A carpenter’s wife brought a Bible to Tulsa in 1883, apparently the first book of its kind in the new town, founded less than a year before. And she invited a couple of Tulsa’s earliest pioneers, Dr. W. P. Booker and J.M. Hall, to see it in the tent where she lived with her husband, who had come to work on some of the town’s very first buildings.
She wanted their help to organize a Sunday school, she told the men. She was a Congregationalist, Booker a Baptist and Hall a Presbyterian, so they called it a “Union” Sunday school, and it attracted four or five children to its lessons.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but it was “the first organization of any kind in this community,” Hall later wrote.
Hall and his brother had followed the Frisco railroad’s construction to Tulsa, setting up tents along the way to sell goods to the railroad workers. And they chose the town site for Tulsa, building the first general store at First and Main streets.
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By the 1890s, H.C.’s declining health had left J.M. in charge of the business, which became known as J.M. Hall & Co. And J.M. became one of the most influential figures in early Tulsa, widely considered the town’s “founding father” — although he always insisted that his brother deserved the title.
Whoever deserves more credit for starting Tulsa itself, J.M. definitely started a lot of things in Tulsa and played a major role in developing a small prairie village into a major city.
After the first Sunday school, Hall helped organize Tulsa’s first church congregation. He became president of Tulsa's first public school board and was Tulsa's first resident-postmaster. And in 1902, he helped organize the Commercial Club, a forerunner of today’s Tulsa Regional Chamber.
In 1927, at age 81, he used pen and paper to write a book called “The Beginning of Tulsa,” without which much of the city’s early history would have been lost.
“For 50 years he has entered into all the activities for the building of Tulsa and to make it a good place to rear a family,” Hall wrote about himself in third-person. “He is a staunch believer in morality and the enforcement of law. Very friendly to all organizations that are trying to make this world what the Man of Galilee would have it be.”
Hall died May 26, 1935.
A Tulsa World obituary declared that “he always had a leading part” in guiding the city’s growth and that “the Tulsa of today” wouldn’t have existed without him.
“Hall was privileged,” the World wrote, “to experience the satisfaction of seeing a metropolitan city develop from the bald prairie expanse where he pitched his tent.”