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This webpage reproduces part 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 1

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p. v Editor's Introduction

Old Fort Crawford was an important link in the chain of forts erected by the government of the United States in the Upper Mississippi Valley at the close of the War of 1812. It was established in 1816 at Prairie du Chien in the Territory of Michigan, to which Territory the Iowa country was attached in 1834 for purposes of temporary government. When the original Territory of Wisconsin was established in 1836 the Iowa country was included within its jurisdiction. The frequent points of contact between the garrison at Fort Crawford and the trans-Mississippi region makes the publication of this volume by The State Historical Society of Iowa especially appropriate.

The period covered in Old Fort Crawford and the Frontier begins with the events leading up to the establishment of Fort Crawford and ends with the final disposal of the military tract by the government after the Civil War. The narrative includes an account of the events in the area about Prairie du Chien as well as the story of the fort itself.

Benj. F. Shambaugh

Office of the Superintendent and Editor

The State Historical Society of Iowa

Iowa City Iowa

p. vii Author's Preface

In any account of early events in the Upper Mississippi Valley the story of military posts can not be ignored. Indeed, the military post was a most important institution in the westward advance of the frontier. It was established on the one hand to represent the strong arm of the Great Father at Washington among his red children, and on the other to protect the settler who trod fast upon the heels of the explorer and the fur trader.

The building of Fort Madison in the Iowa country in 1808 marked the beginning of the military occupancy of the Upper Mississippi Valley by the United States. But the forced abandonment of this post during the War of 1812, the establishment of Fort Shelby at Prairie du Chien by the Americans in 1813 and its subsequent capture by the British, the ill‑fated relief expedition under Lieutenant John Campbell, and the decisive defeat of Major Zachary Taylor by the British and Indians at Credit Island delayed the attempt of the government to assume control of this region. At the close of the War of 1812 the erection of Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, of Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, and of Fort Snelling near the Falls of St. Anthony marked clearly the line of the Upper Mississippi frontier.

The first Fort Crawford was built in 1816; but its site being low and frequently subject to inundation by floods in the Mississippi, the erection of a new and larger Fort Crawford on a higher elevation of the Prairie was begun in 1829. Abandoned in 1849, the post was again reoccupied p. viiifor a short time in 1855‑1856, and was used during a part of the Civil War period as a recruiting rendezvous and a hospital. Thereafter it served no further military purpose. The term Old Fort Crawford as used in this volume refers to the institution and includes both the first and second post of that name at Prairie du Chien.

Although Fort Crawford was located in a region that later became Wisconsin, its story includes events that took place in an area now included in Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa as well. Indeed, there were many points of contact between the garrison at Fort Crawford and the Iowa country. One of the tasks of the military, for example, was to try to prevent clashes between the Sioux and the Sauk and Foxes in the trans-Mississippi region. Moreover, Prairie du Chien was a center to which fur traders along the streams in the eastern Iowa country brought the products of their labor. With the removal of the Winnebago from Wisconsin to Iowa in the early forties and the erection of Fort Atkinson in the Neutral Ground, contacts between the garrisons of the two posts were frequent; while the intrusion of miners in the lead region about Dubuque brought troops from Fort Crawford into Iowa more than once.

Compilation of the history of Fort Crawford was first undertaken at the suggestion of Dr. Louis Pelzer, Professor of History in the State University of Iowa, under whose direction the research was done. The results of this investigation were accepted as a master's thesis in the Graduate College of the State University of Iowa in July, 1920. Later upon the suggestion of Dr. Pelzer and Dr. Benj. F. Shambaugh, Superintendent of the State Historical Society, the scope of the study was enlarged so as to show more completely the relation of Fort Crawford to the Upper Mississippi Valley frontier; new p. ixsources of information were consulted, and the entire manuscript was rewritten for publication.

Material for the story of Old Fort Crawford and the Frontier was found in many places. Through the courtesy of the Adjutant General of the Army the author was permitted to examine the Post Returns of Fort Crawford in the archives of the War Department at Washington, D. C. Inspection Reports of the post were also consulted, and permission was given to make a transcript of the File Record of Old Fort Crawford in the office of the Judge Advocate General. Published records of affairs at or near Fort Crawford were found in the Annual Reports of the Secretary of War and in the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs as submitted to Congress. The records of explorers and fur traders, accounts and diaries of visitors to Prairie du Chien, reminiscences of soldiers of the garrison, and narratives by pioneer settlers give glimpses of Old Fort Crawford as each author saw it. Many of these accounts appear in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, and others are found in the Minnesota Historical Collections. The author's dependence upon these sources of information is evident throughout the volume.

Through the courtesy, first of Dr. Milo M. Quaife, at that time Superintendent of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and later of Dr. Joseph Schafer, the present Superintendent of the Wisconsin Society, the author was permitted to examine newspaper and manuscript collections of that organization. Photostat copies of the Indian Office Files and Indian Office Letter Books in the library of the State Historical Society at Madison proved invaluable in connection with the story of Indian affairs at or near Fort Crawford. In this connection I wish to p. xexpress my appreciation of the unfailing courtesy and the helpful interest of the executive and library staff of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in whose custody these records are kept.

At the Historical, Memorial and Art Department of the State of Iowa at Des Moines, Curator Edgar R. Harlan and staff placed the Street Papers and other manuscripts at the disposal of the author.

My thanks are due to several individuals and organizations for assistance in securing illustrations and other data for the volume. Dr. Newton D. Mereness, representative of historical agencies of the Upper Mississippi Valley in Washington, D. C., furnished the author with photographs of maps and plats in the File Record of Fort Crawford in the War Department. Other photographs were loaned by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and by W. S. Hoffman, librarian of Campion College at Prairie du Chien. Rev. Louis A. Rohret while a student in Washington, D. C., assisted in securing material from the archives of the War Department. The Sisters of Saint Mary's College at Prairie du Chien permitted the use of an unpublished thesis on the fur trade written by one of their students and also supplied the author with photographs of Fort Crawford relics on their campus. Chas. Phil. Hexom of Decorah, Iowa, gave permission for the reproduction of his drawing of Old Fort Atkinson; and W. E. Martner of Prairie du Chien loaned the author valuable data on local history. The picture of Fort Madison in this volume was secured through the efforts of Russell S. Jones, secretary of the Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce; while the map of the private land claims at Prairie du Chien showing the site of Fort Crawford was loaned by W. R. Graves of Prairie du Chien.

My fellow workers on the staff of the State Historical p. xiSociety of Iowa at Iowa City have aided with helpful criticisms and suggestions. I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Superintendent of the Society, not only for his advice and encouragement, but also for the willingness with which he made possible the investigation of sources of information either by personal visit or by correspondence. My thanks are also due to Dr. Ruth A. Gallaher, Library Research Associate of the Society, who edited the manuscript and read the proofs, and to Mr. J. A. Swisher, Research Assistant, who assisted in the verification of the manuscript and compiled the index.

Bruce E. Mahan

The State Historical Society of Iowa

Iowa City Iowa


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