A collage of portraits of Thomas T. Minor from 1864 to 1880. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

A collage of portraits of Thomas T. Minor from 1864 to 1880. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

BACK WHEN: The life and death of Dr. Minor

AN 1889, THANKSGIVING weekend duck hunting trip on Camano and Whidbey islands proved fatal for three men, two of whom had played major roles as pioneer civic leaders and real estate developers in Port Townsend and Seattle during the post-Civil War years.

Dr. Thomas Taylor Minor and G. Morris Haller were friends who, with Haller’s young brother-in-law and law clerk, “Edward” Lewis Cox, left Seattle on Thanksgiving afternoon (Nov. 28, 1889) on the steamer Cascade, after enjoying a holiday dinner with their families, bound for Stanwood on Camano Island.

They planned on a week of duck shooting.

Traveled across sound

On Monday afternoon, after the hunting in that area proved less successful than they wished, the men decided to load their canoes and go across the sound to Brann’s Camp on Whidbey Island to try their luck there.

The distance from Stanwood to Brann’s Point was about 12 miles and it required crossing the treacherous entrance of Saratoga Passage.

Several locals questioned the wisdom of using canoes for the trip, but the sound was calm that afternoon, and the hunters set out.

They were last seen paddling across Hall Slough and through the mouth of the Stillaguamish River onto the water north of Camano Island.

They expected to return to Seattle no later than Friday.

When Minor had not returned by Saturday, his wife became worried.

By Sunday, telegrams were sent to Camano Island, and Minor’s bookkeeper was sent to Brann’s Camp to look for the hunters.

No sign found

But there was no sign of them in either location.

A massive search ensued.

By the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 11, both canoes had been found and it was apparent that the men had all drowned before ever reaching Whidbey Island on Dec. 2.

Haller’s and Cox’s bodies were found early in 1890, but Minor’s body was never recovered.

Morris Haller was born in Pennsylvania.

His father was an Army major and was soon stationed at The Dalles Fort in Oregon, and then sent north, to establish Fort Townsend in 1856 during the time of Native American unrest in the area.

The family came west with him.

The Civil War took the Hallers back to Pennsylvania, where 12-year-old Morris fought beside his father in a local militia skirmish near Gettysburg.

Haller moves

After the war, the family moved to Coupeville on Whidbey Island.

In 1874, Morris studied in the law office of McNaught & Leary in Seattle and was admitted to the practice of law in September 1875.

He then set up an office in Port Townsend and became friends with Tom Minor, partly because of their shared interest in bird hunting.

His practice was successful and he was elected city attorney a few years later.

Haller moved to Seattle in 1881.

Attorney, investor

He was very successful as an attorney and real estate investor, and had built up an estate estimated at a half million dollars by the time of his death.

He married Anna Cox in Chicago in 1887.

Her brother, Lewis, also moved west that year after finishing college to read law with Haller’s firm.

Morris Haller was just 37 years old, and Lewis Cox was only 22.

Tom Minor was 45 years old.

Of the three, Tom Minor had been the longest resident of Port Townsend, from 1868 to 1882, and had played a very significant role in the development of the city.

Thomas Taylor Minor was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in February 1844, to missionary parents.

His father, who served the mission as a printer, was Eastman Minor, from Milford, Conn.

Tom’s mother was Eastman’s second wife, Judith Taylor.

She came from Madison, N.Y., and initially was the teacher for the children of the missionaries.

She learned the local language and eventually oversaw the native day school.

After 17 years at the mission, Eastman’s poor health forced the family to move back to New England in July 1851, when Tom was 7.

Eastman opened a crockery and china store in New Haven, Conn.

Enlisted in Army

Just as Tom was about to start college, in 1861, the Civil War began and, that September, Tom enlisted as a private in the Connecticut Infantry Volunteers.

He was assigned to be hospital steward of the regiment and served in Florida and South Carolina.

In January of 1863, he was promoted to assistant surgeon with the rank of captain and transferred to Beaufort, S.C., for two years.

He was then detailed as surgeon in charge of the 54th New York Volunteers, but forced to resign a few weeks later, in December 1864, due to “pulmonary trouble.”

Tom enrolled in Yale University’s medical school and, with his experience in the Army and studying done while there, he received his medical degree in two years.

Ongoing health problems prompted him to apply for a government appointment in the West.

In November of 1866, he was appointed physician for the Winnebago Indians at a station in Winnebago, Neb.

While he was there, he also worked for the Smithsonian Institution in his spare time, collecting ethnological and natural history specimens.

In the fall of 1867, the Smithsonian hired him as ship’s doctor for an Alaskan expedition to the newly acquired U.S. territory, on the revenue cutter Wayanda.

He sailed to join the cutter in San Francisco in April of 1868.

When they stopped in Port Townsend on the way back south, Tom met Dr. George V. Calhoun, who had acquired the Marine Hospital in Port Townsend.

Tom went on to San Francisco in early November and wound up his business with the Wayanda and the Smithsonian.

By late November, he arrived back in Port Townsend and went into partnership with Calhoun, practicing from offices opposite the customs house on Water Street and at the Marine Hospital.

Arrived in PT

At the time he arrived in Port Townsend he was 24 years old.

In January of 1869, Tom joined the Masonic Lodge and rose through its ranks.

He became known as a gifted orator at public events.

His obituary described him as honest, big-hearted and loyal to friends.

He was an active member of the Republican party and served as the territorial delegate to Republican National Conventions in 1876, 1880 and 1888.

At the first two of these he supported James Blaine.

He also served as public health officer of the port, and was probate judge of Jefferson County.

He was elected mayor in 1880.

In 1869, a branch telegraph line had been put into operation between Seattle and Port Townsend over lines strung on trees that were impossible to maintain.

Minor saw the value of a dependable telegraph system, and he was a staunch promoter and investor in the Puget Sound Telegraph Co., incorporated in 1872, which began supplying reliable service with a cable under the sound and a terminus in Port Townsend.

In 1871, Tom met Sarah “Sallie” Montgomery through mutual friends in Port Townsend.

She was the sister of James Montgomery, from Pennsylvania, who had come to Olympia with his family to oversee the building of 30 miles of the Northern Pacific railroad from Kalama to the north.

Sallie, whose parents had died when she was 18, in 1858, had lived with various relatives in the east after completing studies at The Pennsylvania Female College and was being met in Port Townsend, before continuing on to spend time with James and his family.

In early 1872, the Montgomerys had moved to Portland, Ore., but they needed to go east for the rest of the winter, so Sallie came back to stay with Port Townsend friends.

Tom Minor spent the winter courting her.

They were married in Trinity Church in Portland on Aug. 20, 1872, with a reception at James Montgomery’s home.

A biography written by the Minors’ grandson, Thomas Minor Pelly, noted that their life in Port Townsend “had its pleasant aspects. … A cordial and neighborly spirit pervaded the town.

“The officers of the Fort augmented society. The ‘first families’ entertained each other. … On Sunday evenings the Minors had hymn singing, generally joined by outsiders … the Doctor played and led the singing.”

The Minors had two daughters, Elizabeth “Bessie” Montgomery Minor, born May 14, 1875, and Judith Strong Minor, born Dec. 2, 1876.

The Minors’ home was on the south side of the Marine Hospital with a high wooden fence between the two.

In 1876, Calhoun sold the Marine Hospital to young Minor for $5,500 and moved to Seattle.

Tom added several more barracks for treatment of patients.

Expands property

He purchased an additional block of property adjacent to the hospital for a garden and orchard, and a barn for his horse, buggy and cow.

At that time, the hospital was the largest general hospital north of San Francisco.

Tom believed in time-saving devices and in 1878 he set up the first telephone line in Port Townsend between his office downtown, then in the Central Hotel and the Marine Hospital on the hill uptown.

By 1882, Minor began to feel that Seattle was going to be the “Queen City” on Puget Sound.

It had the university and was growing.

A railroad terminus seemed imminent.

He began to buy Seattle real estate.

In 1883, the doctor moved his family to Seattle, selling his Port Townsend holdings for $18,000.

He opened an office at First Avenue South and Washington.

His practice was an immediate success.

In 1884, he built one of the largest homes in Seattle “in the woods” on First Hill on the northwest corner of Minor and Cherry Streets (now the location of Swedish Hospital).

Four years later, he was elected mayor as a “law and order candidate.”

He also served for several years on the school board and saw to it that his daughters received a good education.

In 1889, he was named to the convention to write the constitution for the new state of Washington.

Didn’t run for governor

He gladly served but when asked to run for governor he refused the offer.

Just 17 days after statehood was official, Minor and his good friend Morris Haller left on their ill-fated hunting trip.

The city of Seattle went into mourning.

Memorial services for the three men were held in the First Regiment Armory at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Union Street.

Flags on public buildings floated at half mast, and the entrance to city hall was draped in mourning.

The mourners marched from South Third and Main, headed by the police, numerous dignitaries and the First Regiment Band, and followed by many, many others.

There were at least 3,000 in the congregation at the service.

A Seattle elementary school at 17th and East Union was named for Thomas Minor, and the street that ran by his house also carries his name.


Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.

Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.

Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear Dec. 17.

Sarah Montgomery Minor poses in her wedding dress in August 1872. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

Sarah Montgomery Minor poses in her wedding dress in August 1872. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

Judith Strong Minor poses in 1879. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

Judith Strong Minor poses in 1879. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

Elizabeth “Bessie” Montgomery Minor poses in 1879. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

Elizabeth “Bessie” Montgomery Minor poses in 1879. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

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