75-Year Breeder: Miller Land & Livestock
75-Year Breeder: Miller Land & Livestock
By Richard Chamberlain for The American Quarter Horse Journal
James Mickelson arrived in Wyoming territory in the early 1880s, got a job cowboying, and rode bareback until he made enough money to buy a saddle. He worked his way up to foreman of the southwest division for the Spur Cattle Co. In 1885, he was able to put a down payment on the oldest ranch in Sublette Co., the “Circle” ranch that was established by Otto Leifer in 1876. In two years of good cattle prices, James had it paid for and began enlarging it.
That ranch, near Big Piney, Wyoming, is now managed by James’ great-grandson, Mike Miller with wife Tara and their sons Will and Wes. Will and Wes’ boys are the sixth generation on the ranch.
The ranch has bred American Quarter Horses for more than 70 years – since Mildred Mickelson, James’ daughter and Mike’s grandmother, read about the nascent American Quarter Horse Association.
“They sent inspectors out to see if they wanted your mares,” Mike says. “She had three mares inspected, and they all met the inspection.”
The ranch has produced more than 900 registered foals in that time; most worked as ranch horses, but there are also many successful show, rodeo and performance horses.
“We want to raise horses that can do everything,” Mike says. “Horses that travel nice, cover country, are strong and smart, yet you can go and compete in about any performance event. To be able to compete at the world-class level, but also be a great ranch horse, those are the horses we like.”
Mike and Tara have continued to expand the ranch.
Mike manages the family’s Wyoming ranch, while Wes manages the new division in Santa Anna, Texas, and assists in Wyoming. Will helps in Wyoming, while Tara works as the secretary. They oversee about 25,000 deeded acres, about 60,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management allotment and about 30,000 acres on a forest permit. Some of that land has been in the family for 124 of those years. The Millers run about 2,000 head of mother cows and about 1,800 head of yearlings for market, and have 80-90 horses in their remuda.
The Millers raise Irish Black, Hereford and Angus crossbred cattle, selling the calves when they are long yearlings. Due to the ranch’s spread-out land holdings, the cattle are familiar with being worked horseback and traveling long distances.
“We could not do it without horses, even if we wanted to,” Tara says. “We’re totally a horse outfit. Without the horses, this ranch wouldn’t exist and never would have. They were instrumental in building the ranch.”
The ranch was also built on the efforts of the cowboys and hired help, Tara says, and their work is deeply appreciated. Whether they’re moving cattle, checking cattle or doctoring cattle, their perpetual partners are their horses, which wear the ranch’s historic “67” brand on their left hips.
Mike is also a successful open and non-pro competitor in the National Reined Cow Horse Association, with earnings of more than $600,000 – most earned aboard homebred horses, and all of them self-trained.
Among his horses is the late Playboys Buck Fever, a son of Freckles Playboy out of the Reminic mare Tsarina Chexanic that the Millers bred and owned, and Mike competed aboard to more than $60,000 in earnings. The National Reined Cow Horse superior cow horse sired the earners of more than $356,000 in competition, including two NRCHA superior reined cow horses.
“He was big, strong, beautiful, athletic and well bred. He had everything,” Tara says. “I just loved him, his disposition and heart. He was so sweet and nice. When Mike showed him, he never had to go to practice shows or anything, he just stayed honest and gave his all. And his colts just try for you and are very trainable.”
The Millers also bred the black gelding Cowboys Welcome Star, a son of Mr Canada Dry out of the Doc’s Cowboy mare Tykes Trouble. The horse earned more than $44,000 in NRCHA competition. Among Mike and “Boogie Man’s” many accomplishments was finishing as reserve champions in the 1999 World’s Greatest Horseman competition.
“He taught Mike that a good horse can do it all,” says Tara. “He was good at everything – ranch work, reined cow horse, cutting, barrel racing, roping.”
Other top horses bred on the ranch and shown by Mike include Bucks Genuine Fever and Firecat Flashenfever, both by Playboys Buck Fever.
The ranch’s current stallion is Good Times Too, a son of One Time Pepto out of the High Brow Cat mare Cats Good Intentions.
His first foals are being started under saddle.
“We’re excited to start them,” Tara says.