John Miller/Thistle Ha’

Photo: Thistle Ha’ collection.
Saddle and Sirloin Club history:
100th Anniversary of the Saddle and Sirloin Club, Kentucky State Fair Board, Louisville, 2003.
Revised on March 19, 2011 by Jim: Added George Harding’s name to photo caption.

A gallery of oil portraits, paying homage to livestock industry leaders throughout Europe and the Americas, was established in 1903 in the Saddle and Sirloin Club, near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. Selected by a committee of their peers, new members had their portraits added to the Club gallery each year.

The photo shows portraits of four Canadian members of the Saddle and Sirloin Club. Handwritten on the back of this photo: “Photograph of portraits in oil of departed friends as they appear on the walls of the Saddle and Sirloin Club. Accept with the compliments of Frank W. Harding, May 8, 1917.” Harding was the brother-in-law of Robert Miller/Burn Brae; both were members of the Club.


The portraits in the photo are of: John Miller/Thistle Ha’ (top left), William Miller/Atha & Storm Lake (top right), Richard Gibson/Belvoir farm in Mount Brydges, Ontario (bottom left), George Harding [Frank W. Harding’s father]/Anoka farm in Waukesha, Wisconsin (bottom centre), and James I. Davidson/Sittyton Grove farm in Balsam (Pickering), Ontario (bottom right).

Of the nearly 350 members in the Saddle and Sirloin Club, eleven are Canadians. Remarkably, the farm homes of seven Canadian members were clustered in Pickering (three Millers, Davidson) and its two adjacent townships, Whitby (Hon. John Dryden and his son Will/Maple Shade farm) and Markham (T.A. Russell/Brae Lodge farm).

The portraits in the photo no longer exist. Frank Harding Jr, also a member of the club, witnessed the 1934 Chicago Stock Yards fire, which destoyed the original Saddle and Sirloin club, including its gallery of portraits. Club artist Robert Grafton was immediately commissioned to repaint the portraits. He worked at a prodigious pace, replacing 104 portraits, including those in the photo, in 18 months.

The only families with three members are the Millers and Hardings, who became related when Robert Miller/Burn Brae married Frank W. Harding’s sister, Josephine. The Millers also became related to the Drydens when Robert’s niece Margaret (Maggie) married Will Dryden.

By the mid 1970’s, the Chicago Stock Yard facilities were closed, and the building containing the Saddle and Sirloin Club in Chicago faced demolition. Frank Harding Jr found a new home for the portrait collection, which was moved in 1977 to the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

Source: Pickering Township Oral History Project Interviews. Audio Reel
RG-17-44-0-10. Copyright 1972, Archives of Ontario. Used with permission.
As told by: Hugh Miller.

Stan Whiston and David Nasby of the Pickering Township Oral History Project interviewed Hugh Miller on June 21, 1972 about the fairs attended by the Millers. The interview was done in the dining room at Thistle Ha’; you can hear the ticking grandfather clock in the background.

Rob Roy, Thistle Ha' Clydesdale StallionIn the 1894 Christmas edition of The Breeder’s Gazette, William Miller Jr/Atha entertained readers with the tale of his first livestock buying trip to Britain during the winter and spring of 1854, when he was 20 years old. It was during this trip that he bought Thistle Ha’s most famous stallion, Rob Roy (pictured). He also met Simon Beattie, who returned with him to Canada. Beattie became one of the best livestockmen of the 19th century in North America. The map locates some of the places he mentions.

Source: William Miller Jr, “Live Stock on the Atlantic.” excerpt, The Breeder’s Gazette, Dec. 19, 1894, p. 408, 410. Drop cap illustration from the same article.

y next year, 1853, I was sent over by my father [William Miller Sr] and brother John [Miller/Thistle Ha’] to bring out stock. At New York I took passage on the William Tapscott, a regular old-style liner–“shanghaied” crew and terrible mates, but after eighteen days we landed in Liverpool all right the week before Christmas. Making my way directly to Annan I examined the Redkirk herd near there, and I still think it one of the most useful I ever saw–plenty of substance and constitution forever, great milkers and regular breeders–in fact just such as we are after to-day only a little refinement added; but if this refinement hurts the constitution, better without it. After spending some time among the Leicester breeders of Dumfries I made my way south to see the Short-horns, not knowing well where to go, as I knew nothing of the breeders nor cattle outside of Redkirk and nothing about pedigree; but I had heard that Durham Darlington and the River Tees were headquarters, so I started out alone for Durham town. Landing there in the evening I made for its head inn but found it full. The landlord after looking me over one time concluded they had no room. I tried the next with better luck and had the good fortune to fall in with a fine specimen of intelligent Englishman–a commercial traveler who knew a great deal about the country, the cattle and the breeders, and was willing to help me all he could. From him I first learned of Richard and John Booth, Thomas Raine, Samuel Wiley, etc.


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