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Historic Diaries: James Doty, 1820

Aug. 5, 1820: Prairie du Chien

Editor's Note:

Doty, who had kept a very poor record of the expedition over its last two weeks, ended his notes with this brief remark. Fortunately Schoolcraft gave better detail about their return to the settlements:

"It is ninety miles from the spot of our encampment to Prairie du Chien. We embarked a few moments after three in the morning, and reached the Prairie, at six in the afternoon... The village of Prairie du Chien is pleasantly situated on the east bank of the river, on the verge of one of those beautiful and extensive natural meadows, which characterize the valley of the Mississippi. It consists of about eighty buildings, including the garrison, the principal part of which are of logs, arranged in two streets parallel with the river, and is estimated to have an aggregate population of five hundred. This is exclusive of the garrison, now consisting of a company of infantry, ninety-six strong, under the command of Capt. Fowle.

"The village of Prairie du Chien takes its name from a family of Fox Indians who formerly resided there, and were distinguished by the appellation of Dogs. The present settlement was first begun in 1783, by Mr. Giard, Mr. Antaya, and Mr. Dubuque. There had formerly been an old settlement about a mile below the site of the present village, which existed during the time that the French held possession of the Canadas, but it was abandoned, chiefly on account of its unhealthy situation, being near the borders of an extensive tract of overflowed grounds.

"The early settlers, according to the principles adopted by the French colonists in the Canadas, intermarried with Indian women, and the present population is the result of this connexion. In it, we behold the only instance which our country presents, of the complete and permanent civilization of the aborigines; and it may be doubted, after all that has been said upon the subject, whether this race can ever be reclaimed from the savage state, by any other method. The result, in the present instance, is such as to equal the most sanguine expectations of the philanthropist, in regard to a mixed species. They are said to exhibit evidences of enterprise, industry, and a regard to order and the laws, at the same time, that we perceive the natural taciturnity of the savage, happily counterpoised by the vivacity and suavity of the French character, producing manners which are sprightly without frivolity, and serious without becoming morose."

Location: Prairie du Chien, Wis.

View Schoolcraft's complete description in his 1821 Narrative

At 1/2 past 3 we embarked, as day was dawning.

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