Dr. Linda K. Miller oral history interview, 2019 July 10. OH-03635. Transcript. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d16110h5k
Standardized Rights Statement
AN INTERVIEW WITH LINDA KAREN MILLER, PHD
An Oral History Conducted by Claytee D. White
The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project
Oral History Research Center at UNLV
University of Nevada Las Vegas
©The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project
University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2014
Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV – University Libraries
Director: Claytee D. White
Editor: Stacey Fott, Mary Palapar, Claytee D. White
Transcriber: Kristin Hicks
The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of Dr. Harold Boyer. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish.
The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews.
The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project.
Claytee D. White, Project Director
Director, Oral History Research Center
University Nevada, Las Vegas
Dr. Linda Karen Miller has dedicated her life to teaching. With a focus on social studies, she often wore costumes to bring historical figures to life for her students. After moving to Las Vegas in 2002, she discovered the letters of Helen J. Stewart and through her research, historical interpretations, and fundraising efforts, helped keep the legacy of “the first lady of Las Vegas” alive. Dr. Miller has also volunteered at the Old Mormon Fort and is active in the Daughters of the American Revolution and Continental Society Daughters of Indian Wars.
In this interview, Dr. Miller, describes growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, and shares stories about her father who worked for Kansas City Coca-Cola Bottling Company and her mother, a medical assistant. Dr. Miller talks about attending college at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and then completing a master’s and PhD degrees at the University Virginia, Charlottesville. Dr. Miller provides details about her dissertation titled “The Portrayal of Federal Intervention of Domestic Disorders in U.S. History Textbooks.” That research focuses on the United States Marshals and her first encounter with attorney and later Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.
In 2002, after thirty years of teaching, Dr. Miller moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she conducted classes at the Community College of Southern Nevada (currently the College of Southern Nevada). She talks about her role as the president of the Women’s History Project where she raised funds for the creation and installation of a statue of Helen J. Stewart. Dr. Miller provides details about her books on Helen J. Stewart and the USS Nevada. She discusses different historical organizations she is involved with and her opportunity to lead a delegation of veterans to Pearl Harbor. Dr. Miller shares information on her next project, a book about Mark Harrington and his excavation of The Lost City in Nevada.
Judge Lee Koury, 86, passed away March 18, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lee was born August 31, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. He served as a Sergeant in the United States Army from 1950-54 during the Korean War era. He worked as a Deputy Los Angeles Sheriff from 1954.-1978 and moved to Missouri in 1979. He was appointed the United States Marshal for Missouri by President Reagan in 1981 and served until 1991 under President Bush. He was founder of the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation. In January 1993 he became a municipal judge in Boone County, Missouri and served in that capacity for 15 years. He moved to Las Vegas in 2010. He is survived by his companion Dr. Linda Miller of Henderson, Nevada and four daughters Kathryn A. Fox of Fountain Valley, California; Eve Olson of Fulton, Missouri; Leanne Hester of Ormond Beach, Florida; Brandi McLendon of Cornwall on Hudson, New York; eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. Burial services will be held March 27, 2019 at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City, Nevada. Memorials can be sent to the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial, 715 Jefferson Street, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102, in his honor.
Published by Kansas City Star on Mar. 24, 2019.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Interview with Dr. Linda Karen Miller
July 10, 2019
in Henderson, Nevada
Conducted by Claytee D. White
Dr. Miller reminisces on her childhood in Kansas City, Kansas; Dr. Miller tells of her parent’s careers; speaks about pursing her college degree at the University of Kansas, Lawrence; Dr.; talks about attending University of Virginia in Charlottesville where she completed master’s and PhD degrees; recalls her first visit to Las Vegas, Nevada; shares details of an encounter with Oscar Goodman; describes moving to Las Vegas in 2002; speaks about teaching at the College of Southern Nevada………………………………………………………………..………......…1 - 9
Dr. Miller talks about creating lesson plans for the National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places Department and conducting research on Helen J. Stewart; provides the meaning of a Chautauqua and describes portraying Helen J. Stewart; speaks about other historical figures she has portrayed and being named National Teacher of the Year; remarks on traveling to Russia with the National Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year; provides details about Helen J. Stewart and explains her importance to Las Vegas…………………………..……………....10-19
Dr. Miller discusses her involvement at the Old Mormon Fort; talks about her book on Helen J. Stewart; talks about other milestones in her life including a book on the USS Nevada and arranging a tour to Pearl Harbor for veterans; comments on the passing of Lee Koury and keeping his legacy alive; speaks on her next projects and conferences……………………………..…………...20 - 22
This is Claytee White. It is July tenth, 2019, and I’m in Linda Miller’s home here in Las Vegas—here in Henderson. We’re in Henderson this afternoon.
How are you, Linda?
Good. Could you pronounce and spell your name for me, please?
Linda, L-I-N-D-A. Karen, K-A-R-E-N. Miller, M-I-L-L-E-R.
Eventually we will give you a hard-copy book, eventually, a year from now. Do you want all three names on the book, Linda and Karen?
Doctor, yes. That’s what we’ll do. Fantastic. Linda, could you tell me a little about your early life? Tell me where you grew up and what your family was like.
I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas. Actually, we lived for the first two years in Kansas City, Missouri, and then my parents bought a house for eleven thousand dollars with my Grandpa Miller’s aid to get that. My father worked for Kansas City Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and my mother was a medical assistant for a doctor. There, she had met my father in 1939 when she was in nurse’s training. She wanted to go to war, but she met my father and decided she wouldn’t do that. The two doctors she worked for did go to World War II and were in the Battle of the Bulge. Kansas City, Kansas, it was outside the larger area where I lived my life all through college.
Now, Kansas City, Kansas or Kansas City, Missouri?
Kansas City, Kansas. The first two years were in Missouri.
Just two years in Missouri.
Yes. Afterward they built the house and it was 3614 Matney, Kansas City, Kansas.
Wow, you still remember.
Yes. It was in the Turner Unified School District.
Tell me about your father’s job at Coca-Cola.
That was really exciting because it was in the fifties and that’s when they had all this advertising. He collected all this memorabilia. When he died in 1991, he just had all this original memorabilia. But the fun part about it was that back in that day all you had to do was wear a sponsor lapel pin and you could get in free at any athletic event that was sponsored by Coca-Cola. I went to the Kansas City Athletics with him; I went to the Kansas City Blues hockey team and then the Chiefs.
The football team.
Yes, Kansas City Chiefs. Then the American Royal Horse Show. My brother wasn’t born yet, so my dad would take me to all these boy kinds of athletic events, but that was fun. Haywood Sullivan was my favorite Athletics baseball player, third baseman. I didn’t know until recently that he became an executive with the Red Sox. One of my friends told me that. I just got involved more in that athletic part.
That’s wonderful. What happened to your father’s collection of all these Coca-Cola products?
My mom sold it. She kept some of the things and I have some of them. I have the original Santa Claus. Unfortunately, they’re not worth much in today’s market, but there is a lot of memorabilia.
I’m surprised Coca-Cola doesn’t want it. Your mom was a medical assistant so she worked outside the home.
Yes. During World War II when the doctors went to war, she basically kept the office going. She told me though that she went and delivered babies with him at people’s houses back in the forties. She was pretty active in all the things at the office.
Did she continue to deliver babies, like a midwife?
No. but she never completed her RN training, so that’s why. Then she became president of the Wyandotte County Medical Assistants Association when she was thirty-four. Being the historian that I am, after she died I donated a lot of stuff from that time period, her gavel and her picture, to the Wyandotte County Museum, and then I donated her high school graduation picture and Honor Society, and they made a whole exhibit just on growing up in Wyandotte County and they focused mainly on her stuff because I had all these things, Honor Society and graduation diploma and everything.
Wonderful. Where did you go to college?
I went to University of Kansas in Lawrence for my undergraduate. I had a job before college at First National Bank in Kansas City, Missouri. My father wanted me to be an executive secretary. He never wanted me to go to college.
Well, because he was in the business world and he just thought that that would get me more money.
More money probably than a schoolteacher.
Yes, at that time. My first job was only sixty-five hundred dollars. That was in 1970. I went four years to Kansas, and then I had my master’s at the University of Virginia and I graduated in 1978 with my master’s.
University of Virginia, which location?
Charlottesville. And the doctorate in ’91. I moved to Virginia in 1972.
That was for the master’s degree.
Then the PhD was where?
Also. The same place, yes, ’91.
Wonderful. That’s interesting, in Virginia all those years. When did you graduate from high school; which year?
What was it like in Virginia in 1966? We’re sort of in the middle of the civil rights movement.
I actually didn’t go to Virginia until ’72.
That’s right. You were in Kansas.
What was it like in Kansas? Was there anything?
We really didn’t think about it. One of my classmates wrote an article about the soda shop and the counter—
Yes. We all just lived together. We never did—there were very few black children at that time.
At the University of Kanas, very few blacks?
I don’t remember that. But I know in my high school there were very few blacks.
Do you remember any black kids on campus at the University of Kansas?
Oh yes. Jo Jo White, he was a famous basketball player and he was in my class. In fact, Jo Jo White was in that 1965 when they had the…Western Texas was the first college that had black
students in an NCAA tournament, and so KU was in that Final Four. It’s another name now, but it made a lot of famous…They made a movie about it and everything.
What was it like to leave Kansas and go to Virginia? And Charlottesville.
Yes. I actually moved from Kansas and went to Fairfax to work. I didn’t go on campus except for one summer for my master’s and then one year for my doctorate. But I didn’t know, when we arrived in 1972, what had just happened as far as civil rights because that’s when they had that movie about T.C. Williams where they had the black and the white students out playing together, and that was the year before we arrived. But around me there was no evidence of any type of racial tension.
In Charlottesville, no evidence.
No, in Fairfax, Virginia.
Wait. After Kansas you went to Fairfax, Virginia?
What kind of work did you do in Fairfax? That’s right outside of Washington, D.C., right?
Yes. I was a teacher. Well, I was a substitute first and then a reading teacher. It took me about two years before I got to be a full-time classroom teacher.
But you taught in Fairfax?
Did you get to go into Washington, D.C. during that time?
Oh yes, quite a bit.
It’s early in the world’s events. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated and there were riots around the country.
Well, I can tell you what happened exactly on the day. I was at the University of Kansas, April fourth, 1965. I was in line for the second performance of a Bill Cosby performance. He did the first performance fine, and we were waiting in line to get into the second performance and he heard about Martin Luther King’s assassination and he canceled his second performance.
Then later, it was April fourth, 2003, I went to a history conference in Memphis and we went to this dinner called the April Fourth Foundation. It had Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson who had
started this foundation, and Martin Luther King’s children were there and they talked about all the peaceful things that they were trying to do.
The season of peace or something. It’s between the birth of one and the death of the other or something like that.
Yes, I’m not sure. But that was interesting. To be in Memphis and see the places, the church and everything. But the tour that I went on was the Memphis Delta and it was about the young man—was it Tibbs?
Till. Emmett Till?
Yes, Emmett Till. We went to the general store and it was still there—it was falling down—where he supposedly whistled at the white woman. Of course, all this years later.
You were in Money, Mississippi?
Yes, Money, Mississippi, and went to the courthouse.
Why were you in Mississippi?
That was a conference, a history conference. This was all part of the same thing. We went and saw the courthouse. The courthouse is all this heavy stone and it’s still there. Every time something comes up, I feel attached to that story because I’ve been there.
You’ve been there. You’ve seen it.
Yes. When they want to retry it and everything, it’s like, oh, and this is going through my mind. I taught that to my kids.
After teaching you decided to go back to school to get your master’s degree.
No. I was getting my master’s while I was teaching.
But you were teaching in Fairfax.
And you went to school in Charlottesville?
They have a branch up in Fairfax. I went down there in the summertime. They didn’t really require except that one summer to be on campus.
Yes. Then when I got my doctorate, then I had to take a full year off. They gave me a half-paid sabbatical, and so I got my job back, but I had to work for them for three years after I came back.
Good. What was Charlottesville like, living in Charlottesville for that year?
There’s a lot of history down there and I just enjoyed taking that in. But I was older then.
Yes, and you got to appreciate it.
Yes. I was like forty years old when I was working on my doctorate. But the one thing that I liked because I got what’s called a minor in constitutional law, I could take any law class that I wanted as long as I had the professor’s permission. I’m looking at this catalog and it says ‘legal education,’ and so I thought, ooh, I’m interested in education. I went into that and I didn’t realize that it was an LLM class.
What is LLM?
It’s for those that are working on a master’s in law that have already gotten their JD degree. But it was twenty-five students in the class. There were only five Americans; the rest of them were from all over the world. They didn’t have their family there so we became very close and we would go out to movies on the weekend and then before school was out in May we went to Virginia Beach and rented a cabin down there. We became really close during that time so that was a really fun time for me.
Wonderful. How did you get to Las Vegas?
Well, my mother brought me out here in 1998 for my fiftieth birthday. That was my first time here. I just got tired of the snow because one time in Virginia we had thirty-seven inches of snow in five days and I just said, “That’s enough.” I had seen how warm it was out here.
But what really turned me on was that I heard about Mayor Oscar Goodman talking about the Mob Museum, and I thought, this is the place for me, because I had done my doctorate on the United States Marshals and I knew both sides. I had written these teaching units about 1935. When I was teaching we had the fiftieth anniversary of Fairfax High School in 1985, and so I looked at everything in 1935 and my students did reenactments of things going on then. We had access to the Federal Theatre Project papers from the 1930s. The real papers were at George Mason University. My students took little excerpts and recreated that. That’s how I got interested in it. I had all these documents about the cops in the thirties and everything, so when I heard Mayor Goodman talk about that I thought, I want to be the first educational director of the Mob Museum. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
But you got here.
Yes. Also, I met Lee in December of 1985, December twenty-seventh, 1985, and I was working on my doctorate at the time. The director of the marshal service in Virginia said, “Well, there is a famous trial going on in Kansas City, and so I’m going to call up Marshal Koury and tell him to let you in.” My family lived in Kansas City, so I went back there for Christmas. This was called
the Argent trial, A-R-G-E-N-T. It was about nine defendants who had skimmed funds off seven casinos here in Las Vegas. But the trial was held in Kansas City because Nick Civella was the one that hatched the idea and he lived in Kansas City, so that’s why it was there. Oscar Goodman was the defense attorney for these guys.
You got to see him in action?
Yes. When I came there and Lee took me in, Mr. Goodman kept looking at me and kept looking at me. I asked Lee, I says, “Why is he looking at me like that?” And he says, “He doesn’t know who you are and he thinks you’re a surprise witness.” The trial had been going on for a few years by that time. It had been going on since ’81 and this was ’85; it was near the end. He thought I’m going to spill the beans or something. It was the first time he’s ever been speechless, I think. That’s how I had my background and I thought, oh, maybe I can talk him into hiring me (at the Mob Museum).
That is great. What happened in the Argent trial?
This was a defeat for Mr. Goodman. They were found guilty. It’s not mentioned in the Mob Museum and that’s probably why. The movie Casino is loosely based on that. When you go to the Mob Museum behind there is like a little room with the money and everything, that’s the only clue to what happened there. But now when I went down there a couple of months ago, they have an exhibit called The Mob on the Run. It says ‘1981, Kansas City,’ and that’s about the Argent trial, but they never mention the word Argent. The Balistrieri brothers were from Milwaukee and they were the only ones that were acquitted, but the other ones were found guilty. However, one of the Civella brothers died during the trial.
Interesting. After that…So, 1985, you didn’t have your PhD yet.
Until ’91. I was working on it all that time, for about six years.
Oh yes, it takes a long time to write that dissertation. What was your dissertation?
It was “The Portrayal of Federal Intervention of Domestic Disorders in U.S. History Textbooks”. What I did was I took fifteen domestic disorders, such as the Whiskey Rebellion and Wounded Knee, and anything that the U.S. Army and the Federal Marshals were involved in, and so I looked at the background described and knew what was going on; were the constitutional issues described; was the delegation of authority described; and then the adjudication of the case. Fifteen issues. Oh, the Pullman Strike was another one. But I think the Pullman Strike was the only one of fifteen that clearly described the role of the army and the marshal because everyone else said it was the army when sometimes it was the marshals. The marshals’ role was always diminished because they were never given credit for what they really did. Why I picked the fifteen things were all of them had U.S. Marshal’s involvement in it, but it was rarely mentioned.
I went to different marshal offices and got the documents. I used all primary sources. I went to the FBI. I went to the Marshal’s Office. I visited different Marshal Offices around the country at my own expense to get information because nobody had ever done this.
I guess not. That’s interesting. When do you finally move to Las Vegas?
It was August fourteenth, 2002. It was a hundred and fourteen degrees.
You remember that.
What were your plans?
I had applied for a job at UNLV. I applied before I moved out here, and so I said, “Will you be hiring adjuncts?” And they said, “Yes.” I came out on a wing and a prayer. I retired there, thirty years in Virginia.
Thirty years teaching?
Yes, thirty years. I came out here. Then I’m also very interested in art education and that’s again from my father. I went to the Nelson Gallery of Art and took lessons from the time I was ten years old. When I taught I always taught understanding history through art. Then I came out here and the Venetian had that Guggenheim Museum, and so I contacted them and I said, “I’ve worked with art museums, the National Gallery and things like that.” I said, “Do you need an education person?” She said, “Well, yes, we probably do.”
It was very loosely thought out. I came and the week after I got here they had a reception for one of their exhibits, so I went there and just kind of mingled around. I didn’t know who it was at the time, but it was Elaine Wynn. She was talking to me and I didn’t realize who it was. Then there were a couple of other guys and I was just trying to tell them about our program and everything, and he says, “Oh, I want my daughter to come to these classes.” He was the director of the Board of Regents at the time. This would have been 2002. It’s like Seagrass1 or something like that.
1 Douglas Seastrand was a NSHE (Nevada System of Higher Education) Regent from 1999-2005. https://nshe.nevada.edu/ldeadership-policy/board-of-regents/former-nshe-regents
2 Prior to July 1, 2007, the College of Southern Nevada was known as the Community College of Southern Nevada.
Then this other guy walked up and they said, “Dr. Miller is trying to get a job at UNLV.” This gentleman says, “Well, why don’t you come over to my college?” And I said, “Well, which one is that?” It was College of Southern Nevada, but it was a different name at that time2. Six months later they called me up and they said, “Do you want to teach the law class?” I didn’t even have
an interview. I said, “Yes.” He said, “Okay, come on over and get the book. You start next week.”
Where was that?
In the College of Southern Nevada. It was the guy that eventually got fired, the dean.
No, he was a vice president. Because he was hiring some non-qualified people.
This was at the same time that Carol Harter was at UNLV.
He was at CSN.
I remember him. You just taught the one class?
No. I taught different classes. I mainly taught the Nevada School Law. I taught the Praxis Review, reading and writing. And then I created that Acting for Teachers class. The director of the education department really wanted me to teach that, so I created that and I taught that for one semester. That was interesting.
How long did you work at CSN?
Seven and a half years.
Good. Did you enjoy those years working there?
Good. Which campus?
I was everywhere. I was at Cheyenne. I was at West Charleston and Henderson and Green Valley.
You were all over, fantastic. During that time you also began to work at the fort?
Tell me about that. Tell me how that happened.
I moved here in 2002. I got the job at CSN January 2003. I went to Alaska on a cruise. I had dealt with the National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places Department, and I said, “I’m going to Alaska on this cruise, but it’s an educational conference and I have to give a workshop,
and so I’d like to have some of your Skagway lesson plans.” They said, “Okay, but we need you to create one.” I said, “I’m moving to Las Vegas.” And they said, “Okay. Well, you’ve got a couple of options here. You can either do one on the fort or you can do one on the Boulder Dam Hotel.”
I decided to do one on the fort. That’s how I got started. I went down to the fort and then I went to UNLV and I saw all this stuff, all the letters and everything of Helen Stewart and all that. That’s how I got involved in that. If you go on their website, actually mine was the second lesson plan that’s ever been done on Nevada. I think now they maybe have three or four.
Second lesson plan for whom?
For the National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places. Now they are all online. They used to be paper format. I saw all that and it was kind of funny because I was with the Nevada Women’s History Project and they asked me to do with…the interpretations. She is at the Smith Center.
Yes, Kim Russell. Kim and I—this is my first performance—were at a Christmas there; it must have been Christmas 2003 at Kay’s house out there in Summerlin, the opera. She is deceased now, but we did it at her house. Then I just got started and started doing performances as Helen.
You’re talking about Helen J. Stewart. You were doing what we call a Chautauqua. Tell me what a Chautauqua is.
To me it’s interpreting the life of that person and becoming that person, so you speak as that person and make them come alive. You’re not impersonating. I hate that when somebody says that. Mayor Lee gave me the biggest compliment yesterday because he was at the Andress’ anniversary party. He says, “I remember you. I was sitting out in the cold watching you at that dedication. You’re amazing.” That made me feel so good. Senator Bryan and I were freezing. It was like fifty degrees and the wind chill was making it forty. That was 2011 and people still remember me and that’s what makes me feel good because they think that I can keep history alive.
We were talking about Chautauqua. It’s making that person come alive. How did you start doing Helen J. Stewart?
Just finding the documents at UNLV while writing the lesson plan, so I knew they were in existence. And then Ms. Townley, I saw her portray Helen J. Stewart one time at the fort, so then that gave me the idea. But I had done this in my classroom. I did fifteen different characters, and this is my first character here.
And this picture, how old are you?
I was three years old.
And who are you doing in this picture?
I’m just a little cowgirl and doing a tap dance with my little wooden horse there. But when I was teaching—and that’s how I got National Teacher of the Year, I think. I had gone to France and I had gotten slides over there at Napoleon’s house, and so I talked about Josephine and became Josephine and talked about Napoleon and all this stuff. But I had the actual pictures there to show what our life was like and coming into our house. I did Joan of Arc and I did James Madison. I dressed up. In 1987, I guess, is when I first started doing them in the classroom. I was being evaluated and the outside evaluator came in when I was doing this Napoleon thing. She was a French teacher and I would speak in French a little bit and I thought, God’s telling me this is what I’m destined to do. I had done this all through my teaching career.
Wonderful. What kind of places did you perform here doing Helen J. Stewart?
I did twenty-one different things during the 2014 sesquicentennial, twenty-one in one year. I did civic groups that asked me, the Junior League. I think that’s probably the first time I met Donna [Andress]. Then these women’s groups, Nevada Women’s History Project, of course. They would do things down at the fort. I spoke at Michael Green’s history class one time and AAUW [American Association of American Women]. I have all the speeches. The Air Force Wives, I spoke to them. I would change the speech to fit the audience every time. Then I met some of the family.
The Nevada Women’s History Project was instrumental in getting the Sarah Winnemucca statue and that’s when Chris Macek, who was the supervisor at the fort, he had approached the Women’s History Project to do a statue at the fort of Helen J. Stewart, and they were tired and they didn’t want to do it. Then when he told me that, then I just took that on. When I became president in 2008 of the Women’s History Project Southern Region, I said, “I’m going to get it done.” Then we had that opening gala September nineteenth, 2008, and then we had the crash a month later and we made like five thousand dollars at that one thing and then we couldn’t make any more money. Then I found out about the grants through the city, and so I applied for one of those.
You’re talking about the centennial grants.
Yes. That was a godsend. I applied for that. Lee came with me to that and that’s when Mayor Goodman was there. One of the guys says, “Is that enough money?” He was ready to give me more. Benjamin Victor did the Helen J. Stewart statue because he had done the Sarah Winnemucca one.
Now, were you instrumental in the Sarah Winnemucca statue, also?
That was done before, okay. This was the Helen J. Stewart statue.
Which one is in Statuary Hall?
How many statues do we have of Helen J. Stewart?
There’s the one at the fort. There’s the one in the mayor’s office, the smaller one. Then there’s one at the Nevada State Museum.
Is it a small one at the State Museum, also?
Yes. It’s right at the check-in desk there.
Okay, I know where the desk is. You got over thirty teaching related awards. You were just talking about how you enjoyed teaching and how you were Teacher of the Year and all of that. What is the most meaningful award out of all of those awards?
I think the most meaningful was the National Council for the Social Studies National Teacher of the Year because that allowed me to be in a competition to go to Russia. What happened was Senator Bill Bradley wrote the bill, President Clinton signed it, and it was called Teaching Excellence. They invited only two hundred teachers to apply for this Teaching Excellence Award and it was only national award-winning teachers for the last five years in various subjects, and so I was one that got to apply. I had been to Russia in ’93 with the National Council for the Social Studies, and so I think that helped me get that. Out of two hundred teachers, I was invited and was one of twenty-eight teachers selected to go to Russia in 1998.
We had companion Russian teachers and we met them at the University of Delaware in the summer in ’98. We were doing different presentations and I was doing a reenactment. This Russian teacher came up to me and she says, “Acting and history is very good.” Her name was Olga Boltnava and we’re friends to this day. We requested to be at each other’s schools, and they said, “Oh, they’ll never let you do that.” And it happened. I went over there for two weeks and then she came over. I had ten students the first year. Then she came over. It was a three-[year] program. She came over that year with her ten students. It was 2000-2001. The second year we went there in April of 2001 and they were supposed to come September thirteenth, 2001, and, of course, 9/11 hit and they didn’t come. We had everything planned, all these events at Ford’s Theatre and all that. The kids the year before had gone to the White House and they had gone to Congress and gone to Busch Gardens, everything. They didn’t come for two months, so they came two months later. But by that time it was totally different. You couldn’t get into the White House. D.C. was locked down. It was nothing like the experience before.
Then they would not let us go back the following year. The superintendent said it was up to the principal, and the principal would not allow us to complete the third year. The State Department paid for this and they were willing to let us fulfill that and my principal turned it down.
But then that got me involved in the Open World program here in Las Vegas. When I was teaching at CSN in 2005, Judge George3 came and did a Constitution Day presentation. I said that I’m having Mary Beth Tinker come to class and I said, “Would you like to come meet her?” I went off on a limb and got funding for her to come. She’s the one that did the black armband back in the day4. She came. He says, “We need you for our Russian judging program.” I did that for ten years with him.
3 Lloyd D. George is the Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. https://www.nvd.uscourts.gov/court-information/judges/judge-lloyd-d-george/
4 In 1965, Mary Beth Tinker, her siblings and other students in Des Moines, Iowa were suspended for wearing black armbands to mourn the dead on both sides of the Vietnam War. In 1969, The American Civil Liberties Union took their case to the Supreme Court where the Court ruled in a landmark decision that students in public schools do have First Amendment rights. https://www.aclu.org/other/tinker-v-des-moines-landmark-supreme-court-ruling-behalf-student-expression
That sounds great. I like the Open World. That’s wonderful. You were a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
Yes, I still am.
Getting back to Helen J. Stewart, for somebody who is listening to this, tell me who Helen J. Stewart is and why you thought she was important enough to reenact her life.
She was the founding mother of Las Vegas. She was the one that owned all the land and sold it to the railroad. But she was a gutsy woman. She did everything. When her husband died she just walked on—the symbol of her taking that door down and making the coffin from that symbolized what a gutsy woman she was.
Tell me about the casket. I didn’t know about the casket.
She tore a door off the house to help make the casket for her husband. But she was all encompassing because her faith was very big for her. She was Episcopalian, like me. Very few people realize that because (her funeral) was at the Methodist church. The reason that happened is because the Episcopal bishop was out of town and their church on Second Street and Carson Street was too small, and so they closed the business down. They had three hundred people at her funeral and only the Methodist church could house that. That’s why I wanted three hundred people at her statue dedication, and I think I got it, too.
She did so many firsts. She was not the first woman to serve on a jury; she was one of the first women; there were four women on that jury. She was the first woman to serve on the school
board. She was not the founder of the Mesquite Club; she was a charter member. That’s a correction that everybody needs to understand. She did not give the Paiutes the land; she sold the land to the federal government and they made it part of a reservation and then they developed it.
Someone has mistakenly said that she gave land to the Paiutes?
Yes. She deeded the land to the federal government. I had that deed ceremony in 2014 with Deborah Connolly, and it was so much fun because we had the Paiutes there, but she reenacted the whole thing with the stamp. We read the actual document. The Paiutes told me that they had the document, but then they could never find it and give it to me. We looked it up through the clerk’s office there and found the actual document, and so I had people read different parts, reenact that. That was 2014. That was one of the activities for the sesquicentennial.
That’s an exciting one. In November—I don’t know which year. Helen J. Stewart helped to shape Las Vegas. She was a member of the League of Women Voters?
That’s when I had a ceremony in November of 2016 at the League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters wasn’t in existence at that time. She was a member of the Federation of Women’s Clubs, which started in 1916. But I had there at the League of Women Voters was that I got her nominated for a Woman of American History by the DAR, so we had that ceremony. I just got that award in March of this year.
That’s great. You talked about all of the accomplishments of Helen J. Stewart, but we talk about other people probably as much or more than we talk about her. Why do you think that is?
Because very few people know who she is. If you ask somebody that’s gone to school, she’s not in the textbooks. They have no clue who she is. There is no way of them knowing it. I go to Christ Episcopal Church that’s her church. I had that plaque made with pictures from the dedication because our Episcopal bishop spoke at it and everything, and put it up there, and the members of the church don’t even know because they will not talk about it. That’s why I want to say we should recognize her birthday every year because she is one of the founders along with the Squires of Christ Episcopal Church. Everybody has heard of Molly Brown all over the country, and Helen Stewart did a lot more than Molly Brown did.
Exactly. I agree with that. If we had in front of us an actual map, tell me where Helen J. Stewart actually lived.
That’s near Cashman Center. She had two thousand acres around there, so that would go up to the Springs Preserve. Then the Golden Nugget, the relatives, they still own the land around the Golden Nugget. But after she sold the land in 1902, then she moved down to another house near where the old Fifth Street School is today.
Really? On Las Vegas Boulevard and Fourth; that area?
There is a little house in there someplace?
I don’t think there is still anything in existence, but, yes, she built that house because her older son lived nearby and he was on the Clark County Commission.
But now, her actual home where she lived—okay, there was one in that area, but prior to that there was one…
At the fort.
She lived at the fort?
Yes. It’s out on the fort grounds, the house.
I didn’t know it was on the fort grounds.
Yes. In fact, it’s built into the wall there. Where they have that old historic building that shows the brick wall, that’s basically in that area. There is like a little brick outline to show where the house actually was. It’s right in that fort grounds.
Fantastic. At one point were you employed by the fort?
No, I was never employed. I was just always a volunteer.
But you worked down there as a volunteer.
And I was on the board. I was the director for a while. I was on the board for ten years.
Tell me about the work of the fort.
They do a lot to try to preserve the history of this area and they have a lot of programs. They have a lot of children’s programs. When I was there we would celebrate Helen Stewart’s birthday on April sixteenth with teas because that’s what she would have back then. She was not really adept at conservation, but that’s what they had. Now they’re having blacksmith classes where they’re teaching the kids how to build different things and they make the bricks out of mud. Then they have cook-offs with the kinds of food that they would have eaten back then. They’re doing things about the plants. They restored the creek. It had been dead for years, so they have kind of restored that back. They’re doing all kinds of historic restoration projects.
Tell me about your book about Helen J.
I got a lot of photographs because that’s what Arcadia is always interested in. In fact, when I did the outline of it—I’m sure I told you this—the gal says, “You’ve got Helen Stewart in every chapter. We’re not a biography. We’re a local history.” Well, she was the local history. They
were so clueless of what she actually did. What you saw in the final product is not how I started out. I had to think up different things and thank goodness for UNLV and Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas and Carson City. I had gotten some things there. Then I got something from Bunkerville. I got pictures of different places because it was hard; I had to have a hundred and eighty pictures and then the cost of it. Fortunately, UNLV cut it down because you knew that you don’t make much off that. But I’ve given all the money to the fort. I never took anything from that. It’s like a resurgence now. The National Atomic Testing Museum is selling more books now than ever of my book, so that’s really good.
That’s good to know. You said that Helen J. Stewart created a civilization here. At one point she had planned to live here for a year, she and her husband, and then they were going back to civilization. What happened?
Well, he died. He was murdered, so that changed plans. I wondered, why did she stay? Because she had that beautiful house, that Victorian house in Galt, California, and living in this adobe shack. She had a good life. She went to that boarding school kind of thing when she was out in California, and not everybody could have their house brought cross country and recreated over there. They had to be well-off people. I have no idea why she decided to stay.
Getting back to the Chautauqua presentation of her life, because people didn’t know her, do you think this helped the process?
Oh, absolutely. When I did the twenty-one presentations, I did it at various groups all over. I did school groups. One group would ask me; they would hear about it. It was all different types of things. We had some good newspaper articles. The statue dedication brought some. Even when I did the thing with the League of Women Voters, we got press there. I was always trying to get press. It’s so hard. I got things in the newspaper so that people will read it.
That’s good, yes.
But this is everything I’ve done. This book represents everything I’ve done.
I’ve never seen a notebook that size.
It’s unwieldly so I’ve divided it in half. I had five notebooks when I started out. You guys have turned it into online things, so that’s good. But there is stuff at UNLV, there is one at Nevada State Museum, and then one at Carson City, and then…I had one more somewhere.
Los Angeles? Phoenix?
I don’t remember where I put the other one. This way it’s accessible to people. But this kind of thing, you have to do it hand by hand, so I’m dividing it into half, but I’ve got the pages. This is my very first picture.
First picture of you in Las Vegas?
No. As Helen Stewart.
Let me see. One of the things that I’m going to ask you to do at one point—oh, that’s great. One of the things that we’re going to ask you to do at one point is to share some photographs.
Oh good, yes, I’ll do that.
You can just scan a few and send them to us so that we can use it in the book. As a board member of the old fort, what does a board member do?
They have about ten meetings a year that we go to and make decisions. This is the only board that I’ve been on that really makes the decisions. I was on the board of the National Atomic Testing Museum, and so we have the board meeting, but the executive committee makes all the decisions. They just told us what to do. We decided on every little thing, like buying candy or what kind of events, making the calendar, and then, of course, there’s cutbacks and things like that. Every aspect of functioning of the fort we talk about.
Talking about Las Vegas, been a member of the fort, working with the Junior League, did you talk about the Women Voters League?
I’ve spoken for them.
You have spoken for them?
Yes, I’ve spoken at one of the groups. In fact, that was way back. I forget the gal, Mary somebody who had short blond hair.
I was getting ready to say the woman who works at CSN right now.
That’s Sandra, no. This was somebody else. That was one of the first performances that I did outside.
You get to look at the value of something like oral history. It is history, acting and orally. Speak to the value of being able to do what you’ve done.
Because kids aren’t going to read a book. I tell them in fifteen minutes what it was really like. Even when I was teaching the kids would say, “Oh, I don’t know what’s happening next.” They were feeling like they were part of the gang or something when I was talking about Dillinger or whatever. It makes them remember it better.
Oh yes, I believe that. Are there any other milestones in your life? We talked about Helen J., some of the organizations, the fort. What other things have you been involved—the book, tell me about the book.
The USS Nevada book that I did in 2016. That was after I took the USS Nevada veterans to Pearl Harbor for the seventy-fifth. I organized it under my DAR group. I got funding—well, the guys came to Las Vegas in 2016 for the centennial of the ship. My DAR group met them at a couple of different places: at the South Point, at the Atomic Testing Museum, and the State Museum. They spoke there and I was just fascinated. Then I went up to Carson City and saw some of them up there. I was talking to Attorney General Laxalt and I had an idea. I said, “I want to take these guys to Pearl Harbor.”
Then I contacted the Public Affairs in Pearl Harbor. I saw this seventy-fifth anniversary committee and it says, “If you know a World War II veteran, contact this office.” I contacted them and they said, “We’re looking for people like you because we want the veterans to come.” They got funding for them and a companion for airfare, for the hotel, and for all ticket events thanks to Gary Sinise and Linda Hope and the Starwood Hotels.
I had a delegation of forty-five people. We had Nevada DAR, we had Hawaii DAR, and it was amazing to see those guys treated first class like they should be. We went to the USS Nevada Memorial and had our own dedication ceremony there. One of the guys who lives here, John Galloway, he dedicated a plaque there at the memorial. We’ve stayed friends all these years. I decided that I would honor them for their D-Day event and I organized a ceremony, again, at the USS Nevada Memorial to represent that they fought at Normandy. Nobody knows that. Everybody thinks the USS Nevada sunk at Pearl Harbor. It just beached. It got repaired after a year and it went on to fight. It went on to fight in Normandy and Iwo Jima and Okinawa and Cherbourg. Then they sunk it after they did the atomic testing on it.
But each of the guys that I took with me represented a different phase. I told them, I said, “Have you got an oral history? You guys have got to get an oral history.” Because they can still remember it like it was yesterday. Oh, we lost power. We shot seven planes down. Only one of them said, “Yes, I did an oral history at the small university in Texas.” I know that the federal government has got that oral history for World War II veterans, but they haven’t gotten that done and they should have it done.
Yes, because usually it’s somebody in a community someplace that does that and sends it in to be a part of that project.
But they’re all over the country. Now, one of the guys lives here. He was not on the Nevada. He lives down the street from me. He came down to that event and saw all of them and then he just kept going to events with them. I said, “Well, you know these guys. Why don’t you come with us?” He was in the army. He just turned ninety-four a couple of weeks ago.
And he lives here in Las Vegas?
Can he tell the story about what all—well, he can tell his own story.
Yes. He didn’t get in until ‘44, I think, but he was in thirty-six years. He was in Vietnam and he was in Korea and Samoa.
What is his name?
Colonel Norm Zeller, Z-E-L-L-E-R.
You retired from school teaching from CSN and you just continued to do the acting. Did you still have your hand in at all at CSN?
Okay, completely retired.
Well, it’s not retired. I just quit. I didn’t get a retirement from them because it was only part-time.
Right, because you were an adjunct. Where do we go from here? What is the future of the fort?
I would like to see some more recreations. I wish they would recreate the house, rebuild it.
Tell me about your book. How did you decide to write the book, the Helen J. Stewart book?
It’s just because there was so much information and I just put it together. I wanted to tell more, but they said, “Oh no, we’re just inscribing the pictures.” It was really hard. Kelly, she was at one of the events I was at the Nevada State Museum. I hadn’t seen her in like seven years.
This is Kelly at the News Bureau?
Yes. She would help me so much down there because I didn’t know how to scan the pictures. She was really helping me. I just was totally clueless about…I didn’t realize it was her.
That’s great. Tell me about the book.
It has a little bit—it starts out, of course, with Helen Stewart, but then I go all the way through—it starts in 1855 and it goes up to 1935. I talk about the beginning, the Helen Stewart part, the ranching part, and then there’s a big part on the Boulder Dam era, and then I talk about now with the Helldorado days and my reenactments.
You jump from about a little after World War II, you jump almost to the current?
No, no, no. It begins 1855 to 1935. It stops in 1935. Then I just mention the present day with the reenactments.
Good. Tell me about Helen J. working with her Native American neighbors.
That was quite interesting when we had the tea when we just had the little statue. We had the Native Americans come and one of them had a picture of her grandmother that had worked for Helen Stewart. That was amazing that they still had that connection. At the statue dedication one of the Paiutes said that she treated us like normal people, not second-class citizens, and so that was quite interesting. They loved her and she loved them.
That’s all I have. Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about, any other topics that you’d like to broach?
I met Lee and now with his passing I try to keep his legacy alive. I’ve donated things to the U.S. Marshal Museum. But in between the time, because I did my dissertation on the marshals, I’ve educated people about the marshals for twenty years.
Does Lee have other things that you’re going to still donate?
The last things that I have to donate are his army stuff and that’s from Camp San Luis Obispo, but that museum has not been responding to my calls, and so Mark Hall-Patton knows that area and he says, “Well, be patient. They’re a small place.” And I thought, if they’re not even answering my phone calls, do I want to give them any of my stuff? That’s what Su Kim said the other day. But they finally called me last week and they said they would call me on Tuesday and, of course, I wasn’t here. The stuff that I have, if they would display it…He is a local kid that was stationed at that area where that museum now stands. I’ve got the paperwork. I’ve got, it says, Sergeant Lee Koury that was on his desk. I’ve got like a yearbook of that camp—it’s in pristine condition—that they should have. His flag, the case was given to me by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department in that same area. Every document that I have from him is from that area. They’re going to have to convince me that they would show this and they would handle this because I keep getting these comments that oh, it’s run by volunteers. Every museum has volunteers, so it shouldn’t be an excuse. I just want to make sure that it’s well taken care of.
Oh yes, definitely.
I went to Missouri for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial. I plan to go when the U.S. Marshals Museum opens. We recognized him for his contributions that helped me at the USS Nevada Memorial.
That’s wonderful, Linda. Thank you so much. I know that there are chunks that we missed. You were like me, though. There were chunks of time that you were really in school and working as a schoolteacher.
Right. I traveled all over the world because I was a world history teacher, and so that kind of enlightened my class. I went a lot of times with People to People International and went with Mary Eisenhower. I’ve had some good things. That picture on the wall over here—
When you say ‘Mary Eisenhower’—
Yes, President Eisenhower’s granddaughter. That’s one of my awards there behind you.
That’s a nice picture there.
Yes. That’s with Senator John Warner of Virginia, 1986.
Oh good. He’s the one who married Elizabeth Taylor.
Any other awards that you want to talk about that are memorable to you?
I am going to be the incoming president of the Continental Society Daughters of Indian Wars next month and it will be the first organization of a genealogical society that I’ve ever been president of. Lee is always the one who said, “You need a sash,” so I’m going to get a sash.
That’s so good. Wonderful. Do you go to a lot of conferences for these organizations?
Where is your next conference?
It will be in August in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It’s the Sturgeon family reunion. The gentleman that we’re honoring this time, he is my DAR patriot. The DAR, they have a big marker for him. But last year I organized the whole ceremony for his son, and this was in Louisville, Kentucky, because we were having an 1812 grave marking for him. He fought not only in the American Revolution at the age of fifteen, but he fought in the War of 1812 at the age of forty-four. This is part of the Sturgeon family. I organized it. We had forty-five people. I got a little medallion for each of the participants that kind of mimicked the medallion that we’re putting on the gravesite.
That’s wonderful. What is the next project or what is the next thing you’re doing right here in the city?
This is something that I should have been doing. Helen Mortenson and I in 2007, we went to California to do research on Mark Harrington, the one that excavated the Lost City. I had done a lesson plan on the Lost City Museum, and that’s when Eva Jenson was the director out there. What happened was Mark Harrington was the director of the Southwest Museum, so he took a lot of the artifacts from the Lost City in Nevada to California, and Helen has been trying to get them back. Some of them did get returned. Some of them are in D.C. We probably won’t get those back.
He sent them there?
Yes, because he worked at the Southwest Museum. We always talked about writing a book because the only book that’s been written on Mark Harrington is this book by his third or fourth wife. We collected these journal articles that’s got information about him. It needs to get done. With her injury and everything, it just made me more leery of we’ve got to get that book done and tell the real story of Mark Harrington.
That will be a big project.
It sounds like you’re just busy all the time.
I’m so glad that we did this.
Thank you so much.
Family Photograph, 1943; Parents, Grandparents Richey, and Grandparents Miller
Kansas University Graduation, 1970
Mayor Oscar Goodman and Linda, Circa 2003, Armenian Genocide Day
2008 - 60th Birthday at the National Atomic Testing Museum - Linda, Elvis, and Kristi McGinnes, friend from elementary school in Kansas City.
Nevada 150 with Governor Sandoval, Linda, William Peck as Lincoln, and Lt. Governor Brian Kroliki 2013
Valley of Fire Daughters of the American Revolution, Mormon Fort for dedication of Helen J. Stewart Marker, 30 October 2014
Mesquite Club 2016
Dennis McBride and Linda Miller at Nevada State Museum for HATS Day sponsored by the Friends of the Nevada State Museum. 2018
DDAY, Pearl Harbor, 2019
Linda Miller at Helen J. Stewart statue
Sarah Winnemucca Day 2019