Fort Crawford

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Fort Crawford (1816-1828) (1829-1856) - Fort Crawford was the name of two fortifications of the United States Army built in Prairie du Chien, Crawford County, Wisconsin. Both of the forts were part of a string of fortifications along the upper Mississippi River that also included Fort Snelling near Saint Anthony Falls in Minnesota, and Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, Illinois. Fort Crawford was also part of a string of forts built along the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway that included Fort Winnebago in Portage, Wisconsin and Fort Howard (2) in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Map of Minnesota/Wisconsin Forts 1820

The First Fort Crawford

The first Fort Crawford was a wooden structure built on an island in the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, during 1816. The fort was built just after the War of 1812 over the site of one of the war's battles. It was named in honor of William H. Crawford, the Secretary of War under James Madison. The fort was the site of the one of the largest Indian Councils in history, where over 5000 representatives of nearly a dozen Native American nations gathered to sign the Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825.

Because of the first Fort Crawford's location alongside the Mississippi River, diseases such as malaria and dysentery were common among the troops, and the fort's wooden walls rotted because of the flooding that took place nearly every spring. In 1826, after a major flood, the garrison at Fort Crawford was ordered to leave Prairie du Chien and reinforce Fort Snelling in Minnesota.

During 1827, while no troops remained in Prairie du Chien, a group of hostile Winnebago Indians led by chief Red Bird murdered a family of settlers near the abandoned fort. This incident prompted the return of soldiers to Prairie du Chien. When the troops returned in, it was decided that the first Fort Crawford was no longer inhabitable. In 1828 it was decided that a new fort would be built, but in the meantime army doctor William Beaumont would do his best to keep the troops healthy.

The Second Fort Crawford

The construction of the second Fort Crawford started in 1829 under the direction of the new commander, Col. Zachary Taylor. The new fort was built of limestone on a small hill on the east side of the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien. During the same year, Dr. William Beaumont met former patient Alexis St. Martin and during the next two years he performed 56 of his famed experiements on digestion at the Fort Crawford Hospital.

In 1832 the Black Hawk War broke out in Illinois, and the troops at Fort Crawford participated in the war. After the Battle of the Bad Axe, Black Hawk surrendered to Col. Zachary Taylor at Fort Crawford. Black Hawk was imprisoned at the fort until he was escorted by Lt. Jefferson Davis to St. Louis, Missouri. It was while at Fort Crawford that Jefferson Davis met and fell in love with his first wife, Sarah Taylor, daughter of Zachary Taylor.

During the 1840s the garrison at Fort Crawford was assigned the task of building a road between Fort Crawford and Fort Winnebago in Portage. Most of the road they built is now part of U.S. Highway 18. After the road was completed and the Winnebago Indians were relocated from Wisconsin to Minnesota, the fort had little use. It was abandoned in 1849. In 1855 it was reoccupied to prevent an uprising among the remaining Native Americans, and troops left the fort for the last time on 9 Jun 1856.

U.S. Civil War

During the U.S. Civil War the fort was used as both a recruitment center and hospital for Union Soldiers.

Current Status

Upon the Federal abandonment of the fort in 1856, it became the object of several lawsuits and was left officially unoccupied until 1872, although some of the fort buildings were rented as apartments, and for part of that time a government agent lived in the former Commandant's house. In 1864 some of the military reservation was sold to the public at auction by the War Department, and in 1867 the unsold portion was transferred to the Department of the Interior, which sold it the following year. From 1872 to 1926, the site of the reservation was occupied by Saint Mary's Academy (later Saint Mary's College), which erected new buildings, most of the fort having been demolished. The College in turn moved to Milwaukee in 1926; in 1930, a portion of the fort's hospital was restored for use as a museum of medical history, and the remaining parts of the dilapidated fort were cleared away to allow for development. The fort's hospital is registered as a National Historic Landmark.


Location: Prairie du Chien, Crawford County, Wisconsin

Maps & Images

Lat: 43.04444 Long: -91.14722

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