There is a beautiful park in Oakland with an amphitheater named for Joaquin Miller. He may not be a household name today, but judging from the worldwide newspaper coverage in 1913, when he died, he may have been Oakland's most famous resident.

He was called the "Poet of the Sierras" and had already made his reputation and fortune when he bought 70 acres in the Oakland hills above Fruitvale in the 1880s. He was born in Indiana in 1837 and grew up in Oregon. He led an adventurous life, living with Native Americans near Redding and going to Nicaragua with William Walker on an ill-fated invasion of that country. He searched for gold in Alaska and fought Native Americans in Idaho. He edited a newspaper in Oregon, where he also studied to be a lawyer.

He started writing poetry in the 1860s, but unable to secure a publisher for his works, in 1871 he went to England and found one. His "Songs of the Sierras" about vagabonds, outlaws, love and sudden death in the West was printed and made him famous.

"Songs of the Sierras" sold well in England, but not in America. Critics said he was made famous by his lifestyle and flamboyant dress, rather than by his poetry.

In the 1880s, he settled in Oakland in the hills above Fruitvale. The cottage he built and named the Abbey is now a historic site. He planted thousands of trees. The "Hights" became the place where Bohemian Club artists and writers would gather to eat, drink and carouse.

Miller was a prolific writer. He penned hundreds of poems and wrote several books. There was a time when his poem "Columbus," with its famous phrase "sail on," was memorized and recited by schoolchildren.

He made the front page of almost every newspaper in the country when he died Feb. 17, 1913. The San Francisco Call reported, "The world is in mourning today for the last of the immortal California trio -- Bret Harte, Mark Twain and Joaquin Miller, said by Lord (Alfred) Tennyson to be the greatest poet this country ever produced."

It was Miller's wish to be cremated on the funeral pyre he built at the Hights on a knoll behind his home. He wanted his ashes to be scattered among the trees he had planted, but his wish could not be carried out because of city ordinances. Instead, the poet was cremated at the Oakland Crematory, with a modest funeral limited to family and a few friends held a few days later.

Then on May 25, 1913, members of the Bohemian Club orchestrated a memorial service at the Hights, with 500 people in attendance. Miller's ashes were scattered in a fire built on his pyre.

"As if in applause at the honor of being done their master the winds of the Hights stirred from over the distant hills, caught the ashes from the flames and bore them to their hundred and one resting places over the Hights," the Call reported.

Miller's widow and daughter sold the Hights to Oakland in 1919, and it became the nucleus of the 500-acre park.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.