A history of the first settlement of Prairie du Chien, largely by Canadian French, will be found in a previous chapter. We here commence the narrative when the Americans began to settle very rapidly on “the prairie.”
Hercules L. Dousman, who was of Canadian French origin, came to the village in 1826 or 1827, in the employ of the American Fur Company, and speedily rose to wealth and distinction. Some men who were stationed here in the military service of the United States made selection of eligible location within a short distance of the prairie, to which they returned after their term of office expired; among whom may be mentioned Edward Hughes, John McClure, J. P. Hall, and Daniel Frost. Between 1830 and 1835, the names of Tainter, Miller, Putnam and Martin, were identified with the history of this place.
In 1832 I. P. Perrit Gentil, afterwards for many years county treasurer, located here. J. F. Mills came in 1834, for the purpose of engaging as tutor in the families of Col. Taylor and Indian agent Street, but entered the quartermaster’s office, and subsequently rose to distinction in civil life.
Another arrival of 1836 was Alexander McGregor, who was one of the principal men and, in that year laid out the lower village. He also established that year a ferry across the Mississippi. After laboring assiduously to build up the lower town, he removed in 1847, and became the founder of the city on the Iowa side, which bears his name.
In this year (1836) the fever of speculation, then running rampant over the country, reached this place, and property ran up to fabulous heights. Two land companies were organized, who bought up all they could get of the private land claims below the garrison, and laid it out into city lots. But failing to succeed as they wished, this part of the city remained only on paper for several years.
A man by the name of Van Dorn, from Michigan, full of the idea of Chicago and Milwaukee, came to this place and finding no land in market except the private land claims, bought up some claims on Government land not yet surveyed in the Wisconsin bottoms, which are low and marshy, and subject to annual inundations. This he platted on paper, and went east and put into stock, at $200,000, $100 per share, and imposed on many honest men, who supposed they were buying shares in the city of Prairie du Chien, for so he called his marsh. He paid for his claims in Michigan wildcat money a few days before those banks exploded. He had to leave the country, and the last heard from him he was in Texas.
In this year population began to increase. Many who were bound ultimately for Iowa and Minnesota, made this their stopping place till they could prepare their future homes. Several new houses were put up, and permanent residences made.
Among the number who came to Prairie du Chien in 1837, were Losen and Seth Hill, H. W. and Thomas Savage.
Concerning Prairie du Chien in 1857, and what its future prospects might be, the Rev. Alfred Brunson at that date wrote:
“The town plat lies two miles along the river, and runs back one and a half miles, on an average, covering an area of about three sections. But the present inhabitants, numbering about 3,000, are scattered over the equivalent of seven sections, all of which can, and probably will be occupied for dwellings and business in a few years.
“We have one large steam flouring, and one steam saw mill; we have three lumber yards; five brick yards; four lime kilns, and stone quarries without number. Several millions of brick have been made and laid up during the past season, in dwellings and large stores and warehouses. And by the aid of furnaces brick are being made during the winter at the rate of 3,000 per day, and will be ready to be laid up as soon as the ensuing spring opens.
“Three graceful churches, and one in the course of building, together with two other places of divine worship, honor the morals and religious tastes of the people. A high school and suitable number of district schools supply the wants of our children and youths for educational purposes; and an academy and several more churches are in contemplation.
“We have several lines of daily, tri-weekly and weekly stages, plying in Wisconsin, and the same from McGregor, which may be considered as a part of this place, plying in Iowa and Minnesota, all centering to this place, in view of the railroad and steamboat travel.
“The railroad is at the time of this writing, finished up to a point of twenty miles from this place, and the track is being laid at the rate of half a mile a day. The grading and bridge building keep out of the way of the rail layers, and the cars are expected to reach this place in February next.
“During the past season the steamboat arrivals have averaged ten or twelve a day, none of which were owned at this place. But arrangements are now being made by which four freight boats are to be put on in connection with the railroad, and also four daily boats expressly for passengers, to receive the passengers from the trains, and go at a speed never yet attained on this river, and ply between this place and St. Paul, and the intermediate ports. By this arrangement freight will not be permitted to lie at the depot for weeks before it will be forwarded; and passengers will not be left without beds nor be compelled to hang upon the guards to get a passage, as it has been to some extent the past season or two; one of the boats of the greatest speed is to ply between this place and Dubuque, daily.
“This place offers at this time, the greatest facilities for wholesale dealers, for manufactories, and for all kinds of mechanics and laborers. This may be seen at a glance from our position. The town site is ample for buildings, without the expense of grading, piling or wharfing, and the facilities for receiving and sending out goods, wares and merchandise, are exceeded by no place west or north of Chicago.
“Hundreds of buildings would now have been up and occupied by families and traders, if materials and men could have been at command; and as soon as these can be obtained, building will progress with great rapidity. Hence the opening for mechanics, lumber, and other materials for building.
“A foundry on a large scale is very much needed. Buildings with iron fronts are being put up, and stoves by the hundred are being sold, mill irons are in great demand, for all the country about us, various kinds of machinery are being erected, and for all these and every other kind of castings, we are under the necessity of sending below, while we have within 100 miles of us, at and near the falls of Black river, iron ore enough to supply the entire northwest with that material, which could be easily and cheaply floated down the current to this place, and strong indications of iron ore are abundant within twenty miles of us.
“People of all kinds and descriptions find ample employment; laborers are in great demand and all at the highest wages, say from $1.50 to $3, and in the opening of next spring far greater numbers of them will be required to supply the demand. Several large wholesale and retail stores, commission and forwarding houses, besides numerous dwellings were the last season added to our former stock; and these will be greatly increased in the coming year, together with several new and spacious hotels, and the depot buildings, now partly up.
“The manufacturing of plows, chairs, carriages, furniture, book-binding, etc., would find every encouragement; planning, turning and other useful machinery will find ample employment. An additional printing press is much wanted and would find a good support.
“Enterprising farmers and dairymen are in great requisition, and a better country for them the sun never shone upon. Butter, cheese, eggs, beef, pork, poultry, etc., and all kinds of garden vegetables are in great demand, and in the coming season, will be more so.
“Flouring, grist, and saw-mills are much needed, and good sites, both for water and steam power are abundant; and for a grist mill by water power, near the town, a good millwright and miller, would find good encouragement from the present proprietor.
“It is expected that in the coming season, and to increase as time rolls on, from 500 to 1000 people will arrive and depart daily, but at present, our hotels, though of a good quality could not entertain more than 150 comfortably; hence the call for more accommodations of this kind.
“The health of the place, though it has been greatly misrepresented by those whose interest it was to do so, we affirm to be generally good; fully equal to any other on the river, and far superior to any place below us. We have had no sickness, except what was common to the country, and even at that, not as much as many other places reputed to be healthy. In all the ravages of the cholera, not a single case originated here. Visitors to the place, who were looking for a future home, have been to our cemeteries and finding so few new graves in a population of some 3000 have come to the sage conclusion that comparatively but few die among us, and on inquiry, have found that they were mostly from causes common to human nature, and not from any local cause particularly.
“We deem it prudent to say but little. We do not claim to be prophets, nor possess the attributes of foreknowledge. The intelligent reader can draw his conclusions from the foregoing facts, as satisfactorily to himself, as if done by us. The growth of the west, though a fixed fact, can hardly be appreciated, except from actual observation. The unprecedented growth of Milwaukee and Chicago, is known to be owing to their position, and local advantages; and the principal purchases of real estate among us are from those places, who, viewing our prospects of rapid growth, from the same cause as theirs, have paid and fixed upon prices for lots corresponding with prices with them when they were about of our present dimensions, and though those who wish to purchase for speculation, as would be natural for them to do, talk as if our prices were too high that is too high for them to expect the advance they would like to receive yet, if they become owners, relax nothing in their high estimate of the value of their lots. But the fact, that business men from such places, are purchasing, building, and removing their families to settle among us; and the fact that business men of the highest character for enterprise and foresight, from Buffalo, New York, and other eastern cities are also coming, purchasing and settling among us, are favorable omens of the magnitude of our future position, in a commercial point of view. We are at this time ahead of what Milwaukee and Chicago were twenty years ago, and having advantages to start upon that neither of them had at that time, it is not deemed visionary to suppose that in less than twenty years, we shall be equal to what they are now.
“The above was read and adopted by a large and respectable meeting of the business men of the place, held at the Mondell House, Dec. 10, 1856, and is published at their request.”
The Courier, of Jan. 8, 1857, says: “A line of steamers is building, to run in connection with the railroad from Prairie du Chien to St. Paul; that during the year past, two new brick hotels have been completed, and two others remodeled; two steam ferry boats, to cross the river to McGregor, have been purchased; one new church, erected; three splendid brick blocks, nineteen stores, two breweries, one steam flouring mill, and about a hundred dwelling houses put up, besides the extensive works of the railroad company. Five brick yards, two stone quarries, three lumber yards and one saw-mill have been inadequate to meet the demands required for improvements.”
History of Crawford and Richland Counties, Wisconsin: Together with Sketches of Their Towns and Villages, Educational, Civil, Military, and Political History, Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens ; History of Wisconsin : Embracing Accounts of the Pre-historic Races, and a Brief Account of Its Territorial and State Governments, Part 1. Crawford County (WI): Union Publishing Company, 1884.