Creator: Wisenall, John Bernard, 1833-1907

Provenance Note: 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

Historical Note: 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 Description Note: 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, Nebraska 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.

RESTRICTIONS APPLY: 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.


The documents linked below are in Adobe PDF format and require that you have Adobe Acrobat 6 installed on your computer. The diary in Folder 3 is written in almost completely faded pencil on sheets that had been cut unevenly from a missing bound volume. The scanned images of these diary pages are the result of careful manipulation of the faded original pages and are not entirely legible.


Folder 1. John B. Wisenall, Omaha, Nebraska, May 25, 1862, letter to Josephine Wisenall.

Folder 2. John B. Wisenall, Virginia City, MT, January 29, 1864, letter to Josephine Wisenall.

Folder 3. John B. Wisenall, Diary pages, April through December, 1865 (sporadic entries).

Folder 4. Gilbert B. Weeks, New York, April 21, 1866, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 5. Gilbert B. Weeks, New York, April 26, [1866], letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 6. Gilbert B. Weeks, Omaha, Nebraska, May ?, 1866, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 7. W. B. Hoyt, New York, June 6, 1867, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 8. Gilbert B. Weeks, Sterling City, MT, December 28, 1867, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 9. Gilbert B. Weeks, Virginia City, MT, October 18, 1868, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 10. Gilbert B. Weeks, Hoboken, NJ, December 28, 1867, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 11. Unknown, Virginia City, MT, May 24, 1874, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 12. G. W. Forbes, Omaha, NB, March 18, 1879, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 13. B. T. Wisenall, [Ohio?], September 7, 1883, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 14. G. W. Forbes, Omaha, NB, February 18, 1888, letter to John B. Wisenall.

Folder 15. G. W. Forbes, Omaha, NB, October 29, 1900, letter to Christian S. Wisenall.

Updated: 8/4/08