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In 1906 John Millar was a trapper in the valley and known as ‘Mahogany John’. He was usually seen wearing his favourite buckskin coat, his battered black Stetson tilted back on his graying hair and a red polka dot handkerchief around his neck. His broken nose conveyed the impression of a hard-bitten wilderness man.
While on his annual trip to Vancouver in 1911 with his furs for the Hudson’s Bay Company he met Alex and Myrtle Philip and told them about Alta Lake’s wonderful fishing and scenery. His ‘cooning’ voice was able to excite Alex with his stories.
One of Whistler’s first settlers, Millar, a Polish immigrant, had travelled to Alta Lake after being a cattle wrangler and a cow-camp cook in Texas. It was said that John came to the area after honourably acquiring ‘two notches in his gun’ in Texas cattle rustler country. This meant that he was reputed to have shot two men during his days in Texas. He told Dick Fairhurst that his last name was really Mueller and that he could never go back to visit his famiy. It was felt that perhaps he was on the run from the Texas Rangers!
John purchased a piece of land along the packhorse trail near the junction of Millar Creek and the Cheakamus River…the Function Junction area today He set up his roadhouse for wayfarers---hunters, prospectors, adventurers---on the Pemberton Trail. Dick Fairhurst’s memoirs quote: “Using his garden and the game he caught, he quickly became known for his good fare. He made the best of pastries, and his muscrat stew was a favourite dish.” Travellers also had to be prepared for unusual meals of haunch of bear meat or stewed coon. A meal cost 50 cents as did a bunk with a straw mattress and blanket. In August 1911, weary travellers Alex & Myrtle Philip appreciated these amenities in the wilderness roadhouse. John did his best to help the Philips explore the valley; he provided lodgings on their return to settle in 1912.
Like all trappers, John built a series of small cabins on his trap line routes. This allowed him to live for weeks at a time in the bush. John ran his trapline up the Cheakamus Lake valley spending his days trapping marten, wolverine, rabbit, mink, muskrat and beaver. His nights would be spent in a roughly erected cabin with a dug out floor and unstripped log walls with the chinks between the logs stuffed with moss. A sturdily made roof of close-fitting poles was covered with an adequate layer of soil. There was no window and the entrance was very small.
On one hunting expedition John was not as successful as usual. His prey ‘came to’ after he had put the wolverine into his pack and ambled on his way. It ate a hole in the packsack and grabbed John by the seat of his pants. John was unable to sit comfortably for some time after!
John did not completely cut himself off from civilization. Periodically he took trips down the Pemberton trail to Squamish and steamer to Vancouver. One autumn day, on returning from a trip to Squamish, one of John’s pack-horses slipped while crossing Rubble Creek, falling hard onto its side. Every bottle of John’s winter liquor supply broke; the only thing left was a bottle of vinegar. As John told it: “I was so cussin’ gol’ danged mad that I pulled the cork out of the vinegar and took a good swig of it”.
Once the Pacific Great Eastern came through in 1914, John felt the push of civilization and moved further north to the Pemberton area and changed the spelling of his name to Miller. Miller Creek there is named for him.
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