Second Fort Crawford Military Hospital
Fort Crawford Museum in 2009
|Location||Rice Street and South Beaumont Rd
Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
|NRHP Reference #||66000121|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||October 9, 1960|
Fort Crawford was an outpost of the United States Army located in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, during the 19th Century. The Second Fort Crawford Military Hospital was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1960.
The army's occupation of Prairie du Chien actually spanned the lifetime of two fortifications, both of them named Fort Crawford. The first of these was occupied from 1816–1832, the second from 1832 - 1856. Both of the forts formed part of a string of fortifications along the upper Mississippi River that also included Fort Snelling near Saint Anthony Falls in Minnesota, and Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, Illinois. Fort Crawford was also part of a string of forts built along the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway that included Fort Winnebago in Portage, Wisconsin and Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The First Fort Crawford
The U.S. Army's presence in Prairie du Chien began during the War of 1812, when Fort Shelby was built on an island of the Mississippi River that formed part of the town. On July 19, 1814, Fort Shelby was captured by British forces and renamed Fort McKay. The British would continue to occupy Prairie du Chien until 1815, after the Treaty of Ghent restored the pre-war border between the United States and British Canada. When the British retreated from the city, they burned Fort McKay rather than give it back to the Americans.
To protect Prairie du Chien against future invasion, U.S. forces returned in June, 1816, with orders to construct a new fort on the site of Fort McKay. This fort was named Fort Crawford in honor of William H. Crawford, the Secretary of War under James Madison. Built entirely of wood except for the magazine, the fort measured 343 ft on each side and included Blockhouses at its northwest and southeast corners. Construction of the fort lasted through the summer of 1816.
Following the completion of Fort Crawford, the garrison was engaged primarily in peacekeeping between the new white settlers arriving in the region and Wisconsin's Native American tribes. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Leavenworth, a former U.S. Indian Agent, was among the early commanders at the fort. The United States conducted several negotiations with American Indians at Fort Crawford during the 1820s. One of the largest Indian councils in U.S. history was held at the fort in 1825, when over 5000 representatives of nearly a dozen Native American nations gathered to discuss and sign the first Treaty of Prairie du Chien.
Because of the first Fort Crawford's location alongside the Mississippi River, diseases such as malaria and dysentery were common among the troops, and the fort's wooden walls rotted because of the flooding that took place nearly every spring. The post took meteorological observations in 1822. In 1826, after a major flood, the garrison at Fort Crawford was ordered to leave Prairie du Chien and reinforce Fort Snelling in Minnesota.
During 1827, while no troops remained in Prairie du Chien, a group of hostile Winnebago Indians led by chief Red Bird murdered a family of settlers near the abandoned fort. This incident was the start of the Winnebago War of 1827, and prompted return of soldiers to Prairie du Chien. Shortly after the troops returned, it was decided that the first Fort Crawford was no longer inhabitable. In 1828 a decision was made to build a new fort on higher ground. Maj. Stephen W. Kearny, commanding officer at the time, surveyed the area and chose a site for the new fort upon a hill near the Mississippi River's eastern bank.
The Second Fort Crawford
The construction of the second Fort Crawford began in 1829 under the direction of the new commander, Col. Zachary Taylor, later President of the United States. The new fort's location on the mainland in Prairie du Chien was much more floodproof. In addition, to make the fort more weather-proof, it was decided to construct the structure using quarried limestone rather than wood. This in addition to delays in federal funding meant that the construction of the second Fort Crawford would take much longer than that of the first, lasting from 1829 until 1835. Troops in Prairie du Chien were unable to fully occupy the new fort's barracks until 1832, and in the meantime remained at the first Fort Crawford, where army surgeon Dr. William Beaumont did his best to keep the troops healthy. Beaumont would later achieve fame for a series of experiments on human digestion which he conducted at locations across the United States. Fifty-six of these experiments were conducted at Fort Crawford hospital, and allowed Beaumont to draw conclusions on the effects of temperature and emotion on the digestive process.
As the second fort's barracks were being completed in 1832, the Black Hawk War broke out in Illinois, and the troops at Fort Crawford were called to participate in the war. After the Battle of Bad Axe near present day Victory, Wisconsin, Chief Black Hawk surrendered to Col. Zachary Taylor at Fort Crawford. Black Hawk was imprisoned at the fort until he was escorted by Lt. Jefferson Davis to St. Louis, Missouri. Davis, who had been assigned to Fort Crawford in 1831, would later become President of the Confederate States of America. It was while assigned to Fort Crawford that Davis met and fell in love with the daughter of Zachary Taylor, Sarah Knox Taylor. Colonel Taylor disapproved of the relationship between Davis and his daughter, and in 1834 Davis was reassigned to Fort Gibson in Oklahoma. Shortly afterwards, Davis resigned his commission in order to pursue his relationship with Sarah in Prairie du Chien. Upon discovering that Zachary Taylor would not consent to their marriage, the couple eloped to Kentucky, where Davis married Sarah Taylor in 1835.
During the 1840s the garrison at Fort Crawford was assigned to build a road between Fort Crawford and Fort Winnebago in Portage. The route they chose for the road is now followed by U.S. Highway 18 eastward from Prairie du Chien towards Madison, Wisconsin over Military Ridge, which is so named because of the military road which followed its crest. After the road was completed and the Winnebago Tribe was relocated from Wisconsin to Minnesota, the fort had little use. It was abandoned in 1849. In 1855 Fort Crawford was reoccupied when rumors circulated of an impending uprising among the remaining Native Americans, but no such event occurred, perhaps because of the fort's reoccupation, and troops left the fort for the last time on June 9, 1856.
Fort Crawford Museum
Except during the American Civil War, when the fort was used as both a recruitment center and hospital for Union soldiers, Fort Crawford was left unoccupied between 1856 and 1933. In 1933, the Daughters of the American Revolution began work on restoring a portion of the fort's hospital, while clearing away the remaining parts of the dilapidated fort to allow for development. The fort's hospital was then transformed into a museum of medical history called the Fort Crawford Museum of Medical Progress. This museum, which focused around the experiments of Dr. Beaumont, but also featured exhibits on other aspects of early medicine, was operated by the Wisconsin Medical Society until 1995. In that year, the museum was sold to the Prairie du Chien Historical Society and converted into a museum of local history called the Prairie du Chien Museum at Fort Crawford. While the fort's hospital, which is registered as a National Historic Landmark, still houses exhibits primarily on Dr. Beaumont and early medicinal practices, adjacent buildings are now filled with exhibits on other aspects of Prairie du Chien history.
- Old Fort Crawford and the Frontier (book by Bruce E. Mahan: 286pp, 1926)
- Prairie du Chien Museum at Fort Crawford