Press: Descendants gather to celebrate Reedsburg’s first families

Here is a recent article that includes information about the Babb Reunion from the Reedsburg Times-Press. Article dated July 5, 2016:

Men and women came from miles around to commemorate Reedsburg’s founding families.

Descendants of the Reed, Bernien, Rork, and Babb families and Ho-Chunk Nation attended a special picnic and program at Webb Park on July 3. The afternoon, hosted by the Reedsburg Old Settlers Association, included stories, music and dance.

Relatives of the community’s earliest settlers traveled from as far away as England to attend, said Cheryl Schwarzenbart, a club member who helped organize the event.

More than 25 members of the Babb family were present and several spoke. Marjorie Rhodes, who grew up in Tomah, said she used to think her relatives lived only in Reedsburg. Over time she found out that Babbs can be found across state lines.

“We’ve spread our wings and gone everywhere but this is home,” she said.

Dan Babb said he may have had a lot of family at the picnic but even that number only accounts for about 5 percent of the whole clan. He noted that his ancestors have records from Texas and that there are plenty of rowdy stories, especially from the early days. However, he attributes those stories more to hyperbole and less to official records.

“Tall tales are a Texas tradition,” he said.

Records are indeed the key to keeping history alive. Schwarzenbart said a great deal of knowledge about the town comes from letters recovered from the 1800s.

Carol Berendes echoed Schwarzenbart, saying that she found her ancestry through historical documents. The Baraboo woman, who has ties to the Rork family, said she developed a stronger interest in history upon her discovery.

Several members of the Ho-Chunk Nation were also present, including traditional musicians and dancers, as well as Lance Tallmadge, a direct descendant of Chief Ahu-Choga, or Blue Wing. Tallmadge spoke of how the natives and white settlers worked together and laid the foundation for what is now Reedsburg.

“We’re very honored that the people of this community looked upon our relatives and recognized the contributions that Blue Wing made to this community, and how your relatives, your history, your past… how those people took Blue Wing in as one of their own,” Tallmadge said.

Old Settlers Association President Linda Borleske said it’s one of the shining examples of the area’s admirable past. She said evidence of previous accomplishments remains today in the form of historic homes, downtown storefronts and long-standing family farms.

“Reedsburg has such a rich history,” she said.


Reedsburg’s founding is most often attributed the influential James Wilson Babb, David Caldwell Reed, John H. Rork, John Bernien and Ahu-Choga.

According to information provided by the Old Settlers Club, Ahu-Choga was respected and friendly among the early white settlers. The tribe had a village along the south bank of the Baraboo River just west of Reedsburg.

The relationship was so strong that white residents were outraged when the government tried to force relocation of the Ho-Chunk in 1873-74. They argued the Ho-Chunk were land owners and part of the community. The relocation was stopped but would be attempted again. However, according to the information, many members of the Ho-Chunk returned to their homeland.

Babb was the first permanent white settler. After suffering serious financial losses he took his family from Ohio to Wisconsin in 1846. He was 55 when he departed on the journey.

John Schmitt and his wife Denise still live on the original Babb property west of Reedsburg, Schwarzenbart added. John’s mother, Carol Schmitt, also lives in Reedsburg.

The city is named after Reed, a Welshman who was born around 1808. Little is known about his early years or parents but records show he settled along the Baraboo River in 1847. It was reported that he wanted to see the settlement grow so he provided land for a public square and cemetery. Further improvements followed, along with saw mills and other developments, and more people moved to the area.

Rork, who was born in 1811, moved from New York shortly after Wisconsin became a state. The family spent some time in Racine before making a journey through the snow to Reedsburg.

John was a founding member of the First Methodist Church in Reedsburg and championed the creation of a new township. He also helped run the mill and taught youth farming and carpentry.

The Rorks are best remembered for starting the Old Settlers Association, which began as a social club that was open to anyone regardless of income, religion or political affiliation. The group celebrated its 140th annual meeting in February 2016.

Borleske said it’s an accomplishment for an organization to last for so long.

“That says a lot about the dedication of the membership,” she said.

John Bernien, who is still alive, is well known for being Reedsburg’s longest serving mayor; he led the city from 1968 to 1985. His father, Alfred, was also civic minded: He served as mayor from 1934 to 1949.

The Berniens emigrated from Germany in the 1870s and established the Bernien Co. along Webb Avenue between Main and Vine streets. The Bernien name can still be seen at the top of a Main Street building.



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