Odebolt, Iowa - W. E. Hamilton, Father of The Chronicle

William E. "Billy" Hamilton and the 
Early Days of The Chronicle in Odebolt

Biographies and Portraits of the Progressive Men of Iowa, by Gue, B.F. , 
Conaway & Shaw Publishers, Des Moines 1899, page 540

W.E. Hamilton Hamilton, William Edgar, editor and publisher of the Odebolt Chronicle, is one of the well-known figures in Iowa journalism. He is a grandson of William Hamilton, who served in the war of 1812 as colonel of a Pennsylvania regiment, and was afterward a brigadier-general of the militia, in the same state, for many years. The Hamiltons were natives of Scotland, and afterwards lived in the north of Ireland, whence they came to America just before the revolutionary war, and settled in Cumberland county, Pa. Gen. William Hamilton was one of the pioneers of Mercer county, Pa., and one of the prominent figures of western Pennsylvania in his day. He was the father of nine children, John Hamilton, the father of the subject of this sketch, being the second child born to him. John Hamilton was born in Mercer county, Pa., in 1816, and died in Sharon, Pa., in 1872. He learned the trade of a plasterer in early life, and afterwards farmed and worked at his trade alternately. He was register and recorder of Mercer county from 1854 to 1857, and was a man of more than ordinary ability and information. Ann Powell Stroud was the maiden name of John Hamilton's wife. She was born in Montgomery county, Pa., in 1827, and was the daughter of William Stroud, who was of Quaker descent. She is still living in Sharon. March 13, 1857.  

William E. Hamilton was born in Mercer, Pa. When he was seven years old his parents moved to a farm near Mercer, and the boy's first schooling was in the country school near his home. At the age of 12 he received better advantages in the city schools of Sharon, to which place the family then moved. For three years he was happily busy with his books, hoping, as does every bright ambitious boy, that he might be able to finish his schoolwork and add thereto a college course. But when he reached his sixteenth year he experienced a great loss in the death of his father, and college hopes and plans were, perforce, given up. He went bravely to work, however, to take care of himself, and his first situation was in a stove and tinware store, where he was employed for three months, in the summer of 1872, at a dollar a day, pretty good wages, in those days, for an inexperienced lad. In the fall of the same year he entered the employ of the Atlantic Iron works, in Sharon, as invoice clerk, and that he was a valued and trusted employee may be inferred from the fact that he remained with the same firm for eight years, being paymaster during the last four.

In the fall of 1880, Mr. Hamilton concluded to try his fortune in the west, and came to Iowa, locating first at Bloomfield, where he worked for two years on the Davis County Republican, as local editor. In 1883 he went to Odebolt and found employment in the law and abstract office of W. A. Helsell, with whom he remained for four years. Desiring to again engage in the newspaper business he started, in 1887, the Odebolt Chronicle, which he has owned and edited since that date.

In 1893 Mr. Hamilton compiled a guide to the World's fair called "The Time Saver," which was probably the most popular guide in use. He spent six months in Chicago and sold 150,000 copies of his little book, clearing a handsome profit.  (Click the image to enlarge).

Mr. Hamilton's father was a war democrat and he was reared in the Donglas faith. In the campaign of 1880 he became convinced [p.540] that the protective policy was the true one for American interests, and since that time he has been an ardent supporter of republican principles. He belongs to the Masonic and Knights of Pythias lodges, and is also a Woodman of the World and a Modern Woodman. He belongs to no church but is Unitarian in belief.

January 18, 1894, he was married to Mrs. Mabel C. Coy, of Odebolt. He was recently appointed supervisor of census for the Eleventh congressional district of Iowa, the only office, elective or appointive, for which he ever applied.



New Odebolt Paper Idea of Business Men
Shop Equipped from Start with Best Presses and Type

from "Fifty Years Of Progress", The Odebolt Chronicle, August 25, 1938, as edited by B. Horak

Fifty-one years ago- in 1887 – the presses of a new paper started turning in Odebolt.  Feeling that this community did not have adequate newspaper representation, a group of business and professional men headed by W. A. Helsell and Joseph Mattes had discussed the possibility of starting a new publication earlier that year.  Odebolt was primarily a Republican town, and the only newspaper here at that time was a struggling Democratic sheet.

The matter was brought to the attention of W. E. Hamilton, young clerk in Mr. Helsell’s law office and a former newspaperman.  Necessary arrangements were soon made, and the first issue of The Odebolt Chronicle appeared May 27, 1887, with Mr. Hamilton as “editor and proprietor.”

All equipment for the shop had been purchased new from the Sioux City newspaper Union, and The Chronicle was a neatly printed weekly from the start.  A Washington hand press was first used in the shop.

Odebolt businessmen were liberal in their advertising patronage of the new publication, and its circulation grew rapidly.  By the following January it had been named an official county paper.  Referring to it as “the paper that always has opinions of its own,” the young editor filled its columns with interesting news items and editorial comment.

Hamilton was a Republican – The Chronicle was a Republican paper.  But the first issue made it clear that “under no circumstances will a corrupt or dishonest Republican be supported by The Chronicle for any office within the gift of the people.”

The ties which bound Hamilton and his paper to political party or faction were never chains.  Starting with his first issue, he conducted a vigorous editorial campaign against a prominent Sac county man and former county official who was seeking a seat in the legislature.  Week after week he hammered away, despite the fact that every other newspaper in the county was taking the other side. When the election returns came in, Billy Hamilton had won his first political battle.

Early Employees

Among the first employees of The Chronicle were S. H. Eiker of Fort Dodge, foreman and job printer, and J.C. Davenport, now publisher of the Clear Lake Reporter.  Eiker left the shop in September 1887, to accept a job with a bindery at Fort Dodge, and J.S. Thomas of that city took his place.  Thomas, a son-in-law of the late M.D. Fox, was later with the Iowa homestead at Des Moines.  Another early employee was Leveret L. Leget, now of Lake City, who remained with The Chronicle for a number of years.

Billy Hamilton continued as editor and publisher until Aug. 1, 1910 when he sold out to Frank J. Stillman of Riceville.  The new publisher had had his early training on the Jefferson Bee, and for several years had been a distinguished Washington correspondent.  He had also owned papers at West Union and Grundy Center.

Billy Hamilton Well Known as Country Weekly Editor
Founder of Chronicle was Widely Quoted in Early Days

 W. E. Hamilton, the “father” of The Chronicle, was one of the best known weekly newspaper publishers in the middle west from 1887 until his death in 1910.

He was born March 13, 1857, in Mercer, Pa.  The death of his father when “Billy” was only 15 years old forced him to quit school and secure employment in a steel mill, where he remained for about 10 years.  Although he wanted to enter the legal profession and his mother was eager to send him to college, lack of money made it impossible for him to continue his schooling.

During the winter of 1880, Mr. Hamilton came to Iowa and worked in newspaper offices in Bloomflield, Atlantic and Des Moines.  In 1882 he came to Odebolt, and for more than four years was employed as a clerk in the law office of Zane and Helsell.  During most of that time he was in charge of the firm’s abstract department.

He started The Chronicle in May 1887 and continued publication without interruption for 23 years and 13 months.  His death occurred at Sioux Falls, S.D., Sept. 15, 1910, less than two months after he had sold his beloved newspaper.  Funeral services were held in Odebolt and he was laid to rest in the local cemetery.

Mr. Hamilton was married Jan. 18, 1894, to Mrs. Mabel Coy, who died in June 1920.

His high rank as a newspaperman and editorial writer was indicated by the many editorials which appeared in weekly and daily newspapers after his death.  Added to this is the following comment by his step-son, Charles L. Coy, now of Alexandria, Minn.:

“Uncle Billy Hamilton was a master of the English language – both sacred and profane.  He was an omnivorous reader of classic literature and biography and, though his schooling stopped at the eighth grade, few men in Iowa in his day had a wider knowledge of history, literature or current affairs.  Through his intensive reading he developed a clear-cut and expressive style of reading.  As an editorial writer he rated so highly that he was offered editorial positions on the Des Moines Register, Omaha Bee and Chicago Tribune at different times.  But he had such an interest in Odebolt and its people that he preferred to give his great talent to the people among whom he had lived for so many years.

Keen Sympathy

“Uncle Billy Hamilton had a fiery temper and he said what he thought, no matter whose toes he stepped on, and naturally made enemies.  But he had a heart as big as an ox, with a keen interest in his fellow man and his most intimate affairs.  There were no “sob sisters” then on the daily press, but The Chronicle carried many a “heart interest’ story because he had a keen sympathy for those around him, especially those who were unfortunate.

“His brilliant intellect and his interest in others, coupled with absolute fearlessness, made W.E. Hamilton a power in Iowa politics, and made The Chronicle a force in the affairs of his town, county and state.  Governors, congressmen and senators climbed the stairs to The Chronicle office in a wooden building down by the depot, to sit in the cluttered office, put their feet on the desk (if they could find room) and discuss affairs of the state and nation with Billy Hamilton.  The Chronicle was widely quoted over the west on political matters.”

The story of Hamilton’s life would make an interesting volume in itself.

Carlson Was Employee for Eight Years
Pays Tribute to Hamilton as Business Man, Editor and Friend

By Dave R. Carlson, Canoga Park, Calif.
from "Fifty Years Of Progress", The Odebolt Chronicle, August 25, 1938, as edited by B. Horak

My Connection with The Odebolt Chronicle covered a period from June, 1896, to October, 1904, assuming charge of the mechanical department upon my arrival, taking up the additional duties of associate editor the following summer and serving in both capacities during the remainder of my employment.

The Chronicle office was then located upstairs in the frame building at the corner of First and Main streets, owned by W. A. Helsell and the lower floor of which housed his law and abstract office, also an extensive law library.  Egress to the newspaper’s office was by means of a dark, narrow stairway leading to the low-ceilinged room which was excessively warm during the hot summer days but easy to heat in the winter months.

….Mr. Hamilton was a good businessman and The Chronicle was one of the first newspapers in northwestern Iowa to really “make money.” 

….But it was as an editorial and political writer that Mr. Hamilton was pre-eminent.  He was possessed of a keen analytical mind and could master a political problem with greater accuracy than any man it has ever been my good fortune to know.  Quick to make a decision, his findings were uniformly correct.  His editorials were written in long-hand (never having learned to operate a typewriter) in a script almost as fine as copperplate.  There was very seldom an erasure or correction, for he was never at a loss for a word to express in virile English his opinion on any matter.  He was widely read and could discuss intelligently any matter that might be brought to his attention.  Mr. Hamilton was neither a radical nor a reformer in the sense that these terms are generally used, but was ever ready to go the limit in a fight to correct abuses of the prevailing system.  The Chronicle was probably the most widely quoted country newspaper in Iowa at the turn of the century, when the Cummins movement, which he early espoused, was making history and changing the political map.  The charge of inconsistency was never laid at his door and there was nothing namby-pamby about his course.  He was always the first to take up a fight and willing to see it through to a finish.

Public spirited, generous to a fault, loyal to his friends, respected by those who disagreed with him, Odebolt owes much to Mr. Hamilton.  Every worthy enterprise received his approval.  He was a true friend of the people, always ready to give his utmost support to that which was right and true and to fight anything that savored of sham, fraud or hypocrisy.

The eight years spent in the employ of Mr. Hamilton will to me ever be a cherished memory. No man could have taken a kindlier interest in me and the training received proved invaluable in later years when conducting my own business.  Our relations as employer and employee could not have been finer and my memory does not recall a single untoward incident.

During the last 15 years of his ownership of The Chronicle, while his control of the dominant faction of the Republican party in Sac county was almost absolute, he did not rule with an arbitrary hand but was ever willing to receive suggestions from his allies and heed their admonitions.  He never sought office and the only political appointment he ever received (supervisor of the census for the eleventh district in 1900) came with the recommendation of one whom he had fought bitterly.  His ability to quickly solve a political problem or map a course of procedure was almost uncanny.  He might have made mistakes, but they were exceptional. 

Of those conducting newspapers in Sac County at the time of my first connection with The Chronicle, John H.D. Gray of the Wall Lake Blade is the only survivor (1938).  The Stouffer brothers – Samuel and Frank – were making of the Sac Sun one of the finest county-seat papers in Iowa, Samuel as editor and Frank as business manager.  The Sac Democrat was published by J.L. Barter with “Uncle Ike” Cory doing some of the editorial work.  W.K. Whiteside published the Schaller Herald, G.I. Cory the Early News, W.M. Hamilton the Lake View Resort and A.E. Merrill the Auburn Recorder.

Town of Odebolt

At the time of my advent, Odebolt was, as now, a very good business point, its merchants drawing trade from a wide territory.  All lines of business were well represented, including seven general stores, four drug stores, three hardware and implement dealers, three lumber yards, four elevators, three meat markets, flouring mill, creamery and the usual run of smaller enterprises.

W. P. Adams purchased the Hiram C. Wheeler farm of 10 sections in the late summer of 1896, taking possession a year later after having built a complete set of buildings in the center of the tract.  The Cook land was still undivided, though some of it was farmed by tenants.

J.A. Reynolds was mayor at the time of my arrival; W.A. Helsell, president of the school board; Henry Hanson, chief, and Joseph Mattes, foreman of the fire department; W.W. Shanks, postmaster, and Otis Stratton, marshal.

The pride of Odebolt at that time was the K of  P band (Knights of Pythias), directed by John Mengis, at the height of its popularity and famous over the entire state.  The fire department came home that year from the Maple Valley tournament at Mapleton with most of the prizes and the firefighters were royally welcomed on their return.

(Carlson left Odebolt and was on the editorial staff of the Iowa City Daily Republican for a year, then went to the Estherville Enterprise, the Courant of Bottineau, ND, then purchased the News-Tribune at Towner, ND.  He then went on to Kingsburg, Calif. and purchased the Owensmouth Gazette, later known as the Canoga Park Herald.  He sold the Herald in 1934 and retired due to severe illness, and “will probably spend the remainder of my days in Southern California.”)

Also read:  
Billy Hamilton and the Cherry Sisters!


Articles from The Odebolt Chronicle  


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