Justice John BarnesWisconsin Supreme Court Justice: 1908–1916
"He was gentle, unassuming, kind, and democratic; he had a fine sense of humor and indulged it with pleasure and to the delight of his companions. His nature was cordial, open, generous, yet marked by that quiet dignity and poise characteristic of big men." – Patrick H. Martin, Barnes' memorial service (1919)
John Barnes was born July 26, 1859, and grew up on a farm in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Barnes graduated from high school in 1876 and continued his education at the Oshkosh Normal School. He taught school for the next six years.
After graduating from University of Wisconsin Law School in 1885, Barnes returned to Oshkosh to practice law. In 1887, Barnes moved to Oneida County, where he practiced law and served as the municipal judge in Rhinelander for four years. He was president of the local school board, pursued many successful business ventures and was a company executive.
Governor Robert M. La Follette appointed Barnes to the newly created Railroad Commission of Wisconsin in 1906. He resigned after two and one-half years.
In 1908, Barnes was called back to public service. In a special election of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, he ran successfully against Robert M. Bashford, who had been appointed to fill the vacancy caused by Chief Justice John B. Cassoday's death. Barnes was elected to finish Cassoday's term and won re-election to a 10-year term in 1909.
In 1916, Barnes resigned from the bench to become chief counsel for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee. Barnes served in that capacity until his unexpected death on January 1, 1919, at age 59.
Barnes was married to Julia Koelzer, a childhood friend. They had four children: Beatrice, Fayne, Dorothy and John.