History: The First Fort Crawford

In June 1816, American troops arrived at Prairie du Chien to begin building Fort Crawford. They built the fort in the Main Village, exactly where Fort Shelby had stood during the War of 1812. Troops prepared oak timbers to build Fort Crawford, which formed a square enclosure with 340 feet on each side. The Northwest and Southeast corners included tall blockhouses to defend against attacks, while barracks and palisades completed the square.

After the fort was complete, troops spent their time in Prairie du Chien enforcing fur trade regulations and trying to keep peace between oncoming settlers and the American Indians who had long made their homes here. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1825 was negotiated outside the fort to fix boundaries between the Indian nations of the region. Thousands of people attended from the Dakota, Ho-Chunk, Sac, Meskwaki, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Menominee, and Iowa nations, making this one of the largest treaty councils ever held in the United States.

A flood struck Fort Crawford in 1826. The troops evacuated to Fort Snelling in Minnesota. While Fort Crawford remained empty the next year, three Ho-Chunk men murdered two settlers near Prairie du Chien. The remaining settlers feared the murders marked the start of an all-out war, and troops soon returned to Fort Crawford in 1827. Most Ho-Chunk people sought to avoid a confrontation, however, and the panic ended without major violence when the murder suspects surrendered to face imprisonment at Fort Crawford. The fort was in terrible condition because of the recurring floods. Army doctor William Beaumont was assigned to Prairie du Chien in 1828 to care for soldiers made ill by the squalid situation at the old fort. A new structure was needed if the troops were to stay.

The first Fort Crawford depicted by Henry Lewis.