Prairie du Chien: Images of America
by Mary Elise Antoine
Just above the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers lies a 9-mile prairie whose beauty and location have long drawn people to its expanse. At this traditional gathering place of Native Americans, French explorers and fur traders stored trade goods and celebrated on the prairie, in time building homes at la Prairie des Chiens. American soldiers constructed a fort here, at the entrance to the upper Mississippi Valley, to secure the region for settlement. Wave upon wave of people arrived in Prairie du Chien by steamboat and railroad, and by 1900, a bustling city had spread across the plain. But the French heritage and majestic beauty of the river endured. After World War I, tourists came to drift along the banks of the Mississippi, climb the steep bluffs surrounding the prairie, and sample the Friday night fish fries. Wisconsin's second-oldest community, Prairie du Chien retains the attraction that drew the first explorers to its shores.