New book published about Fort Crawford sites and stories

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By Correne Martin

A book titled “Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien: 1816-1856” was released in early May. The 75-page, title describes the first and second fort sites as well as the stories that evolved throughout this chronicled period in the city’s past. A collection of historic photographs and paintings also help move the narrative along.

“The little introduction talks about why Prairie du Chien was so important that they had to have forts here,” said author Mary Elise Antoine, referring to the native people gathering on the local prairie to harvest the riches of the rivers and participate in a chain of trade that reached south to the empires of other indigenous nations. 

According to the introduction, the story begins with the establishment of the French trading fort, Fort St. Nicolas, and ends with the Swift United States Army Hospital, the last use of Fort Crawford by the U.S. military.

“Most of the book is very event driven about the treaties signed here, the construction of the military road, the coordinated Winnebago school on the Yellow River, etc.,” Antoine said. 

Other publication highlights include the War of 1812, the Great Council of 1825 assembly between the U.S. and Native Americans, the Blackhawk War, post surgeons and Dr. William Beaumont and the military cemeteries. The book concludes with what happened to both the First and Second Fort Crawfords and then brings people up to pace with what the sites are like today.

The stories personify the society of the different periods as well as notable figures of the times. “You do get a little bit of romance,” the author noted, “with the love story between Zachary Taylor’s daughter (Sarah Knox Taylor) and Jefferson Davis.

“Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien” is available for purchase at the museum. 

“A lot of visitors have made requests at the museum for a booklet about the forts, with pictures. This is a concise history,” Antoine said. “When people come, they are amazed at the amount of history there is in Prairie du Chien.

She shared that tourists often come to the museum with a knowledge of William Beaumont. They’re oftentimes aware of the Black Hawk War too, never having realized that Prairie du Chien is where Chief Black Hawk surrendered.

This book is the third classic on area history published by the Prairie du Chien Historical Society. Funds to print it were donated by residents Mark and Kati Forsythe.

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