History: Introduction

Fort Crawford played an important role on the American frontier. Its significance rose from its location. Fort Crawford stood at the intersection of two of North America's greatest water routes. The Mississippi River and its tributaries offered early travelers routes south to the Gulf of Mexico or west to the Rocky Mountains. The Wisconsin River, which joins the Mississippi south of Fort Crawford, provided the critical connection to the east. It brought travelers from the Fox River and the Great Lakes, providing a connection with New York, Quebec, or the Atlantic Ocean. During an era when most long journeys were by boat, France, Britain, and the United States vied to control the strategic intersection of waterways at Prairie du Chien. Fort Crawford, built in 1816, solidified American control of the region.

Many people crossed paths at Fort Crawford during its heydey. Zachary Taylor, who became twelfth president of the United States, commanded the fort as a colonel between 1829 and 1837. Jefferson Davis, later president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, was also stationed at Fort Crawford as a lieutenant. The Sauk leader Black Hawk surrendered at Fort Crawford after the Black Hawk War of 1832, and endured a brief imprisonment in Prairie du Chien. Finally, fort surgeon William Beaumont conducted several groundbreaking medical experiments during his time in Prairie du Chien.

The whitewashed barracks of the fort are arranged in a rectangle near the river
The Second Fort Crawford, as painted by Gordan Peckham