The Wise Family

The following story and photos are the result of contributions made by Phil Wise and other members of the Wise family, especially Coni Bowman and Francis "Sonny" Wise. The Marion County CC and ACC edited those contributions. For more information about the Wise family, please email Phil (new address!).

This story is about three brothers (George, John, and James) and their sister (Mahala Wise King) who moved west from their native Pennsylvania and stopped in Marion County for a time. Their lives spanned the nineteenth century, the period in American history when everyone seemed to be moving on, searching for good land and a good life. Some kept moving until they reached the west coast; others found new homes in the Midwest. Along the way they bore, raised, and lost some of their children, moved away from each other and came together again, if only briefly, and finally located many miles apart. In other words, their story is the outline of many of our Iowa families.

We begin in the middle, which is where most family histories begin; but also in the middle of the century and the middle of the country.

Clay Township, Marion County: 1850 - 1860

One of the things a genealogist soon learns is that their ancestors didn't usually move into the new world alone, whether the new world was across the ocean or the interior of the American continent. For safety and support, they traveled in groups of friends and family. If we find one family from Greene County, Pennsylvania, we discover that it pays to look around the county for others from the same place or with the same surname. In 1850 we find several members of the Wise family in Clay Township.

One is George Wise, age 42, and his wife Sarah, 38, both of whom were born in Pennsylvania. Their children's birthplaces tell the story of their travels to Marion County: the three oldest were born in Pennsylvania in the 1830s; the fourth, a daughter, was born in Pennsylvania or Virginia around 1839 and the fifth, another daughter, was born in Ohio about 1842. The two youngest children, boys aged four and one, were born in Iowa. Peeking into the future, we'll find that they had two more children born in Iowa before the 1860 census when the family was living in Andrew County, Missouri. By 1870 George, 63 years old, Sarah, age 60, and their two youngest sons, aged 18 and 16, had moved again, this time to Linn County, Kansas.

Back in Marion County in 1850, we find a second Wise family in Clay Township: John, age 39, another Sarah, age 28, both born in Pennsylvania, and two sons, both born in Iowa. The age of their oldest son, 13 (born about 1937), tells us that this Wise family group was in Iowa before George and his family.

There aren't any other Wise families in Marion County in 1850.

In 1860 John and Sarah Wise were still in Clay Township with their growing family, George and Sarah had moved on to Missouri, and we find some newcomers: David M. Wise, age 19, born Pennsylvania, was living with the John and Lucinda Harsin family in Clay Township, and John A. Wise, 17, born Pennsylvania, and Marinda A. Wise, 15, born Virginia, were living with Henry and Elizabeth Beaver. We'll come back to these three young Wises presently, but for now the question is who were the families they were living with? Why were they living with them rather than John and Sarah Wise? We don't know, but there is a possibility, according to Phil Wise, that Elizabeth Beaver might have been an aunt.

In the 1870 census the sister of George and John Wise makes her first and only appearance in Marion County. Mahala Wise, born 1802 in Pennsylvania, was married to George King (1808-1844). She was living in Monroe Co., Ohio in 1850 with or near nine children, ranging in age from 27 to eight. In 1860 she and her youngest son were living with a married daughter in Kansas Territory. She died in October 1884 and was buried in the Oakland Church Cemetery, Harrison County, MO. Several of her children are buried there or nearby. Her apparent dependence on her married children was characteristic of the life of a widow in the nineteenth century.

Thus far we have met three of the Wise siblings who lived in Marion County: Mahala and George, who each appear in only one census and turn up in other Midwestern states, and John, who lived out his life in Marion County. We have yet to meet another brother, James R. Wise; but first we turn to the impact of the Civil War on the sons of John and James Wise.

The Civil War

On August 9th, 1862 in Mahaska County, Iowa, four members of the Wise family answered the call to service and signed up to join the Civil War. They were David M. Wise, age 21, his brother James, 19, and their cousins Titus, 24, and his brother Edward, 20. All four served in Company F of 40th Iowa Infantry. The boys were residents of Marion County at the time of their enlistment, even though they signed up in Mahaska County. Probably the enlistment office was closer to their family homes.

Two of the boys would never come home. David M. Wise and Edward W. Wise, cousins, both died of disease after the regiment camped at Columbus, Kentucky. Here is what the historian of the 40th Iowa Infantry wrote about this encampment:

“The regiment remained at Camp Pope [near Iowa City] until December 17, 1862, upon which date it started by rail for Cairo, Ill., where it arrived on the 18th, and embarked on a steamer, by which it was conveyed to Columbus, Ky., where it disembarked and went into camp on the evening of December 19, 1862. Columbus was an important military post, and was at that time threatened with attack by a considerable force of rebels, under command of General Forrest. That officer wisely withdrew his troops, however, upon learning that the Union garrison had been strongly reinforced and was well prepared to defend the post. The regiment remained at Columbus, engaged in the performance of camp and garrison duty, for the remainder of the winter. During this period the men and officers suffered much from sickness, from which many died, and many more were rendered unfit for further military service and were subsequently discharged. That winter's experience is remembered by the survivors of the regiment as the most gloomy and depressing period of their service.”

[Excerpted from a “Historical Sketch, Fortieth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry” in Roster and Record of Iowa Troops in the Rebellion, Vol. 5, by Guy E. Logan; online at]

The Family of Titus and Edward W. Wise

John and Sarah (Long) Wise, both of whom were born in Pennsylvania, were married in Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa on the 24 March 1834, twelve years before Iowa became a state. According to William Donnel's History in 1844 they settled on land that would become Clay Township, Marion County. In the 1850 census we find them listed with their two sons, Titus, age 13, and Edward W., age 7. We know that several children died as infants, but at least four others would survive: Sarah, George F., Richard, and Columbus. Coni Bowman's research indicates that another son, William Marion, born in 1844, survived into adulthood as well, and he is named in a biography of the family in the 1881 History of Marion County; but he is not listed with the family in the censuses, Marion County Marriages: 1845-1915, or Cemeteries of Marion County.

In 1861, almost a year before he enlisted, Titus Wise married Zelma Morris. Their first child, named Columbus like his young uncle, was born in December of 1862 and died in January 1863. It's not clear whether his father ever saw him. Titus continued to serve in Company F of the 40th Regiment until he was discharged on February 14, 1865, in Little Rock, Arksansas. By that time he had risen to the rank of Corporal.

In 1870 he and Zelma are living next door to his parents in Clay Township and have three children: Mary, John, and Jesse. Two more, Bertha and Allen, would be born to them in the next decade.

Most of the family is buried in Eureka Cemetery in Marion County. Edward, however, is buried in the Memphis National Cemetery, Plot 2036. [See]


Name Birth Marriage Death Burial
John Wise 1811 - PA 1834 - Burlington, IA 3 Dec 1893 Eureka Cem
Sarah Long Wise 1815 - PA   11 Jul 1895 Eureka Cem
Titus Wise 1837 - IA 1861 - Zelma Morris Unknown Unknown
Edward W. Wise 1842 - IA   3 Sep 1863 Memphis, TN
Sarah J. Wise 1853 - IA Charles Harvey - 1882
Christopher Snell - 1915
7 Oct 1931 Eureka Cem
George F. Wise 1855 - IA Effie B. Blair - 1886
Elizabeth Mary Reeding - 1892
1926 Eureka Cem
Richard Wise 1857 - IA Hattie Maria Woods - 1884 1904 Eureka Cem
Columbus Wise 1861 - IA Canora Anna (?) - abt 1886
(living in Nebraska 1910-1930)
Unknown Unknown

The Family of David and John A. Wise

Locating the family of Titus and Edward Wise was easy. That isn't the case for the family of David and John A. Wise. They are not in the 1850 Marion County census. By 1860 the brothers are in Clay Township, but they're not living with their parents. David, age 19, born Pennsylvania, is living with the John and Lucinda Harsin family. John A. Wise, age 17, born Pennsylvania, and Marinda Wise, age 15, born Virginia, are living with the Henry and Elizabeth Beaver family. Searching a bit further we find that there is a James Wise buried in Eureka Cemetery. He died on 6 September 1858 at 38 years and 6 days. At this point we can hypothesize that he is the father of David and John A. and probably of Marinda as well. But where is their mother? Not buried with James. Not, as nearly as we can tell, in the 1860 Marion County census. But when we look at the marriages recorded between 1858 and 1860, we see that a Hannah Wise married James Karr on the 4 December 1859. Might she be James' widow and might they be the parents of David, John, and Marinda? The 1860 census suggests that may be true.

James and Hannah Karr, born Pennsylvania, are living in Red Rock, Polk Township, Marion County with three Karr children and four Wise children: Peter, age 13, born Kentucky, James Riley, age 9, born Kentucky, Catharine, age 7, born Ohio, and Sarah, age 3, born in Iowa. The birthplaces of the children trace a journey from Pennsylvania to Virginia to Kentucky to Ohio and finally to Iowa. Ideally, though, we need to find both parents and most of the children living together in 1850, presumably in Kentucky; and fortunately they are.

In District 2, Greenup County, Kentucky on the 16th August, 1850 we find James Wise, age 30 (born c 1820), PA; Hannah, age 29 (born c 1821), PA; David, age 9 (born c. 1841 PA); John, age 7 (born c. 1843), PA; Merinda, age 5 (born c. 1845), VA; and Peter, age 3 (born c. 1849), KY It's a good thing we find them together there because by 1970 they are not in Marion County. Unlike the family of John and Sarah Wise, this family hadn't finished its westward trek.

Name Birth Marriage Death Burial
James Wise c. 1820 - PA   6 Sept 1858 Eureka Cemetery
Hannah (?) c. 1821 - VA (2) James Karr - 1859 5 June 1903 Fremont, Dodge Co, NE
David M. 1841 - PA   2 Mar 1863 Columbus, KY
John A. 1843 - PA Minty Simmons -1866 31 Dec 1908 Grants Pass, OR
Marinda J. 1845 - VA George B. Weston - 1863 Unknown prob Idaho
Simon Peter 1846 - KY apparently never married 13 Jul 1924 Fremont, NE
James Riley 1850 - KY Bertha Steinhoefel - 1879 Mar 1919 Alva, OK
Catherine 1854 - IA Harrison Cox - c. 1878 2 Mar 1910 Fremont, Dodge Co, NE
Sarah E. 1855 - IA John Robert Shepard - 1875 11 Jan 1948 Eldon Cem, Miller Co, MO

After John was mustered out of the 40th Regiment on August 2, 1865 at Fort Gibson in the Cherokee Nation (now Oklahoma), he did return to Marion County and married Minta A. (Minty) Simmons on September 9, 1866. Minty, who was born about 1844 in Illinois, was the daughter of Smith (b c. 1809) and Nancy Simmons (b c 1818 – d 1859), natives of Tennessee who had settled in Marion County by the time of the 1856 census. `

Hannah Wise Karr and her children, including John and his family, arrived in Dodge County, Nebraska, in 1869 and homesteaded a few miles north of Scribner on the west side of the Elkhorn River. During the five years she was proving the homestead, a railroad built a line through her property. She was awarded a settlement by the courts. Hannah spent the rest of her life in Nebraska, passing away in June 1903. She’s buried in Fremont, Nebraska.

Years later one of Hannah's grandsons told of an incident that happened about 1880 when he was ten years old. His grandmother Hannah owned a dog that the boy was fond of. One day the dog was missing. Several days passed, and everyone had given up hope of finding him when at last he returned home, covered with mud, very thin, and generally in bad shape. A close inspection found a wound from what appeared to be a snake bite. The family concluded that the dog had buried itself in mud along the river and stayed there until the water drew out the poison, and he had recovered enough to drag himself home.

While Hannah was making a new home for herself, her sons John and James Wise had applied to Staub Milling Co. of Chicago for a loan of approximately $900 in order to build a grist mill. They purchased land on Pebble Creek, 10 to 15 miles NW of Hannah’s place and about two miles from the present town of Snyder, Nebraska. The mill was built and a ditch dug, diverting water from Pebble Creek for ½ mile or more to power the water wheel. Then the ditch carried the water back to the creek ¼ mile below. The records of the loan and of the note being paid in full are located in the Fremont, Nebraska court house.

A descendant of John Wise saw the mill site in 1990 and talked with the farmer who owned the place at the time. He said he still plowed up bricks at the site from time to time. He also said that the building he used for a granary, approximately 20 feet square, was the original blacksmith shop from the mill site. He had moved it ½ mile to his farm.

John and Minty’s oldest son, Thomas, was born in Iowa in 1867, but their other children were born in Nebraska: David M., in 1870, James R. in 1872, Emily and Emmaline in 1875, and Bertha in 1879. Presumably Bertha was named for the woman that her uncle James married on 14 July 1879, Bertha L. Steinhofel.

John Wise Family Photo

Click the photo to enlarge it. This photo is from the 1890s when the family lived in Washington State. First row, left to right: John A. Wise, Minty Simmons Wise, Bertha Wise, Tom Wise. Back row, left to right: Emily Wise, Mr. Tavis, Emiline Wise, David M. Wise [named for his uncle who died in the Civil War] and his wife Lilly Ralph Wise. -- Courtesy of Phil Wise, the grandson of David M. and Lilly Ralph Wise

John and James’s partnership was dissolved in 1883 when a tornado damaged the grist mill. They did not rebuild. In 1884 John and his family moved by wagon train to Washington state. As far as anyone knows, the two brothers and their families had no further contact for more than 100 years.

The family seemed to have settled for a time in Iowa. But, such is the pioneering spirit of these families, John and Minty moved on to Washington state, where their son David M. Wise married Lilly RALPH in 1890. In turn their son David A. Wise (b 1896) married Verna MAXON in 1924, also in Washington. David A. and Verna’s youngest son is Phillip A. Wise, the source for much of the information in this narrative.

Meanwhile, James Riley Wise and his wife Bertha’s son Francis James (b 1883) married Malinda BOONE. Their son Walter James Wise (b 1914 in Oklahoma) and his wife Alta had a child in Missouri who was named after his grandfather, Francis James Wise. They called him Sonny.

photo of Phil Wise Phil Wise in 2006
son of David A. Wise
son of David M. Wise
son of John A. Wise
Photo of Sonny Wise

Sonny Wise in 1980
son of Walter James Wise
Francis James Wise
James Riley Wise

Click the photos to enlarge them.

Phil and Sonny, the great-grandsons of two brothers, didn't know of each other while they were growing up. That isn't surprising since Phil lives in the state of Washington and Sonny lives in Tennesse. But thanks to their independent interest in their family history and the wonders of the Internet, they met online at GenForum several years ago and hope to meet this summer in person. What's more, they're continuing to learn more about their family history and, fortunately, to share it. If you have something to add to the story, please consider writing to Phil.

A Footnote: Phil has just discovered that another sister (Elizabeth) of Mahala, George, John, and James Wise married James King and lived in Iowa for many years. One of her descendants currently lives in Des Moines, and Phil hopes to meet her, as well as Sonny, this summer.

Posted 8 March 2007. Reformatted by Al Hibbard 5 Oct 2013