Chapter 1 - Area, Position and Physical Features.

Before entering upon a consideration of the history of Crawford county, past and present, it is a matter of importance to understand its area and geographical position.


Crawford county, in area, ranks among the southern counties of Wisconsin as one of average size. It includes twenty-seven whole, half and fractional congressional townships with an average in each as follows:

Area of Townships.


Township 6, of range 5 west.......................812 32 Township 6, of range 6 west......................5648 84 Township 6, of range 7 west...................... 980 12 Township 7, of range 3 west.......................143 15 Township 7, of range 4 west......................7844 01 Township 7, of range 5 west.....................19401 10 Township 7, of range 6 west.....................22028 57 Township 7, of range 7 west......................2564 24 Township 8, of range 3 west.....................15258 85 Township 8, of range 4 west.....................22507 37 Township 8, of range 5 west.....................23350 73 Township 8, of range 6 west.....................21317 02 Township 8, of range 7 west......................1627 57 Township 9, of range 3 west.....................23005 24 Township 9, of range 4 west.....................22739 57 Township 9, of range 5 west.....................23208 70 Township 9, of range 6 west......................9596 22 Township 10, of range 3 west....................23078 53 Township 10, of range 4 west....................22884 87 Township 10, of range 5 west....................23540 80 Township 10, of range 6 west....................17475 44 Township 10, of range 7 west.....................4705 79 Township 11, of range 3 west....................13026 24 Township 11, of range 4 west....................11498 82 Township 11, of range 5 west....................11580 96 Township 11, of range 6 west....................11600 68 Township 11, of range 7 west.....................3679 06

This does not include the area of the private land claims confirmed to different parties by the United States, and located on the prairie, the same on which the city of Prairie du Chien is situated. The extreme length of the county, north and south, is twenty-nine and one-half miles; its extreme width, east and west, twenty-eight miles.


Crawford county is bounded on the north by Vernon county; on the east by the counties of Richland and Grant; on the south by the county last mentioned; and on the west by Allamakee and Clayton counties, Iowa. It is in the second tier of counties north of the northern boundary of the State of Illinois; its northern line being a distance from the southern boundary line of Wisconsin, in a straight course, of sixty-three miles. The eastern line of the county is 144 miles distant from the western shore of Lake Michigan. A distance from its northeast corner of 225 miles, due north, is the nearest point on the southern shore of Lake Superior.

Physical Features. --- A Bird's-Eye View.
[From the Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wisconsin, 1878.]

At Prairie de Chien, the prairie is underlaid by about 140 feet of sand and gravel --- river deposit --- under which commences the Potsdam sandstone formation. This has been penetrated to the depth of 1016 feet in boring an artesian well, without reaching the granite. Above the plain at this place, the Magnesian limestone rises in perpendicular cliffs to the height of about 250 feet. Above this, the bluff slopes back to a perpendicular height of about 100 feet. This slope is composed of the St. Peter's sandstone, and the lower portion of the Trenton limestone. The formation of the whole of Crawford county is of similar character. The county is bounded on the west by the Mississippi river; on the south by the Wisconsin. The waters of these rivers have worn out deep channels in the rock, producing beetling bluffs on either side. The Kickapoo river runs diagonally through the county from northeast to southwest, in consequence of which the face of the county is worn into deep ravines. A very narrow ridge runs the whole length from northeast to southwest, sloping off abruptly --- to the Kickapoo on one hand and Mississippi or Wisconsin on the other. This ridge forms an admirable wagon road.

The soil of Crawford county is rich in the elements necessary for vegetable growth. It is both argillaceous and calcareous, mixed in many places with sand and universally with a large proportion of vegetable mold. The soil produces abundant crops of cereals and affords good pasturage. The timber is composed of oak of several varieties, hickory, butternut, ash, elm, basswood, hard and soft maple, quaking asp, white and yellow birch, and black walnut.

The county has one feature which is somewhat remarkable. None of it has been subject to action of the glacial period. There is no drift, nor are there any boulders or water-worn pebbles, except in beds of streams, with only one exception, which is in a bed of limonite at Seneca, where there are numerous water-worn pebbles imbedded in iron ore. This bed of ore is situated on the highest land in the county.

At this place there is a considerable deposit of limonite, which has never been worked. In the town of Wauzeka, there is considerable cooper ore, of the variety called by miners gossam. It is found in masses imbedded in the earth from the size of peas to fifty and sometimes 100 pounds. This ore yields about twenty-five per cent of copper. At Bridgeport, there are extensive quarries of Dolomite or Magnesian limestone. These quarries are of much importance, producing beautiful and durable building stone. It is at present mostly dressed into window caps and sills and columns. In the town of Wauzeka some lead ore is found; but in no large quantities, as the Galena limestone terminates in a northwesterly direction.

There are three artesian wells at Prairie du Chien, one discharging 869,616 gallons daily. This well is 960 feet deep, and is said to possess rare mineral qualities. The others are upward of 1000 feet in depth, and discharge proportionately large quantities of water. The two wells last mentioned were bored for the purpose of obtaining water to drive machinery.

The Rivers of the County.

Crawford county is emphatically the river county of Wisconsin. Leaving the smaller streams to be described in the record of the towns, it is sufficient, in a general view, to notice only the Mississippi, the Wisconsin and the Kickapoo.

I. --- The Mississippi.

This is the largest and most important river of the United States, rises in the north part of Minnesota at an elevation of 1680 feet above the tide water. Its chief source is Itasca lake, which is 1575 feet higher than the sea, and about 3000, or, as some say, 3160 miles from the mouth of the river, and is about latitude 47 degrees, 10 minutes north and longitude 95 degrees, 20 minutes west. From Itasca lake it runs first northward, but soon turns towards the east, and expands into Lake Cass and other lakes. After flowing towards nearly every point of the compass, it arrives at Crow Wing below which it runs southward to St. Cloud and southeastward to Minneapolis. Here is a picturesque cataract called the Falls of St. Anthony, which is the head of navigation. The river here descends sixty-six feet in less than one mile, including a perpendicular fall of seventeen feet. It passes by the city of St. Paul and a few miles lower strikes the boundary of Wisconsin and expands into the long and beautiful Lake Pepin, bordered by vertical limestone bluffs, which are about 400 feet high and very picturesque. Below Dubuque its general direction is southward, and it forms the boundary between the States of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana on the right and Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi on the left hand. After an extremely sinuous course it enters the Gulf of Mexico by several mouths at the southeast extremity of Plaquemine parish, Louisiana, in latitude 29 degrees north and longitude 89 degrees, 12 minutes west. Its largest affluents are the Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas and Red rivers, besides which it receives the Minnesota, Iowa and Des Moines from the right hand and the Wisconsin and Illinois rivers from the left. The Missouri river is longer than the part of the Mississippi above the junction of the two rivers, which is called the Upper Mississippi. The total length of the stream from the source of the Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico is computed to be 4300 miles, which exceeds that of any other river in the world. The area drained by this river and its tributaries, according to Prof. Guyot, is 1,244,000 square miles. It is computed that the mean volume of water discharged by it in a second is 675,000 cubic feet. It is navigable by large and middle-sized steamboats from its mouth to St. Paul, a distance of about 2200 miles. Steamboats can ascend the Missouri to Fort Benton, which, according to some, is about 2500 miles from its mouth, and 3900 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi. The chief cities on the great river, giving precedence to those nearest the source, are Minneapolis, St. Paul, La Crosse, Dubuque, Davenport, Keokuk, Quincy, Hannibal, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans. The lowest place at which the river is crossed by a bridge is St. Louis, Mo., about 1400 miles from its mouth. This has three arches raised so high that large steamers can pass under it. The river is 3500 feet wide at St. Louis, about 2500 at New Orleans and 4000 feet at the mouth of the Ohio. It appears that it is generally wider between Dubuque and St. Louis than it is below the latter city. Three other bridges cross the river at Davenport, Clinton and Dubuque. The mean velocity of the current between St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico is about sixty-five miles per day. The Mississippi Valley comprises a vast extent of very fertile land, which is nearly level or gently undulating. As the river runs southward and traverses eighteen degrees of latitude, the climate and productions of the lower part differ greatly from those of the upper part of the valley. In Louisiana and Mississippi the river is bordered by alluvial plains and swamps, which are lower than the surface of the water, and are often inundated, though partly protected by artificial embankments called levees. The greatest floods occur in the spring, after the snow and ice of the Upper Mississippi have been melted. The water begins to rise about the 1st of March and increases until June. The levees are sometimes bursted or overcome by the violence of the flood, which rushes through crevices and devastates large tracts of arable land of which cotton and sugar are the staple products. Such a calamity occurred in April, 1874, and reduced many thousand people to destitution. At the mouth of the river a large delta has been formed by the mud and detritus carried down by the current. This delta is intersected by a number of outlets, or water-courses, called bayous, which issue from the Mississippi, or derive from it a supply of water in time of a flood. "The whole area of the delta," says Dana, "is about 12,300 square miles and about one-third is a sea-marsh, only two-thirds lying above the level of the gulf." The amount of silt or sediment carried to the Mexican gulf by this river, according to Humphreys and Abbott, is about 1-1500th the weight of the water, equivalent for an average year to 812,500,000,000,000 pounds, or a mass one square mile in area and 241 feet deep. "The new soil deposited in one year by the Mississippi," says Guyot, "would cover an area of 268 square miles with the thickness of one foot." The water enters the gulf by five channels called the Northeast Pass, Southeast Pass, South Pass etc. The navigation of these passes is partly obstructed by sand bars, which are continually formed or shifted, and to obviate this difficulty a system of jetties has been constructed in the South Pass by Capt. J B Eads, by authority of the National government, calculated to maintain a channel thirty feet in depth.

II. --- The Wisconsin.

This stream, which washes for about ten miles the northwest boundary of Dane county, is much the most important of those which drain the elevated lands of the State. Its total length from its source to its mouth is about 450 miles. It forms, with its valley, the main topographical feature of central Wisconsin. Rising in Lac Vieux Desert, on the summit of the Archaean watershed, at an elevation of 951 feet above Lake Michigan, it pursues a general southerly course for 300 miles over the crystalline rocks, and then, passing on to the sandstones which form its bed for the remainder of its course, continues to the southward some eighty miles more. Turning then westward, it reaches the Mississippi within forty miles of the south line of the State, at an elevation of only thirty feet above Lake Michigan, so that its fall from Lac Vieux Desert is 921 feet --- an average of a fraction over two feet to the mile. Like all other streams which run to the south, southeast and southwest from the crystalline rocks, it has its quite distinct upper or crystalline rock portion and its lower or sandstone portion. This river, however, may be regarded as having three distinct sections, the first including all that part from the source to the last appearance of crystalline rocks in the bed of the stream, in the southern part of Wood county; the second, that part from this point to the dells on the south line of Adams and Juneau counties; and the third, that portion from the dells to the mouth of the stream. The first of these divisions is broken constantly by rapids and falls, caused by the descent south of the surface of the Archaean area, and by the obstructions produced by the inclined ledges of rock which cross the stream. The second and third sections are alike in being almost entirely without rapids or falls, and in the nature of the red rock, but are separated by the contracted gorge known as the dells, which, acting in some sort as a dam, prevents any considerable rise in the river below, the water above not infrequently rising as much as fifty feet in flood seasons, whilst below the extreme fluctuation does not exceed ten feet. The total lengths of the Archaean upper sandstone and lower sandstone sections of the river are, respectively, 250, sixty-two and 130 miles; the distance through the dells being about seven and a half miles.

The width of the river, where it enters Marathon county, is form 300 to 500 feet. It pursues a general southerly course through townships 29, 28, 27, 26, 25 and 24 north, of range 7 east, and townships 24 and 23 north, of range 8 east, in the southern portion of Portage county. In this part of its course the Wisconsin flows through a densely timbered country, and has, except where it makes rapids or passes through rock gorges, a narrow bottom land, which varies in width, is usually raised but a few feet above the water level, and is wider on one side than on the other. Above this bottom terraces can often be made out, with surfaces in some cases one or two miles in width. Above, again, the country surface rises steadily to the dividing ridges on each side, never showing the bluff edges so characteristic of the lower reaches of the river. Heavy rapids and falls are made at Wausau (Big Bull Falls), at Mosinee (Little Bull Falls), at Stevens Point and on section 8, in township 23 north, of range 8 east (Contant's Rapids). All but the last named of these are increased in height by artificial dams. Two miles below the foot of Contant's Rapids, just after receiving the Plover river on the east, the Wisconsin turns a right angle to the west and enters upon the sparsely timbered sand plains, through which it flows for 100 miles. At the bend the river is quiet, with high banks of sand, and a few low outcrops of gneiss at the water's edge. From the bend the course is westward for about nine miles, then, after curving southward again, the long series of rapids soon begins, which, with intervening stretches of still water, extend about fifteen miles along the river to the last rapid at Point Bass in southern Wood county.

East of the river line, between the city of Grand Rapids and Point Bass, the country rises gradually, reaching altitudes of 100 feet above the river at points ten or fifteen miles distant. On the west the surface is an almost level plain, descending gradually as the river is receded from. At Point Bass the gneissic rocks disappear beneath the sandstones which for some miles have formed the upper portions of the river banks and now become in turn, the bed rock, and the first division of the river's course ends. The main tributaries which it has received down to this point are, on the left bank, the Big Eau Claire, three miles below Wausau; the Little Eau Claire, on the north side of section 3, in township 25 north, of range 7 east, just south of the north line of Portage county; and the Big Plover, on section 9, in township 28 north, of range 5 east, just at the foot of Contant's Rapids; on the right bank, the Placata or Big Rib, about two miles below Wausau; the She-she-ga-ma-isk, or Big Eau Pleine, on section 19, in township 26 north, of range 7 east, in Marathon county; and the Little Eau Pleine, on section 9, in township 25 north, of range 7 east, in Portage county. All of these streams are of considerable size and drain large areas. They all make deviations in their courses, so that their lengths are much greater than the actual distances from their sources, to the Wisconsin at the nearest point; and all of them have a very considerable descent, making many rapids and falls over the tilted edges of schistose and gueissic rocks, even down to within short distances of their junctions with the main river.

The streams on the west side head on the high country along the line of the fourth principal meridian, about forty miles west of the Wisconsin, and at elevations of from 200 to 300 feet above their mouths; those on the east, head on the divide between the Wisconsin and Wolf about twenty miles east, at elevations not very much less. Reaching back, as these streams do, into a county largely timbered with pine, and having so large a descent, they are of great value for logging and milling purposes.

The second section of the Wisconsin river begins at Point Bass with a width of from 700 to 900 feet. The next sixty miles of its course, to the head of the dells, is a southerly stretch, with a wide bow to the westward, through sand plains, here and there timbered with dwarf oaks, and interspersed with marshes. These plains stretch away to the east and west for twenty miles from the river bottom, gradually rising in both directions. Scattering over them, at intervals of one to ten miles, are erosion peaks of sandstone, from fifty to 300 feet in height, rising precipitously from the level ground. Some of these are near and on the bank of the river, which is also, in places, bordered by low, mural exposures of the same sandstone. The river itself is constantly obstructed by shifting sand bars, resulting from the ancient disintegration of the sandstone, which in the vicinity everywhere forms the basement rock; but its course is not interrupted by rock rapids. As it nears the northern line of Columbia county, the high ground that limits the sand plane on the west, curving southeastward, finally reaches the edge of the stream, which, by its southeasterly course for the last twenty miles, has itself approached the high ground on the east. The two ridges thus closing in upon the river, have caused it to cut for itself the deep, narrow gorge known as the dells.

In the section of its course the Wisconsin receives several important tributaries. Of those on the east the principal ones are Duck creek and Ten Mile creek, in the southern part of Wood county, and the Little and Big Roche --- a Cris creeks, both in Adams county. The two former head in a large marsh twenty-five miles east of and over 100 feet above the main stream. The two latter head on the high dividing ridge, on the west line of Waushara county, at elevations between 150 and 200 feet above their mouths.

These streams do not pass through a timbered country, but have very valuable water powers. Of those on the west two are large and important, the Yellow and Lemonweir rivers. Yellow river heads in township 25 north, in the adjoining corners of Wood, Jackson and Clark counties, and runs a general southerly course nearly parallel to the Wisconsin for over seventy miles, the two gradually approaching one another and joining in township 17 north, of range 4 east. The Yellow river has its archaean and sandstone sections, the former exceedingly rocky and much broken by rapids and falls, the latter comparatively sluggish and without rock rapids. The upper portions of the river extend into the pine regions, and much logging is done in times of high water. The water powers are of great value. The Lemonweir is also a large stream. Heading in a timbered region in the southeast corner of Jackson county, it flows southward for some distance through Monroe, and, entering Juneau on the middle of its west side, crosses it in a southeasterly direction, reaching the Wisconsin on section 24, in township 15 north, of range 5 east, having descended in its length of some seventy miles about 200 feet.

The Wisconsin enters the gorge, already spoken of as the dells, not far above the southern boundary line of Juneau and Adams counties. This famous passage of about seven and one-half miles has been often described. At its fork, between the counties of Sauk and Columbia, the Wisconsin enters upon the last section of its course and also upon the most remarkable bend in its whole length. Through the dells its general course is southward, but it now turns almost due east, in which direction it continues with one or two subordinate turns southward for about seventeen miles through low sand banks as far as Portage. Here it bends abruptly south again, and, reaching its most eastern point not far below, soon swerves around into the final southwestward stretch to the Mississippi. The cause of this long detour to the east is sufficiently evident. As the river leaves the dells it finds lying directly athwart its course two bold quartzite ranges, extending east and west through Sauk county for upward of twenty miles, and crossing into Columbia, finally unite about eight miles east of the county line in a sharp and bold eastwardly projecting point, rising 400 feet above the river bottom.

Above Portage where the Wisconsin forms the southern boundary line of the town of Lewiston, the ground immediately north is lower than the water in the river --- the heads of Neenah creek, a tributary of the Fox, rising a short distance from its banks. In times of high water, the Wisconsin overflows into these streams, and thus contributes to a totally different river. At Portage, the Fox, after flowing south of west for twenty miles, approaches the Wisconsin, coming from the opposite direction. Where the two streams are nearest, they are less than two miles apart, and are separated by a low, sandy plain, the water in the Fox being five feet below that of the Wisconsin at ordinary stages. The greater part of this low ground is overflowed by the latter stream in times of high water, and to this is chiefly due the spring rise in the Fox river.

After doubling the eastern end of the quartzite ranges, as already said, the Wisconsin turns again to the west, being forced to this by impinging on the north side of a high belt of limestone country, which, after trending southward across the eastern part of Columbia county, veers gradually to a westerly direction, lying to the south of the river, along the rest of its course. Soon after striking this limestone region, the river valley assumes an altogether new character, which it retains to its mouth, having now a nearly level, for the most part treeless bottom, from three to six miles in width, ten to thirty feet in height, usually more on one side than on the other, and bounded on both sides by bold and often precipitous bluffs, 100 to 350 feet in height, of sandstone capped with limestone. Immediately along the water's edge is usually a narrow timbered strip, rising two to four feet above the river, which is overflowed at high water. The line of bluffs along the north side of the valley is the northern edge of the high limestone belt just mentioned, which reaches its greatest elevation ten to fifteen miles south of this edge. In front of the main bluff-face, especially in its eastern extension, are frequently to be seen bold and high isolated outliers of the limestone country. On the north bank, the bluffs are at first the edges of similar large outlying masses, but farther down they become more continuous, the river crossing over the north westward trending outcrop line of the Lower Magnesian limestone.

In this last section of its course, the Wisconsin is much obstructed by bars of shifting sand, derived originally from the erosion of the great sandstone formation which underlies the whole region, and to whose existence the unusual amount of obstruction of this kind in the river is due. The altitude of the water surface of the Wisconsin at Lac Vieux Desert above Lake Michigan is 951 feet; at Wausau, above dam, 623 feet; at Knowlton (high), 538 feet --- (low), 523 feet; at Stevens Point, 485 feet; at Contants Rapids, 468 feet; at Grand Rapids --- railroad bridge --- 420 feet; at Kilbourn City --- railroad bridge --- 233 feet; at Portage, 211 feet; at Merrimack, 182 feet; at Sauk City, 165 feet; at Spring Green bridge, 134 feet; at Muscoda, 115 feet; at the mouth of the stream, 34 feet. The average velocity of the river below Portage is remarkably uniform, and is just about two miles per hour. The daily discharges of the river at Portage, in times of extreme low water, is about 259,000,000 cubic feet. The average fall of the water surface of the river below Portage is one and one-half feet per mile. This rapid fall, were it not for the great amount of sand in the river bed, would make the stream a series of pools and rock rapids.

III. --- The Kickapoo.

The Kickapoo rises in Monroe county, that is, its main or east branch; which is frequently termed the Kickapoo proper. It runs a southwest course after entering Vernon county, through the towns of Whitestown, Stark, touching Webster, and then after crossing into Richland, in which county it flows in a south course, returns to Vernon, in the town of Liberty, and at a point on section 33, in the town of Kickapoo, receives the west branch. The river afterward takes a southwesterly course, leaving Vernon county on section 16, in the town last mentioned. The river runs through Crawford county, in a southerly direction and empties into the Wisconsin, on section 17, in the town of Wauzeka, just below the village of the same name.

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