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Chapter 2: William Hamilton arrives in 1877
Gives the upriver town his name

(First Hamilton school, 1884)
      Fourth of July, 1884. Lois Pinelli Theodoratus has been a major contributor to the upriver sections over the the last year. As she explains, "In 1881, my grandfather Angelo Pinelli came with his parents, Giacomo Pinelli, mother, Saveria Pannone, and their daughter Maria Teresa Pinelli and her husband Ilario Pinelli." If you've driven near Hamilton, you've seen their namesake road. So we asked her for the perfect photo to go with our exclusive story about Hamilton and she came through.
      "Ellen [Steen] Kirkland [daughter of Tim Steen] gave our daughter a 18x 20 copy of the '1st school house in Hamilton picture.' Following is what she has written on the back: '100 years after this picture was taken, Lisa Theodoratus graduated from Skagit Valley Junior College. The 3 on the right are her ancestors. The Pinellis were good people. Ellen Steen Kirkland, June 15, 1984.' At the bottom she has written the following: 'The first school house in Hamilton July 4, 1884. Note the dressed up people — 29 children, 47 adults.'" Thank you, Lois and Ellen. You've made our day.

This story was was originally posted back in 2002 on our original domain, and since then we have discovered many more details about the Hamilton family. We plan to completely update and extend the story in an upcoming issue. For now, we leave it in its original state. We hope that readers and descendants of the family will suggest ideas and provide copies of photos and documents that will illuminate the story when we update it. We never ask for your originals.

      In the fall of 1876, settler William A. Hamilton moved his wife and two children from Hays City, Ellis county, Kansas, to Washington Territory, first by emigrant train to San Francisco, then by schooner to Seattle and then by steamboat to LaConner. His wife was pregnant, about seven months along, so they stayed in LaConner before moving upriver, probably in McGlinn's hotel. We are not sure if he had scouted out property here before. Maybe he left his family at the little settlement on Swinomish slough while he explored the upper reaches of the Skagit. We do know that daughter Edna Alice Hamilton was born in LaConner on Jan. 30, 1877. She explained in an October 1947 address to the Territorial Daughters of Washington that they finally moved upriver in June 1877.
      They probably moved like other settlers, taking the sternwheeler to Kimble's Landing, which was located south of future Mount Vernon and just below the log jams that had choked the river at that point for centuries. The town was founded on the Fourth of July, 1877, — the year that the lower jam was partly breached. It consisted of a few shacks surrounding a woodframe general store/trading post owned by town founders Harrison Clothier and Ed English, with a crude "hotel" in their loft. Before the jams were completely cleared, the partners arranged for Indians to help the wayfaring settler families such as the Hamiltons, to portage around the remaining upper jam in the river and then transport them upriver by canoes.
      William Hamilton moved to the little collection of rude huts on the north shore of the upper river across from the Coal Mountain mines with something the bachelor miners and settlers hadn't seen for awhile: a wife and family. The family at that point consisted of his second wife, Louise Galloway Hamilton, and their two boys, Ashford, then five, and Motz, age two. William had found an old Indian campsite about a mile up the slope. Indians had been camping there for centuries and knew the sudden violent nature of floods. White settlers did not take the flood threats seriously at first but learned the rushing water's terror from experience twenty years later, to their peril. William built his first house of split cedar as was the fashion then before milled lumber was available. He probably cut and trimmed timber from his own property; maybe he did that while the family was still in LaConner. The alternative was to go all the way down to the Utsalady mill on Camano Island and bring lumber up around the jam. It would be another year until B.D. "Birdsey" Minkler arrived, the settler who built his water-powered mill a few miles upriver at Birdsview. Those years of 1877-78 were ones of considerable migration to the upper river. With the opening of the logjams came some of the most famous early settlers: August Kemmerich, George Savage and Karl von Pressentin, to name a few.

William Hamilton, the man
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      William Hamilton [middle name Alexander] was a native of Kentucky. His birth year is uncertain because he gave different information to three different census takers, but 1836 seems like a happy medium. This is his abridged, very thin genealogy. William descended directly from Thomas Hamilton, who was born about 1719 in Ireland or England and died in September 1772 in Bedford Co., VA. Another family tree says he was Scotch, was born in 1729, and came to the U.S. as an indentured servant. Another says that he was born in the Baltimore area. This family tree is obviously still in a state of flux. He married Ester Sampson in 1753 in Hartford county, Maryland. One of their sons was Thomas Jr. or II, who was born in 1758 in Virginia and died on July 3, 1847 in Johnson county, Kentucky. He married Elizabeth "Bessy" Wright in in 1783 in Bedford county, Virginia. One of Thomas' brothers was Benjamin S. Hamilton, born 1761, and the head of another Hamilton clan. Thomas II and Bessy had a son, David Hamilton, who was born in 1785 in Virginia and died on Sept. 21, 1875 in Floyd county, Kentucky. David Hamilton married Sarah Fitzpatrick on July 29, 1813. William was born to this couple.
      For those of you who are serious about genealogy, be forewarned that the place names of Floyd and Johnson are occasionally jumbled. Both are names of counties. We appreciate the help of Kathy Hamilton from Kentucky, who keeps a family website back there. In the early 1800s, Floyd county covered most of eastern Kentucky. Part of it that is now north of the present Floyd county was formed into Johnson county in 1843. Both counties are southeast of Lexington on the Sandy river, which flows north into the Ashland river at Ashland county. When William married Hannah Baldridge on June 18, 1855 [verified by county records], he rode north from his home county of Floyd to her home county of Johnson. Nearby is the Wilderness road and Cumberland gap. This is a nice coincidence since the creek that separates Coal Mountain and Iron Mountain on the south of the Skagit is called Cumberland and it lies in a gap between steep hills.
      We know that he enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War, specifically in the 24th Kentucky Infantry Regiment. In his area of the state, a unit called The Reserves was originally formed to drive out Confederate units, and that evolved into the 24th about the time he enlisted on Nov. 20, 1861. His service was cut short because a rifle blew up in his face and he had black powder burns on his face the rest of his life. That is one of the few physical characteristics noted in subsequent newspaper stories. After moving around Kentucky a bit, the 24th was sent to Tennessee where it took part in the battle of Shiloh in April that year and then was marched all around Tennessee until the time he was sent home on June 26, 1862.
      William Hamilton would not win any awards for being a classic husband or father. In fact, several of his descendants describe him as a rogue. He had three wives and families, with 13 children who survived and one who died in infancy. One descendant described a visit long ago from a member possible fourth family, but there was no follow-up to that. Although we know little about William's motives, we suspect that he had a bit of the quintessential, frontier peripatetic-wanderer in him. Then again, he certainly suffered hardship, so it is hard to judge him harshly. It would be charitable to note, as some descendants have, that he was a promoter, but unlike today, promoters back then often had to get dirt under their fingernails.
      Unfortunately, we know very little about the Hamilton family's life here in those first few years. Three of the four children by his first wife, Hannah, apparently came with the rest of the family to Washington, but they did not immediately come upriver. A descendant recalls a story that John, the second eldest child by Hannah, stayed in LaConner to work for a couple years and then came upriver. He apparently soon tired of the little village and moved to Mount Vernon, where he got married in 1884. Descendants also recall that Mary, the oldest girl by Hannah, married in LaConner before ever moving upriver; she was 15 in 1877. Some also say that Americas, the youngest daughter and last child of Hannah, also married in LaConner, but that is somewhat unlikely since she was just 12 in 1877. Hannah died back in her native Kentucky in an unknown year after 1865, the year that Americas was born. Their first child, Ira, was born sometime in 1855-56 . Ira did not move to Hamilton. In fact there is no record that he ever visited the family in Washington. Instead, he ranched in Texas and Wyoming and in 1890 he settled with his new bride in Nampa, Idaho, where he died in 1920. Apparently William's father-in-law, William Baldridge, held him in high esteem. The Baldridge family joined Hamilton at his new town in 1886, as we will explain in the next chapter. [We have received a great deal of information about Ira and his family in Idaho and we will discuss that in depth in the updated story.]
      William married Louise Galloway in about 1870. The family assumption was that they had married in Indiana, but now that we know that she was from Tennessee and that he fought there in the war and recuperated there from his wounds, questions arise. Did he meet Louise while he was still in the state while his wife and child were back in Kentucky? Or did he return to Tennessee and meet her there after Hannah died? We hope that a descendant will read this chapter and then contact us about these gaps in our collective knowledge. Meanwhile, we know that William and Louise lived in Indiana, with the first four children by Hannah, until about 1872, when they moved to Kansas. The two youngest children, who accompanied them on their move, were then born in Kansas.
      Alice recalled in 1947 that during the first seven years on the Skagit, William built a second split-cedar home closer to the river. If he was indeed a promoter, he also knew how to dig in his heels for the long haul. Then in 1884 he built a woodframe two-story home down near the shore, which also served as a hotel and general store as well as a meat market. Up until that year, boats often ended their upriver trips at Minkler's Landing on the north shore of the river across the water from Birdsey Minkler's sawmill. Pioneer settler August Kemmerich eventually called that area seven miles east of the Hamilton Landing, Birdsview, in Minkler's honor. In years of high water, such as in 1880, the sternwheelers would push farther upriver. But during the summer in most years, the river level in places would be so low that even the shallow-draft sternwheeler operators could not navigate as far as Birdsview. Starting in Mount Vernon in the morning, they pulled in for lunch at the wharf at either Sterling or Mortimer Cook's general store at Bug (later Sedro) — which he built also in 1884 — and then pushed on to Hamilton to arrive by nightfall. Alice noted that when she was of school age, the Hamilton home/hotel became a popular stopping point and travelers were charged 35-40 cents a day for board and room. According to the Skagit County Historical Society book, Chechacos All, William opened a post office in his store on Oct. 9, 1884. Alice also noted in her talk that this hotel location was washed away by a flood in 1947.
      In the years from 1877 to 1884, two more boys were born — William Maurice (always known as Maurice) in 1879 and Garfield on New Year's Day, 1884. Louise must have been crushed when she lost a baby named Maurice between the births of Alice and William Maurice. From 1884 until the railroad boom of 1889-90, the family got by on proceeds from the business. Maurice insisted during an audio-taped address to a school in the 1960s that they had slim pickings until 1889 when the railroad boom began. The Bates book notes that the Hamilton boys worked very hard with their father on the land by the Skagit to help "clear ground, build roads, fix board sidewalks [and] build [a] city hall." A more prosperous future seemed to be dawning when railroad tracks were laid east from the town of Woolley in 1890.

William Hamilton leaves for good
      Alice recalled that William and his wife built a new, larger hotel in Hamilton near the river in 1890. We were able to verify this when we found a rare old copy of the Puget Sound Mail newspaper from December 1889. That venerable LaConner newspaper has a spotty collection of old issues because of a fire and flood damage, but this burnt issue at the Allen Library of the University of Washington noted that "William Hamilton engages Mr. Marsh to build the first 3-story hotel in the county." But Louise barely lived to enjoy that last hotel, which she apparently named the Mountain View. She died on March 11, 1891, just a week exactly after the town of 372 population voted to incorporate as a fourth-class city. [We have discovered that William and Louise actually sold their new Mountain View Hotel within months after it was constructed. Milton B. Cook from Sterling bought it in the spring of 1890.]
      Louise's death and the family events that followed in that year parallel a clear demarcation line in the development of Hamilton. The town was booming rapidly and the old sleepy days were gone. Stagecoaches were arriving several times a day with financiers dressed in fancy suits and children in the town were swept away in reverie when they heard the bell on the Seattle and Northern Railway locomotive as it pulled into the depot just north of town. The last rails were laid just as Louise died and in April the first train arrived. The line began in Ship Harbor, or west Anacortes, and ran through the famous railroad triangle in downtown Woolley.
      The Hamilton Townsite Company had begun selling lots and building the town in earnest the year before. Was this why William Hamilton got itchy feet soon after his wife's funeral? Esther and Howard, the daughter and son of Ashford Hamilton, traveled to Topeka, Kansas and did some research on William Hamilton a few decades ago and discovered that he sold his properties around town for $48,000. The hard work had paid off, but only for William. From that point on, the children's lives took on the aspects of a Dickens novel. In a letter to family members twenty years ago, Maurice's daughter, Bette Rose, recalled:

      When Papa was about 7 — after his mother died, Grandpa William had a hotel in Hamilton, Washington, which was quite a little town (settlement?) He sold the hotel & part of the sales condition was that he wanted to make the trip back to Kentucky and would be gone a year so the buyers were to board and room the children until he returned.
      When the year was up — they were put out on their own. They all went to a little house that belonged to their father but had been abandoned. Once they were in the house, a young man, gambler by trade, moved in with them to see that they were all right. He saw to it they went to school & got enough to eat.
      Papa remembered being very sick & finally being able to drink canned mild that young man brought him. And he taught Papa to play any card game, although when I knew him, he never gambled & would never bet. He may have as a younger man.
      Grandpa William never returned to Washington — but settled in Oklahoma [actually Arkansas] — where he started another family. He evidently got in touch with Papa and through him, sold some properties he still owned in Hamilton, WA. They corresponded a bit — then finally one of his Oklahoma sons sent Papa word he'd died.

      That would have been sometime in 1922-23. Did William really plan to return for the kids when he left in 1891? No one in the family knows. To his credit, he apparently left provisions for them. Using a critical eye, one wonders why a promoter who was well aware of the vagaries of frontier flim-flammers would entrust cash to anyone who did not exhibit stability and roots in the community. To be charitable, maybe he was overcome by grief and fully intended to send for at least the young ones later on. Instead, he found a young one to marry. John Tomkins of Arizona, who married Maurice's granddaughter, Patricia, has been an invaluable source in helping unravel events of those years for us. As he explained:
      The deal that William supposedly made with the people who bought the hotel in question were to board the children until he returned, also there was someone else who was given a lot of money and a team of horses to care for them. He soon disappeared with everything after William left. The hotel people, having not heard from William by the end of that year, supposed him to be dead and put the children .
      But William was far from dead. Although Alice said that he left to Oklahoma because of ill health, in reality, William wound up in Arkansas, where he married 15-year-old Eliza Sexton, who had four children by him. Their 40-year age difference apparently improved his health. After he departed, he must have taken an interest in Republican politics. Three of his boys were named after his presidential heroes: Benjamin Harrison Hamilton, first born in 1893, namesake elected 1888; Theodore Roosevelt Hamilton, third born in 1895, namesake took office 1901; and William McKinley Hamilton, born in 1896, namesake elected the same year. The second boy, James Blaine Hamilton, born in 1894, was named for the Republican presidential candidate of 1884 who was defeated by Democrat Grover Cleveland. The youngest boy, William McKinley, died in 1904, the same year that Roosevelt was first elected as president. The reason we think he may have been well read in Republican politics is that in 1895, when he named his third son for Teddy, Roosevelt was a crime-busting police commissioner in New York. He did not become a national political figure until McKinley appointed him Secretary of the Navy in 1897. [We are happy to report that descendants of the Oklahoma branch of the family contacted us in 2003 and since then we have learned a great deal about William's second family that we will share with you in the updated story.]
      Meanwhile, the children back in Hamilton were left to fend for themselves. A nationwide financial panic crippled industry and dried up investment in 1893, and the Far West boomtowns were crushed. Alice married John Swafford in 1896, about the time that Washington was pulling out of the financial doldrums. But the boom had died as fast as it began. The Great Northern had not come through with either a cross-Cascades line or further investment, so Hamilton never achieved the status as "Pittsburgh of the West," which was touted as late as 1903. Ruth Hamilton Picker, one of Ashford's daughters, wrote to relatives before her death in 1987 and recalled that she and her brothers were born in a little place on her grandfather's land that was within sight of the river; she was born in 1915.

      I remember Daddy had to get all his brothers and sisters approval to sell that piece. And in 1918 there was a flu epidemic and we all three were sick in the same big bed [the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 killed dozens in Skagit county and thousands nationwide], but we had polio, not flu, only they didn't know then. We left there when I was four or five years old."
      John Tomkins adds:
      I would assume that William continued paying the taxes on the land/property that he owned in and around the town of Hamilton. The lawyer first showed up to have all the descendants of William sign a release form stating that they would not protest the will of William in which he gave possession of his property in Arkansas to his present wife.
      Sometime after Matilda and Ashford had children [1912-16], he saw his father again. William came to Hamilton on a business trip and to see his children. He then returned to Arkansas, never to be seen again. Bette Rose recalls that her father, Maurice, never saw his father after William left them but he did correspond with him prior to his father's death. He also signed some of the paper work on sales of property for his father.

How the Hamilton children fared
      John Hamilton, the oldest child by Hannah who moved to Washington, was the first of that original group of children from Kentucky to die, from a heart attack in 1900. Born in 1858 in Floyd county, Kentucky, he married Alice Walker of Vancouver, B.C., in 1884. John was generally a farmer around Hamilton, but he also built a steamboat that carried freight on the river. He entered Hamilton politics in 1898. In the spring he was named streets commissioner and in the fall he was elected to the city council. In 1899 he was named town clerk, but a stroke forced him to give up his council seat that winter. They had seven children together from 1885-98. The parents' hearts were broken often as three of the children died as infants, one before John died and two in an undetermined epidemic in April 1902. His wife eventually moved away with the surviving children.
      Very little is known about Mary, who was born in 1862 in Kentucky. She married a man named Harry Craig and had one child by him. Details about Americus are also few. She was born in Kansas in 1865 and married a man named Brewster; they had five children together.
      We know more about the two boys who were the first children born to William and Louise. Ashford, who was born in 1872 in Kansas, was a Hamilton police judge at one time. According to descendants, he waited to marry until after he had helped his younger siblings get mature and establish themselves. He was 19 when his father left; his three brothers and sister Alice ranged from age 16 to 7 at the time. In 1909, when his youngest brother Garfield was 25, Ashford married Matilda Cora Jackson of Seattle. She was a good friend of Maurice's wife. They had three children. Ashford died in 1952 in Monroe, Washington.
      Son Motz was born in 1875 and became a well-known logger in the Conway and Milltown area. Motz married Malle Maud Cannon in 1905 and he died in 1939 in Hamilton. They also grieved over two of their children who died as infants. Their first child, daughter Mandy (Amanda), died at age 84 in 1991 in Burlington after celebrating 60 years of marriage to Charles A. Cramer. She was an avid square dancer and worked with Chapter Two of the Territorial Daughters of Washington to help preserve the old Garl home at 419 Fairhaven in Burlington. She was born on Valentine's Day in a logging camp in the Victoria Hills near Conway, where her father was working in the woods at the time; she graduated from Sedro-Woolley High School in 1925.
      The last Hamilton child born to William and Louise was Garfield, born the same year that the store and post office opened. He was a bachelor and logged upriver; he died in Darrington in 1945.
      Alice (born Edna Alice) Hamilton Robinson was also well known locally into her 70s; she died on March 30, 1953 at age 76. Her niece, Ruth Hamilton Picker, recalled that Alice was always the smallest adult relative she knew because Alice could fit in her child's rocking chair. Alice's grandson by her second child, Minnie, is Don "Spud Walley," who taught at Sedro-Woolley High School, was the coach of two state championship wrestling teams and later served as mayor of Sedro-Woolley for four terms. Minnie was a much beloved woman who died in 1994 at age 94 after living for years with her daughter Billie. Alice had three children altogether.
      Maurice Hamilton (born William Maurice) was born in Hamilton in 1879 and lived to be 90 years old. He was famous from Hamilton to Sedro-Woolley for his memories of the river from frontier times on, and gave lectures for local school classes. Fred Vochatzer remembers him well when he shopped at the old Convery's Five and Dime. Fred always enjoyed waiting on him and hearing a new tale. When the old man left, Fred would carry the bags out to his old car, which Fred always admired. One day not long before he died, Maurice left the car keys on the counter. Fred followed him and handed the keys to him. But Maurice laughed and said: "no, it's yours now." In 1902, he was offered the position as marshal in Hamilton, but declined it. That may have been the wisest decision in his life. A year later, Hamilton town marshal Jake Woodring was cold-cocked outside a Hamilton tavern and killed. Maurice later ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 1912. A relative once chided him for how he could run as a Republican when he was a lifelong Democrat. "The others were a machine," he replied.
      Maurice married Cora Nelson of Seattle, a schoolteacher, in 1905 and they had three children. Two of them died as infants, including little Paul who died in 1910, just a few weeks after Cora died of "childbirth fever," a doubly crushing loss. Fifteen years later, Maurice married again to Lula Mae Wolfkill. Then on the Fourth of July in 1931, his first child by Cora, Ben, died in a car wreck. He was a college student. In 1963, six years before Maurice died, he lost his 55-year-old son, David, his second child by Cora. David lived in Yuma, Arizona, and many of his descendants still live there, including Patricia Tomkins. She and her husband John have been very helpful with this history. Maurice and Cora had two children together, including Bette Rose, who has helped us so much. They also adopted a child.
      The last Hamilton child born to William and Louise was Garfield, born in 1884, the same year that the store and post office opened. He was a bachelor and logged upriver; he died in Darrington in 1945.
      Even though his houses, hotels, post office and store are long gone, William Hamilton did leave one lasting legacy in Hamilton. In the Bates book, we learn that after Louise died, he deeded over part of his land for a school since the original school on the Steen family property was bursting at the seams. Just before he left, he signed the deed papers on May 2, 1891. The high school operated on that land until 1943. That school property contributed to the education of thousands of upriver students, including many whose parents struggled making a living after the glory days passed. Apparently Maurice discovered before his death that William had stipulated in the deed for the school land that it would revert back to family if the schools on the property ever closed permanently. He was aghast to discover that state law had changed and the property had been deeded over to the consolidated Sedro-Woolley school district. We thank all the Hamiltons very much for helping us sort through the fascinating life of this family that witnessed the birth of the town of Hamilton.

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Story posted on Aug. 28, 2001, last updated on Sept. 12, 2004, and moved to this domain Feb. 12, 2009
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