You know how they say things happen in threes? In this case, it’s not just three…but rather three generations in a row of anguish. Some mental, some physical. All deadly.
Michael Beeson Miller was born to Marvin “Red” and Betty (Beeson) Miller on January 3, 1942 in McPherson, Kansas. Red was working road construction and the family moved to Oklahoma City when Mike was just five weeks old. They lived in a camper trailer as they moved from job to job, landing back in McPherson at the end of May.
The family moved to Dodge City in October of 1942. Red was working on road and runway construction at the Army Air Field and they were able to live in a house located on Merritt’s property behind the Big House. According to his baby book, Mike ate half a cigarette at eleven months of age with no ill effects.
Irene wasn’t the type to gush over anyone but she thought the world of Mike. Everyone did.
Although he was quiet, Mike was an agreeable kid who spent a lot of time outside with the animals and helping around the farm.
Like his mother and sister, Mike played piano and took lessons from Henri Robbins. He ran track and loved riding horses. His younger sister, Vee Ann, absolutely adored him.
Mike was only fourteen when his mother died by suicide in the Big House. Red did his best to hold things together and built a new home so they could get some distance from the memories.
In the summer of 1959, Red became worried about Mike’s emotional state and had him evaluated. Red told the doctors Mike had suddenly become confused and hadn’t slept well for the past few weeks. He said Mike worked very hard at the farm and the sand pit but he had recently said to one of the hired hands, “What’s the use” and asked to be taken home. Mike had gone to see a minister to discuss some difficulties but was unable to articulate what was bothering him.
He was hospitalized and tested for “infectious encephalitis.” Mike had always been very helpful and agreeable but his doctor noted he was extremely uncooperative in the hospital. A complete examination was impossible. They said he “would not talk, say anything” and would only “stand, stare, reading the Bible.”
Finding no physical illness, he was diagnosed with “acute paranoid schizophrenia” and referred to a specialist in Wichita. While hospitalized in Wichita, Mike received “electroshock therapy.”
The treatment Mike received seemed to have stabilized his illness. By 1960, he self-reported being in good health. Then again, I would say whatever was required to prevent anyone from connecting electrodes to my noodle.
Mike was very active and enjoyed goofing off and playing football in the giant yard at Red’s house. He was a member of Sons of the American Revolution (via Henry Beeson). The family Collie, Prince, was often Mike’s sidekick and farm assistant.
Although Mike wasn’t necessarily the studious type, he was extremely intelligent and was studying to be a civil engineer. He graduated from Dodge City Community College in 1962 and was preparing to transfer to Kansas State University. He bought the Impala that summer.
Mike bought an engagement ring at Edmisten Jewelry on July 16, 1962. Aside from her name, about the only thing I know about Mike’s fiancée is that Vee Ann and Irene didn’t like her. There were concerns that she may have been interested in the family money but I think Vee Ann was also struggling with not having her brother’s undivided attention.
Just as things seemed to really be coming together, Mike died by suicide on November 30, 1962. He was twenty years old.
Irene and I talked about Mike quite a bit and she told me as much as she could but I was never brave enough to ask Vee Ann about him. She kept incredibly detailed scrapbooks, however, and she made a note on his funeral program that said, “It wasn’t your fault, Mike.”
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