The History Of James Miller/Founder of Dixie School

Help Preserve The Legacy Of A Family That Gave So Much to Our Community!

James Miller is the founder of our school District and the Dixie School. Some of his accomplishments upon settling in the area we now know as Marinwood were building the first orphanage over at St. Vincent’s in San Rafael, building several local schoolsnaming the Truckee River after an Indian chief, and adopting two Indian orphans.


A Relevant Timeline

1814- James Miller was born in Wexford, Ireland.

1828- James Miller accompanied his parents to Lower Canada, about 36 miles from Quebec. He lived there until he was 27

1841- James Miller emigrated to Missouri and engaged in farming until March 1844.

1844- James Miller left Missouri with his wife Mary Murphy and his four children and then met up in Iowa to begin his journey to California for the long wagon train ride to California, which was then a part of Mexico. They were part of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party.

In 1840-1844 when the Millers lived in Holt County, Missouri, there were no slaves according to the US Census records.


1845- James 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.

1849- James Miller, long-interested in fostering education, built the first schoolhouse in San Rafael.

1855- James Miller contributed funds and labor to the building of St. Vincent’s School, a school and orphanage which still stands today. The School was built directly across from his own home site, Miller Hall.

1862- When his youngest son, Bernard was six, Miller donated 3/4 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. 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.

1863- The Board of Supervisors formally established the “Dixie Public School District”, making it one of the earliest districts to be established in Marin.

Taken from Marin County Journal December 3, 1863- The Board of Supervisors consisted of 3 individuals “L.K. Baldwin, A. Mills, and Oliver Irwin” and it was these 3 that voted for the name “Dixie School District”.

Board of Supervisors

James Miller as a Democrat

It should be noted that in 1860s, not all listed Democrats were pro-Confederacy. In fact, a large number in the SF Bay Area were not. This was evident especially in San Francisco where many pro-Union Democrats resided. Early in 1861, a rally of 15,000 pro-Union Democrats was held in San Francisco, “a figure equal to the number of voters in the city.”



“During the war the Democratic Party did survive in the North because of its strength in the cities, especially among the working class and immigrant groups like the Irish, who often felt they had no real stake in supporting the Republicans’ war against the South since they had been slaves in the US themselves. Others saw Lincoln and the Republicans as a threat to constitutional government and civil liberties.”

To show what the stance of San Rafael as a city was regarding General Lee and the confederacy, please see this except from The Marin County Journal August 20, 1908 in the “Looking Backward” column:

San Rafael Civil War

James Miller granted permission to his daughter to marry a Union Soldier. Captain John Keys married his daughter Kate Miller in 1860.

The company was organized in accordance with the wishes of the residents of Marin County who desired to be prepared to do their part in quelling the Rebellion and to protect their homes against an invasion.”

In the 1800s, marriage was of great importance to the families. There would be major implications to James Miller’s political alignments based on him granting his daughter permission to marry a Union Soldier.

“The choice of a marriage partner was very important, however, as marriage was a combination of families and should strengthen the family’s social position.”

James Miller and the Naming of the School

According to Mrs. Leitz on the Old Dixie website, the fact that several “gentleman” from the South helped construct the first schoolhouse prompted someone to dare James Miller to name the school “Dixie”.

This “dare” can in fact be read a number of different ways. We can but only speculate based on his granddaughter’s brief statement which is hearsay at best since she was born 5 years after her grandfather’s death.

James Miller and Native Americans

James Miller had a history of paying homage to indigenous people. It is a historical fact that he and his party named the Truckee River and Lake based on the name of the chief of the Paiute Nation.

“During their wandering they encountered a friendly Indian who acted as their guide and who had a peculiar cry or call, sounding like “Truckee,” so they nick-named this Indian “Truckee,” and James Miller gave the river and Lake, near which they were at the time, the same name, which they now bear.”



James Miller adopted two orphaned children.

“In a different light, two of the Miller girls had stood up as godmothers to two Indian babies. When their mother died, the father brought the Indian children in baskets to Miller Hall and presented them to their godmothers. The Millers raised the Indian youngsters as part of their household.”



mary dixie

This is Mary Dixie of Vallecito, CA. She was a 100% Miwok woman born in 1832 and married to Miwok John Dixie from the Gold Country near the town of Murphy’s that James Miller’s in-laws founded and where he lived for one year selling his cattle in 1849. Her tribe is still in existence in the Murphy’s Area and the legacy of the Dixie’s in the California Valley Miwok family is well known in the community. In fact their descendant Yakima Dixie who recently passed in 2017  as chair of the tribe until his death. It is proven that he Dixie Miwok name existed long before the confederacy. 

dixie school district name origin

Meet the Dixie Family:

The Miwok Dixie family was known as a Pioneer Family in Calaveras County.  Taken direct from the Calaveras Prospect Newspaper, it can be seen that the Dixie family pre-dates the Civil War.  “Mother Dixie” as outlined in the newspaper article dated February 27, 1898 appears to have been 100 years old and most likely the mother of Joseph Dixie. In his lifetime, Joseph Dixie was recognized by the names Bill, John and Joe, but as the newspaper referred to him, he was known in general as simply “Dixie.”.

Calaveras Prospect May 7, 1898

Joseph Dixie, Mary’s husband, made a living by selling wood near Angels Camp and Murphy’s (aka Murphy’s Diggings) area.  He was an industrious, hardworking man who no doubt would have been an asset to the miners including James Miller who came to sell his 150 cattle in that area in 1849.


Calaveras Prospect February 27, 1897

“Dixie’s Mother” was most likely Mary Dixie’s mother-in-law, Joseph Dixie’s Mother.


Calaveras Prospect February 13, 1932

Mary Dixie is noted as a historic figure when she passed away at the age of 98.  She was married young.  “She vividly remembers James H. Carson and the members of his mining expedition coming through southern Calaveras in the Summer of 1848”.  Coincidentally James Carson was part of a group of early gold miners that included Daniel and John Murphy, brother-in laws to James Miller. While the group split up they remained in the same area, some until December of 1849 when James Miller was recorded to be in that area selling his cattle.



Additional Facts To Be Noted:

Dixie is a name that was very prestigious in the 1600’s-1900’s in England. There is a grammar school named the Dixie School that still stands today in England named after Sir Wolstan Dixiewhom was a baronet from a long line of Dixies. In Europe (where James Miller was from) the word Dixie did not have a negative connotation but instead was a very well respected name.

Please consider joining us to  Preserve the Legacy of the Miller Family:

Button 2

Dixie Footer FACEBOOK

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: