The earliest religious services of which there is any record was that held by the Roman Catholics in 1817, when Father Durand came and held mass, and baptized about 125 persons, all of the families of the French and mixed races. As some children of Catholic parents were found who, although nearly grown men and women, had never before had an opportunity to receive the rites of baptism, it is inferred from this that no priest had visited the post for many years prior to the advent of Father Durand. This Father left a written record behind him, which is the foundation of the records of the Catholic Church at this point. The Rev. Father did not remain more than a few years, and after his departure there is no further record till 1836, when the Rev. Father Mazzucheli was sent to select a site for a church, and to lay the corner stone which he did, and the place was called the “Episcopal See.” In 1839 Rev. Bishop Loras visited the place. He was followed in 1839 by Father Cretin, who remained four years and erected the first church edifice in the place. It was named St. Gabriel’s Church. Father Cretin was a remarkable man. His talents and culture were only equaled by his kindness of heart, industry and deep humility. From here he went to Dubuque, and in 1850 was appointed the first Bishop of St. Paul. His death occurred at that city, Feb. 22, 1857. He was succeeded by Rev. Father Bonduel, and he by Father Ravoux and Father L. Galtier, both of whom came here with Father Cretin, and each in order were placed in charge of this congregation. Father Lucius Galtier succeeded to the charge in 1847, and remained at his post till the time of his death, which occurred in 1866. Father L. Lux was next in charge, and remained till May 26, 1867. He was succeeded by Father Koke and he by Father Abeline, Sept. 1, 1880. Father Herman Richards, of the Society of Jesus, became the pastor and held that position till August, 1883, when he was assigned to another field. While serving as pastor of this congregation Father Richards has been required to preach in four different languages, to suit the understanding of his people. The congregation numbers about 3,000 members, who all live in a radius of from seven to ten miles about Prairie du Chien. The Catholics outnumber all other denominations combined, by a large majority, and record among their members many of the wealthiest and most influential citizens of Prairie du Chien. They have two flourishing institutions of learning established here, a sketch of which is given elsewhere in this work.
The First Presbyterian Society
In 1834 the Rev. David Lowery, a Presbyterian clergyman organized the first protestant society in Prairie du Chien; it afterward was merged into the Congregational society.
The Methodist Episcopal Church
The Methodist Episcopal Church of Prairie du Chien was organized in 1836, by the Rev. Alfred Brunson, superintendent of the M. E. mission, of the upper Mississippi and Lake Superior. Mr. Brunson came here in the fall of 1835, from Meadville, Penn., and returned home the same autumn. In the spring of 1836 he came back with his family, purchased a farm and built a house, the materials of which were brought by boat from his old home in Pennsylvania. He soon organized a society.
Mr. Brunson says: “We reached Prairie du Chien July 16, 1836. I organized a class of ten members out of those who came with me, being the first class of Methodists ever formed north and west of the Wisconsin River.
I spent the winter in missionary labors at home and in the new settlements that were springing up within reach. In the winter of 1836-7, we had a gracious revival at Prairie du Chien, in which about twenty souls were converted, and in the course of the winter of 1837-8, another revival crowned our efforts under the blessing of God.”
The church edifice was built about 1847. The records contain no history of the church, and as the memory of the oldest inhabitant seems to be at fault as regards any facts connected with it, our sketch must remain incomplete. The present pastor, Rev. John Knibbs has been in charge two years, and has lately been appointed to his second term. As he has had an eventful experience in this field, we append a brief mention of his life.
Rev. John Knibbs, pastor of the M. E. Church of Prairie du Chien, was born in Oxford, England, March 2, 1826. He emigrated from England to America, in 1855, joined the West Wisconsin Conference, in 1856, and has been in active service now about twenty-seven years. In the winter of 1856-7, while a stranger in the land, Mr. Knibbs was engaged by the Rev. Alfred Brunson, to officiate at Eastman, in place of a brother minister who was prevented by sickness, from keeping his appointment. He started to travel some five miles over the hills. The snow being nearly three feet deep and covered with a sharp crust, as no road was broken, he soon lost his way, and wandered about a considerable time. His horse becoming exhausted he tied him to a tree and tried to make his way on foot. Like many others when lost he traveled in a circle and soon came back to his horse. Again he tried to make his way out only to find himself back to the horse again. When night came on he crawled into the snow for protection. The following day he tried again but with no better success. Four days and three nights were spent in these vain attempts his feet, hands and face were frozen and he was nearly starved. At last he sighted smoke from a chimney and was barely able to reach the house. The people only supposed one foot to be frozen, which they thawed out with spring water. This foot was saved and the other that was thought uninjured was so badly affected that amputation of a part of the foot was necessary. More recently three different amputations of the limb have been made, one in 1883, nearly twenty-seven years after his exposure. Mr. Knibbs has in spite of his physical disabilities done effective work as a mission preacher. He is a man of fine ability and great earnestness of purpose. The past two years he has filled the pulpit at Prairie du Chien and at the last conference was appointed to his second term at this point. Mr. Knibbs does not feel hopeful of filling the term of his appointment, but expects to be soon retired from active service.
The Episcopal Church of Prairie du Chien
The Episcopal Church of Prairie du Chien has “a local habitation and a name” and but little more. The first religious services conducted by a clergyman of this denomination were held in 1836 in Fort Crawford by Rev. Mr. Coddle, the first chaplain. The parish was organized in June, 1855, by the Rev. John Egar, rector. The church edifice was erected the same year under the management of Mr. H. Baldwin. At the close of the year Mr. Egar resigned and Mr. Lyman was called to fill the vacancy. He only remained a few weeks. The Rev. Mr. Pratt filled the pulpit a few times but was not located here. Mr. Clinton was the next rector, and he served two years. He was followed by the Rev. Mr. Lloyd, who only remained nine months and withdrew. The Church was then vacant for some time, till Rev. Mr. Geirlow was chosen rector. The field had no charms for him and he resigned after ten months’ service, having during his pastorate consecrated the church. Aug. 13, 1865, the Rev. Mr. Skinner was appointed rector, and after a brief career resigned on November 18th of the same year. The pulpit was vacant till 1867, when the Rev. H. C. H. Dudley filled it as a missionary, but refused the rector ship. Again the pulpit was vacant till Oct. 3, 1875, when the Rev. Dr. A. F. Samuels was called to the rector ship. Under his management the church was partially rebuilt and new interest excited. For six years Dr. Samuels labored without hope of reward; the smallness of the congregation making it practically impossible to support a pastor. Dr. Samuels retired from the ministry in October 1881, and resumed the practice of medicine. At this writing, September 1883, the Church is still vacant.
The First Congregational Church
The First Congregational Church of Prairie du Chien, was organized under the management of the Rev. Mr. L. L. Radcliff, July 16, 1856. Names of members at date of organization: Leonard L. Radcliff, local pastor; J. S. Lockwood, A. O’Neil, P. J. Adams, James J. Langdon, B. Bull, A. C. Phillips, B. E. Hutchinson, Walter R. Bullock and O. B. Thomas. Aug. 16, 1856, D. H. Johnson, E. G. Perry, and T. B. Moore joined; August 17, W. L. Mower and E. P. Lockhart joined. The first officers of the society were: L. L. Radcliff, president; Benjamin Bull, vice president; A. C. Phillips, secretary; P. J. Adams, treasurer; J. S. Lockwood and B. E. Hutchinson to complete the board of trustees.
The church was built in 1858, under the supervision of the pastor, Mr. L. L. Radcliff, at a cost of $2,424.36.
Mr. Radcliff began as the first regular pastor of this denomination at this point, in October, 1855, sent by the American Home Mission. He was a member of the LaCrosse district convention of Congregational and Presbyterian Churches. He remained in charge of this Church till the close of 1860, when he returned to Pennsylvania, and is now preaching at Chautauqua Lake, N. Y. He was succeeded by Rev. H. W. Cobb, who was succeeded by Rev. Henry Carpenter, in 1864. Mr. J. Porter succeeded Mr. Carpenter, and filled the pulpit several years. He was said to have been the first Protestant minister that held service in Chicago. Rev. W. H. Marble succeeded Mr. Porter, and closed his work Jan. 9, 1871. Mr. C. F. Clapp was the next pastor, and served till March 1877, when he was succeeded by Rev. A. W. Safford, who remained till the spring of 1880. The church was vacant till April 1, 1881, when Mr. Arial McMaster, the present pastor, was chosen to fill the pulpit. The membership is fifty. Mr. Orson Jackson is the only deacon.
St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1862. The first pastor was the Rev. John Himmler, who was succeeded by Rev. Loren Schorr, and he by Carl Weideranders, Herman Krotzschmer, Joseph Westenberger, Johannes DeJung, and he by the present pastor, the Rev. Christian Gevers. The church was built in 1868, at a cost of $1,000. The present membership is about thirty. Among the first members were Fred Rhemhold, Fred Pagelo and Louis Scharpf. This society has a flourishing Sabbath school, which has been kept up since the organization of the society. It now has a regular attendance of sixty scholars. Louis Scharpf is the superintendent.
The Evangelical Association
The Evangelical Association was organized June 26, 1864, under the management of Rev. Peter Speich, pastor. Among the first members were: Frederick Bauer, John Poehler, Frederick Ahrens, John Schulz and Carl Lang. The Rev. Peter Speich was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Ragatz, and he by Fred Kaufmann, Fred Stroebel, Louis Runkel, William Kaun, Fred Asmann, G. Schwantes, the present pastor, who entered upon his duties in March, 1883. Mr. Schwantes was a mission preacher in 1863, and held the first services of this society, in the courthouse, in that year. The church was built in 1865, a wooden structure, at a cost of $1,500. The trustees, in 1883, were: Fred Bauer, John Schulz and John Kauffmann.
First Sunday School
The first Sunday school within what is now Prairie du Chien, was organized through the labors of Mrs. Juliana Lockwood and Miss Crawford, assisted by Dr. Edwin James, post surgeon United States army, and John H. Kinzie. This school included all denominations of both Catholic and Protestant faith, and was in operation from the spring of 1825, to the spring of 1826. It is mentioned in a previous chapter.
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.