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Floyd Miller – fishing, hunting, and the simple life

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Floyd Miller poses with a bear he killed. Floyd Miller poses with a bear he killed.

If you were brought up in Jackson County and knew anything about hunting or fishing, you knew the name Floyd Miller.  You may not have met him or known him personally, but his name was synonymous with any type of hunting or fishing.  He owned and operated Miller’s Bait and Tackle where he told fish stories to everyone who came to buy bait and tackle and to those who came to hear his fish tales.  

Bill Horne had many adventures with Floyd Miller, but none more memorable than ones spent on the Mill Pond.  Horne reflects on one of Floyd’s bream tales, “He taught me that you know most folks fish close to the boat because the water is clear and you can see the fish.  Floyd was of the opinion you needed to fish about twice as far away as that, which wasn’t easy with a cane pole or a bream buster.  So he used an ultralight spinning wheel with four pound test line and a number true turn hook, with one bb shot. You would bait your hook with a cricket and then put a red worm on behind the cricket to make it look like a cricket with long legs.  We would be trolling and with a bb shot you can’t pitch very far, about 20 yards out.  Then you throw it and when one of them pound bream got on that light tackle, it was like an eight to ten pound bass.  We caught many an ice chest full of bream like that.”

Perhaps the best account of Miller’s life comes from his daughter, Margaret Miller Curtis.  Curtis gives a vivid account of what it was like to be Floyd Miller’s daughter, ”When I became interested in genealogy, I discovered that my parents, Retilla and Floyd, shared the same great, great, great grandparents, Joseph and Priscilla Watford. Even though my Grandmother Miller’s maiden name was Watford, they didn’t know that. The first American Watfords in our family arrived in Virginia in 1639, and began to propagate as lavishly as did the Miller family. Apparently, my parents had so many relatives that they couldn’t keep track of them all. 

I wondered what genes Mother and Daddy, might have shared in common, and decided the most obvious was generosity. Both of them gave as generously as though they were rich, which they certainly were not. Daddy was always the one who picked up the bill at restaurants and it was a fight to keep him from doing it. When I try to do the same thing, my husband stops me saying, “Forget it, Floyd.”

 The historical person my father most resembled was Henry David Thoreau, who also shunned materialism. Both loved nature and hated taxes. Both preferred a simple life, lived preferably in the outdoors. Mother did not want to live in the country, though. She had been there and done that. She enjoyed life in town, and being involved with everything on in Marianna. During the Great Depression, she actually won a house in a movie lottery, sponsored by the Ritz Theater. That settled the question of where they were going to live. 

The depression also forced Daddy to drop out of school and find a paying job. Stringing telephone lines paid some bills, but his head and heart remained grounded. He preferred being in the piney woods, and on and in the lakes, rivers, and the warm, gulf waters of North West Florida. 

My Grandfather Miller owned a homestead near where Grayson Beach is now. Growing up, Daddy spent a lot of time there, hunting, fishing, and swimming. The homestead was a beautiful, rustic spot on the beach with a cabin, but no running water, and only a screened wire to protect us from the animals roaming outside. I once woke during the night and observed a bear rummaging around our picnic table, looking for leftovers. I kept very still and quiet. 

The path to the beach was shared with snakes, foxes, and wild boars. I would get up before sunrise and as the water and sky began to turn lavender, I sat alone on the sand that looked like sugar, watching egrets rise in a great, white cloud before disappearing into the sky. Heaven could not be better than this, I thought. 

Even the more affluent Thoreau would have envied me. Unlike Thoreau, Floyd Miller was a self-made naturalist, but he studied nature with the same reverence and devotion as did the better educated Thoreau. As an advocate of conservation, Dad was ahead of his time. When Florida Wildlife magazine wrote about a fish assumed to be extinct in Florida, he wrote the magazine that it was wrong, “I’ve seen that fish,” he wrote, “and I can show you where to find it.” 

A representative from the magazine soon arrived with a photographer, who became fascinated with Daddy. He took many photos, now maintained for posterity in the Florida State Library and Archives under the auspices of the Florida Memory Project. These photos can also be found on the internet. 

I suppose all little girls idolize their fathers, and I was no exception. I’d heard my uncles tell tales of Daddy’s hunting skills and courage, but when I attended a cattle auction with him, I saw for myself how quickly he responded to a challenge. 

While the auctioneer called for bids, the cattle were driven with whips around a ring in front of the crowd, who packed the bleachers around the arena. One Brahma bull didn’t care much for that whip, and became enraged. He reared up and leaped over the railing into the bleachers. The crowd dispersed very quickly and I was among them. While we were running away from the bull, Daddy was running toward him. He chased the bull until he was close enough to lasso him, and then threw the bull to the ground, where Daddy quickly tied up its feet.

Before that, Hopalong Cassidy had been my hero, but now Daddy replaced both Hopalong and Roy Rogers in my estimation. I held my head high, really proud to be the daughter of Floyd Miller. I’d heard my uncles say that they had seen Daddy kill alligators for food, swimming behind them, and then under them to slice their throats, but I wasn’t sure they weren’t exaggerating. After seeing Daddy in action for myself, I was now ready to believe he could-and would-do anything. 

He was also respected as a good bear hunter. When bears threatened local farmer’s crops, Daddy, who was known to be a good shot, would get a call for help. My grandfather Miller had taught him not to waste bullets. “Bullets cost money,” he said, “so don’t fool around and waste them. Make sure your aim is good before you shoot.” 

Being able to claim Floyd Miller as my father gave me a lot of confidence. When an aggressive older school mate once harassed me with unwanted attentions, I said, “Look here, you jerk! If you want to prove you are bigger and stronger than me, you win. But I think I ought to remind you that my Dad is the best shot in Jackson County.” 

He couldn’t get away from me fast enough. 

My parents were both story tellers and both liked to write. Mother’s newspaper column, “Circulating with Tillie,” was mostly concerned with people, and what was going on in Jackson County. Daddy’s column was called ‘Fishing with Floyd,” but he also wrote about hunting and the need for conversation. 

Species reported to be over populated, should be hunted, he told us, because it was more merciful to shoot them than have them die of starvation. He also believed any specie in danger of extinction should be protected from hunters.  He didn’t believe in shooting for sport; he believed in eating what you kill, so we children learned to eat everything from alligator meat to frog legs. Between Mother’s garden and his hunting and fishing, we were well fed. 

Mother once told me that I was definitely my father’s daughter. From the way, they said it, I could tell it was a dubious compliment, probably because I had inherited his legendary forgetfulness. Among the many stories told about him, there was once in which he drove a truck load of cows to a farmer, talked with the farmer for a while, collected his check from the farmer, then drove back home with the cows still in the truck. 

As just one example of my own embarrassing, inherited Miller forgetfulness, our grandson Danny, once called and asked if I would be willing to pick him up and drive him to the mall. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I’ll be right there!’

It wasn’t until I entered the parking lot of the mall that I realized I had forgotten to pick him up first.”

Floyd Miller passed away in September of 1982.  His fish tales and his hunting stories can still be told by those who were fortunate enough to hear them first hand.

A special thanks to Margaret Miller Curtis for her memories. 

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