Retired game warden still walks woods – at 100

Scott Swanson

On a typical sunny day Paul Miller climbs into his grey-brown Ford Ranger pickup and drives to a local logging road.

He parks at the gate and starts walking. Miller has keys to most of the gates in the Sweet Home area, but he doesn’t use them.

“I’ve got to walk,” he says, and he does – five, six, seven miles through the forest. During the summer he walks Cascade Timber Consulting roads nearly every day.

“I love the woods,” Miller said. “I help the game department. I help everybody I can.”

They appreciate it. Last week CTC threw a party for Miller to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Yep, you read that right – 100.

It’s a bit of a surprise for Miller also.

“It’s been a rough road for me. People told me ‘Paul, you’re going to make it.’

Sometimes I can’t believe it. I didn’t know if I’d make it until yesterday,” he said the day after the party. “I’m still in pretty good condition. I have to be to do what I do.”

His longevity apparently isn’t due to family DNA, Miller said.

He was born Oct. 26, 1910 in Walla Walla, Wash., the second child in a family of five girls and two boys.

“They’re all dead but my son and me,” Miller said of his relatives, who tended toward excessive consumption of alcohol and tobacco. “They came to an unhealthy end. I didn’t have that kind of life.”

His mother died of cancer when she was 39. She was the only family member, besides Miller, who didn’t smoke, he said.

His father was principal keeper of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla for years.

“He was also the hangman,” Miller said. “He was mean. He’d take the rope home as a keepsake after he’d hung someone. Our house burned down once and we were all glad because we got rid of all those ropes. I’m not proud of that part of my life.”

He started working in logging camps when he was 16.

“Everything was steam,” Miller said.

He worked as a logger for “eight or 10 years,” then got hurt in the woods and had to quit.

He and his wife Ella, whom he married in 1937, then moved to a chicken ranch near Eugene, where they managed 10,000 Rhode Island Reds that produced hatching eggs. After about three years they tired of that and moved to Arizona “to recuperate.” That’s where Miller discovered his true life’s calling.

“I started riding with a game warden. It didn’t take me long to figure out that that was what I wanted to do.”

He was a game warden for the Arizona Department of Fish and Game for 27 years, based in Sedona, Flagstaff and at the Grand Canyon, where he spent most of his career.

“Arizona was the cleanest and best part of my life. I turned out to be the best enforcement officer they ever had,” he said. “My biggest job was hunting. That’s where I got all of the violators. Some of them are probably still in jail.”

Ella often rode with him and Miller said she packed a gun too.

“I had lots of threats,” he said. “She said if someone shoots me, she’d take care of them.”

He didn’t play favorites.

“I wrote citations to everybody I caught in violations. That’s the reason they claim I was best enforcement officer they ever had,” Miller said.

Once he cited his wife for fishing without a license.

“The judge found her guilty,” he said. “But you know who paid the fine.”

He retired in 1970.

“I had to. Back in those days you couldn’t work after you were 60 years old. Those game ranger days were the happiest part of my whole life that I can think of. I’m just sorry I had to get out of it. I wish I was still there, but it’s too late for me now.”

The Millers moved to Sweet Home 32 years ago, to Trailer Villa across Highway 20 from CTC, and he started walking about 25 years ago, long before Ella died in 2000. He also started drawing wildlife, a hobby he continued until the last few years when his arthritis got too severe.

“I’ve spent an awful lot of time drawing pictures,” he said. “My house is just full of them. The art helped me have shorter winters.”

He said he sees a lot of wildlife – particularly elk – as well as other things on his walks.

“They have a poaching problem here,” he said. “I hear stories from different people. I have found dead animals just shot, left along the road with no meat taken off of them. I’ve seen two elk and I don’t know how many deer.

“When I was young, during the big Depression, we lived on venison like a lot of other people did in the late ’20s and early ’30s. I lived with my aunt and uncle way up in the mountains.”

He’s seen cougars several times, he said, though he won’t tell anyone where “because I know what they’d do with it. They’d go up and kill them.

“Since I was a game warden, I’d never hunt again. I never saw such a slaughter of wildlife in my life as I did in Arizona. I hate that. Arizona now is a lot different than when I was there. They have an officer trained for poachers now.”

He said he sees a lot of deer sign out on his strolls, but very few deer.

“I see more elk than deer,” he said.

Last year he literally got run over by a herd of elk.

“I was on the South Santiam 100 Line and I went down into the canyon, just like I always do, looking for wildlife. It was awful brushy down there.

“I heard a dog barking and I knew he was coming at me. Then I heard ‘thud-thud-thud’ and I really knew what was coming. I found a tree I could step behind, but my foot caught in some bushes and I fell flat and hit my head on a big rock.

“I fell to the right. If I fell to the left, they would have killed me. As it was, one went right over me and one hit me on left eye. I almost lost that eye. One kicked me too. I was a lucky man.”

About the only thing that stops him from walking, he said, is the weather.

“When it’s raining I don’t enjoy it up there,” he said. “People say, ‘Why don’t you use an umbrella?’ If I carried an umbrella up there, that looks silly. And I’ve never worn a hat in my life. When I was in Arizona I was supposed to have a hat, so I bought one and threw it in the truck. I never used it except if I met one of my superiors, then I put it on.

“I still have my hair. That’s what most old people can’t say. I don’t sunburn. I’m part Indian and I get brown like an Indian. My mother had a lot of Cherokee blood in her.”

He said he has no plans to quit his hikes anytime soon.

“I love that life,” Miller said. “The reason I still walk is I just love it. I’ll walk till I can’t walk any more .People ask me if I pack a cane. Absolutely not. I’ve never packed a cane in my life and I’m not going to use it.”

In addition to his walking, Miller said he takes care of his place “as much as I can” and works for the management at Trailer Villa, cleaning the Laundromat, taking care of the recycling and servicing the lawn mowers.

“I cut my own lawn and lawns for other people,” he said. “When one breaks down, I fix it.

“I have to keep busy. I’m a person who cannot lay around,” he said. “Even at my age I do more work than most younger people.”

He said he visits the doctor several times a year, but his main problem is getting enough calories. Miller said he visits A&W two or three times a week to have a milkshake, but he said even with that he has trouble keeping weight on.

He said he appreciates the attention he’s gotten for reaching his milestone, though it was a bit overwhelming.

The CTC celebration included 11 family members from Arizona and California.

Grandson Donnie Miller of Cottonwood, Calif., said he “always knew” his grandfather would make it to 100.

“Throughout the years, the stories, the things he’s done – I had no doubt,” he said. “He’s a walking history book. He’s done a little bit of everything.

He added, nodding at his grandfather, “I know exactly what I’ll look like if I live to be 100.”

Miller’s only child, son Donald of Cottonwood, Ariz., joked to a reporter: “When he reaches 200, I’ll call you again.”

CTC President Dave Furtwangler said the company appreciates having Paul Miller walk the roads and provide “an extra set of eyes.”

“If he sees something that doesn’t look quite right or where someone’s dumped some trash, he’ll let us know,” Furtwangler said. “At first we kind of worried about him a little bit. But he’s done pretty well and seems pretty healthy.”

Furtwangler said Miller came in recently and reported that he’d gotten his driver’s license renewed. He said Miller told a CTC employee that if the Department of Motor Vehicles gave him any problems, “I’d just tell them to take a walk around my pickup and notice that there aren’t any dents in it.”

“We do like to see (Miller) pretty regularly to make sure he’s doing OK,” Furtwangler said. “It’s kind of good we’re right here. He can just check in and talk to us.”

“I appreciate everybody there treating me so good,” Paul Miller said of the CTC celebration.

“It’ll never happen again – not to me.”

“I’ve got eight years after 100,” he added, flashing a broad smile. “I’ve got a driver’s license and it expires in eight years.”