Caroline Maxson Wood A Gifted Musician in a Remote Frontier

August 01, 2006 | NPUC History | Doug Johnson

At the young age of 16, Caroline Maxson married James Franklin Wood and the newlyweds along with Caroline’s parents, Stephen and Lois Maxson, moved to the frontier of Nebraska. In 1859, the two families purchased covered wagons and headed to the Pikes Peak gold rush in Colorado. Along the way they heard discouraging accounts of the “gold rush” and decided instead to go to the newly opened up frontier of the Walla Walla Valley in Washington Territory.

The slow, exhausting trip along the Oregon Trail was filled with many dangers. At one river crossing Caroline’s father, Stephen, was swept away by the current; men found him half a mile downstream clinging to a branch and nearly unconscious.

Another time an Indian chief wanted to purchase Caroline’s 14-year-old sister, Lucy, for a wife. Stephen told the Indian leader that she was not for sale. But he continued to follow the wagon train and each day offer more ponies and furs. Finally, after six days, the chief gave up his pursuit.

The Wood and Maxson families settled about seven miles southeast of Walla Walla along Russell Creek. In time, the pioneers elected James Franklin Wood as their first superintendent of public schools.

Caroline was an exceptional musician that excelled in both voice and piano. She often sang for the soldiers at Fort Walla Walla and special events in town. The locals referred to her as the “Jenny Lind of the West.” Rutherford B. Hayes, the president of the U.S., visited Walla Walla in 1880 and Caroline sang for the event. She also taught music at Whitman Seminary (College).

The Woods attended the Brethren Church while the Maxsons were Seventh-day Baptists. To encourage their daughter’s family, the Maxsons attended church with them on Sunday as well as worshiping at home on Sabbath. In 1868, Augusta Moorhouse, the Northwest’s first Seventh-day Adventist, visited the Maxsons. She convinced them that they should only attend church on Sabbath. This offended the Woods, and they relocated to Windsor, California to get away from the Sabbath.

At the time there were about 20 Adventist families living in California, but the Woods moved next to one of them. That same year the first Adventist ministers to work west of the Rocky Mountains arrived in California and held meetings in Windsor. The Wood family attended and joined the church.

They soon moved back to the Walla Walla Valley to share their new beliefs and help start the first group of Adventists in the Northwest. Five years later Isaac Van Horn, the first Adventist minister to work in the Northwest, located in Walla Walla and established a church for this small group.

In 1878, James and Caroline Wood left their children with friends in the Walla Walla Valley and traveled to Salem to attend the first Adventist camp meeting in the Northwest. The guest speakers were Ellen G. White and John Loughborough with Caroline leading the singing. One evening a telegram arrived for the Woods. It said, “Come home quickly, your children are very sick.” When they reached home, three of their seven children were dead from the diphtheria epidemic.

When Adventists in the Northwest opened a college in 1892, they selected Caroline to be the music teacher. One of Caroline’s daughters, Grace Reith, also taught music at Walla Walla College.