Joaquin Miller, the American West's first world-renowned writer, galloped to fame in the England of 1872 as the swashbuckling 'Poet of the Sierras.'
Miller set the London literary scene on its ear by appearing for poetry readings outfitted with a sombrero and spurs, howling like a coyote. He amazed Browning and Tennyson with tales of dusky Indian maidens and lassoed bears. He was introduced to Queen Victoria as the frontier's greatest writer of all time. His success set the stage for Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and others to try their literary luck abroad -- and inspired Buffalo Bill Cody to capitalize on the public's hunger for flamboyant frontiersmen.
The most astonishing thing about Miller is that he was not lying. He had in fact been an outlaw, pony express rider, gold miner, county judge, Indian fighter, Civil War pacifist, newspaper editor, and horse thief in the frontier West. And while this resume bedazzled audiences in Europe, the West itself was in an uproar over a more serious scandal: Miller had married a popular Oregon poet without admitting he already had an Indian wife and daughter in the California wilderness. When his white wife found out, she joined forces with legendary woman's rights activist Susan B. Anthony and denounced him from the stage -- becoming the first pioneer Oregon woman to lecture in public outside a church.
In writing this historical novel, I have followed the record as closely as possible. Where facts exist, the book is an accurate history. Where gaps in the record cry out for speculation, the book is a novel. The newspaper articles, legal documents, and poems quoted within the book are sometimes shortened, but are otherwise verbatim. Chapter-by-chapter notes in the appendix identify sources and separate historical fact from fiction.
My intent has been neither to write a vilification, as has been done by Miller's more vindictive biographers, nor to compose a glorification, as has been attempted by Miller's apologists. I offer instead the story of a fascinating man and the courageous women who molded his life.
William L. Sullivan