Isaac W. Mallory, shown left in maturity, was an orphan boy. His mother died when he was two years old, his father when he was only eight. From that time on he lived with a succession of relatives, including a brother who may have been less than hospitable. Despite his youthful hardships, Ike developed a ebullient spirit that served him well as a saloonkeeper and liquor dealer in Forrest City, Arkansas, and ultimately the owner of the largest hotel in town.
His father and mother, Edward and Elizabeth (Chambliss) Mallory, were accounted pioneers in their part of Eastern Arkansas. Both of them were born and raised near Petersburg, Virginia, moving in 1846 to Shelby County, Tennessee, and engaging in farming. Four years later they moved about 45 miles west across the Mississippi River to St. Francis County, Arkansas. There Edward, chucking farming for the law, made his mark, was elected to the state legislature and later became a local judge.
Ike was born in November of 1860, the youngest son, a few months before the start of the Civil War. His father was an early volunteer for the Confederate Army, joining the Fifth Arkansas Regiment, often called “The Fighting Fifth.” Its battle flag is shown here. Edward Mallory was appointed a major in that unit, one that saw considerable combat in the Western war. In 1862, as the conflict raged, Elizabeth Mallory died at the age of 37. Although Edward came home to care for his family, in 1868 he died, perhaps from aftereffects of the war, leaving his four children orphans. Ike, now eight years old, was sent for a year to live with an aunt.
By 1870, his older brother, George, had reached maturity and with a sister, Pauline, 18, they were able to take care of a younger sister named Eddie and Ike. A biographer identified this as a particularly happy time for Ike after the loss of his parents. When George married, Ike lived with him and his new wife for a time. Shown here, George Mallory in his obituary was given credit for his kindness to his orphaned siblings. Yet when he purchased a livery stable in Forrest City in 1877, he sent Ike to live there. By his own account the 17-year-old Ike “could do anything from swilling the hogs to driving the best team in the stable.”
Despite his ability at the livery, Ike later recounted: "When it came to driving a drummer to the outlying towns, why that was pepper in my gravy, because I got to eat at a hotel and sleep in a real bed, for [if] I stayed at home and worked in the stable I had to eat with 'Mose', and sleep in the hay loft….” At some point George “cut him loose” and Ike went to live with neighbors. At the same time a yellow fever epidemic was raging in the vicinity of Memphis and the Mississippi River, during which 17,000 cases were diagnosed and more than 5,000 died, including some in Forrest City, “I hope it never be my misfortune to go through another yellow fever epidemic,” Ike told his biographer. The 1880 U.S. census found Ike, age 18, living on a farm outside town and working as a field hand.
Not long after, Ike left agriculture to work in the liquor trade in Forrest City. In 1874 the town had been made the seat of St. Francis County, bringing hundreds of new residents and many businesses. Forrest City was strategically located on a major east-west highway between Memphis and Little Rock (now I-40) and Arkansas Hwy. 1, a important north-south route. Calling itself “The Jewel of the Delta,” the town also was a railroad transfer point. Front Street, shown here in the early 1900s, faced the tracks and was a bustling area.
Meanwhile, the youthful Ike Mallory, shown here with bow tie and walrus mustache, had a new incentive to succeed. He met a young woman named Elma Riaford. She had come to Forrest City from Mississippi as a youngster with her father, Squire P. T. Raiford, a revered Confederate veteran and later township magistrate. Elma’s obituary testified to her personality: “It would be safe to say that she was without an enemy, as her disposition was such that acquaintances became loving friends.” Ike was smitten and later said “I have the best wife…of any man in the state.”
They wed in January 1892. Ike was 30 years old, Elma was 23. The 1900 census found them living in Forest City. After eight years of marriage they had a son, Ned, and an infant daughter. She died the next year, leaving the Mallorys with heartbreak. Ned would live to adulthood.
At some point after his nuptials, Ike struck out on his own. In the late 1890s he was recorded as purchasing a building in Forrest City for $16,000 (equiv. today of $400,000) and opening a saloon that he called “The Pearl.” He was also selling liquor to retail customers from his watering hole, including whiskey in gallon ceramic jugs. Note that on the one shown here he offered 10 cents to anyone returning the container.
In 1901 he sold The Pearl, including all the fixtures and stock, apparently to allow him to buy the largest hotel in town, one that fronted on the railroad tracks. Known as the Belser Hotel when he purchased it, Ike changed the name to the “Marion Hotel,” apparently after the hamlet in St. Francis County where he had been born. Shown here is photo view of the hotel, followed by a postcard depiction when the railroad station, quite conveniently, had been built immediately in front of it.
Ike also opened a new place on Main Street. He called it “Ike Mallory’s Green Tree Saloon.” It was hailed in an article in the Arkansas Democrat in April 1904: “Every city has a popular place where the boys like to go to wet their whistles and meet the proprietor that is a jolly, fine fellow and treats you so nicely when your whistle is dry, you will return. Mr. I. W.. Mallory has more friends and acquaintances than any one male in Forrest City.” To this Ike would have agreed, likely adding as he once said: “I have the best saloon and the best liquors in Eastern Arkansas.”
Although Ike had a female manager looking after his hotel, his multiple enterprises, also encompassing a saloon, retail sales and a wholesale house, may have been a strain. In 1905 he took on a partner named Andrew J. Vaccaro, a slightly younger man from Forrest City with a wife and two sons. The company became Mallory & Vaccaro. Under that name the enterprise continued to prosper.
Ike’s health faltered after his fiftieth birthday. He died in 1914 at the age of 54 and was buried in Mt. Vernon Cemetery, the oldest active cemetery in St. Francis County. Elma would join him there 14 years later. Today an historical marker tells visitors that the burying ground was opened in 1854 as a family cemetery by the Mallory clan, whose original home was nearby. Although other families later were permitted to use the cemetery for burials, management has continued to be with Mallory descendants. At least 38 members of the family are buried there.
Two years after Ike’s death the State of Arkansas in 1916 voted to ban all distilling and sales of alcoholic beverages. Among the casualties were what remained of Ike’s liquor enterprises. For a time, however, an orphan boy, with all the deprivation that term implies, had risen above reduced circumstances and lack of formal education to become a popular and successful Forrest City businessman. Blessed with an ebullient spirit that helped him overcome obstacles, Ike Mallory epitomized the lore of the orphan boy who made good.