Historical Battle of Prairie du Chien reenactment to send audience to the past
By Audrey Posten
On July 13 and 14, the elegant grounds of the Victorian Villa Louis will transform into a battlefield with the reenactment of the 1814 Battle of Prairie du Chien.
The conflict dates back to June of 1814, when United States troops arrived in Prairie du Chien to establish Fort Shelby, which they hoped would not only hinder British influence in the Old Northwest Territory, but also prevent British-Indian forces from attacking American settlements.
Once word of the American occupation reached the British authorities in command of the region, troops—under the command of Lt. Col. William McKay–were dispatched to Prairie du Chien. An army of roughly 600 men—largely consisting of voyageurs and other men in the fur trade, as well as bands of Wisconsin Native Americans—arrived in the area on July 17, 1814, laying siege to the fort for two and a half days.
The American troops eventually surrendered, allowing the British to take over the fort and re-name it in honor of McKay.
The Villa Louis has commemorated the battle for over 20 years with a reenactment on the Villa Louis west lawn—the site where the battle took place. It is the only War of 1812 battlefield within the state’s present boundaries.
“We have so many layers of history here,” said Susan Caya-Slusser, the director of the Villa Louis. “The reenactment is a way to re-interpret the site and show it in a different way than just the house.”
The reenactment, which Caya-Slusser said will feature pyrotechnics around the reconstructed battlefield, will take place at 5 p.m. on Saturday, then again at 2:30 p.m. -on Sunday.
Caya-Slusser said some re-enactors are locals, coming from places like Platteville, Mineral Point and La Crosse, while others come from across the Midwest, and even Canada.
“People love coming to reenact here because of the site’s location to the river and its tie-in to the Villa Louis,” Caya-Slusser said. “War of 1812 reenactments obviously aren’t as big as Civil War ones, but it’s still pretty great because of the authenticity. The battle actually took place here.”
The event also includes interpretive activities that explore the battle, 1814 Army life for both the British and American camps, as well as Upper Mississippi fur trade culture. Times for the activities are Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday will feature a special lecture by Dan Joyce, an archaeologist and director of the Kenosha Public Museum, entitled “The Siege of Prairie du Chien and the Search for Forts Shelby, McKay and Crawford, 1814-1832.”
Activities will take place on the parade ground between the British and American camps, on the battlefield near the block house and under the small canopy on the west lawn. The Friends of Villa Louis will sell food and beverages throughout the weekend, with proceeds going toward the Villa Louis pond restoration project.
Admission to the grounds also includes a tour of the Villa Louis. For more information about the reenactment, people can view the events calendar at villalouis.wisconsinhistory.org or contact the Villa Louis at 326-2721.