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Wisdom, Montana: 1942

April 1942. Baker's Garage in Wisdom, Montana. View full size. 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by John Vachon for the Office of War Information.

April 1942. Baker's Garage in Wisdom, Montana. View full size. 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by John Vachon for the Office of War Information.


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Early pioneers of the Big Hole

I'm looking for any pictures or info of the early Wisdom families prior to 1930. I have an old school picture dated 1914/15 and would love to have someone help identify the children. Both sides of my family, the Elliott's and Scollicks were early settlers there. The old dilapidated log cabin on the south end of the Ruby near Butler Creek is the Scollick homestead and the Elliott log cabin is on Gibbonsville road. I believe my Aunt Eve Scollick might have married a Ferguson in the Wisdom area. There's a picture hanging at the Crossing/Fetties with several people on horses. Anyone that can help identify them as well would be great.

Having lived near Wisdom for many years

during the summer-time, I can almost see the buildings. We haven't lived in Jackson for 20 years but the previous 8 years were spent on the Hairpin Ranch in a line shack about 5 miles past the main ranch, in the middle of nowhere. I loved EVERY minute of it. We traveled to Wisdom for dinner some days or just when the kids wanted to take a ride. It was a short 20 mile drive. Would move back in a New York minute.

The Wisdom of Youth

This town holds a place in my heart. I spent most of my youth in Wisdom, from 1975 to 1990. The town hasn't changed a lot since I left, but has gotten smaller. When I started at Wisdom Elementary there were four classrooms. By the time I graduated to high school they were down to three. I hear there is only one class there now. For high school we were bused 65 miles to the Dillon, one of only two high schools in the county.

It was an amazing place to grow up. Though everyone knew your business, everyone kept an eye out for you. We had two bars that all the kids hung out in and played pool. There were street dances for the Fourth of July and any other occasion. There were two restaurants, one of which burned down last week.

It is hard to describe the life that a kid in a town this small would lead. The concept just doesn't make sense to city folk. But it was an amazing carefree life of swimming under the bridge, ice skating at the pond, nights of kick the can in the Forest Service field, greetings from the town's pet deer and raccoons.

If it were possible to have the kind of lifestyle I have now in the city, I would move back to raise my child there in a heartbeat.

Pictures of Wisdom, Montana

I enjoyed looking at the old pictures of Wisdom and reading the text about them. I grew up near a small town (Gladstone, VA) and have always been kind of partial to them. I love looking at old pictures like these. Thank you for posting them.

Baker's Garage in Wisdom

I am a Wisdom native too.

In talking to my dad. Bruce Helming, who is the oldest native still living in Wisdom, it turns out that Anna Lee and Roy Baker did own a shop across the street from the garage that you know as Baker's, which is now the Wisdom Market. It was the Chet Bruns Union 76 Garage back in the old days. Anna Lee was my dad's first cousin. Dad's folks adopted her when her parents died in the 1920s, and she was raised as Anna Lee Helming in Wisdom.

My grandparents' (and later Dad's) business, Helming Brothers, bought out Chet Bruns' operation in the 1950s, which is when Anna Lee and Roy moved to the garage that you know now. The buildings shown in the photo were destroyed in the American Legion hall fire. I would guess that was in the early 50s, which is when all of the cemetery records were destroyed.

Wisdom had no real fire department until 1961, so when a blaze was raging out of control, it was extinguished by placing dynamite in a loaf of bread and tossing it into the fire. The night the Legion hall and all of these other buildings burned, Dad and his uncle, Clarence Helming, were bringing the fire pumper to the scene. Just as they rounded the corner, "Boom," no more fire (and no more buildings).

Gary Helming

The Garage

I was raised and went to school in wisdom and Bakers Garage is not next to Ed Glassey's garage (The building with Wisdom on the top). Baker's Garage was across the street from Glasseys Garage (Looks like maybe they used photoshop to alter the photo) ..

I moved to Wisdom in 1959 so if the photo is from 1942 maybe they moved the Building??

[The image, which is part of the Library of Congress photographic archive, has not been altered. It's one of more than 50 pictures of Wisdom taken by John Vachon in April 1942. Things can change a lot in 20 years. - Dave]

Eternal Wisdom

Underneath "Unsurpassed" on the Calso sign you have "The California Company"

I found a modern picture of this place online:

Aside from the paved road, this place looks much the same. I don't think they sell Chevron or Mobil at those buildings anymore. Baker's Garage is now Conover's Trading Post. The painted Wisdom has long since faded from the old metal roof.


What does it say on the sign leaning against the wall, underneath "Calso Gasoline"? Is that "Unsurcharged"? No extra fees?

["Unsurpassed." - Dave]


It looks like it's on the edge of a river valley? The colors in this shot are indeed amazing. I love the punch of the red gas pumps.

[It's west of Butte. - Dave]


The Pennzoil logo hasn't changed much:

Towns like this

Towns like this are a staple of western North America. In western Canada, their existence was justified by the railway and farmers hauling grain to their local elevators. Later they survived when the highway became the big thing and people stopped for gas or a little food on the road. There's probably a bar that the locals go to. Town's got a school maybe even a high school, and probably more than one church. There's a ball field and, in just about every prairie town in Canada though of course not the USA, a curling rink. In Saskatchewan they used to say that if you lived in a town that lost the school and the curling rink you might as well start looking for a place in Saskatoon or Regina.


Great photo. Thanks. The last remaining inhabitants eventually changed the name to "Boredom, Montana."

Wisdom MT

Superb quality!

The quality of this photograph is amazing. It looks like it was taken today. Do you have any more information on it?

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