John B. Wisenall Papers, 1833-1907

Overview of the Collection

Wisenall, John B. (John Bernard), 1833-1907
John B. Wisenall Papers
1833-1907 (inclusive)
15 items
Collection Number
The John B. Wisenall Papers consist of correspondence and a diary. Topics discussed include Wisenall's time spent prospecting gold, gold claims, business conditions, assorted activities of former companions, the hardships of making a living, debt, town conditions, living arrangements, and outlaw lynchings.
Montana State University Library, Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections
Montana State University-Bozeman Library
Merrill G Burlingame Special Collections
P.O. Box 173320
Bozeman, MT
Telephone: 4069944242
Fax: 4069942851
Access Restrictions

Literary copyright to the writings of John B. Wisenall are still the property of Dr. Robert F. Sexton, Lexington, Kentucky. Permission to publish must be obtained from the donor.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

John Bernard Wisenall was born in Maysville, Kentucky on July 2, 1833. He grew up learning the carpenter's trade and became a devout member of the Methodist Church. Wisenall worked in Aberdeen, Ohio as a young man, but the news of gold strikes on the western frontier convinced him to leave the Ohio valley and try his chances in the territories out west. He may have gone to California in the early 1850s, but by 1859 he was living in Denver, Colorado where he sold a town lot on August 22 of that year. By June 25, 1860, Wisenall had moved on to Omaha, Nebraska where the Census reports him as living in the home of Charles P. Birkett, an attorney from Trinidad. During the next two years, Wisenall worked in Omaha as a carpenter and became active in the choir of the local Methodist Church. The news of the gold discoveries in the Bannack and Virginia City areas of Montana convinced Wisenall to go west again sometime in 1863, and he worked in a mercantile partnership with George W. Forbes in Virginia City in January, 1864. Widely recognized as a devout Christian, Wisenall acted as an informal preacher and Sunday school teacher in Bannack and Virginia City, and was called on at least once to assist condemned outlaws in their final prayers before they were executed by the Vigilantes in the winter of 1863-64. In 1865, Wisenall began locating and recording quartz lode gold claims with the intention of speculating on their value. He may have left the territory sometime as early as the spring of 1866, but in 1867, along with Gilbert B. Weeks, Aaron W. Raymond, George W. Raymond, Andrew Crawford, and W. B. Hoyt, Wisenall formed a partnership to work one of the most promising of the quartz gold claims they collectively held. The ore did not turn a profit after milling and the enterprise was a failure. By 1876, Wisenall had settled in Covington, Kentucky with his growing family. He worked there as a carpentry contractor and real estate agent until his death on November 6, 1907.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The papers include two letters written by John B. Wisenall from Omaha, Nebraska and Virginia City, Montana to his sister in 1862 and 1864; a diary with sporadic entries during the summer of 1865 kept by Wisenall while he prospected for gold in the Sterling City, Montana area; six letters written by Gilbert B. Weeks to Wisenall from Virginia City, Sterling, Omaha, New York, and Hoboken reporting on his efforts to sell their gold claims; one letter from G.W. Hoyt, written to Wisenall from New York City describing the business arrangements of their partnership to market the gold claims; three letters from G. W. Forbes, written to Wisenall or his son, Christian, from Omaha describing business conditions in that city and reflecting on the activities of their former companions in Montana. One letter, written by an unknown party in Virginia City in 1874, describes the writer's hardships in making a living and inability to pay a debt to Wisenall. Wisenall's 1864 letter from Virginia city is of particular interest since it describes conditions in the town, his living arrangements, and mentions the lynching of outlaws by the vigilantes.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Literary copyright to the writings of John B. Wisenall are still the property of Dr. Robert F. Sexton, Lexington, Kentucky. Permission to publish must be obtained from the donor.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Letters and diary created or collected by John Bernard Wisenall were donated to Special Collections, Montana State University Library, by Dr. Robert F. Sexton of Lexington, Kentucky on July 20 and August 30, 2004. Dr. Sexton is the great-great grandson of John B. Wisenall

Processing Note

This collection was processed 2008 August 4

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Frontier and pioneer life--Montana
  • Pioneers--Montana
  • Vigilantes-Montana-Virginia City

Personal Names

  • Forbes, George W., fl. 1864-1888-Correspondence
  • Hoyt, W. B., fl. 1867-Correspondence
  • Weeks, Gilbert B., fl. 1866-1868--Correspondence
  • Wisenall, Christian S.--Correspondence
  • Wisenall, Josephine, fl. 1862-1864--Correspondence

Geographical Names

  • Montana--Gold discoveries
  • Sterling City (Mont.)-History
  • Virginia City (Mont.)--History

Form or Genre Terms

  • Diaries-Montana
  • Personal papers-Montana