EARLY HISTORY OF PRAIRIE DU CHIEN
June 17, 1673 - The first Europeans to reach Prairie du Chien were the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, who reached the area by canoe while trying to discover a route to the Mississippi River. Travelers, explorers and traders moving between French Canada and the Mississippi River passed through Prairie du Chien.
1685 - The French explorer Nicolas Perrot established a trading post in the area as part of the massive French fur trade industry. The Astor Fur Warehouse became an important building in the fur trade in Prairie du Chien. The significance of Prairie du Chien as a center of the fur trade did not diminish until the mid-nineteenth century.
1763 - Great Britain defeated France in the French and Indian War, and took possession of the French territory in North America, including Prairie du Chien. The British expanded the fur trade during their occupation of the area. During the American Revolutionary War the city was used as meeting point for British troops and their Native American allies.
1783 - After the Treaty of Paris granted the area to the new United States of America, the British and their Loyalists were slow to withdraw. Only after the War of 1812 did the city become fully American.
War of 1812 - The U.S. was slow to present any authority over Prairie du Chien, but late in the War of 1812 when the U.S. realized the importance of holding the site to prevent British attacks from Canada, it began construction of Fort Shelby in 1814. In July, the fort was captured by British soldiers during the Siege of Prairie du Chien. The British maintained control over the city until the war's end in 1815. Col. Zachary Taylor, who later became the 12th U.S. President, was the commanding officer at Fort Crawford during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Taylor oversaw the surrender of Black Hawk in Prairie du Chien. Lt. Jefferson Davis, who later became president of the Confederate States of America, was stationed at Fort Crawford at the same time. It was at this fort that Jefferson Davis met Zachary Taylor's daughter, Sarah "Knoxie" Taylor, whom he married in 1835.
1816 - Not wanting another invasion through Prairie du Chien, the Americans constructed Fort Crawford in 1816. The fort was the site of the Treaty of Prairie du Chien (1825 and 1829).
September 21, 1821 - Prairie du Chien was incorporated as the Borough of Prairie des Chiens by the secretary of the Michigan Territory. It is the only municipality in Wisconsin other than Green Bay to have been known as a borough, rather than a city, town, or village. The borough existed for a few years before the government stopped operating in 1825.
1829 - Army doctor William Beaumont carried out many of his famous experiments on digestion in the hospital of Fort Crawford. Beaumont's discoveries are still the basis of our knowledge on the human digestive process.
1849 - The Town of Prairie du Chien was created, consisting of most of present-day Crawford County.
1857 - The city was first connected to the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad, but the width of the Mississippi River posed a challenge for further expansion of the railroad into Iowa. This problem was temporarily solved by disassembling the trains at Prairie du Chien and ferrying them across the river to be put back on the tracks on the other side.
1870 - Louis Dousman used his inheritance to construct a luxurious Victorian mansion over the site of the former Fort Shelby. When Louis died unexpectedly in 1886, his family renamed the home "Villa Louis" in his memory. The Dousman family continued to occupy the home until 1913. Nearly 40 years later, in 1952, the mansion became Wisconsin's first state-operated historic site.
1872 - The city of Prairie du Chien was incorporated. Pictured to the left is how the city looked in an 1870 lithograph.
1874 - A better solution to getting trains across the Mississippi River is created by Michael Spettel and John Lawler, who designed a permanent pontoon bridge to span the river. Lawler took most of the credit for this invention, and made a small fortune through its operation. Lawler later donated property to establish two Catholic boarding schools in Prairie du Chien, St. Mary's Institute (now Mount Mary College of Milwaukee), and Campion High School in the later part of the century. Campion High School produced several notable alumni including Vicente Fox, Congressman Leo Ryan, Governor Patrick Lucey, actors David Doyle, George Wendt, and Kevin McCarthy, and writer Garry Wills. Campion was closed in 1975.