Tour Prairie du Chien’s historic cemeteries Saturday
Do you know who is buried in the old French Cemetery on Frenchtown Road? Why did Michel Brisbois request that he be buried atop a bluff overlooking Prairie du Chien? Originally there were two parts to Calvary Cemetery; curious to know what they were? Why is Alexander Mac Gregor buried in Prairie du Chien and not Iowa?
The Prairie du Chien Historical Society is sponsoring its annual Visiting Your Ancestors: A Tour of Prairie du Chien’s Historic Cemeteries on Saturday, Oct. 5. The tour begins at 1 p.m. at the Fort Crawford museum located at 717 S. Beaumont Road. All will gather at the museum, then board vans to travel to the six cemeteries. While on the tour, visitors will learn the answers to these questions and more.
The French Catholic Cemetery is the oldest cemetery still in existence in the State of Wisconsin and may be the oldest cemetery in the upper Mississippi Valley. Few of the graves are marked but much is known about the people who are buried there beginning in 1816.
Rev. Augustin Ravoux, the first permanent pastor of St. Gabriel’s Parish, began St. Gabriel’s Cemetery in 1840. The earliest graves are unmarked but fine memorials were set for John Lawler, Fathers Galtier and Becker, and several mayors of Prairie du Chien.
The land for Calvary Cemetery was donated the same year that Strange Powers donated part of his farm lot for the construction of St. Gabriel’s Church and location of the parish cemetery. Perhaps there was a little competition between Powers and Hercules L. Dousman.
Two cemeteries were established within the Fort Crawford Reservation. Today only the officers’ cemetery exists. Burials from 1829 to 1865 present stories of the rich history of the Fort, even a connection back to the American Revolution.
The cemetery located at the southern most part of Prairie du Chien has had several names: Prairie du Chien Cemetery, Lowertown Cemetery, and Evergreen Cemetery. Some of the earliest businessmen of the community rest here, including for some reason the founder of McGregor, Iowa.
Once accessible to the hardy willing to climb the face of the bluff, the Brisbois Cemetery can now only be entered through private property. Lonely and picturesque, it sums up the history of Prairie du Chien.
These stories and more are part of Visiting Your Ancestors. Upon arriving at a cemetery, all will be greeted by a costumed interpreter. The interpreter will give a short history of the cemetery then escort all amongst the tombstones, stopping every so often to tell a story about the person or family whose name appears on a stone or lies beneath unmarked ground.
The fee for Visiting Your Ancestors is $10 and includes admission to the Fort Crawford Museum. For more information, contact the museum at 326-6960. The Fort Crawford Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is owned and operated by the Prairie du Chien Historical Society.