War of 1812 Battle of Prairie du Chien marks 200th anniversary
By Correne Martin
For the 24th year, the War of 1812 Battle of Prairie du Chien (1814) will be re-enacted this weekend on St. Feriole Island in the second oldest city in Wisconsin. But this isn’t just another ordinary re-enactment. 2014 is actually the 200th anniversary celebration of the battle and over 150 re-enactors from all over the country will descend on the Villa Louis grounds in Prairie du Chien for the festivities. The celebration includes plenty of entertainment for the whole family.
“They’ll start arriving Thursday,” Villa Louis Site Director Susan Caya-Slusser said of the re-enactors, noting that some stay in hotels while others camp and enjoy local activities with their families while in town.
The schedule of events begins Friday, and the two battle re-enactments will be staged Saturday and Sunday.
Friday, from 9 a.m. on, the camp will start to take shape as participants register and set up all day. From 5:30 to 7 p.m., there will be an open house tour/reception of the Villa Louis mansion for participants.
On Saturday, campers will cook breakfast over an open fire. The Ox Bow Tavern group will hold a cooking demonstration, celebrating the tavern culture of the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the tented field, they will prepare and serve tasty period foods and drinks from original recipes using authentic methods and cooking tools.
At 10 a.m., a grand parade will be held, where participants will get together and drill, and then morning colors will follow. At 10:30, there will be an infantry and artillery drill and inspection. At 11:30, the British will parlay with the Indians and the Americans will interrupt. At 1 p.m., grade school aged children can enjoy games such as a mini militia march and hoop and stick. A skirmish at the blockhouse will start at 1:30.
The bicentennial flag ceremony will take place at 3:15 p.m. Saturday, kicking off the official Battle of Prairie du Chien, which starts at 4 p.m. Local dignitaries and organization leaders have been invited to be present for this part of the celebration. The War of 1812 Battle of Prairie du Chien took place July 17-20, 1814, outside the walls of Fort Shelby, which is now the Villa Louis grounds. In addition to the militiamen in period clothing on the battlefield, Kastner Pyrotechnics will be behind many of the charges and explosions of the narrated battle.
“The participants are groups and people from all over portraying the battling that happened during that period,” Caya-Slusser said. “People don’t usually get the War of 1812. It’s kind of a misunderstood war—the causes behind the war. But it’s still very important to the history of Prairie du Chien and to the fur trade.”
Around 5 p.m. Saturday, rum and whiskey rations will be given to “soldiers.” Evening colors will follow. Then, at 6 p.m., dinner will be served on the lawn for participants.
Capping off the day, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., an English country dance for all ages will take place on the Villa Louis west lawn. This event, unique to the bicentennial celebration, is sponsored by the Friends of the Villa Louis. Tickets may be purchased at the dance or in advance by calling 326-2721. Music will be provided by O’er the Border; John Stimson will be the caller. Reproduction costuming is welcome but not required for dancers as well as spectators. Street shoes are allowed since dancing will be on the lawn. Beverages will also be available for purchase.
“From 7 to 7:30, there will be teaching of the proper steps. There will also be benches and picnic tables set up so people can come and just listen to the music. Everyone is welcome to join at any time,” Caya-Slusser said.
At dusk Saturday, bicentennial celebrators will be treated to the community’s annual fireworks display, sponsored by the Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce.
Sunday will have many of the same events involving re-enactors and the public. Breakfast starts out the day, followed by a camp meeting with an officer update and powder ration at 9 a.m. The grand parade is at 10 a.m., with morning colors after. Musket reliability, at 11:30 a.m., is a team competition in which soldiers see how many times they can fire their muskets without misfiring. Rum and whiskey ration is at noon. Children’s games are at 1 p.m., followed by the infantry and artillery drill around 1:30.
Sunday’s battle re-enactment starts at 2:30 p.m. Evening colors will close the weekend’s celebration around 4 p.m., as participants disperse and head home.
For both days of events, tours of the mansion will be provided all day. There will be a cook in the kitchen, sampling food and, from time to time, someone will be playing the piano. Food, Potosi Beer and rootbeer floats will also be sold, with all proceeds going toward the restoration of the duck pond on the Villa grounds.
All the pomp and circumstance for the Bicentennial Celebration of the War of 1812 Battle of Prairie du Chien is coincidentally happening on the last year that the battle re-enactment will take place in the community, according to event organizers.
“We’re definitely taking a break in 2015 from the actual battle re-enactment,” Caya-Slusser said. “We just can’t afford to do this big, blowout event anymore. We’re losing numbers; some of the re-enactors are retiring after this year and, for others, it’s an expensive hobby.
“We will still do programming, but we’re kind of shifting our focus from these big events to the more intimate, hands-on activities. We’re going to focus on the restoration of the fur trade museum.”
According to Caya-Slusser, the state of Wisconsin has earmarked $400,000 for the restoration of the fur trade museum.
Regular admission prices to the Villa Louis apply at this weekend’s celebration of the War of 1812 Battle of Prairie du Chien. Because the Villa is part of the Blue Star Museum Initiative, active military members (in addition to children under 5) are admitted free.