Miller Brothers in the California Oil Fields, c1911

Today, a few more picture postcards from California that half-brothers Chris Miller and Jacob Miller Jr sent home to their parents. Chris and Jacob Jr left their farm in northern Mercer County, Ohio, sometime before 1910 and traveled out west to work in the oil fields. Oil had been found in several western states around the turn of the century and the two young men went west to work in the oil fields, but they never returned home. 

Chris and Jacob Jr were my great-uncles. Chris Miller (1880-1911) was the son of Jacob Miller and his second wife Margaretha Strabel. Jacob Jr (1885-1913) was the son of Jacob Miller and his third wife Christena Rueck. My grandfather Carl Miller (1896-1973) was a full brother to Jacob Jr.

Chris Miller, in the oil fields out west, unknown date.

Unfortunately, most of the postcards the brothers sent home had no postmark and had nothing written on the back. Evidently they put several picture postcards in an envelope and sent them home.

Still, I am trying to map their journey as they worked in the oil fields and make a timeline as best as I can. They were out west just a short time, when Chris died of typhoid fever and Jacob Jr was killed by pieces from a falling oil derrick.

Jacob Miller Jr was living in Kern County, California, in 1910. He was 24 years old, born in Ohio, working as a tool dresser in the oil fields. He was single and one of nine boarders living in the family household of Orr Whitehall. [1] I have not located his half-brother Chris in the 1910 census.

In March 1911 they were in Oil Center, Kern County, California, according to the large panoramic photo I showed a couple weeks ago. The first oil wells were drilled in Kern County in 1877 and the oil boom continued in California into the early 1900s.   

Below are some more picture postcards that show a few more locations the two brothers worked in or passed through during their time in the western oil fields. I am assuming they sent the postcards from places that they had been in.

Last week I showed postcards that were sent from Coalinga, Fresno County, California, a town where oil was struck in the late 1800s. One of the postcards is labeled 10-11 May 1912 Coalinga Fiesta. Chris Miller died of typhoid fever in late 1911, so Jacob Jr would have sent the Coalinga postcards home in 1912.

1912 Coalinga Fiesta, Coalinga, California.

I believe the photo below is also from Coalinga, California. Nichols, the photographer, was also the photographer of another Coalinga postcard that I posted last week.  

Shops, Section 27, Nichols photographer. Possibly Coalinga, CA.

The photo postcard below is labeled Standard 36, Taft, Cal. Taft, in Kern County, California, is about 90 miles south of Coalinga. Oil was found in Taft in the late 1800s and early-mid 1900s. Standard Oil employed many workers there in the early 1900s. I am guessing that the Standard 36 is the size of the pipe.   

Standard 36, Taft, CA.

The photo below is from the oil fields in Bakersfield, Kern County, California:

Bakersfield, CA, oilfields.

Bakersfield, the county seat of Kern County, is about 100 miles southeast of Coalinga and is about 30 miles northeast of Taft. 

Gold was discovered in the Bakersfield area in 1853 and the gold rush started soon after. In 1853 Col. Thomas Baker settled on what became the town of Bakersfield. In 1868 the first post office was established and by 1876 the Southern Pacific Railroad ran there. In 1898 the first regular passenger train went to Bakersfield, so the Miller brothers could have traveled by rail to their destinations. In 1899 the Kern Oil Field was discovered and in 1900 the Midway Oil Field was discovered. Standard Oil built its first oil pipeline in the county in 1901, going from the Kern River Field near Bakersfield to Point Richmond near San Francisco. The Buena Vista Oil Field was discovered in 1909 and the Bellridge Oil Field in 1911. [2]

Chris Miller was also in San Francisco at one time, as shown on the undated postcard below.

Chris Miller, standing on the right in back. Pacific Sightseeing Co, San Francisco, unknown date.

There would have been plenty of work for the ambitious Miller brothers in the western oil fields. As well as a little time for sight-seeing.

[1] 1910 U.S. Census, Township 6, Kern, California, ED 30, p.16B, dwelling 227, family 239, Jacob Miller; digital image by subscription, ( : viewed 29 Aug 2019). Census taken 7 May 1910.

[2], “Timeline: 150 Years of Kern County History,” ( : viewed 5 Sep 2019).


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    • Gayle Flinchum on October 4, 2022 at 8:27 pm
    • Reply

    Hello Karen,
    I enjoyed finding your blog and reading about the oil fields in Bakersfield. My grandfather’s father and several uncles came to work in the oil fields in Bakersfield before 1918. From what I can tell, the uncles wound up in Taft, Palos Verdes, and Carbon Canyon oil industry. My ggrandfather, Clarence Turner, went back home to Indiana and died of tuberculosis in 1917 when my grandfather was 10, leaving him, his mother and two siblings. My grandfather, Claude Turner, wound up working for and retiring from Richfield, and my father, Richard Neal Turner, worked and retired from Atlantic-Richfield, which became Arco. They were mechanics who had territories and did station maintenance, prior to that all being farmed out to third party maintenance companies. I think that Clarence went home to Indiana ill, and was recommended to come back West, because I find them in a city directory in Arizona with the whole family with the kids attending school. My grandfather never mentioned living in Arizona. I have a feeling they weren’t there long and were there only for the tuberculosis. I will continue to enjoy your blog. It looks like a lot of interesting articles to look forward to. Thank you!

    1. What an interesting family story. It sounds like your ancestors were in Bakersfield before my great-uncles. It is an interesting time to read and think about. The adventure and lure of going out west was probably very enticing to young men but it was probably very dangerous and hard work. A hard life. Thanks for writing!

    • john wilfrid burrows on October 20, 2022 at 6:14 pm
    • Reply

    Hello Karen,

    My grandfather, Wilfrid Harry Boyce moved to Coalinga in 1901, and went to work for Tidewater Oil Company. He worked for Tidewater for 43 years, mostly as a gauger, until his retirement in 1944. In 1910 he married Gladys Scott who was Coalinga’s chief telephone operator at the time. They lived on a Tidewater lease where, in 1911, my mother, Bonnie (Boyce) Burrows, was born. Just a few months before my grandfather retired, we visited and stayed a few days on the lease. Although I was only five or six, I remember going out with him and climbing up on a platform as he checked the oil level in a tank. Something else I remember— the smell of oil everywhere.

    1. Thank you for sharing your family’s story and your connection to the oil fields. It was quite a time for our country and many young men went there for work and adventure. I wonder if our ancestors ever crossed paths? Thank you for writing!

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