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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  14 - The Griffin Rifles


(-as transcribed from pages 206 - 208)

In the Summer of 1887 a number of the younger men of the City of Eau Claire assembled to discuss the formation of a military company.  A preliminary meeting was held early in July, and on the evening of July 13, 1887, a second meeting to effect a temporary organization was held in Smith's Hall, corner of South Barstow street and Gray street.  Harry B. McMaster was elected chairman and Thomas B. Culver performed the duties of secretary.  A large number were in attendance and the meeting was an enthusiastic one.  Committees were appointed to perfect the organization.  Interested gentlemen who had been investigating the financing of the company made a favorable report.  Measures were taken to secure the Roller Skating Rink at the corner of Second avenue and Ann street, on the west side for use as an armory.

July 27, 1887, another meeting was held of which Harry B. McMaster was chairman and A. J. Sheridan acting secretary.  A civil organization was formed with the election of Joseph M. Ballard as president, Homer D. Cooley as vice-president and William P. Chrissinger as secretary and Thomas B. Culver as treasurer.  These gentlemen with H. B. McMaster, George B. Mason and Moses W. Burns composed the board of directors.

The committee on armory made a report that the old skating rink, corner Ann street and Second avenue, could be secured for a rental of fifty dollars per year and that the premises could be bought outright for three hundred dollars.

In honor of a prominent citizen, the name "Griffin Rifles" was adopted by a unanimous vote, by acclamation.

The meeting then proceeded to the election of a Captain and on an informal ballot Harry B. McMaster received forty-two votes and Walter J. Fitch four.  The election of Captain McMaster was made unanimous.  A ballot for First Lieutenant was taken and Walter J. Fitch received twenty-four votes, John P. Sheridan nineteen and scattering four.  Mr. Fitch declined the election on the ground that he had in contemplation a business arrangement which would cause his removal from the city.  Another ballot was then taken and John P. Sheridan received forty votes, John Fred Farr four, George B. Mason two,  and J. M. Ballard one.  The election of Lieutenant Sheridan was made unanimously.  An informal ballot for Second Lieutenant was then taken, resulting in John Fred Farr receiving twenty-seven votes, George B. Mason nine, J. M. Ballard three, and scattering seven Lieutenant Farr was thereupon unanimously elected.

The meeting then appointed a committee on by-laws and articles of association consisting of Messrs. Fitch, McMaster and Cooley and arranged for the appointment of a committee to solicit honorary memberships.

In August the old rink became the armory of the new company and frequent meetings and drills were held to perfect the organization.  The citizens responded liberally in taking out honorary memberships.  The Griffin Rifles Armory Association was organized to take over the building and remodel it.  This association was a stock company and the citizens freely subscribed for stock.  October 11 to October 15 the company gave a fair at the old Music Hall, then standing at the corner of South Barstow and Kelsey streets, now the site of the Kahn-Truax building.  A report of the treasurer following the fair gave the net receipts as $943.97.  The ladies rendered great assistance to the members of the company in making the fair a success.  The money thus obtained was used in the purchase of uniforms.  Events of this fair being of great interest were the cane contest and the hat contest.  The cane was won by John S. Owen, who received 950 votes.  George B. Shaw was close competitor and Frank McDonough came in third.  John Ure won the silk hat with Ralph E. Rust and Frank Moon second and third contestants.

October 19 First Lieutenant John P. Sheridan tendered his resignation, owing to removal from the city, and First Sergeant Joseph M. Ballard was unanimously elected to the position.

On October 26 Captain McMaster announced the Adjutant General had advised arms would soon be shipped to the company.  The drilling in the foot movements was already under way.  At this same meeting a committee was appointed to consider plans for the remodeling of the building and to provide for heating. In December the company got down to hard drill.  Squad drills were held from 8:30 to 9:30 and then company drills for one hour.

At the annual meeting December 6 A. J. Sheridan was chosen recording secretary of the Civil Association, C. H. Greene financial secretary and Thomas B. Culver treasurer.  The by-laws had been amended to provide for the captain of the company being president of the Civil Association.

On November 22 the rifles, the old Springfield, were received from the State and the company, which had heretofore been drilling in foot movements, took up the manual of arms.  The uniforms did not come until December 15.  These were purchased by the company and each man received a pair of blue trousers, a dark blue blouse and a dress coat.  These coats were highly decorated with facings and brass buttons, and fitted very tight.

The armory had been put in condition for drills and all through the winter the company worked hard.  In spite of great stoves at either end kept at a red heat the men suffered from the cold while drilling and many rifles fell to the floor from benumbed fingers of recruits.  Captain McMaster was rapidly molding the company into shape.  In the selection of his non-commissioned officers he used great care.  Joseph M. Ballard when the company first organized in the summer was First Sergeant and on his election to First Lieutenant was succeeded by William P. Chrissinger.  Charles H. Green early in the history of the company was made Quartermaster Sergeant.

During the winter of 1887-88 the Germania Guard, of Wausau, was mustered out of the State service and the Griffin Rifles, together with two other independent companies, made application for the vacancy.  Adjutant General Chandler P. Chapman ordered the three applicants to prepare for a competitive drill, and in this contest the Rifles were the victors.

March 29 was the date set for the inspection.  The other two competitors for the place had already been inspected.  The armory was filled with  friends of the company to witness this critical event in the career of the Rifles.  General Chapman departed for Madison on completion of the inspection and that the company made a satisfactory and successful showing is evidenced by a telegram received on March 30 from General Chapman conveying the information that Governor Rusk had directed the vacancy in the Third Infantry be filled by the mustering in of the Eau Claire Company.  On April 6 notice was given muster would take place on April 20.

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