…he died poor, but he was a great man…This book is the story of…the ones who weren’t quite respectable but helped build the great city of the Northwest. The formal history of Seattle has been written many times over; sometimes well; the sons and daughters of the men who moved north of the Skid Road have lovingly told the story of the folk who dreamed the right dreams at the appropriate times. This is the story of the others, of some who tried and failed and of some who achieved success without becoming respectable, of the life that centered on the mills and on the wharves. That is Seattle from the bottom up.”
-Murray Morgan, Skid Road, 1951
Though forgotten by historians, Isaac Miller Hall played a large part in the formation of the city of Seattle. No definitive biography of him has ever been written. Historical journals, territorial newspapers, legal records, and genealogical records are peppered profusely with his name, but no one has ever made a thorough study of his life. As an amateur historian, genealogist, and third great-grand-daughter of Isaac and his first wife, Laura, I wanted to examine why, although Isaac is briefly mentioned in many pioneer journals, books, historical records, etc., he has not been given a laudably clear spot in formal Seattle or King County history. In my research I have reached the conclusion that although he was well-liked and intelligent, he was one of the ones Morgan mentioned as trying and failing, and who dreamed the right dreams, but at the wrong times. He was respected in some ways, but unsuccessful in many others. Thus, despite the company he kept, he was denied his place among the memorable elite of the pioneers of Seattle and King County.
It is not my intention in this study to glorify an ancestor or gloss over his apparent shortcomings. Rather, I would like to truthfully examine his life and times to find out perhaps WHY he has not been remembered; why, for example, his obituary speaks of him as the ‘light of the bar’, and yet, his memory has faded from the history books. His social circle and professional colleagues – Justice John McGilvra, Judge Orange Jacobs, and the like – suggests that he was a prominent man in Seattle society in his time, yet his determination to fail, his alcoholism and ruined marriage perhaps blotted out his memory of their own accord. He was owner of, publisher, and editor of various territorial newspapers, including the Seattle Weekly Gazette, the Puget Sound Daily/Weekly/Semi-Weekly, and the Territorial Dispatch. What kept him out of the history books of King County?
THE SON OF A PREACHER MAN
Isaac Miller Hall – or Ike, as he was commonly known – was born in October of 1841 in Warren County, Indiana, one of ten children of Dr. Daniel Dutton Hall and Jane Jones Buell. Daniel Hall was a descendant of John Hall, one of the first American immigrants of that name, and an outstanding Christian Minister who began the first Church of Christ in Williamsport, Indiana. Dr. Hall was also an accomplished musician and one of the first physicians in Williamsport. Ike’s uncle, Colbrath Hall, was a fire-and-brimstone preaching Methodist minister in the same county. Ike’s mother died when he was five, and three years later his father was remarried – to Ike’s mother’s widowed sister, Frances. In 1852 Ike’s father died, leaving a passel of young children from his first marriage, along with Frances’ young children from her first marriage, (Ike’s cousins) and the one child Daniel and Frances had together, without a father. This summed up to 12 children. The solution was for a relative, Stephen Cissna, to take guardianship of some of the children, including Ike. The state of Indiana arranged to void some of Stephen Cissna’s debt (which amounted to just over $2,000), if he would agree to accept guardianship of the children.
Not much else is known of Ike’s childhood. Family records state that he went to Wabash College, in Indiana, and then became a schoolteacher in Adair County, Iowa, where, in 1859, he married Laura Etta Crane, a spirited and strong-headed girl he had known for many years. In her journals, Laura recalls: ‘…getting married…to the shock-headed, brown-eyed love of her early youth, Isaac M. Hall from Indiana. He was a schoolteacher and went many many times from one school district to another for 2 years which required much moving.’
In 1863 their first child, Eudora May, was born in Williamsport, and in order to make a better living, Ike took a job as an insurance agent for the Arctic Fire Insurance Company while practicing law on the side.
THE MOVE WEST AND THE SEARCH FOR EMPLOYMENT
In July of 1864, Ike and his family left New York bound for San Francisco, intending to make a life for themselves in California. They spent two miserable months traveling and battling severe seasickness (they had to sleep on the open bow of the ship to savor the fresh air) and horrid food, arriving in San Francisco in August. With the help of some local Masons, Ike secured a temporary month-long job collecting water rents in Marysville, California, earning $60 for the month and spending the entire $60 on rent and laundry. But he could not find more permanent work. He was offered a job serving at a local saloon, but Laura vehemently opposed his working there. In September, near starvation, Ike took his small family back to San Francisco intending to send them back to Laura’s family in Iowa, but they could not secure space on any outbound ships. (Laura was ecstatic to be able to stay.)
In October, Ike moved his family to San Rafael to look for work with the help of some local Masons who had known his father back home in Indiana. Ike still wanted to be a school teacher, and the Masons sent him to Santa Rosa to get his teaching certificate; from there they moved to Petaluma, where Ike was hired as a school teacher for 5 months for $50 gold per month. He acquired some measure of success with the children and their parents there, and in March of 1865 the Halls moved to the town of Tomalis in Marin County, where Ike had been offered a job at another school for which he was paid $75 per month.
In July of 1865, their second child, Frank Lincoln, was born at their home in Marin County. The Halls were a happy family and their future in California looked promising. That fall, Ike was nominated for Prosecuting Attorney for Marin County due to his success as a school teacher and his experience doing odd legal work. Laura’s journals tells the result that changed their lives: ‘He was defeated
by three votes, probably a little wrong counting made the difference…This disgusted him with California so he proposed to me that we should move to Seattle in Washington Territory.’
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON TERRITORY
Ike decided to come to Seattle first to look for work and a suitable place to live. He arrived there in November, 1865, and Laura, with the children, arrived a month later. Laura, Isaac, and their children lived with Laura’s parents, Daniel and Catherine Crane, in their mansion on Madison street. Laura’s journal states that by this time, ‘…Mr. Hall was working as compositor on the newspaper.’ That same month, Ike had also hung out his sign to practice law. According to John McGilvra, the first attorney to permanently practice in Seattle, Ike was the second attorney to arrive in the area. The rest of Ike’s career centered around publishing, and the law.
Ike was involved in two of Washington Territory’s earliest murder trials and, unfortunately for him and for his defendants, lost both cases. In the summer of 1866, William Powell, a sailor on the steamer Saranac, shot and killed his wife at Alki Point while the Powells were living on the farm
of Doc Maynard. Ike and Maynard lobbied unsuccessfully for Powell’s release; he was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hanged. (Records do not show that his sentence was upheld, so if it was, it may not have been recorded; the first legal hanging in King County was not until 1877). In the fall of that same year, James McKay was tried for the murder of Manuel Godo, a sailor on the same steamer as William Powell. McKay was convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to fifteen years in the penitentiary. This time, instead of serving on the defense together, Doc Maynard conducted the successful prosecution and Ike, the defense. No evidence has been found, however, that McKay actually served his prison sentence. Ike’s legal record in Seattle was not off to the best start.
PAPER DREAMS FOR THE NEWSPAPERMAN
It appears that Ike wanted to be an attorney first and foremost, but the legal profession in Seattle’s pioneering days was not the most lucrative business, and he began to focus on the publishing field as a means of subsistence. Seattle’s newspaper history and Ike’s part in it include a confused jumble of dates, names, volume and issue numbers; and various partners as owners, publishers, and editors. Also, not every old issue is available or clearly preserved on microfilm, and many secondary sources have to be studied in order to construct a solid timeline of territorial publishing. There is still much more research to be conducted in this area.
It is clear that Seattle’s publishing history officially commenced in 1863 with the Seattle Gazette, published by J.R. Watson. Watson had worked for the Overland Press in Olympia and decided to move north and start his own paper. History books state that the Seattle Gazette stayed in business for about three and a half years before closing. The following 4 year period between 1863 and 1867 is not well-documented. The University of Washington’s Newspaper and Microforms Collection has some images preserved on microfilm, and they also hold some original papers in their Special Collections division, but a well-formatted and precise chronology of Seattle’s printed media during those years is not to be found. It appears that the Seattle Gazette didn’t really close; it just changed hands and names. On February 16, 1866, was the first mention of Ike M. Hall as publisher of a local newspaper in Seattle, the Seattle Weekly Gazette, or the Seattle Gazette. In E. S. Meany’s 1923 history of Washington Territorial newspapers, he states that on this date, Ike became the sole editor and publisher of the Puget Sound Gazette (however, the microform record shows the paper itself titled the Seattle Weekly Gazette). The next month, Ike announced that the paper would become the Puget Sound Semi-Weekly. Curiously, in April, the paper was considered new and the first issue of that month was numbered Volume I, Number 1. The name change and re-numbering may have occurred as a way to christen another ‘new’ beginning for the paper; Ike and a co-worker (perhaps a partner) published a statement in the April 5, 1866 edition of the Puget Sound Semi-Weekly: “In presenting our readers with the first number of our new paper, we do so with confidence, believing that we have embarked in an enterprise which will supply a want which has long been felt on the Sound. We believe that the public will support the Semi-Weekly and that the investment of our time and money shall not have been in vain and it shall be our constant endeavor by laboring to develop the unsurpassed resources of the territory and by the publishing of the current news of the day and useable information, to make our paper well worth the amount charged for subscription. In politics we shall pursue a straight-forward and conscientious course upholding such principles as shall appear to us to be correct though at all times yielding that courteous respect due to the honest opinions of other men. Union in sentiment, we shall support the Union Party in all correct principles and no other.”
To add to the confusion of names, historical articles of the time also state that Ike and a partner published a paper from April to August of 1866 entitled the Puget Sound Daily. Then, on August 11, 1866, the Puget Sound Daily contained this announcement: “… ‘Our paper hereafter will isue [sic] weekly. Our reason for noting the change is that the paper is now too small to accommodate our advertisers and at the same time do justice to our subscribers. We have therefore decided to double the size of the paper and issue it weekly; and in lieu of the Semi-Weekly, we send each of our subscribers a copy of today’s Daily. The Weekly will be issued [sic] on Monday next.’”
Records then indicate that publisher George Reynolds took over the Puget Sound Weekly in September of 1866, but only for 6 months. Meany states that Ike “resumed” his role as publisher of the Weekly in March of 1867: “He had concluded that a sacrifice had been made by discarding the old name. He issued the next paper on March 25, 1867, under the name of Puget Sound Gazette.”
It is at this point in time where the history of Seattle’s printed media usually picks up notoriety and seems more attached to the present. The Museum of History and Industry in Seattle boasts a placard on the front of its Post-Intelligencer exhibit:
“History of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
1863 Seattle’s Gazette, the fifth newspaper on the Puget Sound and the direct ancestor of today’s Post-Intelligencer, published its first issue in 1863. Every settlement in Washington Territory hoped to attract settlers and investors. A newspaper was critical to civic marketing and the first step toward future greatness. Seattle booster Henry Yesler offered the Gazette free space to house the venerable Ramage Press and paid its entire room and board.
“In 1867, The Intelligencer began publishing a weekly edition on the Gazette’s press, using the earlier paper’s subscription list and running its advertisements (italics mine). Nine years later, the Intelligencer became a daily and merged with The Post in 1881.”
E.S. Meany described it thus, continued from his previous quote: “Furthermore, he advanced the label so as to include all former issues, and called that issue Volume IV, number 1.” Although the museum exhibit gives the impression that Ike confiscated an entire print shop and the bulky Ramage press with it, Meany’s description clarifies that Ike merely returned to his old job and his old paper, with a fresh start.
The next mention in Meany’s history is of the suspension of the Gazette and of S.L. Maxwell’s acquisition of the printing materials of such in August of 1867. No reason is given for why the paper was suspended, although it may have been due to Ike trying a new profession.
In his papers, Ike declared himself a fervent supporter of the Union. Historian Barbara Cloud suggests that the Republican party “sought to reward Ike for his support by nominating him to run for county auditor in the upcoming election”. In June of 1867, Ike ran against A.S. Pinkham. There was a tie of 140 votes each, and the constituents had to draw straws, Ike literally winning by the ‘luck of the draw.’ He was also still advertising his legal services “in the Courts of Washington Territory…Particular attention given to collections” in his new office “On Commercial Street, one door South of the Seattle Clothing Store”. Presumably this kept him very busy and he did not have time for three professions at once. But the paper may have been suspended for financial instability as well. Ike’s obituary, in April of 1893, explained that he became the owner of the Seattle Weekly Gazette because practicing law at the time was “not proving very remunerative,” and then states that “he kept up his law practice at the same time, but was unable to make the paper pay, and it died in 1866”. This may be a reference to George Reynolds’ first 6-month stint at publisher.
It has proven difficult to pinpoint exactly why the paper went through so many different owners, publishers and names. It may not have been easy to make a living off of publishing; Ike’s ‘first’ issue of the Gazette in February of 1866 also included an appeal to “subscribers and others in arrears to come forward and settle their bills” and mentions that the lease on their office space was getting ready to expire in March. It is also unclear if it was at this time that Henry Yesler offered up space for the Gazette to continue printing, or if he had done so previous to March of 1866. Whatever the reasons behind the confusion, Meany does make clear that: “[with Samuel L. Maxwell’s acquisition in 1867] began the publication of the Seattle Intelligencer…From that circumstance, Seattle’s first paper, the Puget Sound Gazette, may be counted one of the forgotten twigs in the family tree of the present Post-Intelligencer”.
Ike’s last turn at publishing took place presumably in October of 1870, when he partnered with W. Wilson to take over T.G. Murphy’s Alaska Times. Meany tells the “short but rather spectacular” story: “Alaska Times and Seattle Dispatch. The first printed number appeared on April 29, 1869, and the last on September 13, 1870…On May 15, 1871, it announced that the materials of the Alaska Times were sold to James McNaught who held a mortgage on it. On August 7, 1871, it said that Hall & Wilson, (Ike M. Hall and W.Wilson) who had been publishing the Alaska Times and Seattle Dispatch discontinued their work and turned the property back to James McNaught…”
Ike declared himself independent in politics, and he said he aimed for a circulation of 1,000, which would make the Dispatch Puget Sound's premier newspaper. However, he did not stay with it long enough to make good either claim.
Another source states that Murphy didn’t bring the paper from Alaska to Seattle until October of 1870, and also states that he renamed the paper twice, to the Territorial Dispatch and Alaska Times, and then to Puget Sound Dispatch, before he sold the paper to C.H. Larrabee (one of Ike’s legal partners) and Beriah Brown in September, 1871. And the journals of Ike’s wife Laura, although she rarely discussed her husband’s career, mention that Ike was involved with a newspaper from Alaska; the actual extent of his involvement may never really be known.
E.S. Meany summed up Seattle’s territorial ‘press mess’ by quoting Charles Prosch: “Commenting on these first journalistic struggles in Seattle on August 15, 1889: ‘Thinking there was some virtue in a name, they adopted various titles for their bantlings, but the result was the same – in every stance – the papers would die. The truth was that neither the proper time nor the proper individual had arrived to permanently establish a journal in Seattle. This was during the period of the great civil war, which injuriously affected many interests on the Pacific Coast, and among others that of the press.’ (Washington Press Association Proceedings, 1887-1890, page 30.)”.
Prosch’s quote supports Morgan’s Skid Road dream theory (or perhaps Morgan, writing in 1951, supported Prosch). Ike dreamed of publishing; his wife’s journals and other personal memoirs indicate that he was a fascinating and opinionated orator and extremely well-versed in history, political theory, theology, and literature. He wanted to speak to the people. Perhaps,
as Morgan states, he dreamed the right dream, but at the inappropriate time. Maybe he could not manage the financial aspect of running a paper. All sources indicate that he was definitely a man of words, but not a man of numbers. In early 1883 he and his wife borrowed $1,000 and attempted to start a grocery store, which failed so completely that the loan went to collection and Ike was sued twice. His obituary points out that he “was lacking in that ambition for material success which men call business capacity”. It would seem that Ike was well-respected for many of his talents, but not his failure as a newspaperman. His apparent inability to balance books would come up to haunt him after his election as King County Auditor in 1867.
THE KING COUNTY AUDITOR HAS A SCREW LOOSE
A small newspaper announcement in June of 1868 presaged the turmoil to come: “G. Kellogg, Esq., has been deputized County Auditor by Mr. Ike M. Hall. Ike M. Hall, Esq., formerly connected with the press in this place and lately County Auditor, took passage for Honolulu, Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) on Wednesday last, by the bark Camden. Mr. Hall has left a host of Friends in this vicinity, who will feel gratified in knowing of his success in the new field he has chosen”.
Nowhere is there any mention what the new field is. Although the local Republicans may have chosen Ike as a political colleague in return for his support of the party, it appeared that Ike succeeded only in making himself look incompetent and irresponsible. Rumors surfaced that Ike had skipped town and deputized Kellogg knowing that he had mismanaged the county finances for which he was responsible. Historian Barbara Cloud sums up the situation succinctly: “While he was away, the county fathers declared his post vacant because of his extended absence, and questions were raised publicly about county accounting methods. The criticism reflected directly on Ike, who, in the chief administrative position of the county, had been responsible for the county bookkeeping, and it is tempting to speculate that he left town knowing that a storm was brewing. However, he had carefully arranged for the deputy, and all other signs indicate that although Ike may not have been the most competent auditor, he was not a criminal”.
Ike returned stateside two months later, in August, and moved to Port Townsend. In December of that year, an anonymous “Observer” made public some concern about the condition of the county financial situation and the failure of the County Auditor to disclose the mounting debt of the county. County taxes had increased nearly 30% from the year before and the taxpayers really had no idea how large the debt was. The Auditor
was also responsible for collecting unpaid taxes and he had not only failed to report the indebtedness of the county to the taxpayers, he had failed to attempt any debt collection for those accounts in arrears or enforce any liens on land with unpaid taxes. Taxpayers felt there was a “screw loose” somewhere, and suggested that the neglect constituted criminal wrongdoing for willfully failing to perform elected public duty. Two months later, another complaint was published in The Weekly Intelligencer to the editor again about the condition of County Finances. The Proceedings of the King County Commissioners Meeting from February 2nd stated:
“Held at the County Auditor’s Office in Seattle, on the 1st and 2d days of February, 1869, the following proceedings were had and done, to wit: Ordered, That the office of County Auditor for King County be and is hereby declared vacant, on account of the legally elected Auditor changing his place of residence; and the Board appoints G. Kellogg, Auditor, to fill the unexpired term”.
Apparently, that was that. Ike lost his post, and was living in Port Townsend, without his wife and two children. The county seemed to patch up its wounds, seemingly satisfied that Ike’s silence indicated guilt and remorse, and moved on without him. No records indicate what he did in Port Townsend, except his obituary, which states that he “got into the newspaper business with Al Pettigrove, but after a short time he sold out his interest and gave his entire attention to practicing law”.
LEGAL TROUBLES AND LIQUOR FOR THE LAWYER
And so it was in 1870 that Ike returned to Seattle’s legal scene, meeting in March of that year at “One of the earliest meetings of the bar in Seattle…immediately following the death of Marshall F. Moore, a former governor of the territory…the attorneys who assembled, called Judge Orange Jacobs to the chair and passed resolutions to the memory of the late executive and member of the bar”. After spending two years in ‘exile,’ Ike was apparently forgiven his imperfect business acumen, because in July of 1870, after incorporation of the City of Seattle in 1869, “…the legislative assembly appointed the following as the officials of the first administration: Recorder, Ike M. Hall”. The next year, as related above, Ike took his short turn at the helm of the Alaska Times and Seattle Dispatch.
Very little information has been found on Ike’s life between 1870 and about 1874. In 1872 he was considered one of Seattle’s most prolific lawyers, handling literally hundreds of cases. Newspapers of the time mention he and his wife as members of The International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) and the Independent Order of Good Templars (I.O.G.T.); and Laura was involved in the burgeoning women’s suffrage movement and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). Historian Barbara Cloud, mentioned previously, wrote an essay on Laura’s involvement in local civic activity and political movements. She states: “Before she was 30, she was an officer in the first Seattle lodge of the Independent Order of Good Templars, and she helped organize the second lodge in the city. Later admitted to the Grand Lodge of the state, she was nominated, but not elected, to its second highest office, the highest post a woman could expect to hold. She also worked for the organization of other lodges around the state”.
It appears that although Ike attempted to be involved with his wife’s social and civic affairs, perhaps for good measure, perhaps because, admittedly, she was successful in her pursuits, temperance especially was not to his taste. He became notorious in the territory for his heavy drinking and the ability to work while intoxicated. A colleague recollected: "…Hall was an astute lawyer, given somewhat to over indulgence in alcoholic beverages; I worked in a drug store in the late 60's and early seventies, and have many times in the morning got out the bottle of ammonia for him to sniff, as he said to clear up the fog. He had the faculty of clear thinking even when his legs would scarcely support him".
It was the beginning of 1874 that set the rough course for the rest of Ike’s short life. On January 7 of that year, Ike’s wife Laura filed a Complaint for Divorce against Ike for his behavior as an “habitual drunkard”. She charged him with going on drunken “sprees” that lasted weeks at a time, during which he “neglected to make suitable provision for his family” and that “on or about the first day of September last past, while drunk, the said Defendant threatened to kill said Plaintiff and…she [was] apprehensive of personal danger to herself and children if compelled to remain his wife”. The summons was delivered to Ike in Port Townsend and stated that he resided there, while Laura had been residing alone in Seattle for over a year; so it appears that at some point Ike had returned to Port Townsend. Laura had the children with her in Seattle and wanted to retain custody. The matter came before Judge Orange Jacobs, an esteemed colleague of Ike’s, who mediated a reconciliation and dismissed the case, perhaps more for Ike’s benefit and reputation, than for Laura’s.
Throughout the 1870’s and 1880’s, particularly 1874-1881, Ike kept up his legal practice with many different partners whom, for one reason or another, discontinued working with him. In 1877 Ike was working with C.H. Larrabee (one of the purchasers of the old Alaska Times) and W.R. Andrews until Ike withdrew from the partnership and formed a new one with Eden Osborne that lasted at least through 1880. In December of 1877, the Weekly Intelligencer ran a notice that said Ike was “visiting CA to establish himself there” but it doesn’t appear the establishment worked since he continued residence and practice in Seattle. In 1881 he was elected Probate Judge of King County, in which position he was “…painstaking, precise, and scholarly” and in which he served until 1883.
By October of 1883, Laura had had enough of the drinking and job-hopping, and was tired of being deeply in debt – recall they had been sued for account collection on their failed grocery store in July of 1883. Perhaps inspired and strengthened by her relative success in the temperance and suffrage movements, she again filed for divorce from Ike, and pulled no punches, this time hiring Ike’s
old friend and Seattle’s ex-Mayor, Orange Jacobs, as her attorney. She charged Ike with “cruelty, personal indignities and iniquities” and “rendering life burdensoms [sic]”. When the matter was presented before the court, the divorce was granted immediately and Laura was granted full custody of all three of their children (another daughter, Luella Katherine, was born in 1875). It is interesting to keep in mind that divorce was a rare occurrence at the time. The Post-Intelligencer reported in January of 1884 that only 15 divorces were granted in 1883 in King County. Not only was divorce itself rare, the court ended the marriage the same day – no trial, no deliberation, and no legal wrangling or protestation from Ike. Jacobs had political and legal pull and probably knew what embarrassment his colleague was causing himself, thereby forcing the issue through without delay. The brevity of this case is almost as amazing as the fact that Laura tried to do the same thing 9 years earlier.
Click here for photo.