Dixie Coup

(This letter is in reference to efforts to change the name of the Dixie School District)

Rededicating the school to Mary Dixie neatly resolves the dispute! A Miwok named Mary Dixie has a logical connection to James Miller, founder of the Dixie Schoolhouse. I believe a false narrative was created in 1972 when, hastily, an application was filed for the Dixie Schoolhouse as a landmark, without fully examining the heirlooms and analyzing the history.

James Miller had ties to the Gold Country (and not the Confederacy). If you will follow history you will know that Irish people faced discrimination. Prejudices existed for the Irish for their religious beliefs when they first set foot in America. As tensions built, the Irish immigrant men often joined the army to gain acceptance from Americans; others headed West. Eventually, many Irish men were recruited for the Union Army because it more closely aligned with their beliefs. Throughout the Union army, Irishmen and their sons served with distinction. Most Irish came after the potato famine of 1845 to New York, though Miller came much earlier by way of Canada. A native of Wexford Ireland, Miller never served the Union Army, but he accepted a Union Captain into his family. Here is his story.

Like other Irish emigrating first to Canada, Miller made his way to America and settled briefly in Missouri, a hotly contested slave border state. Not satisfied with life in Missouri, Miller and his wife Mary Murphy, headed West through Iowa, a Union state, to meet up with the Martin Murphy family and other Murphys, where the family formed a 10-wagon train and eventually merged with a 40-wagon train to Oregon and California. It was an eight-month journey with an overlay at Truckee Lake. Miller eventually made home near Mission San Rafael, which was Mexico at the time. Miller named the Truckee River and Lake after a Miwok/Paiute chief who helped him navigate the region. At Mission San Rafael, Miller met his wife’s extended relation, Don Timoteo Murphy, defender of the indigenous people.

Along with his wealth, James Miller grew his family to 10. The Latin word for “ten” is Decem, the numeral X or Dixie, which coincidentally is also the baptismal name given by missionaries to Miwok-Paiute, such as Mary Dixie, who was born well before the Civil War. As an Irishman, Miller was grateful to the indigenous people and likely aligned with them. It’s highly plausible, as our Miwok historian tells us, that James Miller named the school after Mary Dixie, head of her family. It’s possible the school was named Dixie in honor of Mary Dixie and for his 10 children. The only thing we really know is that the school was named at the cusp of the American Civil War—and in that time the Irish were recruited for the Union Army. What’s more, the Union army benefited from the gold rush and Miller would have had much interaction with Union men in his journeys. James Miller’s daughter married Captain John Keys of the Union Army.

Given that his family was Union and that James Miller was sympathetic and grateful to indigenous people, we can be certain that he was neither a racist nor a confederate. We can all confidently conclude that the school was named in the Latin “Dixie” and that the surname Dixie (as in Mary Dixie) applies. Mary Dixie was an exemplary person. She was head of household in her triblet of Miwok, and a skilled artisan.

We stripped the Miwok of their land. We have no reason now to strip the Miwok of the surname, which is the last vestige of the indigenous people in our parts. A surname does not offend anyone. Only people can offend other people. It’s time to put and end to the nonsense. Rededicate the school to the woman named Mary Dixie! She is the name behind our school. I’m hoping you will now associate the surname with missionaries and not Confederates.

—M.C. Nygard

Via Pacificsun.com

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