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Wisdom Family of Baker City, Oregon
Compiled by your Oregon Site Administrator ~ Roxann Gess Smith
Presented by Baker County Host ~ P. Davidson-Peters
All Rights Reserved 2001-2008

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."

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!"
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 reaching adulthood and finding himself located in Baker City, Oregon, John Wisdom was preparing to build his family a home. He decided to build that home as a replica of his Grandfather Gess's, where as a child he had spent so many happy and carefree hours. The task would prove to be drewling. It took one year to build the three story, two parlor home. It would be the first home in Baker City to sport an indoor toilet. The furniture, carpets and draperies were shipped by boat from San Francisco to The Dalles, where they were freighted overland. In spite of the belief that basements were unhealthy, John Wisdom's home had a basement. He had the foundation put down six feet into the ground, assuring the sturdiness of a house to last more than his lifetime. The house still proudly stands.
My husband and I visited the home a few summers ago. Now being used as the, "Lovelace Real Estate" office, it's old southern charm still addresses the future with pride. As I stood half dreaming on its wide sloping porch, I tried to imagine my g/g/g/grandfather standing on 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 must have been like the day that the Union soldiers ran him from his home... separating him from his children, but not his punishing breath. I suppose that if the truth were known he died that day, and not some two years later in Illinois, where he fled. For a few brief moments I was there, looking out across the wide stretching landscape where the sign read, "Randolph Co., Missouri"

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 and is buried in the Schooling Cemetery in Boone Co.


John Wisdom


John & Mary Elizabeth (Sturgill) Wisdom

John Wm. Wisdom & wife
Mary Elizabeth Sturgill

Thomas and Luranna Wisdom
had ten children, although not proven,
all born in Cumberland Co., KY, as follows:

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

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

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

  4. LUCY WISDOM - born about 1806; married JOHN WAD about 1826; died about 1895 in Missouri.

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

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

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

  8. LYDIA WISDOM - born about 1815; married EDWARD J. GRAVES on June 02, 1835.

  9. MOSES SMITH WISDOM - born December 16, 1815; married (1) ZILPHA DOTSON on July 13, 1838; married (2) MINERVA EVANS (widowed); married (3) REBECCA INMAN APPLEGATE (widowed); died July 13, 1884 in Grundy Co., Missouri; buried in Trenton, Missouri.

  10. NANCY A. WISDOM - born Oct. 26, 1817; never married; died Oct. 10, 1865; 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 great laugh 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 the acreage 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.)
  • "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 me that my Father was here looking for me. I was quite surprised, not knowing 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 ... this year brought many changes. I was sick most of that year and couldn'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 well armed. They also had plenty of food and ammunition. Mr. Gess was a brave, bold and daring man with nerve and decision, yet he was alwaysprudent and conservative.

The entire journey was beset with perils, there being constant danger of 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 of emigrants 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 get away 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 a well-to-do farmer and stock raiser. But as I have briefly stated his affiliations were in the South, consequently could no longer remain without 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., Missouri and 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, born in 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 and in 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
    "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 our carload 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.

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Scotts Bluff, Nebraska and the Oregon Trail

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Photograph of a pioneer family stopped to eat and rest at Scotts Bluff in the 1850's.

Updated 04 Jun 2013
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