We are in the midst of another divisive storm centered on the name of a school district first formed in 1864 by pioneer, James Miller. He named it Dixie School District.
Different versions of the name’s origin have been offered over the years, usually by statements made many decades after the school district was formed. These accounts vary from naming it “on a dare” to naming it in honor of an Indian woman Mr. Miller had met in his travels, Mary Dixie. Other suggestions are now being offered, but none are substantiated by contemporaneous documentation.
After the passage of 154 years, being absolutely certain of the name’s origin is nearly impossible, but there is no link showing that James Miller supported the Confederate cause.
Born in Ireland in 1814, James Miller later immigrated to Canada with his parents. As an adult, in 1841, Miller then moved to Missouri with his wife, Mary. In 1844, he left Missouri with Mary and four children for the long wagon train ride to California, which was then a part of Mexico.
Nowhere in his history is there a link between James Miller and the Confederate South, nor is any sympathy for the South in that struggle documented or relayed through word of mouth.
In the past one and a half plus centuries, the Dixie School District has grown into a district consisting of four schools serving many communities. It is our personal experience, from having attended these schools or having children who did, that the schools offer both an excellent education and a loving, inclusive environment.
Racism and exclusion have not been a part of the Dixie School District history.
The name has thus become synonymous with fine schools, happy childhoods and strong and inclusive communities.
We welcome you to our website, We Are Dixie. Below are links to both a brief biography of James Miller and of the history of the building of the Old Dixie School House.
A brief biography of James Miller according to Marin County Genealogy Trails (http://genealogytrails.com/cal/marin/books/bio_san_rafael.html):
One of Marin’s earliest resident, is a native of county Wexford, Ireland, having been born there May 1, 1814.
In 1828 he accompanied his parents to Lower Canada, and with them settled about thirty-six miles from Quebec, and there resided until 1841, in which year he immigrated to Missouri, located in Holt County, and engaged in farming there until May 1844.
At this period, accompanied by his wife and four children, he started in a train of thirteen wagons to California, and after a long and tedious journey arrived in the State near the head-waters of the Yuba river, where they recruited for six weeks, and thence following the course of the Bear river they reached Sutter’s Fort December 15, 1844.
February 1, 1845, he arrived at the place known as the Houck Farm, where another halt of six weeks was made, after which his journey to San Rafael was continued, and where he arrived April 6, 1845.
In the following year (1846) Mr. Miller purchased six hundred and eighty acres of land from Timothy Murphy, situated on the Las Gallinas grant, the deed for which is the first recorded in the county. Here he erected a shake shanty to begin with, later a substantial adobe was constructed, to be in turn succeeded by a dwelling of magnificent proportions. In 1849 Mr. Miller went to the Placers, driving one hundred and fifty head of cattle, all of which he slaughtered and sold at the rate of one dollar per pound weight.
In the following year he returned to his farm and has since resided there. His residence, known as Miller Hall, is beautifully situated about four miles from San Rafael, on the high road to Petaluma. It is a square building, massive in appearance and commodiously apportioned into convenient apartments. From the broad verandahs which surround the edifice, a grand view of varied scenery is obtained, while the house stands the central figure of tastefully laid out grounds and well wooded groves. Contiguous to the mansion are the well-appointed farm offices, where a large dairying business is conducted. Besides owning a considerable quantity of real estate in the thriving town of San Rafael, he is the proprietor of no less than eight thousand acres of land in different parts of Marin County. Married in Canada, September 1, 1834, Mary Murphy, and has ten children, named as follows: William J., Kate, Mary, Martin, Ellen, Julia, Francis, Therese, Bernard and Josephine.
According to The Dixie Schoolhouse Foundation (http://www.dixieschoolhouse.org/about-dixie-school-hosue.html), the following is an account of the construction of the Old Dixie School House and offers one version of how it got its name:
In 1862 when James Miller’s son, Bernard, was six, Miller donated three-quarters of an acre for the Dixie School which was to be built near the Las Gallinas home ranch so that Bernard would have a school to attend. On November 3, 1863, the Board of Supervisors formally established the “Dixie Public School District”, making Dixie one of the earliest districts to be established in Marin. The original Dixie Schoolhouse, which later became an annex and library to the larger and newer schoolhouse, was built in 1864. This fact is confirmed both by Bernard Hoffman’s notes and the Superintendent of Schools Report in 1899. Mr. Hoffman, raised by the Miller family, attended Dixie in the 1870’s and later served as a trustee of the District for fifty years. His notes state that the “present annex to the main building was built in 1864. I have seen ‘1864’ printed on its side. The large building was built later.”
Mr. Hoffman’s memory served him well. An 1899 report of the Superintendent of Schools confirms this date. “The District was organized November 3, 1863 and a house was built and school opened in March, 1864.”
Mrs. Frances Miller Leitz, granddaughter of James Miller stated that her grandfather not only donated the land but helped haul redwood from the Nicasio Mills for construction of both school buildings. Mrs. Leitz also uncovered the origin of the school’s name (“Dixie”) when she stated that her grandfather, not being a man to turn down a challenge, named the building “on a dare”. Marin County in 1864 was hotly pro-Northern and the fact that several Southern sympathizers helped in the construction of the first schoolhouse prompted someone to dare James Miller to name the school “Dixie”.