A man who has fought his country’s battles in two wars, manifesting in it all a courage never excelled and rarely equaled, constant in all kinds of frontier and seafaring life for many years, a pioneer to this valley and one of the most intrepid and daring men in Wallowa County, facing the bloodthirsty savages in the time of their war here, the subject of this sketch is eminently fitted to appear in honorable mention in any history of the county or of the northwest, and it is with pleasure that we grant him space in our volume.
James Wilson was born in Schenectady, New York, on February 14, 1824, where he was left an orphan at an early age. At the tender age of ten years he went aboard a ship, took up a seafaring life, and during this career he visited most of the islands in the Pacific, doubled Cape Horn five times, each time consuming six months, and was familiar with the eastern coast of the United States. He served on a whaling ship and was in the United States navy for some time. He was in San Francisco when the city comprised one blacksmith shop, one grocery store, one saloon and one boarding house. At the time of the Mexican war he enlisted in the navy and served three years, being honorably discharged at Norfolk, Virginia. Soon after this he went to sea again, repairing to San Francisco in 1849 by way of the Horn. He was soon in the front ranks of the miners on Yuba river, where flour was forty dollars a sack and the luxury of chewing tobacco cost one dollar and fifty cents per pound. In 1851 he returned to New York by the Horn and soon after came to California over the same route and followed his trade of blacksmithing in different parts of California and Arizona. When the Civil war broke out he enlisted in Company A, First California Cavalry, as furrier of the company, and he served sixteen months and received honorable discharge.
Following the war he went to the mines, engaging in blacksmithing and mining until 1875, when he came through the Grande Ronde valley on to the Wallowa valley. There were only twenty persons all told here when he came and so he is one of the first settlers, and surely one of the most doughty pioneers that ever set foot on Oregon soil. During the Indian trouble he and several others remained in the valley alone, the rest fleeing to places of safety. Howbeit, the redskins did not attack him. He took a homestead and improved it, giving also attention to blacksmithing. He has now retired and is living in Wallowa, where he spends the golden years of life in enjoyment of the well earned portion that is his, while also in the confidence of his fellows he is secure, and is widely known throughout the county and beloved by all, both for the good labors that he has done and because of the stanch qualities that he possesses.