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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Fort Crawford
and the Frontier

by
Bruce E. Mahan

The State Historical Society of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa, 1926

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p65 VI
The First Fort Crawford

When the news of the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States, signed at Ghent on December 24, 1814, reached the Indians of the Upper Northwest they received it in a spirit of despair. They felt that they had been deserted. But the representatives of Great Britain had made strenuous efforts at the peace conference to provide for their recent allies. When the delegates met, the proposals made by the British representatives took the Americans by surprise. The issues of "free trade and sailor's rights", which had been a battle cry of the Americans at the beginning of the conflict, were practically dismissed from the discussions, and the status of the Indian in the Upper Northwest became the paramount question at the conference. The British declared that the Indians had been their allies and should be a party to the treaty. Moreover, they demand that an independent Indian state should be created which would comprise all of Michigan and Wisconsin, most of Illinois and Indiana, and the northern part of Ohio. In this buffer state neither Great Britain nor the United States could purchase land. Furthermore, Great Britain alone should be permitted to maintain naval and military armaments on the Great Lakes.192

The purpose of these proposals was, of course, to prevent the possibility of encroachment upon Canada by the United States, and at the same time to preserve for the British traders a monopoly of the fur trade of this p66region. But the American commissioners offered a stubborn resistance to the plans of Great Britain, and at times threatened to break off negotiations. In the end the British delegates yielded, and accepted the promise that the United States would restore to the Indians all the rights and possessions which they enjoyed in 1811. There was to be no cession of territory either by Great Britain or the United States, and the question of armaments on the Great Lakes was left for later consideration.193

In carrying out the provisions of the treaty in regard to the restoration of the Indians to their status in 1811 two commissions representing the United States met and negotiated treaties of peace and friendship with chiefs and head men of the red race during the summer and fall of 1815. One of these commissions met the tribesmen at Spring Wells near Detroit, the other conducted negotiations at Portage des Sioux above the mouth of the Missouri.194 Governor Edwards of Illinois Territory, Governor Clark of Missouri Territory, and Auguste Chouteau, the Indian trader of St. Louis, represented the United States at Portage des Sioux, and by the autumn of 1815 had concluded peace treaties with the Sioux, the Ioway, and the Sauk and Foxes. But Black Hawk's band of malcontents and the recalcitrant Winnebago did not affix their marks to similar treaties until the next year at St. Louis.195 Although the Sauk and Foxes had repeatedly denied the validity of the treaty made at St. Louis in 1804 they were now compelled to reaffirm its provisions in the new treaties of 1815 and 1816.196

Notwithstanding the apparent desertion of the red men by Great Britain in the treaty of 1814 the influence of British traders over the Indians of the Upper Northwest p67was still strong. To break this hold upon the Indians and at the same time to preserve peace among the tribesmen the United States entered upon a policy of definite control of this region in the years immediately following the close of the War of 1812. This policy of regulation was to be accomplished by means of fur trading factories, Indian agencies, and military posts established at strategic locations.197

In June, 1815, Lewis Cass in a letter to the Secretary of War reviewed the situation in the Upper Northwest and made definite recommendations as to what should be done to reassert the authority of the United States over this region.198 Cass, as Governor of Michigan Territory, perhaps knew more than any other man about the situation in the region west of the Great Lakes, and he was fearless in his advocacy of American rights and interests.199

In this letter Cass called the attention of the Secretary of War to indications of a renewal of the former aggressive policy of the British Indian Department toward the fur trade of the Upper Northwest. Most of the difficulties with the Indians, he declared, had been due to machinations of British traders. If some national advantage resulted from allowing the British to trade in this region, at least the traders should be subject to the same restrictions as Americans whose rights were subject to forfeiture upon evidence of improper conduct.200

There were three great channels of communication, Cass continues, by which traders could introduce goods into the Mississippi and Missouri country from the British dominions. One was by way of Chicago and down the Illinois; another was the Fox‑Wisconsin route; and p68the third, which heretofore had been little used, lay between Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi. The Fox‑Wisconsin waterway had been the great thoroughfare by which British traders had smuggled great quantities of goods to the Mississippi. Scarcely a third of the goods thus introduced, he estimated, had ever paid any duties. The establishment of a post at Green Bay and at Prairie du Chien would close this line of communication. Another at Chicago would effect the same result for the Chicago-Illinois route; while if the British traders were to be eventually excluded another post near the Grand Portage would be necessary.201

The plan recommended by Cass was essentially the one adopted by the War Department. Before the end of the summer of 1815 the government had decided not only to establish garrisons at Chicago and Green Bay, but also to reoccupy Prairie du Chien, to erect a new fort at or near the falls of St. Anthony, and another at Rock Island in the heart of the Sauk and Fox country. This latter post together with a fort opposite the mouth of the Des Moines River were needed to protect the line of communication from St. Louis to the Upper Mississippi posts. The lesson learned from the tragic experience of Campbell's expedition and the disastrous defeat of Taylor near Rock Island during the late war had not been forgotten. At the same time it was determined to restore the government factory at Chicago, and to establish new factories at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien.202 Although the story of the establishment of each of these posts forms an interesting chapter in the history of the government's activities in reasserting control over the Upper Northwest the present narrative is concerned with the events connected with the reoccupation p69of Prairie du Chien which in many respects was the most strategic point in the Upper Mississippi region.203

In the late fall of 1815 Colonel R. C. Nichols with part of the Eighth United States Infantry was sent up the Mississippi from St. Louis to erect a fort at or near Rock Island. The troops were transported in keel-boats, and were accompanied by a contractor with supplies for the garrison. The expedition reached the mouth of the Des Moines River in November and, stopped by ice in the Mississippi, went into winter quarters on the Illinois side of the river where the town of Warsaw is now located. This was the site of the temporary fortification called Fort Johnson which Taylor had erected on his retreat down stream after his defeat at Credit Island a year earlier. This was likewise the site of a new post, Fort Edwards, which was begun in June of the next year. As Taylor's hastily constructed fortification had already been destroyed by fire the troops built huts in which to spend the winter, and named the place Cantonment Davis.204 During the winter Colonel Nichols was recalled and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel W. Lawrence assumed command.205

In April, 1816, Brevet Brigadier General Thomas A. Smith, late colonel of the Rifle Regiment, arrived at Cantonment Davis with part of his command en route for Prairie du Chien. Smith took over the command of the entire expedition and together the combined forces proceeded up the Mississippi to Rock Island. Arriving early in May Smith examined the country thereabouts and fixed upon the lower or west end of Rock Island as the best available site for the new fort. The troops were landed on May 10th, and after establishing a camp set to work getting out timber for the fort buildings. As the entire p70west end of the island was then covered with a heavy growth of oak, black walnut, elm, and basswood the task of securing lumber was comparatively easy.206 The plan of the new fort called for the construction of a square some four hundred feet on each side. At three of the angles, the northeast, the southwest, and the southeast, blockhouses were to be built and supplied with cannon. One side of the square was to be occupied by barracks and other buildings of hewn timber with shed roofs sloping inward. Stone was to be used for the lower part of the walls of the fort and the upper half would be made of squared timber. In honor of the former Secretary of War, Fort Armstrong was selected as the name of the new post.207

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Old Fort Armstrong on Rock Island

General Smith remained at Rock Island only long enough to superintend the construction of temporary fortifications to protect the troops in the event of an attack by the Sauk and Foxes, then with his troops of the Rifle Regiment he proceeded up the Mississippi to begin the erection of a post at Prairie du Chien.

On June 20, 1816, General Smith and his command accompanied by Major Richard Graham, Indian Agent for Illinois Territory, arrived at the Prairie.208 The United States factor, John W. Johnson, who had successfully conducted the factory at Fort Madison until the post was abandoned, thinking it unnecessary to wait for a military escort, had arrived at Prairie du Chien a month earlier. He had already displayed his stock of government goods and was dealing with the Indians.209

On the day after their arrival General Smith and Agent Graham, says Johnson in a letter to a friend, began to assert their authority by requiring all traders to show their licenses, and by seizing the goods of all who could p71 not comply with this request. The troops took possession of some houses which were condemned for public purposes. Those occupied by Johnson were commandeered and turned over to him to be used as United States trading houses, and he was forbidden to pay the owners any further rent for them.210 Smith arrested Michael Brisbois, a prominent trader of Prairie du Chien, on the charge of treasonable conduct during the late war. He was kept in confinement for several days, then sent to St. Louis under guard. There, according to one report, Brisbois was turned loose on the levee without funds and left to find his way home as best he could; another report indicates that he was successfully defended by the famous statesman, Thomas Hart Benton. During his absence from Prairie du Chien soldiers commandeered his home, ordered his wife and children out, and used the house as a place in which to dry flour. His bakehouse and some two hundred cords of wood were taken by the troops without compensation.211

On July 3, 1816, workmen and soldiers under the supervision of Colonel William Southerland Hamilton began the construction of the new post to which was given the name of Fort Crawford in honor of the Secretary of War, William H. Crawford of Virginia. The site chosen for the structure was the spot occupied by Fort Shelby or Fort McKay which had burned down after the departure of the British. Timber for the new fort and stone for the magazine could be procured only at a distance of from two to five miles from Prairie du Chien and were transported to the site of the garrison in boats. The country where the timber was cut and stone quarried was so broken and hilly that teams could not be employed even to convey these articles to the boats — all this had p72 to be done by manual labor. Even with these disadvantages work on the buildings progressed at a satisfactory rate.212 The sutler's store, a necessary adjunct to a military post, was under the able direction of Colonel Alexander McNair, later Governor of Missouri, with his nephew, Thomas McNair, and John L. Findley in charge of the business.213

General Smith soon withdrew from Prairie du Chien and was succeeded by Captain Willoughby Morgan who was destined to spend a large part of his subsequent military career at this and other posts on the Mississippi River frontier. Morgan remained at Fort Crawford on this occasion only until the spring of 1817, but at different periods during the next fifteen years he served as commandant of the post.214 Morgan's brief régime tended somewhat to restore the shaken confidence of the inhabitants of the Prairie in the Americans despite General Smith's alleged advice that the new commander should destroy the settlement and send the male portion of the population under arrest to distant points. Much of Morgan's time was occupied with the problems involved in building the fort. During the winter months work on the buildings continued. At the same time the task of securing sufficient fuel for the garrison was a considerable burden as the soldiers were compelled to go two or three miles from the fort for wood and oftentimes had to draw it to their quarters by hand.215

In the spring of 1817a Lieutenant Colonel Talbot Chambers arrived at Fort Crawford from Fort Howard at Green Bay, and assumed command of the post at Prairie du Chien. Captain Morgan moved down the Mississippi to command Fort Armstrong at Rock Island. As Chambers had been in charge of the erection of Fort Howard p73 during his sojourn at Green Bay he was familiar with the problems he had to face in completing the construction of Fort Crawford.216

Although Chambers was an able officer he was inclined to be arbitrary and tyrannical. At Prairie du Chien the erection of Fort Crawford in the midst of the village created special difficulties. If the land was a military reservation ceded by the Indians in the Treaty of 1804 and confirmed by the treaties of 1815 and 1816, then civilians had no right upon it and could be ordered off by the military authorities. On the other hand the inhabitants felt that the Indian title to the land had long been extinguished, for the Prairie had been the site of a French village for a third of a century before the Americans established Fort Shelby. Colonel Chambers, however, assumed that the inhabitants had no rights to the land about the fort.217

Shortly after his arrival he ordered certain houses of the village in front of and near the post to be taken down by their owners and removed to the lower end of the village where he pretended to give them lots. Although it was a time of peace inhabitants of the village were seized for alleged violations of military orders and arraigned before a court-martial as in time of war. Charles Menard was arrested charged with selling whisky to soldiers. He was brought from his house to the fort under guard, tried by a court-martial, declared guilty, and with a bottle hung to his neck, marched through the streets with musicians playing the Rogues' March after him. For some other infraction of regulations Chambers banished Joseph Rolette to an island about seven miles above Prairie du Chien where he compelled him to pass the winter, but in the spring permitted him to p74return to the village as his outfits were coming in from the Indian country. Later Chambers arrested two traders of the American Fur Company who stopped at Prairie du Chien en route from Mackinac to the Des Moines River territory. Although they were carrying licenses from the American agent at the Mackinac Chambers arrested them because they had none from either the Governor of Illinois or Missouri. Chambers ordered them to report with their crews and cargoes to General Smith at Fort Belle Fontaine, and because of their reputed threat to flout his orders guards were placed on board their boats at Fort Armstrong. Later, the American Fur Company sued Colonel Chambers for this action, and after a long legal contest, obtained damages to the amount of $5000.218

The first returns of Fort Crawford, dated February, 1817, in the files of the War Department at Washington, D. C., show that the garrison at that time consisted of a total of 265 officers and men, 159 of whom belonged to the Rifle Regiment, and 106 to the Third Infantry. One corporal and fifteen privates were sick, and one second lieutenant was under arrest. Another second lieutenant and four privates were on extra duty, while two captains, one sergeant, and one private were absent on furloughs. In addition to the privates four clerks, nine musicians, fifteen corporals, fifteen sergeants, one sergeant major, two second lieutenants, one first lieutenant, three captains, one surgeon, one major, and Lieutenant Colonel Chambers represented the United States at this frontier post.219

In the early summer of 1817 Major Stephen H. Long, a topographical engineer in the United States Army, made a journey in a six‑oared skiff up the Mississippi p75 to the Falls of St. Anthony and return. His purpose was to follow and sketch the course of the Upper Mississippi, to observe the topography of the shores, and to designate locations suitable for military purposes.220 On his journey up stream he stopped at Prairie du Chien to lay in provisions. There he added another soldier to his party and engaged an interpreter. Long's journal affords an interesting picture of the Mississippi above Prairie du Chien and of the region in the vicinity of the falls of St. Anthony. He approved a site for a fort at the mouth of the Minnesota River, and reëmbarking returned to Prairie du Chien making the entire journey in thirteen days.221

On the second day after his return to Fort Crawford Major Long in company with the post surgeon and an officer of the garrison took horses and rode about the neighborhood to discover a better site for a military post. They rode down the Prairie to the Wisconsin and up that river about three miles but found no site that was not objectionable in many ways. After another day spent unsuccessfully in examining the surrounding country for a better location Major Long took time to measure and inspect Fort Crawford.222

The work, he said, was a square of three hundred and forty feet on each side, constructed entirely of wood except the magazine which was of stone. The quarters, storehouses, and other buildings were ranged along the sides of the square, their rear walls some twenty feet high constituting the faces of the work, with loop holes at intervals of six feet. These buildings were covered with rough shingled shed roofs sloping inward. At both the southeast and northwest corner of the post two‑story blockhouses with cupolas flanked the works, the upper p76story of each placed diagonally upon the first. These blockhouses were fortified with oak plank upon their sides, and were furnished with loop holes for muskets and apertures for field pieces. Palisade work at the two corners not occupied by blockhouses was constructed of sturdy squared oak pickets some twenty feet high. The rooms were in general about nineteen feet square floored with oak plank, and all designed as quarters had a door and window facing the interior court. The magazine, twelve by twenty-four feet in the clear, was constructed with stone walls four feet thick and an arched roof covered with strong timber. At the time of Long's visit the troops were busily engaged in dressing shingles, squaring timber, and making planking with which to complete the works. Piazzas in front of the quarters, ceilings, and some flooring were yet to be made. The buildings for the most part were made of squared timbers with the crevices in the walls plastered with lime mortar and afforded comfortable accommodation for five companies of soldiers.223

Apparently Major Long had little regard for the location of the new post, although he agreed that the relation of Prairie du Chien to other parts of the country, and its central location in respect to the Indian tribes gave the place a high claim for consideration for a military establishment. His first objection to the site was that the situation was unhealthful. It was almost surrounded, he said, with stagnant water at a short distance from the fort. The country about it abounded in marshes and low lands frequently subject to overflow and the river in front he characterized as little better than a stagnant pool.

From a military point of view he objected to the site p77because it had no complete command of the river due to the many islands it embosomed. "Directly opposite to the fort", he said, "and at the distance of six hundred and fifty yards from it, is an island two and a half miles in length, and seven hundred yards in breadth, separated from the east shore by a channel five hundred yards wide, and from the west by a channel two hundred and fifty yards. Both above and below this are numerous others effectually obstructing the command of the river from any single point. At the distance of about six hundred yards from the fort, to the south and east of it, is a circular valley, through which troops might be conducted completely under cover and secure from the guns of the fort." Furthermore in the rear of the place were the main river bluffs, distant some one and a half miles from the fort. These, he said, were "heights elevated four hundred and twenty feet above the site of the garrison, and overlook the whole of Prairie du Chien." Long also mentioned the fact that the site of the fort had been repeatedly subject to inundation which was always to be expected when excessive floods prevailed in the river. "Indeed", he concluded, "the military features of the place generally are so faint and obscure, that they would hardly be perceptible, except by occupying several of the neighboring heights with castles and towers in order to protect an extensive work erected in the prairies below."224

Having accomplished his business at the Prairie Major Long took leave of his friends at the fort. On his way down the river he encountered a contractor with a nine months' supply of provisions for the garrison at Fort Crawford. He had already furnished Fort Edwards and Fort Armstrong with supplies on his way up stream.225

Another glimpse of events at Prairie du Chien and p78 Fort Crawford in the late summer of 1817 and throughout the next year may be found in the diary of Willard Keyes, a young Vermonter, who in June, 1817, set out from his native State to travel in the west.226 Falling in with a member of the party of Reverend Samuel Peters at Albany Keyes was persuaded to join the party on the long journey to Prairie du Chien. Peters, although past eighty, was on his way to the Upper Mississippi region in quest of information about the famous Carver land grant.227 He made the difficult trip from New York to the Prairie but here Colonel Chambers refused to permit him to proceed into the Sioux country without an order from Governor Edwards of Illinois Territory. Peters wrote for the order and waited in vain six months for a reply. At length, disappointed, he returned to New York, but Keyes remained at Prairie du Chien.228

On August 31st, there was a general muster of the garrison at Fort Crawford, wrote Keyes in his diary, and the troops — some two hundred riflemen — appeared to be well disciplined. This was Sunday and much to the surprise of the New Englander he found the inhabitants of the village galloping about on ponies, playing ball and billiards, and otherwise disporting themselves. Indians were numerous in the village and most of the villagers appeared to have Indian wives.229

Some time after the party of Reverend Peters had arrived at the prairie they experienced an Indian scare. About half-past eight on the evening of October 17th, a messenger rode up at full speed to the cabin where some of the party were staying and urged them to make their way to the fort at once for Indians had attacked the village. As their firearms were missing or out of order they decided to flee. At the same instant the Indian whistle p79began — the signal of an attack. As the easterners rushed out of the cabin the war whoop sounded, and a volley of bullets scattered the now thoroughly frightened strangers who retreated to the hills and bluffs to the east. The noise quieted down almost as suddenly as it began and not finding themselves pursued the members of the party concluded that the whole affair was a false alarm "created by some evil disposed, drunken, lowlived persons". They returned cautiously to the cabin unharmed but one member of the group who had strayed away from the rest in the dark remained out all night. On the next day the easterners were told by Colonel Chambers that the exploit of the night before had been performed by the officers of the garrison and some of the villagers to warn the strangers that they should be well armed as they lived too far from the fort for protection in the event of an attack. Keyes characterized the affair as an "unwarrantable act". Some days later Colonel Chambers, however, loaned them some muskets to be used should a real attack occur.230

The entry in the diary for December 5th recorded the information that a French villager had been confined and punished at the fort for selling whisky to "hirelings and soldiers contrary to orders."231

Indians were frequent visitors at the Prairie during the fall and winter of 1817‑1818. Late in the fall a Fox chief and his family encamped not far from the cabin occupied by the easterners, and later several Indians and their squaws erected their lodges about one‑half mile north of the strangers. Thereafter they were frequent visitors, sometimes bringing the white men venison, but more frequently begging for tobacco and food for themselves. On one occasion when Keyes returned to the p80cabin from the village he found two husky braves who insisted on staying all night, but he drove them off.232

A duel fought between Benjamin O'Fallon, late of the army but now employed in the Indian agency, and Lieutenant William G. Shade of the garrison, in which the latter received the second shot in his underjaw was an exciting event at the post in February, 1818. But perhaps Washington's birthday was the high light of the month for under the pretense of celebrating it "some of the principal characters got notoriously drunk."233

Indian affairs already occupied much of the attention of officers and men at the fort as well as of the force of the Indian agency. On April 10th, O'Fallon with some fifty or sixty soldiers as an escort set out up the Mississippi for the Minnesota River and the Falls of St. Anthony to council with the Sioux. Later in the month a large delegation of Menominee Indians held a dance and a powwow at Prairie du Chien. Indian orators delivered discourses with great vehemence and rapidity, sometimes speaking for two hours without intermission. Ball games on the Prairie between visiting Menominee and Winnebago braves were of frequent occurrence. Keyes remarked that they displayed "great activity and address in catching and hurling the ball, and mind neither broken bones nor bruises."234

Traders were now coming with the season's catch to Prairie du Chien, and with those from Minnesota River came the renowned Robert Dickson, then in the employ of Lord Selkirk. Selkirk, himself, had a few months before stopped at Fort Crawford en route from his Red River Colony to Washington, D. C. Dickson was detained by Colonel Chambers, and later sent to St. Louis charged with violating the trading laws.235 On the night p81that Dickson arrived at Fort Crawford Colonel Chambers staged another false alarm to test the alertness of the garrison and the local militia in turning out to ward a threatened attack.236

Shortly after O'Fallon and his escort returned from the council with the Sioux complaints against the Winnebago were made to him and Colonel Chambers by the inhabitants of the Prairie. The Indians, it was claimed, had been stealing horses and shooting hogs. The chiefs were rounded up and the Indians were threatened with confinement and punishment at the fort unless they made restitution, a threat which seemed to be effective.237

The month of May, 1818, brought spring once more to Prairie du Chien. Warm days were followed by snow and rain then sunshine again. Prairie fires at night descending from the bluffs to the grassland below, sometimes in a column of more than a mile in length, lighted up the whole valley and threw the blockhouses of Fort Crawford in bold relief. It was a solemn and inspiring sight. Plum and cherry trees burst out in full bloom. The French farmers were planting corn — "miserable farmers" they were, thought Keyes, "little better than the Indians". Indian powwows within sight of the fort were frequent. "The Copper coulered Natives", said the easterner, were "as thick as grasshoppers in a dry autumn".238 On the last day of May, 1818, Colonel Chambers held a general muster of the garrison — the last ever conducted by him at Prairie du Chien, for on the second of June Lieutenant L. Hickman arrived from St. Louis to command Fort Crawford. Chambers left immediately for Fort Belle Fontaine where he was commandant until his elevation to the command of the Ninth Department some months later.239

p82 During June, 1818, boats from St. Louis began to arrive at the Prairie laden with provisions, whisky and supplies of all kinds — a welcome sight to the garrison as well as to traders. Many boats, too, loaded with furs left Prairie du Chien for Mackinac and St. Louis. Near the end of the month a fleet of Winnebago canoes arrived, and the Indians erected their teepees on the island opposite the fort. When the garrison was mustered on the last day of June and the troops executed various maneuvers to show their military prowess, Winnebago braves, naked except for a breech clout, and painted all colors danced through the streets of the village.240

The nation's birthday, July 4, 1818, was fittingly commemorated by the troops at the post by the discharge of cannon at daybreak. Later the soldiers marched out of the fort and fired a salute by platoons. All this noise and demonstration of power made a salutary impression on the minds of the Indians. But the French inhabitants of the village refused to celebrate, saying that it was no holiday for them, and thereby drew many reproaches from the Americans.241 A few days later a band of Sioux Indians came to the Prairie from up the Mississippi and for the entertainment of the garrison demonstrated their "Buffaloe dance". They wore on their heads "large Buffaloe pates with the horns, and shaggy wool or hair" which gave them, said Keyes, "a hedios appearance".242

Major Morgan returned to the command of Fort Crawford on August 17, 1818. Shortly after his arrival Keyes took a walk into the country with two friends who carried fowling pieces with them to hunt for birds. One of the men happened to fire not far from the fort. Soon a sergeant and a file of men caught up with the group and took the two men with firearms to the fort for violating a rule p83against discharging guns within six hundred yards of the post. After a reprimand and a warning they were released, and rejoined Keyes in high spirits over their experience with the new commandant. Keyes was engaged at this time in teaching a school which he had opened at Prairie du Chien, and being of a religious turn of mind, he opened his schoolhouse on Sundays for services. But the French inhabitants were warned by their priests not to attend, he wrote, and few people came except some soldiers who behaved "very orderly and decent". In the spring of 1819 the easterner from whose diary the reader obtains many glimpses of this wilderness outpost left Prairie du Chien never to return. On the day before his departure Keyes recorded that twenty-five or thirty canoes of Sauk Indians arrived, also a band of Sioux. They held a council with Nicolas Boilvin, the Indian agent, and agreed to make peace — a promise, says the writer, which they generally broke when they had an opportunity.243

An inspection report of Fort Crawford made while Chambers was in command of the Ninth Department differed in several respects from the opinion of the place expressed by Major Long some two years earlier. The department commander, formerly the commandant at Fort Crawford, was characterized as an "attentive, valuable, & competent officer" who had devised a system of drill and field movements for the Rifle Regiment. Although the companies of the Rifle Regiment had been dispersed over an extensive department and had been employed as workmen at Fort Edwards, Fort Armstrong, and at Fort Crawford, as well as "upon indispensable fatigue duty, without any means of respite or relaxation", nevertheless, the soldiers were being perfected in p84the drill system devised by their colonel and in target practice. Fort Crawford was characterized as "an Indian work, composed of strong oak logs, of a square form, with two blockhouses, each containing a twelve & six pounder." The quarters were neat and comfortable capable of accommodating four hundred men. Its location was described as "an extensive Prairie, surrounded by immense high hills, but too far distant to command the works, if occupied by an enemy". It was capable, the inspector thought, of defending itself against any combined Indian attack, although it was in the power of the Indians in twelve days to assemble two thousand warriors. The fort, however, was not calculated to "sustain an attack against Artillery." The greatest disadvantage of the site was the inconvenience of procuring fuel. It was necessary to go six miles for it and the task was accompanied with uncommon trouble and fatigue. One‑half of the command was employed from one to three months every fall in collecting wood, and in the event of an Indian uprising the fuel detail would be exposed to an attack. The site of Fort Crawford, concluded the report, was "healthy" and if necessary the garrison could be supported "by the productions of the surrounding Country."244

In the summer of 1819 Fort Crawford was taxed to its capacity by the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Leavenworth with the Fifth Infantry from Detroit. Leavenworth had been ordered to proceed with his command by the Great Lakes, Fox‑Wisconsin route to Prairie du Chien. Thence part of his troops would be sent down the Mississippi to garrison Fort Armstrong, part would be left at Fort Crawford, while Leavenworth with the rest of his command was to proceed up the Mississippi p85to establish a new post at the mouth of the Minnesota River.245

Colonel Leavenworth's party reached Prairie du Chien on June 30, 1819. Here it remained more than a month awaiting supplies, ordnance, ammunition, and recruits from St. Louis. Meantime Major Thomas Forsyth, the experienced Indian agent, had been ordered to proceed up the Mississippi to the site of the contemplated post with some two thousand dollars worth of goods to pay the Sioux for the tracts of land ceded by them to Pike fourteen years earlier. Forsyth arrived at Fort Crawford on July 5th.246

While Colonel Leavenworth delivered certain commissions sent to newly-appointed county officers by Governor Cass and thus assisted in the establishment of the first county government in this region, Major Forsyth visited points of interest about the Prairie and kept a journal of his experiences. He found some handsome farm sites on the Prairie but declared the French inhabitants to be poor farmers. Flour was selling at ten dollars per hundredweight, corn three dollars per bushel, eggs one dollar per dozen, and chickens from one dollar to one dollar and a quarter a pair. On the eighth of July a young Menominee in a drunken fit of jealousy stabbed a young Sioux near the fort. The Sioux seized the stabber and kept him in confinement well guarded. Later the Sioux chiefs sent for him and made him and the young Sioux eat out of the same dish together as a promise to forgive and to forget the past.247

At last the long awaited supplies from St. Louis arrived and Colonel Leavenworth lost no time in embarking on his journey up stream, accompanied by Major Forsyth with his presents for the Indians. Along with p86the troops went Mrs. Nathan Clark, wife of the commissary, and their little daughter, Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark, who had been born at Fort Crawford shortly after the arrival of the regiment.

Preparations for the establishment of a military post at the mouth of St. Peter's River were begun by Colonel Leavenworth upon his arrival in the fall of 1819, and the erection of the fort was completed under the direction of Colonel Josiah Snelling during the next few years. The building of this fort, first known as Fort Anthony and renamed Fort Snelling in honor of its builder, completed the plan of fortifications of the Upper Northwest as proposed by Cass in 1815.248

With the departure of Colonel Leavenworth, Major Peter Muhlenberg was left in command of Fort Crawford and served in this capacity until the summer of 1821. During his temporary absence from time to time the senior captain at the fort, John Fowle, assumed command. From one to three companies of the Fifth Infantry comprised the garrison during this period.249

The outstanding event at Fort Crawford in 1820 was the visit of Governor Cass of Michigan Territory and his party on the return from an exploratory expedition in the western confines of the land under his jurisdiction. The expedition which had set out from Detroit, thirty-eight in number, on May 24, 1820, arrived at Fort Crawford on August 5th. Henry Schoolcraft, who accompanied the party as mineralogist, left an interesting journal of this expedition. He describes Fort Crawford as a fortification consisting of "four lines of log barracks facing a square parade ground, and defended by bastions at the northwest and southeast angles." The logs were squared and whitewashed and the works had "a very neat, and p87imposing appearance". The garrison consisted of ninety‑six men under the command of Captain Fowle who received the distinguished visitors courteously and ordered a salute to be fired in honor of Governor Cass. Upon Schoolcraft's return from a side trip to the lead mines at Dubuque the entire party left Fort Crawford on August 9th en route for Detroit.250

The year, 1821, passed quietly at Fort Crawford, with Major Muhlenberg in command from January to June inclusive, and Captain Fowle from July to December. In April, 1822, Morgan, now a lieutenant colonel, again took over the command of the post.251

Morgan in a long letter to Major General Edmund P. Gaines, commanding officer of the department, told of his perplexities in trying to enforce the rules against the introduction of liquor into the Indian country. The inhabitants of Prairie du Chien, now that a county government had been established, contended that the authority of the military commander at Fort Crawford did not extend to them. They maintained that they could bring in and keep as much liquor as they pleased. If this contention was granted Morgan declared there was no possibility of keeping liquor from the Indians who came to the Prairie in large numbers.252

During the early summer of 1822 a flood in the Mississippi caused the river to cover the parade to a depth of three or four feet. The water entered the officers' and soldiers' quarters and compelled them to encamp for about a month on the neighboring heights. At the end of that time they returned to the fort, and to the unpleasant task of making the quarters habitable again.253

In the summer of 1823, the garrison at Fort Crawford again entertained Major Stephen H. Long who had first p88visited the post in 1817. On the occasion of his second visit to Fort Crawford Long was in command of a governmental expedition on its way to explore the region about the head of Lake Superior. W. H. Keating, who wrote an interesting and valuable narrative of this expedition, described Fort Crawford as "the rudest and least comfortable that we have seen". Its site, he said, was low and unpleasant, and was injudicious not only because of the danger from such floods as occurred the previous summer but also because it commanded neither the Mississippi nor the Wisconsin. The party which had arrived at Prairie du Chien on June 19, 1823, soon departed for Fort Snelling with an escort from Fort Crawford. Keating felt that the necessity which had led to the construction of Fort Crawford was daily becoming less urgent, and doubtless the post would soon be abandoned. Little did he foresee impending events.254


The Author's Notes:

192 A comprehensive account of these negotiations is found in Updyke's The Diplomacy of the War of 1812. For the demands of the British delegates see page 201.

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193 Updyke's The Diplomacy of the War of 1812, p273.

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194 For these treaties and accompanying documents see American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Vol. II, pp1‑20.

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195 These treaties are found in United States Statutes at Large, Vol. VII (Indian Treaties, 1778‑1842), pp125, 126, 127, 128, 134, 135, 136, 141‑145.

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196 Black Hawk claimed that he did not understand what he was signing in 1816. — See Black Hawk's Autobiography (1882 edition), p56.

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197 Quaife's Chicago and the Old Northwest, p263; Buck's Illinois in 1818, pp11, 12.

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198 This letter from Lewis Cass to A. J. Dallas is printed in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, pp376‑379. The original is in the Pension Building, Washington, D. C., Indian Office, Book 204, Letter Book 1, p101.

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199 Quaife's Wisconsin Its History and Its People, Vol. I, p363.

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200 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, p377.

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201 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, p378.

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202 Quaife's Chicago and the Old Northwest, p264; Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, p380‑384.

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203 For many years Prairie du Chien had been the meeting ground of the tribes of the Upper Mississippi region. It was, moreover, the center for the fur trade of the surrounding area. Its strategic importance had been recognized by Lieutenant Pike, Governor Clark, and General Howard as well as by the British authorities during the War of 1812.

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204 Flagler's A History of the Rock Island Arsenal, pp14, 15. For the establishment of Fort Johnson by Taylor see the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, p387, note 37; Nile's Weekly Register, Vol. VIII (Supplement), p137; Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. IX, pp243‑245. Fort Edwards was begun in June, 1816, completed in 1817, and named for Governor Ninian Edwards of Illinois Territory. For a contemporary description of the site of Fort Edwards and its description in 1817 see Long's Voyage in a Six‑oared Skiff to the Falls of St. Anthony in 1817 in the Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp77, 78. See also Dallam's Dedication of Fort Edwards Monument Warsaw, Illinois, in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. VIII, pp139‑142.

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205 Flagler's A History of the Rock Island Arsenal, p15.

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206 Flagler's A History of the Rock Island Arsenal, pp15, 16.

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207 Flagler's A History of the Rock Island Arsenal, p16.

For a contemporary account and description of the site and buildings of Fort Armstrong see Long's Voyage in a Six‑oared Skiff to the Falls of St. Anthony in 1817 in the Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp68‑74.

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208 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, p424.

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209 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, p387, footnote 37.

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210 Johnson's letter is printed in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, pp424, 425.

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211 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, pp127, 128, Vol. IX, p284.

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212 History of Crawford and Richland Counties, Wisconsin (1884), p334; Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, p57.

William Harris Crawford for whom Fort Crawford was named was born in Virginia, February 24, 1772, and died in Georgia in 1834. As a young man he taught school, then studied law. He soon achieved prominence in his profession. He served in the State legislature of Georgia from 1803 to 1807, and as a member of the United States Senate from 1807‑1813. He served for two years as minister to France, and upon his return to the United States in 1815 became Secretary of War. In October of 1816 he was transferred to the position of Secretary of the Treasury. In 1824 he was an unsuccessful candidate for President. He became judge of the northern circuit court of Georgia in 1827, and served in that capacity until his death. — History of Crawford and Richland Counties, Wisconsin (1884), pp334, 335.

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213 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, p122.

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214 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, pp479, 480, footnote 4.

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215 Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, p58; Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, p122.

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216 For a brief account of Chambers at Fort Howard see Quaife's Wisconsin Its History and Its People, Vol. I, pp365, 366. For the commanding officers of posts in the Ninth Department in 1817 see American State Papers, Military Affairs, Vol. I, p672.

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217 On this point see Quaife's Wisconsin Its History and Its People, Vol. I, p370.

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218 For Chambers' treatment of the inhabitants of Prairie du Chien see the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, pp129, 229, 230. For the arrest of the traders see the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIX, pp477‑479.

Thayer's Note: More accessibly, some further details are given in Chapter XII.
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219 Post Returns, Fort Crawford, 1817‑1830, February, 1817, in the Adjutant General's Office, War Department, Washington, D. C.

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220 Major Long kept a journal of his trip from the time he left Prairie du Chien until he returned to St. Louis, July 9-August 15, 1817. This journal was first published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1860 under the title, Voyage in a Six‑oared Skiff to the Falls of St. Anthony in 1817. It appears also in the Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp7‑88. See Note 11 in Folwell's A History of Minnesota, Vol. I, pp134, 135.

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221 Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp41‑51.

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222 Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp52‑56.

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223 Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp56, 57.

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224 Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp58‑60.

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225 Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. II, pp64‑66.

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226 The diary of Willard Keyes is printed in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp339‑363, 443‑465.

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227 An excellent account of Carver's activities in the Upper Northwest and the involved story of the alleged grant of land made to him by the Sioux Indians is told in Quaife's Wisconsin Its History and Its People, Vol. I, pp244‑259.

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228 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp269, 270.

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229 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp352, 353.

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230 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp354, 355.

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231 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp355, 356. This may have been the Charles Menard mentioned in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, p129.

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232 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, p357.

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p304 233 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, p358.

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234 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp360, 361.

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235 Chambers to Lawe, dated Fort Crawford, April 26, 1818 in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XX, p51; Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp354, 360.

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236 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp360, 361.

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237 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, p361.

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238 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp361‑363.

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239 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, p443; American State Papers, Military Affairs, Vol. I, p790; Inspection Reports in the War Department, Washington, D. C., Vol. I (1814‑1823), p110.

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240 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, p444.

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241 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, p444.

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242 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, p444.

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243 Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. III, pp446‑459.

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244 Inspection Reports, in the War Department, Washington, D. C., Vol. I (1814‑1823), pp110‑113.

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245 Hansen's Old Fort Snelling, pp19, 20; John C. Calhoun to Major General Jacob Brown, October 17, 1818, in the Correspondence of John C. Calhoun, edited by J. Franklin Jameson, in the Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1899, Vol. II, pp147‑149; Post Returns, Fort Crawford, 1817‑1831, July, 1817, in the Adjutant General's Office, War Department, Washington, D. C.

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246 Forsyth's Journal of a Voyage from St. Louis to the Falls of St. Anthony in 1819 appears in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. VI, pp188‑219, also in the Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. III, pp139‑167.

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247 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. VI, pp198, 199. For Leavenworth's civil mission performed for Governor Cass see Folwell's A History of Minnesota, Vol. I, p231.

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248 Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark Van Cleve's Three Score Years and Ten, Life-long Memories of Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and Other Parts of the West is a delightful narrative of early days at this Upper Mississippi post. For an account of the establishment of Fort Anthony, renamed Fort Snelling, see Hansen's Old Fort Snelling, Ch. II, or Folwell's A History of Minnesota, Vol. I, pp137‑141.

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249 See Post Returns, Fort Crawford, 1817‑1831, August, 1819, to December, 1820, in the Adjutant General's Office, War Department, Washington, D. C.

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250 Schoolcraft's journal was published in Albany in 1821 under the title Narrative Journal of Travels, through the Northwestern Regions of the United States Extending from Detroit through the Great Chain of American Lakes to the Sources of the Mississippi River. Performed as a Member of the Expedition under Governor Cass in the Year 1820. The part of this journal referring to the stop at Prairie du Chien occupies pages 337‑359. This volume will be referred to hereafter as Schoolcraft's Narrative Journal. The official journal of the expedition kept by James D. Doty was published in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIII, pp163‑219. For the arrival at Prairie du Chien see footnote pages 219, 220.

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251 Post Returns, Fort Crawford, 1817‑1831, January, 1821, to April, 1822, in the Adjutant General's Office, War Department, Washington, D. C.

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252 Morgan to Gaines, November 15, 1822, in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XX, pp291, 297.

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253 Durrie's The Early Outposts of Wisconsin, Annals of Prairie du Chien, p7.

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254 Keating's account of this expedition was published in Philadelphia in 1824 entitled Narrative of an Expedition to the Sources of St. Peter's River, Lake Winnepeek, Lake of the Woods, etc., Performed in the Year 1823. A second edition was published in London in 1825. The account of the stop at Prairie du Chien is found in the London edition, pages 242‑254.


Thayer's Note:

a Already in 1817, Fort Crawford was hosting civilian visitors. Among the source documents not tapped by Mahan in this book, the diary of one such visitor, Father Joseph Marie Dunand, who spent a month that spring saying Mass, baptizing, and hearing confessions; the parish records of St. Gabriel's Church in Prairie du Chien contain much information about his stay. For some details, see Hoffman, Arms and the Monk!, pp55‑56.


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