One of the first questions asked after one of today’s violent episodes that leaves people dead and injured is “Was this a terrorist attack?” We are not the first generation to ask that question by a long shot. There always have been terrorists, real and imagined. And sometimes, as is often the case today, a terrorist or suspected terrorist is identified with a faith tradition.
Herewith, we offer a story of a “terrorist attack” at the home of Missouri’s governor, told on behalf of one Phillip Thomas Miller, whose friends called him “P.T.” He was once the warden of the state penitentiary and is credited with creating a policy that would let convicts have their sentences reduced by one-fourth (in his time) if they behaved themselves in the prison. He thought it would be good for the discipline inside the walls if inmates have a substantial reason to obey the rules.
But before P.T. Miller was the warden of the penitentiary, he was considered a terrorist.
Miller moved to Jefferson City when he was about sixteen years old. He died sixty-two years later in the same house in which he had lived since he moved to the capital city.
Charles B. Oldham told of Miller and the “terrorist attack” in one of the 1914 series of articles on prominent early residents of Jefferson City.
A “swell ball” was held in the original Governor’s Mansion in the late 1830s, before the first capitol (it was known as ‘The Governor’s House” originally) burned down in 1837. As Oldham told the story, referring to Miller:
He was then quite a youngster and clerk for his uncle in the latter’s store. Mr. Miller and some boys with whom he associated were considered too young to invite to the ball, but his uncle, John Miller, and his aunt were there, as were all the men and women of any prominence in Jefferson City. Mr. Miller and his companions could look on from a distance, and that was all. They were chagrined and made. It was proposed that some trick be played upon the merrymakers and soil their fun. In looking about for means of carrying out their intentions, Mr. Miller suggested that he could open his uncle’s store and procure some gunpowder and make a big noise near the Mansion and frighten the ladies out of their wits.
One plan after another was devised and abandoned until finally Mr. Miller suggested that some ten or fifteen pounds of gunpowder should be tightly wrapped in twine with a fuse attachment. This was done, and Mr. Miller and one other boy deposited the layout near one of the windows on the south side of the Mansion, ignited the fuse and scampered. When the explosion occurred, every window in the south side of the Mansion was broken and it rained pieces of twine over many acres of ground. The women screamed, fainted and did other things common to the feminine mind in such emergencies to show their fear. The men, too, were frightened, for this incident occurred at a time when the Mormons were troublesome in this state and threatening. The men immediately imagined that the Mormons were trying to blow up the Mansion. The ball came to an end immediately, for the women demanded franticly that they be taken home forthwith. Mr. Miller’s uncle was sheriff of the county at that time and he made a good thorough investigation of the grounds. The thousands of pieces of twine string puzzled him for a time, but presently he made up his mind that the whole affair was a badly planned joke and that his nephew was at the bottom of it.
Mr. Miller and his companions were badly frightened when they realized what they had done, and although his uncle accused him that night of being in on the plot, yet he would not admit as much until he was assured that no one had been hurt, as was true.
The old capitol burned shortly after that. Months later, armed conflict broke out in northwest Missouri between Mormons and non-believers. Governor Boggs issued the order telling the Mormons to get out of Missouri or face extermination.
The Governor’s Mansion became the temporary quarters during the Civil War of Colonel Henry Boernstein after Union troops ran Confederate-sympathizing Governor Claiborne F. Jackson out of town. It was replaced by the present mansion in 1871.
And P. T. Miller? He became an upright man in every respect and a good example to the rising generation. He was a good business man, a good official, and a good writer. Everybody knew him who had any acquaintance to the city and everybody liked him for his many and good qualities and sterling worth.
The boy who set off a bomb at a time when there were fears of terrorism 180 years ago died an honored man in 1895.
(Photo from the Cole County Historical Society)