Cincinnatus Hiner Miller, formerly known as Joaquin Miller, was born in 1839 and over the course of his life, migrated from Indiana to Oregon to California. At age 17, Miller set out to California with his family as along with everyone else, they jumped at the potential for money in gold mining. He went on to spend a significant part of his life in the west, and his exposure to the mines influenced and inspired him to write western poetry. While many hit big from working on the mines, Joaquin's successes came from writing about them.
A portrait of Joaquin Miller in 1906
Over the course of his 74 year life, Miller wrote five volumes of western poetry: Joaquin, et al. (1869), Songs of the Sierras (1871), Fallen Leaves (1873), By the SunDown Seas (1873), and Shadows of Shasta (1881). His work would later be comprised in 1923 after his death into The Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller. While at the time his poetry didn't resonate with fellow western-Americans, it was received very highly overseas, one English critic even considering him an American genius with a new poetic voice similar to Walt Whitman.
Beginning with Songs of the Sierras in 1871, Miller began to focus his poetry on specific life on the mines and the craze surrounding gold. He brought the chaos and amazement of the gold rush to life like no other. While the theme of gold appears approximately 200 times in The Poetical Works of Joaquin Miller, perhaps his most vivid description of the primary rush occurs in Part I of Songs of the Sierras:
"And then the ruin in the land,
The death, dismay, the lawlessness!
Men gathered gold on every hand,--
Heaped gold: and why should I do less?
"The cry for gold was in the air,--
For Creole gold, for precious things;
The sword kept prodding here and there,
Through bolts and sacred fastenings.
"'Get gold! get gold!' This was the cry.
And I loved gold. What else could I say or you, or any earnest one, born in this getting age, have done?"
A Scene from Life at the Mines during the California Gold Rush (1848-1855)
Joaquin places his surroundings into words and shares how he, just like everyone else, couldn't get enough of the prospect of gold. There was "free gold for all who deemed it, fit to stoop, take up and husband it" (Miller 70). While this poem was published in 1871 and reflects a more positive tone, Joaquin's writing slowly begins to shift as the circumstances change in California.