on the historical record, and their son Eugene proved one of their few marks on posterity. In May 1906, with six-year-old Eugene and his brother, three-week-old Michael, Mary Miller was admitted to Bellevue Hospital, where she faded from time—no records have surfaced regarding her fate or whereabouts after that. Eugene found himself in the care of the Children’s Aid Society and then on an Orphan Train bound for Texas, where he landed on the doorstep of Mary Jane Boyd in Parker County.

The former Mary J. McMahan, at the age of seventeen, married Benjamin Franklin Boyd, ten years her senior, in 1859 in Saline County, Missouri. The following year the Boyds moved to Texas, and Mary gave birth to her first daughter, Missouri. They initially lived in Denton, where Benjamin worked as a farm laborer, and by 1880 they were working their own land in Bosque County. By 1900 the Boyds were settled on a 250-acre homestead just north of the tiny hamlet of Garner in Parker County. Benjamin died of pneumonia in April 1906, a month before Mary Miller’s admittance to Bellevue and Eugene’s separation from his mother, and Mary J. Boyd adopted Eugene later that year. By 1910, eleven-year-old Miller was firmly ensconced in the Boyd household with Mary and three of her grown daughters. Mary J. Boyd died in 1916 and left the Boyd homestead undivided, but gave an equal one-seventh share to each of her six surviving children and to Eugene Miller.

Miller attended Weatherford College (a later political ad claimed that he cut wood to pay his tuition) and Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas and eventually received a law degree from the University of Texas. Like most young men his age, Miller registered for the draft, in September of 1918, although no other evidence of military service exists. If he had been drafted and inducted into the U. S. Army, Miller never would have made it through training in time to see fighting on the Western Front of World War I, and yet in 1921, shortly after his election to the legislature, Miller attended a banquet honoring twenty-three former service members serving in the legislature. While studying at SMU, Miller contacted the New York police department in an attempt to find his birth mother; it is unknown whether he received a response.

Eugene Miller launched his political career before completing his bachelor’s degree at SMU and ran unopposed for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives from his home district (District 51, Parker County) in 1920. He sat in the Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth legislatures from 1921 to 1925 and served on numerous committees, including vice chair of the Liquor Traffic Committee in the Thirty-eighth legislature. Miller then won election to the Texas Senate in 1925 and again in 1927 for District 22 (Denton, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, and Wise counties). He chaired the Public Debts Committee during the Thirty-ninth and Fortieth sessions and eventually chaired the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in the Forty-first legislature. During the Forty-first legislature he was also elected Senate president pro tempore. While serving in the legislature Miller completed his law degree at the University of Texas.

In 1930 a teacher, lawyer, state legislator, and Decatur native named Grady Woodruff placed a bid for Miller’s Senate seat and defeated him in 1931. Woodruff challenged Miller over the latter’s position on a proposed gas tax. In his 1924 campaign Miller had promised to support legislation raising the gas tax and lowering vehicle registration fees, measures that would theoretically transfer the cost of road maintenance to those drivers who spent the most time on the roadways. Woodruff’s campaign ads accused Miller of reneging on that promise and alleged that he had voted to postpone a vote on the measure or had been absent on occasions when the legislation had been presented on the Senate floor. Woodruff’s claims apparently resonated with North Texas voters; Miller was defeated and never held public office again. He attempted to regain his seat in 1934, 1938, and 1940, with the campaign rhetoric between Miller and Woodruff growing more heated and personal with each election. In 1934 Miller posted ads refuting Woodruff’s claims that he lacked home support and that he neglected his adoptive sisters, whose financial affairs Miller managed. Miller published a notarized affidavit from Willie Boyd, Bettie Boyd, and Laura Boyd Zellers professing their loyalty for their adopted brother.

The window into Eugene Miller’s personal life is more opaque than that into his political life. In 1924 Miller married Grace (surname unknown), more than six years his junior, and by 1930 the two were living in a rented home in downtown Weatherford. By 1940 Miller claimed the fashionable Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin as his home, although the Boyd homestead remained his permanent residence, and he claimed on the census of that year to be divorced. While living in Austin, Miller claimed to be self-employed as an attorney, but records of his private practice have not been found. How he supported his lifestyle, his reelection campaigns, and his room at the Driskill is unknown. Miller did, however, attempt to consolidate the Boyd family land holdings and in 1940 transferred deeds from the children of his deceased eldest adoptive sister, Missouri Boyd Rogers, to himself. The properties in question included oil and gas leases.

In 1946 Miller announced what would ultimately be his final bid for public office, a heavily-contested run with six candidates vying for the same seat in the state legislature. In January 1948, Miller returned to the Boyd homestead to focus on reelection. His campaign came to an abrupt end on the night of July 7, 1948, when he was shot and mortally wounded in front of the Boyd family home. In statements made to witnesses before dying, Miller said that a vehicle, with three men, pulled up to the gate and hailed the house. Miller approached, hand extended to one man who had stepped out, when the visitor shot him three times with a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, jumped into the car, and sped away. Miller later informed Sheriff John Young that he did not recognize the car’s occupants and told district attorney I. B. Hand that he had the “natural enemies of a man in politics,” but “did not think he had any real enemies.” Hand claimed that Miller never mentioned anything about “leftists,” but that he said he had been campaigning hard against labor unions and communists and was convinced that the shooting was the result of his political activities. The ambulance driver, on the other hand, stated that Miller had exclaimed that a “left winger” got him. Evidence was scant, limited to a few shell casings and a tire imprint; although two of Miller’s adoptive sisters were in the house, they did not see the car or its occupants.

Miller died the following morning on July 8, 1948, and left behind unanswered questions. Texas Rangers arrived on scene to assist the Parker County sheriff, who released a statement that “leftists” were not behind the shooting and the motive was most likely a “debt or a grudge.” After that there were no more press releases. The citizens of Weatherford established a fund offering a reward for the capture of the assailants, with one of Miller’s opponents, Jim Wright, as a contributor (Wright also donated blood to the dying Miller). In spite of the offer, the murder remained unsolved. Miller’s affairs were handled relatively quickly and in a somewhat irregular fashion. An Austin attorney and supposed friend of Miller’s declined to be the executor of his estate, and Miller’s adoptive sister, Willie Boyd, assumed the role. Willie signed an affidavit verifying the authenticity of Miller’s will (of which she was also a beneficiary), which he had scribbled on a scrap of Driskill Hotel stationery in 1944, and then proceeded to sell Miller’s shares in the Boyd homestead to her sister, Billy Boyd (also a beneficiary). The money from the sale paid Miller’s outstanding debts, and the two sisters split the remaining money, about $500. The fate of Grace Miller also remains somewhat of a mystery. At this time, her maiden name is unknown, and no marriage certificate has been found. While Eugene and Grace Miller were married to each other in 1930, Miller listed his status as divorced in 1940 and was listed as single on his death certificate. No divorce decree has been found. The only other clue regarding Grace Miller is an entry in a binder listing probate records in the Parker County clerk’s office. Miller’s estate entered probate twice, once on September 2, 1948, and again on November 8, 1948. Under the second entry, on the same date, is Grace Miller’s name with “MENTAL” in parentheses. This offers few answers and raises more questions. Miller himself lies in a simple grave in the Bethesda Cemetery in Parker County, where many of the Boyds are buried. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Abilene Reporter-News, July 9, 1948. Amarillo Daily News, July 9, 1948. Denton Record-Chronicle, August 14, 1930. Houston Post, March 3, 1922. Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Eugene Miller (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=2120&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=miller~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=#2), accessed March 4, 2018. Parker County Deed of Records, Parker County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford, Texas. Parker County Probate Records, Parker County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford, Texas. Wise County Messenger (Decatur, Texas), August 14, 1930.

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Handbook of Texas Online, Cameron W. Albin, "MILLER, EUGENE ," accessed December 15, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmill.

Uploaded on July 24, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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