A Letter Written by Annie Hall from a 1900 Railroad Trip from Spokane to Athena, Oregon

  • By Richard Hall
  • Posted 4/16/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5445

This people's history, contributed by Richard Hall, consists of an eight-page letter written by his great grandmother, Annie Hall (1869-1921) in late November 1900. She boarded a Spokane-bound Northern Pacific train in Edwall, Lincoln County, and recorded her trip in a letter addressed to “My Dear Joe and Children.” Joe is her husband Joseph Banyon Hall (1857-1947). In Spokane, Annie changed to a Union Pacific train that took her to Athena, Oregon. The writing commenced at Tekoa and the letter was mailed, on December 2, 1900, several days after her arrival in Athena. Following the letter is a brief history of the Hall family by Richard Hall.

Annie Hall's Letter

Monday [December 2, 1900] at Aunt Sadie's,

I neglected to get this mailed. Found the folks all well. Went to church last morning. Saw three friends. Knew them all. Am going out in the country with one [on] Wednesday. It’s raining this morning.

Love to all.


On train at Tekoa
Saturday about 9:30

Dear Joe and Children,

As I have my paper and pencil in my handbag I shall write to you during the day but am afraid you cannot read it. This is the “rockiest” old train I ever road on. Well to “begin at the beginning” -- wasn’t it provoking I should forget my colarette! I thought of it the moment I stepped in the car and saw others, but I did not need it yesterday afternoon and it is a lovely morning now.

I spent the day yesterday at the Pacific Hotel. The mud is something awful in Spokane, and I was glad of the “free bus” and 25 cent dinner -- which was good. Well dear me! If they jerk us along at this rapid rate all day I shall be completely worn out. This is their [the railroad’s] flyer.

Now we have stopped at Seltice, about twenty minutes from Tekoa, I think. The conductor got off and unlocked a box which was fastened to a post, I could see in it from my window. It had blanks which looked like telegram blanks. He did some writing, locked it and on we went. I did not see a post office, nothing but one red building -- like a section house -- and a school house.

I got to Rockford at 5 p.m. Nellie met me. [Nelle is a cousin. Annie’s parents have moved from Edwall to Fairfield which is located close to Rockford] I spent a very pleasant evening there. Did not have my telescope checked at Spokane as I bought my ticket to Athena ($6.00) and I wanted to repack the valise so Carl sent a man up to carry it to the train this morning at 8:33. I then checked it to Athena.

We are now at Farmington and as I have been writing ever since we left Seltice you may know about how far it is. Not far enough to suit me as I do not have time to describe one station until we reach another.

From Rockford we pass through Fairfield, Latah where they change for Waverly, I mean those who wish to, then to Tekoa where they changed to OR & N cars for Wardner, Wallace, Burke etc. [Northern Idaho towns to the east of Spokane] Tekoa was not as large a place as I expected to see. It is in farming country but quite hilly. Some very good buildings -- no timber! Next was Seltice. Soon after leaving there I saw timber at a distance. Then came Farmington, a lovely level country and better town than I expected, in a good location. The train circled around the town and as the sun was very grand I was awfully sorry my Kodak was in the baggage car. Now we are passing along a little creek which I fancy is Thorn Creek. It seems to look natural. Now we are at Garfield.

[Rockford, Fairfield, Latah, Tekoa and Garfield are stops on the Union Pacific . The towns straddle the Washington and Idaho border going south from Spokane. At Garfield the Union Pacific tracks head west toward Colfax.]

I forgot to say Farmington had more warehouses than any other town, although there seem to be lots of them here [Garfield]. This [Garfield] is about the size of Farmington [with] some pretty places and one or more very pretty streets.

Now we are getting into the pine timber. There is a crowd of jolly men from the East near me. It’s interesting to listen to their talk about what they have saw and heard in this country. Now we are at Elberton. The most picturesque little place I have ever saw. [The town is] very small, and in the scattering pine timber [are] large bluffs and green grass.

I see we are not going through Oakesdale and Thornton, as Oaksdale was the next station on the map from Farmington. We seem to be going out in a little V shaped road to Colfax and back on the straight road at Endicott. This scenery is just grand. We have crossed the creek several times. It is now quite large. This country is very rough but has small meadow fields near the track and I see [wheat] stubble in the farthest hills.

Colfax! Change for Pullman etc. They are staying a long time here. Passengers are out walking in the walk[way] which is also a bridge over the creek. Now we are passing the fair grounds and race track, which is a “long circle” with a high board fence on each side of the track and a long row of sheds for stables.

Well it must be noon. I am hungry and as I see others eating I think it [is] time to do the same. Nelle gave me lunch.

Now we are at a little station, “Crest.” They flagged the train and two girls got on. The train has been crowded all morning. I took a man’s seat at Rockford and his baby slept in my arms until we reached Fairfield. Tell Beatrice [Annie’s daughter] it was a nice little girl about as large as Marcus, and she had been on the train all night.

Now we are at Diamond -- a place not as large as Edwall. Several nice fields of winter wheat all along here. I see a small orchard. The ground looks yellow with apples and a nice meadow full of Jersey cows. Now a fine yellow farmhouse in a grove.

Now we are at Endicott. Lots of corrals here. They certainly are for shipping stock. Also a good sized lumber yard at the track. Five wagons here loading with lumber. We have stopped to let a freight [train] get in and on the side track. Here a man is plowing stubble with four horses.

Now we are at Winona. The brakeman came through and took a list of those who wish dinner at Starbuck. This is LaCrosse, smaller than Edwall.

Nothing in sight but hills. It is certainly by the Snake River country. This is Hay. I see it is 413 miles to Portland -- was not quick enough to see the distance from Spokane.

This is Snake River hills [for] sure. Men are grading a road. Railroad, I suppose. Hills are covered with sage brush and soil looks like coal ashes [probably basalt outcroppings]. We are winding down a narrow gulch. High bluffs [on] each side. How natural it all looks now. Just as I have always remembered it. Here a wagon road comes down a hill which is almost straight up and down. Here is a large orchard, mostly peach trees I fancy, judging by the shape of trees. Here another orchard. They [orchards] are long and narrow between foothills and railroad. Another orchard and a little station. Now the River!

We are now across it [Snake River] and passing another passenger train. [We have] been on such a curve I could see our engine and luggage [car] from my window. Now I have watched the other passenger train cross the bridge over which we have just came. Now we are at Riparia. It is not more than one fourth mile from bridge -- in sight of it. We follow the river for as far as I can see. It is quite an interesting sight. The little steamer that runs up to Lewiston was here at Riparia. Several row boats [also at Riparia]. Now we have stopped on a side track. It is Grange City. Here we leave the river and go out into the hills. One road goes on down the river and I heard a man say it went to Portland.

Now we are passing orchards and following a creek. It is quite pretty. Too pretty to be passing through without my Kodak.

Starbuck. Twenty minutes for dinner. Spokane 156 miles. Pendleton 94 miles. Here [Starbuck] they change for Pomeroy etc. I took a short walk on the platform. I heard a man say we should leave Starbuck at 1:30.

Now I will tell you about the books which I presume you have gotten today from the express office. I got the “Tom Brown” book for Harry [11 year old son]. It is about an English boy. The “Grandmother’s Cupboard” or whatever it is -- is for Stanton [8-year-old son]. The “Alice in Wonderland” for Gladys [seven year old daughter] and the two little ones for Beatrice [five year old daughter]. I hope they will like them. Tell Gladys I will read her book to her when I come.

Now we have passed Alto. Now I see the top of what someone says is [the] Blue Mountains. It is very warm this p.m. [The] train goes so fast I can neither read or write. It is always on a curve and shoots along so fast. We just passed a station but did not stop. Now we see nothing but fields -- nearly all plowed. Here is a field with four seeders at work and four horses in each seeder.

This is Bolles where they change for Waitsburg and Dayton. Here is the first turn table I have ever saw. Now we have passed Prescott. Now we are coming into Walla Walla Valley. The fields are green with winter wheat. In the distance I see the Blue Mountains white with snow. Now we are in Walla Walla.

The train goes around the town so I could only see it through the trees and over the trees as we got further away. I saw what I think is the fort. We pass between it and the city. I saw some fine gardens. They were green with something. I could not see what.

This is a long and rambling letter and may seem very much like some sermons to you. But I thought it might interest you and the children. Give it to Harry to read, or read it to them all after supper. Then save it for me as I would like to look it over when I get home. I will close it when we leave Weston, as that is only four miles from Athena.

If you have not sent the collarette you must soon for I will be sure to need it. I do not want my black cape. Now we are at Milton [Milton-Freewater the first Oregon city south of Walla Walla]. I see several familiar places. We crossed the old wagon road. [I] was sorry we did not follow it, but from here we go to Blue Mountain Station.We passed a friend’s home where I spent my last night in Oregon, but as the the town has grown so I could not recognize the house. The brakeman told me we are due at Athena at 4:20 -- is not that quick time eight hours from Rockford. We are now climbing a very high hill after leaving the Blue Mountain Station. The track forms a long horseshoe. Now in less than twenty minutes we will have passed Weston and arrived at Athena so goodbye and love to all of you. Anna

A Brief History of the Hall Family by Richard Hall

In 1869, Anna Belle Stafford Hall was born in Lane County near the head of Oregon's Willamette Valley. Her parents' families, the Pughes and Staffords, had migrated by Conestoga wagon from Iowa and Illinois in 1846 and 1852.

In 1874, Anna Belle's father, Wilson Stafford, sold his Willamette acreage and moved his family to Athena in the Umatilla district of Northeastern Oregon. However, Wilson Stafford had, as he later acknowledged, a "roving disposition" and in 1884 he sold his 320 acreas of wheat farmland near Athena and moved north to the Washington Territory.

In Lincoln County, which adjoined Spokane County to the north, Wilson Stafford purchased acreage from the sale of Northern Pacific land grants. His Lincoln County land was located near Edwall. Wilson spent a year tilling soil, planting wheat, and building a new home before he returned to Athena to bring his family north to the Edwall farm. His family included his eldest child, 15-year-old Anna Belle Stafford.

Near the Stafford land was acreage owned by Joseph Banyan Hall. Anna Belle and Joseph soon became acquainted. The courtship of Annie and Joe, as they referred to each other, resulted in an 1888 marriage.

Joseph Banyan Hall had left Potosi, Wisconsin, at the age of 16 to follow the mining frontier. He went to Leadville and Durango in Colorado before the Coeur d'Alene strike attracted Joseph to the Spokane area. Joseph had learned the blacksmith trade and these skills were in high demand in the mining towns. There were always drill bits to be sharpened and freight wagon horses to be shoed.

Joseph arrived in Spokane Falls in 1884 but never left the supply city for the Coeur d'Alene mines. Instead he aquired land near Edwall. He grew wheat and raised some cattle, but was only moderately successful as a farmer. In 1894 he sold the land and opened a blacksmith shop in Edwall.

The Edwall household of Anna Belle and Joseph Hall soon had four childen. While Joe worked in his blacksmith shop, Annie did the housekeeping. She did the cooking and household chores in addition to her child-raising responsibilities. This was hard work and Annie may have been a bit frail from the demands of raising five children. Family letters frequently referred to her illnesses and injuries.

In an April 23, 1899, letter sent to her mother, Melissa Jane Stafford, Annie discussed her health concerns and community news, but the letter hinted that she might like to visit Athena, Oregon, where she was raised. She mentioned the cold, windy weather being experienced in Spokane during late April, and made inquires about her grandmother, Ruth Jessup Pugh, returning to Oregon. “When do you expect Grandma to go to Oregon and will you go with her? If the weather gets good I might get over to see her before she leaves.” Apparently Ruth Pugh, now in her 70s, had come to Fairfield to visit her daughter.

Melissa Stafford probably returned with Grandma Pugh and stayed to visit with the Pugh and Stafford families in the Athena area.

The following year Joseph arranged for Annie to visit her family, friends, and childhood sites in the Athena area. Annie took the train to Athena while Joe assumed responsibility for the four children with the help of a lady hired as a temporary “nanny." This was a considerable responsibility as the four children ranged in age from 5-year-old Bea to 11-year-old Harry. Annie’s trip began after Thanksgiving during the last week of November, 1900.


A copy of the letter from Annie Hall to her family is in possession of Richard Hall, Coupeville, Washington. All citations in the text refer to typed manuscripts and original or photocopied letters in possession of Richard Hall. These include "The Autobiography of Joseph Banyan Hall, 1857-1947," typescript dated 1941; Anna Belle Hall letter dated April 23, 1899; Gladys Hall, letter, August 5, 1899; Wilson McClure Stafford, letter, 1931.

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