Milwaukee City Dragoons Shooting Prize Coin-Medal

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    fred j borgmann
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    The Milwaukee City Dragoons Schiessen Medal

    The raising of Militia units in the United States dates back to British traditions in our colonial era. Able bodied young men were required to enroll in the local militias to defend their homes from the attacks of hostile Indians and their French allies. Early militia men had to provide their own weapons and clothing and attend regular training sessions. After American independence the states gradually started providing equipment and funding for militia units. Uniforms became fancier after the Napoleonic Wars. Militia membership became voluntary and in some cases socially important. In Wisconsin, militia organization began slowly in the late 1830’s (on paper) and was well established by the late 1840’s. By 1850 Milwaukee had a battalion of militia made up of four companies; Milwaukee Dragoons, Washington Guards, Milwaukee Rifle Corps and the Milwaukee City Guards. Most of the units were ethnic in nature and reflected immigration patterns. The Dragoons and Washington Guards for example, were German speaking units while the others were English speaking units with members of English or Irish heritage. Records of the early militia units are virtually nonexistent and the only mention of them that can be found according to the History of Milwaukee 1881, are the annual attendance records of the Milwaukee Fourth of July Parades. Based on those records we know that the Milwaukee Dragoons were established in 1847 and where in almost every parade from 1848-1860. Sometime around 1856-1857 the name was changed to The Milwaukee City Dragoons. In 1861 they went into Federal Service as part of the First Milwaukee Cavalry Company and were attached to the Fifth Missouri Cavalry Regiment.
    Marksmanship was traditionally a highly prized skill especially among the Germans and so it was with the Milwaukee City Dragoons as evidenced by this shooting prize coin-medal. The award is made from a converted French 5 franc coin type of KM-761 minted in Paris sometime from 1849-1851. The coin is .900 fine silver and nearly the same size and weight as the US silver dollar. Some of the coin’s original legend and inscriptions were machined off and replaced with the engraved German text, “DER MILWAUKEE CITY DRAGONER. 1 TER SCHIESS PREIS” on the obverse. On the reverse the date and denomination was removed and replaced with the engraved, “5 TEN OCTOBER 1857”. This translates as “The Milwaukee City Dragoons First Place Shooting Prize, October 5, 1857.” This also tells us that the unit changed it’s name before Oct. 5, 1857 and also that they were large enough to hold their own shooting contest. Unfortunately no newspaper reports of the event could be found to tell us who the prize winner was. Why was this coin chosen to be the host coin? First of all the coin design was attractive and inoffensive so a new planchet and expensive dies were not needed. The coin was also readily available since foreign coins like this still circulated in the United States until 1857.

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