John Coady's Revolver and Badges

Emily Patwell

Catalog Number: 1926.020.05

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

This Smith & Wesson .32 caliber revolver with nickel plating and a wooden grip and these city marshal badges belonged to one of La Crosse's first settlers, police officers, and city marshals, Detective John Coady. He likely owned the revolver circa 1865, while he was serving as city marshal, considering the stamping on the barrel dating to 1865. The six-pointed star city marshal badge, dated April 4, 1862, is missing the "a" in Coady. Issued his first year as city marshal, this might have been done in error due to initial confusion over the spelling of Coady's name. An engraved emblem-shaped badge with the correct spelling accompanies the star badge and revolver.

An Irish immigrant born in Tipperary, Ireland on June 22, 1837, Coady first came to the United States around the age of 5 with his parents, Martin and Nancy Coady. His family settled first in Burlington, Vermont before moving to Fort Dearborn, Illinois, a settlement that would become part of modern day Chicago, Illinois. A farming family, the Coady clan caught wind of an area of fertile, unsettled farmland in western Wisconsin called Prairie de La Crosse in 1853, and began the perilous journey north to claim their stake. The oldest child at the age of 15, John was tasked with helping his father navigate the ox-team caravan to their new settlement. 

When they arrived, they were among the very first settlers in the area, and they made their first camp on the land that would become Oak Grove Cemetery. The parcel of land once called Prairie de La Crosse soon blossomed into the growing town and later city of La Crosse, Wisconsin as more settlers moved into the area. John soon married another settler, Bridget Daly, in 1857, and in 1858, he would become La Crosse's first night watchman. He worked his beat until 1859, when he took up various other jobs, and in 1862 he was elected as La Crosse's city marshal. He served as city marshal from 1862 to 1865 and from 1866 to 1869.

During the late 1800s, the lumber industry was experiencing an economic boom in the area, and John temporarily retired from the police force to take part in the C. L. Colman Lumber Company from 1869 to 1884. He rejoined the force on October 12, 1884 and took on the role of patrolman, quickly climbing back up the ranks in July 1886, when he was appointed to the position of detective. Detective Coady remained on the force until August 31, 1908, a little over a year since his 50th anniversary with his wife, Bridget. He remained in the area until his death on October 31, 1916, previously hailed as one of La Crosse's oldest living founding settlers.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on July 7, 2018.

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