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Day Trip: Wisconsin fort has medical history

Fort Crawford once was site of digestion experiments

Published: Friday, July 18, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Photo submitted by the museum)
The 1830s’ ward room at Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, tells the story of Dr. William Beaumount and his work on digestion.
(Photo submitted by the museum)
This exhibit at the Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, deals with the Swift U.S. Army Hospital and the Civil War. The museum won the Wisconsin Historical Society's 2013 Museum Exhibit Award for this display.

PRAIRIE du CHIEN, Wis. – Ideally situated where the Wisconsin River meets the Mississippi, Fort Crawford was built in 1816, giving Americans control of an area Britain and France longed for.

It also is the site where Black Hawk surrendered after the Black Hawk War of 1832. Other famous men, such as Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and Zachary Taylor, the 12th president, have served there.

But one of the most important men at Fort Crawford was Dr. William Beaumount, who made research strides with his work on digestion. This was all thanks to his patient, Alexis St. Martin. St. Martin had been shot in the stomach. Although he survived, the hole never fully healed, allowing Beaumount to study digestion.

That learning was during the 1830s at the hospital at Fort Crawford. Unfortunately, there was not much left of the fort by the 20th century. The Fort Crawford Military Hospital is the last remant of the second Fort Crawford. Work began on this version in 1829. The hospital opened in 1831, and was reconstructed in the 1930s.

Exhibits in this building include the ward room that covers Beaumont's digestive work, barracks' artifacts, a dentist office and pharmacy, and a history of the fort.

Now run by the Prairie du Chien Historical Society, the fort has three structures open to the public besides the hospital. The second two are modern.

The Museum of Prairie du Chien has exhibits that focus on the city itself. Subjects covered are the clamming industry in the early 1900s along the Mississippi, Native American artifacts, local schools, work and shopping in the early days of the city, the railroad, and a fossil collection.

The visitor center is the third structure. This is the starting place where tickets and information can be obtained. A store for souvenir shoppers and a library with material about medical history can be found there as well.

The tour of Fort Crawford is self-guided. Guests should anticipate a little over an hour to complete the visit. Guided tours of the Fort Crawford Military Cemetery are available by advance reservation.

The museum is close to downtown Prairie du Chien for those who would like to stop for lunch or supper and start their own digestive process.

If you go

What: Fort Crawford Museum

Where: 717 S. Beaumont Road, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Oct. 31

Cost: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for 11 and younger

Information: or 608-326-6960

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