This year marks the 150th anniversary of the naming of Barron County in honor of Judge Henry Danforth Barron.

The Barron County Board of Supervisors signed a proclamation in observance of that at its May 20 meeting.

During its first 10 years after incorporation, the area was called Dallas County, named after George Mifflin Dallas, vice president to James Knox Polk from 1845-1849. 

Dallas County was largely unsettled in terms of people and form. But as settlers came to the area, they sought to give the county a new identity, choosing to honor Judge Barron. 

Barron was a distinguished statesman of the time, serving in the Wisconsin Assembly as representative of the region for most of the 1860s, among other important posts. He chaired committees and twice served as Speaker.  His activities favored the development of lumber companies and railroads, and he supported legislation for homesteaders.

Dallas before Barron 

According to the “History of Barron County,” written in 1922, Dallas County was created out of Polk County in 1859, and included the western three-fifths of present day Barron County, plus nine more townships to the west and north. The county’s configuration shifted throughout the 1860s, annexing some western townships to Polk County.

Dallas County did not become official for civil and judicial purposes until a vote by the legislature in 1868. 

That same year, the name Barron first appeared on maps of the area as a town. 

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Sept. 24, 1868, “A postoffice and town has recently been established as the county seat of the newly organized county of Dallas, named Barron, in honor of Judge Barron, who has so long and faithfully represented that district in our State Legislature.”

The first elected county leadership took office in 1869 and moved to rename the county as Barron. It was not until 1874 that the townships were affixed as they are today, as northern townships were annexed to Burnett County, which included parts of Washburn before that county came to be in 1883. 

Barron’s western journey

Barron was born in Wilton, New York, and moved to Waukesha in 1851, where he purchased a stake in the Waukesha Democrat newspaper and soon changed the name to the Waukesha Chronotype.

Barron recounted his newspaper days in “The History of Waukesha County,” written in 1880. Some excerpts are as follows:

“There was to me in boyhood a charm and attraction about type and press that no other occupation, profession or business presented. 

“I came to Waukesha when I was nineteen years of age, with Edward H. Baxter, an Englishman, and a printer by trade. We started from Auburn, New York, to Wisconsin to purchase and establish a newspaper.”

“In 1853, I was appointed postmaster at Waukesha by President Pierce, and changed the name of the Democrat to that of Chronotype—the name of a radical paper that I admired very much, though I was a Democrat, once published in Boston (from 1846-1851).”

According to a memoir of Barron written by Samuel S. Fifield, written in 1882, “The Democratic party at this time was progressive, and soon after he commenced his editorial labors he became an able advocate of its principles, and gained a more than local reputation as a leader of prominence in his party.”

According to Axtell’s “The First 50 years,” Barron was also the inspiration for naming The Chronotype,  the first newspaper published in Rice Lake and in the county, founded in September of 1874. 

Barron stated that he had a fallout with his partners and sold his stock in the  Waukesha paper in 1857 and moved to Pepin to practice law. 

He remained active in the Democrat Party, but switched to Republican during the Civil War. 

The Green Bay Weekly Gazette reported March 7, 1868: “Mr. Barron was always a Democrat prior to 1862. He lived up in Polk County and was agent for Breckinridge and other southerners who owned large tracts of land in the St. Croix Valley.”

Barron supported John C. Breckinridge, a Southern Democrat who was pro-slavery but also supported maintaining the Union amid rumblings of Southern secession. 

In 1862, as a Republican, Barron was unanimously chosen a member of the Assembly for the district comprising the Counties of Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, and Polk. He soon became a prominent leader in that body, and in the Republican party of the State. He was re-elected to the Assembly in 1863, and again in 1865, 1866, 1867 and 1868.

Barron was generally well-regarded by members of both parties, and elected speaker in 1866 and later in 1873. 

The Janesville Gazette wrote Jan. 9, 1867, “He is  young and prompt, well-versed in parliamentary law, and is fair and impartial in the application of the rules of the house.”

The Wisconsin State Journal wrote April 5, 1875, “He is capable and efficient in all positions in which he has been called to act.”

In April 1869, he was appointed Fifth Auditor in the United States Treasury by President Grant, and served until November, 1871, when he was again elected to the Assembly. He was re-elected in 1872, and in the fall of 1873 was chosen State Senator. He was re-elected Senator in 1875, but having been elected Judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in April, 1876, he tendered his Senatorial resignation.

Barron was also a Regent of the Wisconsin State University from 1863 to 1876. 

He also held several local offices of trust, chief among them the office of County Superintendent of Schools, and District Attorney, and was foremost in shaping local legislation for the protection and aid of the pioneer settlers of his section of the state.

Fifield wrote, “He was a man of indomitable energy, clear perception, and strict integrity. He was magnetic in his influence with his associates, warm and abiding in his friendships, and true to his constituents at all times, and under all circumstances. In his capacity as a legislator, he never forgot the fact that he represented the pioneers of the ‘New Wisconsin,’ the hard-working ‘homesteader,’ and the hardy lumberman, rather than the more wealthy class.”

The Barron County Shield wrote of Barron in 1877, “He is an admirable presiding officer of a deliberative body, discharging its responsibilities, and often trying and delicate decisions, with uncommon tact, urbanity and decision. He was a model legislator, possessing a rare proficiency in parliamentary law and usage; is a man of the most stubborn integrity, whose industry is indomitable, and method, sincerity and zeal enter into all his business habits. He was always found familiar with the process of all-important measures, knew the condition of every bill of importance, and the nature of all conflicting interests pertaining to subjects of legislation.”

Barron died of cirrhosis of the liver at his home in St. Croix Falls in 1882 at the age of 48. He was interred at Prairie Home Cemetery in Waukesha.

I am managing editor at The Chronotype.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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