Above: Most often remembered as the Busy Beaver Motel, these Shady Cove cabins originally were built as an auto camp by Jesse Miller in the late 1920s. Below: A 1970s advertisement for the Busy Beaver Motel in Shady Cove.

From Jesse Miller to the Busy Beaver

If you're looking for a specific Miller, you might as well be pitching through a haystack. That's because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Miller has almost always been about the sixth-most common surname in the U.S., going all the way back to Colonial days.

So imagine the fun of searching for a Jesse Miller who was born in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1893 and most likely changed his Serbian name to something more American sometime after immigrating in 1907.

Miller didn't make it to Oregon and Shady Cove until 1928, and most of his early life is best described as obscure. We know he was in North Dakota in 1917 because that's when he registered for the draft. By 1927, he was in California, where his first son was born, and shortly after that, he and his Oregon-born wife left for Oregon.

Along the Crater Lake Highway in Shady Cove, Miller had begun putting together the town's first auto camp in 1927. Auto camps were the motels of the 1920s and '30s, a collection of small, private cabins where travelers could get some gas, buy some food, enjoy a vacation, or just stay overnight before moving on. A few of Miller's original cabins still stand.

He staked out his homestead claim in 1926, but he didn't officially file it with the Government Land Office until June 1929. The claim covered 51 acres that today make up the bulk of Shady Cove's business district.

A year before, in 1928, Miller was embroiled in a damage suit for $20,000 against the State Highway Department for ruining his property. Miller accused them of removing 50 shade trees he had planted for his auto camp and of crushing enough rock to leave a 15-foot-deep hole on the property, all without his permission.

The highway department used the rock to repair Crater Lake Highway and convinced the court they had a verbal lease agreement with Miller that allowed them to remove it. The case was hotly contested, but Miller lost.

The auto camp was called Roguedale, and after Miller sold it in 1944, the name stuck through a series of new owners. But then, in 1957, Walter and Mary Jane Sattler acquired the property.

"My folks used to travel back and forth to Kansas," said their son, Dale Sattler, "and my mom said, 'You know, it would be nice to have a motel.' They looked at motels all over the place.

"Well, a friend of ours moved up here, and mom came up to visit. She really liked the area and saw that the cabins happened to be for sale. So they got together and bought it."

It was Mary Jane who decided on the new name.

"Mom named it the Busy Beaver Motel, after the state animal," Sattler said.

Over the years, as tourists passed through Shady Cove, many would remember seeing the Busy Beaver sign, featuring a smiling beaver in coveralls, slapping its broad tale on the ground.

Today, the motel is a memory, and the Busy Beaver sign disappeared years ago, but Jesse Miller's cabins, now rental units, still feel like home.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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