Hush My Babe

Bob Andrews

After the territorial organization in Wisconsin the territory was divided by the national government into two judicial circuits, the eastern and western districts. Portage County was placed in the western district and the first court was held in the Village of Plover in August 1845, United States Judge David Irwin presiding. The court was held in an unfurnished warehouse owned by John Curran, the father of the Curran brothers, and donated by him for that purpose.

Judge George W. Cate, in 1896, told the first session of the United States court held in Portage County: "The court convened on the last Monday in August (25th), 1845. Present: David Irwin, Judge; George W. Mitchell, deputy United States Marshall; Melson Strong, Sheriff; and George Wyatt, Clerk.

"Sheriff Strong being out of the territory, he appointed George W. Mitchell Undersheriff, and Mitchell appointed William Fellows of little Bull Falls and a man named Wilder deputy sheriffs for the term. A grand jury was in attendance, some of which had traveled a hundred miles for that purpose. It was an event looked foreword to by the isolated population scattered in logging camps, at sawmills and shingle shanties remote from each other. A first term of court in a western country was an epoch. Everybody attended. Frequently campfires were built and people sat about them all night. A load of people came from Madison, 125 miles, in a two-horse wagon to see the first term of court in the pinery. All the possible elements of character were represented from the 'strictly temperate' to the 'half seas over'. By the time the grand jury had been sworn in, the latter were becoming prominent.  One Robert Wakely, a man of high social qualities, whose good nature never forsook him even when drunk, rode his horse into the courtroom by the wide door, just to solute the Judge.  He held his hat off to the right of his head as in military salute, looking straight at the Judge, a sweet smile lighting up his countenance, and softly singing that ancient lullaby commencing, 'Hush my babe, Be still and slumber,' all the time forcing his horse along.

"The Judge was wild. He was recently from old Virginia, a man of great learning and a high appreciation of the law. He demanded the arrest of the intruder. Many thought it funny and would pat Wakely on the back, but more frowned upon it. The Marshall had stepped from the room and the Deputy Sheriffs were slow to act, Mitchell was sent for. He came and proved himself to be a man who not only knew his duty but also had the nerve to do it. He speedily took Wakely from his horse and had him before the Court. The result was that he, Wakely, was severely reprimanded and imprisoned in the Marshall's bedroom a day or two and then Judge Catlin of Madison, an old and highly respected citizen, obtained his release by reason of the many good qualities of Wakely."

So ended the first court case in Portage County.

Note: Mr. Bob Andrews depicted this historical event in an etched picture in 1987. He presented this picture as his gift to the public of Portage County on the occasion of the bicentennial civic celebration of the Constitution of the United States. The original artwork now hangs on the second floor of the Portage County Court House as part of panel one of the historical display of law in Portage County.


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