Steve & Elsie Miller
"Oldies but Goodies" by Joni Stewart

On any given day, traveling south on Highway 395 out of Seneca, a motorist's attention will be drawn to an outpost of oberservation. A unique roadside attraction whose occupants are legendary as their merchandise. It is the home of Steve and Elsie Miller.

They've got something there for everybody; be it vintage tack for ranch animals, clothing, bric-a-brac, stories, tall tales or a wave. On my visit, I was fitted with a coat, and completely absorbed by stories rich in local lore told with such humor and heart that I will remember their hospitality long after the coat is threadbare.

They are so in tune with passersby that regardless of circumstances, and in exact synch, they face the road and customarily watch each vehicle zoom in and out of view. More often than not they are able to acknowledge who that was and where they might be going.

Roughly every hour a car slows and stops. "Better stand up," says Steve, "I lie better on my feet." He is quick with a smile and a story, the timbre of his voice full of substance. He knows an awful lot about life in these parts; that's how he can come up with such whoppers.

Once past the collection of items for sale, we sit by the front door and he produces a small stack of B&W photographs. We step back 40-some years in a blink and I see a man on a horse in a corral; rope taught and leading out to the picture's edge. It looks like he's got the world on a string.

Must have felt that way, too, as he is perhaps best known for his years as foreman on the Ponderosa. Those were the days when the ranch ran 2800 head of buffalo, longhorn, llama, reindeer, moose, yak and other exotic animals.

It was the period in time when Hollywood came to Grant County's doorstep. Enamored with the whole western experience, movie moguls came, saw and immortalized the ranch. Steve remembers those times with fondness. "They couldn't get enough," he recalls. "One day we went into the bunkhouse and they had taken every old boot and hat in the place; wanted props, I guess."

People still refer to Steve as the Marlboro Man. This is not done to conjure up an image; it is because he was slated to be the Marlboro Man in TV advertisement. The concept was shelved when the ban on cigarettes was enforced. He had it though; the rugged outdoor look, the realism, the bigger-than-life personality that has made him the object of local reknown, too.

And who could ride with this backaroo, keep up with his antics and champion him for 47 years? Why Elsie, of course. She is as direct and true as he is roundabout.

She pulls out a small handful of color photos and in short order brings me up to date on the highlights in their life. "So that's where all them really good shots are," teases Steve. Elsie and Steve raised their daughter Frances in Mt. Vernon and today she lives in Burns.

Many people can lay claim to raising children, but Elsie may be alone in her pursuits to raise a buffalo. April was her name, and yes, she was house trained. In fact, years after April was sent out with the herd, Elsie could drive out to the pastures, holler at her and she'd come.

Elsie has put in quite a few miles in these old hills herself. She worked as a lookout for 10 seasons on Wolf Mt. and Fall Mt. for the Forest Service. And worked at the Ponderosa haying for 16 years. It's safe to say, she's just about seen it all.

Nearing 80 years old, they claim to be "living on borrowed time." But, let me tell you, their spirits seem as strong as the buffalos' they tended.

When you stop to say "hi," be sure to bring some cash, and a trained ear, just don't ask to buy Steve's hat. "That's where two fools meet," says Elsie, "the one who wants to buy the thing and other who won't sell."

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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