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Genealogy and History of the Wisdom Family of Baker City, Oregon

The Wisdom's, along with the Gess' left Missouri in April of 1862,and arrived in Baker City, Oregon, October 17th., of that same year. The wagon train consisted of sixty wagons under the supervision of wagon master, Charles Chandler.The train was made up after crossing the Missouri River near where Omaha is now. This was the first wagon train to ever arrive in Baker City, Oregon.

Until recently the Chandler cabin rested on the Charles Chandler Hereford Ranch north of Baker City. The 1862 cabin was dismantled and moved to the Haines City Park, just 10 miles north of Baker City on Highway 30. John Wisdom described Charles Chandler as, "a man of large stature."

The Unofficial Eastern Oregon Museum Page
Scotts Bluff, Nebraska and the Oregon Trail
Click here to view the wagon ruts as they appear today at Scotts Bluff, Nebraska.
Photograph of a pioneer family stopped to eat and rest at Scotts Bluff in the 1850's.


Founded in 1862 during the gold rush, Baker City is located at the southern end of the Powder River Valley. Situated a few miles east of the gold fields and nestled at the foot of the hill where the Oregon Trail came over the breaks and into the valley. The first wagon train to arrive was in 1862 and as indicated above, my ancestors were among that group of hearty pioneers that survived the perilous journey west.

"September 6, 1862, a day to remember, we arrived at Flagstaff Hill
overlooking Powder Valley. Coming over this last hill a most
remarkable sight met our eyes. Here was a beautiful valley with
luxuriant growth of green grass through which flowed a river of
clear sparkling water with high mountains in the rear. The grass
was even better than that cutivated in the rich soil of north
Missouri. On the west side of the river was rye grass so high you
could ride through on a small horse and never be seen. A land the
likes of which I never seen and I decided,
"Here is where I am going to live!"

Baker City is a town where the past comes alive. Five miles east of the city theNational Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, interprets the great westward migration of the 19th century. More like a living history center, multi-media displays re-create pioneer life on the trail. In town, a parade of beautiful old historic homes reflect dignity and community respect. A lush and shaded city park is a cool oasis before crossing the street to the, Oregon Trail Regional Museum. I couldn't possibly say enough about this wonderful little museum that sits shyly in the shadow ofthe much acclaimed, Interpretive Center. If your planning a visit to Baker City, you must take the time to visit this slighted but mighty repository of old. Housed in aNatatorium (a place to swim), it was built in 1920 as a community activity center. It was just about to be demolished when it was put on the National Register of Historic Places. Restorationwas begun in late 1977 and is still continuing.


Sen. John Wm. Wisdom was born in Randolph Co., Missouri in 1840,the son of Thomas Barnes Wisdom and Lucinda Gess. As a child, he spent a great deal of time at his Grandparent Gess's plantation home,where many fond childhood memories were developed. Upon reachingadulthood and finding himself located in Baker City, Oregon, JohnWisdom was preparing to build his family a home. He decided to buildthat home as a replica of his Grandfather Gess's, where as a child hehad spent so many happy and carefree hours. The task would prove tobe drewling. It took one year to build the three story, two parlorhome. It would be the first home in Baker City to sport an indoor toilet. The furniture, carpets and draperies were shipped by boatfrom San Francisco to The Dalles, where they were freighted overland.In spite of the belief that basements were unhealthy, John Wisdom'shome ... had a basement. He insisted on the best of construction,and had the foundation put down six feet into the ground, assuringthe sturdiness of a house to last more than his lifetime. The housestill proudly stands.

My husband and I visited the home a few summers ago. Now being usedas the, "Lovelace Real Estate" office, it's old southern charm still addresses the future with pride. As I stood half dreaming on it'swide sloping porch, I tried to imagine my g/g/g/grandfather standingon the very same type of porch, gazing out at his land and horses and listening to his children at play. Than I thought of what it musthave been like the day that the Union soldiers ran him from his home... seperating him from his children, but not his punishing breath.I suppose that if the truth were known he died that day, and not sometwo years later in Illinois, where he fled. For a few brief momentsI was there. Looking out across the wide stretching landscape wherethe sign read, "Randolph Co., Missouri"
~One hot summers day in Baker City, Oregon.



John Wm. Wisdom and wife Mary Elizabeth Sturgill

As Submitted by Members of
and compiled by James Givens and John Fund
Published April 1, 1996.

Thomas Wisdom, probably the son of John Wisdom, Jr. and Sarah Fuller, was born about 1778 in North Carolina. He married Luranna Barnes, (born ca 1780), the daughter of John Barnes, about 1799.They lived in Green and Cumberland Counties of Kentucky before coming to Boone Co., Missouri before 1827. Thomas was a Baptistand a farmer. He died January 25, 1860 and is buried in the Bethlehem Church Cemetery in Boone Co. Luaranna died September 12, 1862 andis buried in the Schooling Cemetery in Boone Co. Thomas and LurannaWisdom had ten children, although not proven, all born in Cumberland Co., Kentucky, as follows:

JOHN AMMONS/AMOS WISDOM, was born March 31, 1800; married FRANCES A. WADE, July 31, 1821; died August 4, 1875 in Taylor Co.,Iowa; and is buried in Blockton, Iowa.

POLLARD WASHINGTON WISDOM, was born August 13, 1801; married PATTY (MARTHA) WADE; died Oct. 13, 1846 in Boone Co; andis buried in the Rocky Fork Church Cemetery in Boone Co.

BRINSLEY BURTON WISDOM, was born in 1803; married BETHONIA HERN, Jan. 7, 1830; died Sept. 02, 1888 in Marion Co., Mo.; and is buried in Hannibal, Missouri.

LUCY WISDOM, was born about 1806; married JOHN WAD about 1826;and died about 1895 in Missouri.

JAMES MADISON WISDOM, was born March 24, 1808; married CATHERINE TURNER, June 16, 1831; and died between 1850 and 1860in Boone or Audrain Co., Missouri.

SARAH WISDOM, was born December 11, 1810; married CORNELIUS SHORT, Jan. 01, 1834; died May 01, 1875, probably in Boone Co.; and is buried in the Bethlehem Church Cemetery in Boone County.

THOMAS BARNES WISDOM, was born June 26, 1814; married LUCINDA GESS, March 22, 1836; died February 01, 1893 in Baker Co., Oregon; and is buried in Baker Co., Oregon.

LYDIA WISDOM, was born about 1815 and married EDWARD J. GRAVES, June 02, 1835.

MOSES SMITH WISDOM, was born December 16, 1815; married (1)ZILPHA DOTSON, July 13, 1838, (2) MINERVA EVANS, (widowed),and (3) REBECCA INMAN APPLEGATE, (widowed); died July 13, 1884 in Grundy Co., Missouri; and is buried in Trenton, Missouri.
NANCY A. WISDOM, was born Oct. 26, 1817; never married; died Oct. 10, 1865; and is buried in the Bethlehem Church Cemetery in Boone County.

The following are a few excerpts taken from John Wisdom's book, wherein he makes mention of his father, Thomas Barnes Wisdom.

"Father built a pen of rails four feet high. He dug a trench to the center of the pen and baited it with shelled corn. The wild turkeys would follow the bait up into the pen, then I - not much bigger than the gobblers - had to crawl in and catch them. They wouldrun around the pen til I would finally catch one of the big fellows and how they would beat me with their wings. Father would get a greatlaugh out of this."
"In 1855 Father wanted to move farther west so we moved to Haynesvill,Clinton Co., and in 1856 to Grundy Co., eight miles north of Trenton,Missouri. There he located a homestead of forty acres down on Honey Creek in the timber which gave us plenty of work to do."
"A few years later Father sold the farm after we had fenced some eighty acres. I had plowed it with three yoke of oxen with plow fixed in frame and wheels so that all I had to do was work the lever in and out to plow to the end of the land."

"Father then bought a place four miles from Trenton but theacreage in cultivation wasn't enough for the two of us."

(John Wm. Wisdom leaves with the Gess's headed west by wagon train...,he's now trying his hand at mining in Idaho.)

(John Wm. Wisdom leaves with the Gess's headed west by wagon train...,he's now trying his hand at mining in Idaho.)

"Father came from the wagon train camped on Boise River, tramping over hills and hollows (gulches as they were called in the West)asking for John Wisdom."

"That Sunday when I dropped into the market, the meatman told methat my Father was here looking for me. I was quite surprised, notknowing their wagon train had arrived that far. This was in September, 1863."

"about a year after Mother and Sister Armilda's deaths, sister Frances (Blew) persuaded her husband to go to Webfoot country. After harvest, Father sold his farm and decided to go with them. Sister Katherine and brothers Mike, Wesley and little Jeff went with them also, leaving James, George and me in Baker."

"My Father with his daughter Kate and her husband, George Carson,and five children came to visit us in 1885. Father had sold his farm in Junction City after the harvest and wanted to come back to Baker.They visited with us nine months and left for Payette, Idaho.

Father stayed with us until 1892 when he moved to a little house, belonging to brother Jim, on Bridge Street. There he died in February 1893.

The year 1893 brought many changes. I was sick most of that year andcouldn't even attend Father's funeral."


"Thomas Barnes Wisdom, the compiler's father, with his family crossed the plains with a wagon train (ox teams) in 1863. The company under the leadership of G.W. Gess, son of Captain Wm. Gess, left Missouri,April 10, 1863, and reached Baker County, Oregon, October 25, of that year. This was one of the best equipped wagon trains that evercrossed the continent. It consisted of 100 wagons and 150 men wellarmed. They also had plenty of food and ammunition. Mr. Gess was abrave, bold and daring man with nerve and decision, yet he was alwaysprudent and conservative.
The entire journey was beset with perils, there being constant dangerof Indian attacks as well as assaults from white bandits, jayhawkers and guerrilas. There were several skirmishes with the Indians but no serious damage was sustained. Mr. Gess, his family and a number ofemigrants stopped at Boise, Idaho.
The Wisdom family and a greater part of the company moved on to BakerCo., Oregon, where the Wisdom's located at Pocahontas, a little placeat the foot of the Baisley-Elkhorn Mountain in the Blue Mountain Range. Pocahontas is in Powder River Valley, which is one of the most fertile spots not only in Baker Co. but in all Oregon.
The Civil War with its devastations and bitterness led thousands to leave their homes, in Western and South-western states; not alwaysfrom patriotic motives. Missouri, especially, sent hundreds of menwith their families, "Southern sympathizers", who were glad to getaway from the perils of the conflict. As this army of people came to eastern Oregon, they scattered over Powder River and Grande Ronde valleys, and strayed somewhat through the Blue Mountains and along the Umatilla and John Day rivers."
"At the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas Barnes Wisdom was awell-to-do farmer and stock raiser. But as I have briefly stated his affiliations were in the South, consequently could no longer remainwithout placing his life and the lives of his family in jeopardy, as it had been threatened time and time again, until forbearance had ceased to be a virtue. His property was all confiscated, everything but his land."
"Father was a man of great vitality, strong, robust and muscular.I am unable to find language to express his ennobling traits of character--a pure, clean Christain. Such is a brief sketch of one of Oregon's brave pioneers, one who had the courage to break away from civilization and become one of the men who made it possible to subdue the then unsettled portion of eastern Oregon, which is now one of the greatest states in the Union."
"Much may be said of Thomas Barnes Wisdom, as his many traits of character have endeared him to all who knew him. He was always ready to extend a helping hand to those who were in need and was aconsistent Baptist until his death, which occurred at Baker, Oregon,February 01, 1893."

The following are randomly selected notes taken from John Wisdom's book regarding his own life.

"I, John Wm. Wisdom, was born March 15, 1840 in Randolph Co., Missouriand was reared on a farm there. My father's name was Thomas Barnes Wisdom who was born in Fayette, Ky. My mother was Lucinda Gess, bornin Farrell Co., Ky."
"I was kept in the guard tent for ten days which seemed like months..., "
"They replied, "If you will take the oath of allegiance and agree to go West we will let you go." (speaking of the Federals)
"We were joined by my three uncles, John, Tom and William Gess.Our train was made up after we crossed the Missouri River...,"
"September 6, 1862, a day to remember, we arrived at FlagstaffHill overlooking Powder Valley. Coming over this last hill a most remarkable sight met our eyes."
"Hearing so much about the Boise mines, a party was made up forthe trip."
"This, however, did not last long as my father came looking forme."
"Some of my relatives about concluded to end their journey herein the Boise Valley but my folks had a desire to go to Oregon. After much discussion all decided to continue on except Uncle Will Gess and his family."
"My youngest sister sickened and died while we camped on Weiser River."
"I kept on with my freighting all that season. Uncle G.W. (Will)Gess was associated with me...,"
"I returned to Powder Valley a very sick boy..., About the time Ibecame concious, my dear Mother and Sister were stricken with it andin a short time both died."
"I have felt I could never forgive myself."
"My answer came shortly when Dr. Boyd, a local doctor asked me to go into the drug business with him...,"
"On June 14, 1868 I married Miss Mary Elizabeth Sturgill, better known as Molly, an orphan and a native of Kansas."
"Little Frank was born in 1870, Frances Katherine in March, 1872, Marguerite, 1873, Vesper Ann (Bessie) in 1875, Loy Winter in January,1886, Mabelle, 1888, Glen Albert, 1890 and John Junior (June) in1892."
"I drew what I wanted, trying to copy Grandfather's home in Kentucky where I spent one summer when I was...,"
"It took a year to build the house which is three stories high...,"
"I homesteaded 360 acres four miles from Baker in what was called the Missouri Flat country."

"Point Breeze Missouri Flats"

"In 1880 I was elected by the Democratic State Convention as delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio."
"I had thought for some time that Baker Co. was in need of an improved breed of horses...,"
"The lot cost me between $8,000 and $9,000.00..., With ourcarload of horses...,"
"In 1883 brother Mike's wife, Cordelia Moore, died and left two little sons..., Before she passed away she gave Merton to Molly. We raised him until he was twelve...,"
"The year 1893..., I was sick most of that year and couldn't even attend Father's funeral."
"Due to my illness and absence from the store my business was in bad shape.
At this point in the book, daughter Loy continues with her father's story.

Baker County History
Baker Co. Records Available through the State Archives
The Baker County GenWeb Page
Visit The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
Visit the Baker City Home Page
"Exploring Oregon's Past," Home Page by LeRoy S. Parris

American Local History Network
Return to the Oregon American Local History Network


Bits and Pieces of the Early Years:

Charles Chandler was captain of the first wagon train to settle in the Baker ==Valley (1862).

Some of the men who would gather in the back room of the Wisdom drug ==store, smoke pipes and have heavy political discussions: George Bowman,
==Jim Ashe, Dave Littlefield, Sam Foft, John Chord, John and Jim Wisdom.

In 1867 John Wisdom and Dr. Boyd, opened the first drugstore in Baker
= City, which also sold groceries and liquors.

Serene McCord was not only Baker City's first mayor, but he was also the first blacksmith.

Luther Speelman was the first white child born in Baker County.

In the 1890's Baker City had a National Guard which drilled on the city streets many times a week.

The Kolb family ran a hotel, the "Kolb Hotel," located on First Street in Baker City. be continued