Hall, Joseph Banyan (1857-1947): Autobiography

  • By Richard Hall
  • Posted 11/06/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5602

Joseph Banyan Hall migrated to Spokane Falls in Washington Territory in 1884, working as a blacksmith and later raising cattle and wheat. He later went into the hardware business in Spokane. Hall penned his autobiography in 1941 and it is here excerpted by his great grandson Richard Hall (whose notes are in brackets), of Coupeville .

Joseph Banyan Hall

I, Joseph Banyan Hall, was born in Potosi, Wisconsin, November 15, 1857. My parents were married in [Potosi], I think, in 1848. Potosi was first settled in the early 1830s on account of the lead deposits at that place. It soon became a very prosperous mining town which was of very short duration as the mines were soon worked out and at my early recollections the town was on the decline. I have always felt that this town was about the most undesirable place in which to have been raised.

I think I was about fifteen years old when I realized that there must be a better and broader place somewhere outside of Potosi. I began to figure on my future at that time and planned to get away from [this] environment The only idea I ever had of the world was what you could work out of it. Work -- and more work, was all I had ever heard. The best thing I had heard of was a trade, so early in the spring after I was sixteen, I started to look for a place where I could learn blacksmithing. I suppose my parents finally realized my desire so in September they helped me to get started on a three-year apprenticeship in a blacksmith shop [in nearby Lancaster, located about 10 miles from Potosi]. On October 4, 1874, I left home to battle this cruel world and a more cruel boss.

When my three years apprenticeship was finished I quit. For these three years hard work I had received $30.00 the first years, $60.00 the second year and $ 90.00 the third year.


In the spring of 1879 I left for the west. I stopped off at Wellsville, Missouri, to visit my father’s sister, Anna Bentley. In a few days they found me a job. Then I returned home for I had been away three years. I stayed home until April 1, 1880, when I started west again. I landed in Denver, a thriving mining town, where I contacted an old Potosi miner, Mark Stone, who took me to Leadville. [Most of the miners in Potosi were hard rock miners from Cornwall, England. Many of the Cornish miners left Potosi to follow the silver and gold strikes of the Rocky Mountain West.]

Leadville was a new, typical western mining town. There was lots of work there and I found a job the second day. We worked seven days a week on poor food and at a high altitude, which made it not too pleasant a place in which to live and work, but I bought into an old shop and soon had some money in my pockets. In spring of '82, I sold out and went to Durango in southwestern Colorado, in the San Juan country of the Annimas Valley. I stayed here until July, 1883, when father passed away and I returned home again to be with my mother. I soon got restless. [Blacksmiths were in great demand in the mining frontier. They were needed to sharpen the bits used to drill holes for dynamite and to shoe horses used to pull freight wagons that delivered all the necessary goods to the remote mining towns.]

Washington Territory

In April, 1884, I again started west, Landing at Spokane Falls, Washington. I got a job on the road shoeing horses for the Spokane Coeur d’Alene Transportation Company, but they soon went broke. Spokane, at this time, was a new town with good business houses. They were pushing the real estate business then. I stayed at the California House Hotel which stood where the Milwaukee depot afterwards was built. This hotel was the only one in Spokane to run a bus to the depot for passengers. Everything around the hotel was California style, which of course was very different from the east. All business was done from San Francisco. The greatest rush was to the Coeur d’Alene mines.

After the Fourth of July [1884] I left Spokane for Cheney to find George Banfill, an old friend from Potosi. I worked here a week for a man named Mr. Pruner, then went on to Sprague, still looking for Mr. Banfill. I found a way to ride out to Mr. Banfill’s with a rancher. I landed about three miles north of where Edwall is now I found Mr. Banfill living in a small log house with a dirt floor and very little more, although they had lived there five years and had proved up on the land and were doing the same on Mrs. Banfill’s homestead. This was a fine looking country with lots of grass for the stock to graze on.

As I had brought eight hundred dollars with me, I decided to put this with Mr. Banfill’s resources and start a cattle ranch. I went back to Spokane and bought the tools I had used while I was working for the then defunct stage company. I soon started getting a little money with these tools [blacksmith jobs] and started getting ready to put in a crop the following year. I discovered my partner was not a good worker and by spring I bought him out and started the hardest job I ever tackled. I moved into a log house on the land we were farming and started to batch [set up house as a bachelor].

In April, 1885, all of my family came out from Wisconsin to make their home in Washington. This was their own idea - of coming west - as I never expected them, and especially mother, to want to come to a new country with nothing but open spaces and no trees.


I homesteaded this land June 1, 1885, and it was my home for many years. It was about two miles east of Edwall where now the Great Northern Railway comes through I worked very hard here and was fairly well satisfied.

Back in 1884 Wilson M. Stafford bought railroad deeded land next to what was now my place and brought in two hundred head of horses. He had built a fine house and barn, but did not have his family on the place until 1885. The family consisted of his wife and seven children. They were fine people, coming from Oregon, and were quite different from my other neighbors. We soon became good friends and were together a great deal. I had many good meals at their home as we worked together a lot.

On March 8, 1888, I persuaded Mr. Stafford’s daughter, Annie, to join with me "for better or worse" and so we were married. This proved a blessing to me and we enjoyed getting our new home going although we were very hard up. In 1887 I decided to dispose of my cattle as the country was getting settled, shutting off my range for them. On January 16, 1889, our son Harry was born to us -- oh, how proud we were!

In 1889 we had a poor [wheat] crop. A friend of the Stafford’s came up from Oregon and wanted to get into the hardware business, so we went to Medical Lake, Spokane County, and bought a half interest in a store. Medical Lake, at this time was a very flourishing town as it had two railroads and the State Asylum [Eastern Washington State Mental Hospital] had just been built there. The friend backed out, leaving me with a fourth interest in the store. The store was in bad shape -- I had paid $1500.00 for my interest. Finally, they bought back my interest, but all I got was some accounts and a little junk and maybe $200.00 in cash.

We had a good crop in 1890 and in ‘91 I helped the Staffords put in the crop and build a house on the new place they had bought over in Spokane County. We then moved on the old Stafford place which was just next to my place and I farmed both places. About all I had to start with was about 25 head of range horses and a couple of cows and hogs. The ‘92 crop was fair and we just barely got by. In ‘93 we had a good crop again and I felt fine. The harvest was wet and we had a terrible time, but finally in February ‘94 I sold my wheat and cleaned up.

On June 6, 1892 Stanton was born. That was a bad year -- wheat sold for only 20 cents a bushel. Our first girl, Gladys was born December 6, 1893.


In June ‘94 Chester Stafford wanted to come back to the old Stafford home so we built more barn room on my place and moved back. I was doing some blacksmithing on the farm and my wife suggested I quit farming and try opening a [blacksmith] shop in Edwall, which was a town now two years old. I rode back and forth each day on horseback. All I had now was $20.00 and some tools and work horses and cows and a good crop coming up. I disliked being away from all day and riding so far, so we built a home in Edwall, twenty-four by twenty-four feet, one and a half stories high. I traded a team of horses for carpenter work and the lumber cost $152.00. Beatrice was born July 25, 1895, before we moved to town. On October 25, 1895, we moved into our new home in Edwall. Everything was paid for and I felt fine. I worked hard here [Edwall] and we got along very well. Lura was born February 26, 1903.

I sold out my shop and our home in Edwall on October 16, 1910. We lived in the house until June 1911, so the children could complete their school year. I got $1000.00 [in] cash and notes for [an additional] $5000.00, which were paid to me in good shape. I have always felt that this was a fine sale for soon the blacksmith shop was to pass out of the picture. On June first we moved to Spokane.


We had sent Harry to finish his high school and college at the State College at Pullman, where he graduated in Pharmacy in 1911. In Spokane I went into business with E. J. Buss. We bought the North Monroe Hardware store where we worked hard and long. The children -- Gladys, Stanton and Beatrice, went to North Central High School and Lura to the public [elementary] school. This was the year that the South Central High had burned so both North and South High Schools were consolidated. In September, 1916, I sold my share of the hardware store to my partner, Mr. Buss.

Stanton went to State College [Pullman] in the fall of 1912 and Gladys was going to the Academy of Holy Names in Spokane. We built ourselves a home at 1227 West Augusta and moved into it September 1, 1917.

On April 30, 1921, my wife was taken from us by death, which left the family at a loss and I had to face a problem I was unprepared to face. Gladys, Beatrice and Lura were at home at the time and kept the home together.

In September, 1925, Gladys, who had had some college work, took a position in the Portland schools so we sold the [Spokane] home. Beatrice, who had graduated from [Washington State College], first taught in Snohomish, then Ritzville and then went with the Red Cross in Texas. From there she went into the Normal School at Ashland, Oregon. She received a scholarship to Boston Tech [later Massachusetts Institute of Technology] where she was well educated. Upon her graduation she accepted a good job with the Connecticut Dairy Products Corporation. Lura took two years college work at Pullman, then two years nurses’ training at the Deaconess Hospital in Spokane. [Lura obtained accreditation as a registered nurse and later became the Head Nurse for the Tacoma School District.] In 1935 Gladys took a position with the University of Chicago. [Gladys would receive a Masters in Sociology from the University of Chicago. She accepted a professorship with the Tulane University School of Sociology and she taught there for 23 years.]

I then decided to stay on Puget Sound where I can be nearer to my friends, and Lura and Stanton. I hope life will always be as pleasant as [it is] at present.

[Joseph’s son, Stanton Hall obtained a degree in pharmacy in 1916. In 1923 Stanton purchased a pharmacy in Everett where he experienced success in Everett with both Hall’s Pharmacy and in positions of civic leadership. He was appointed to the Washington State College Board of Regents in 1950 and served 10 years as regent, two terms as President of the Board.]

I am now nearly 84 years old and have much to be thankful for and hope to be spared many years more.

[Joseph Banyan Hall died on July 5, 1947, at Tacoma, Washington, six years after having written the foregoing autobiography.]


"Autobiography of Joseph Banyan Hall," Manuscript in possession of Richard Hall, Coupeville, Washington.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You