Visit Prairie’s ancestors at cemetery tour Saturday

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At St. Gabriel’s Cemetery, which began in 1840, some of the community’s finest memorials stand, including this one for John Lawler. (Submitted photo)

October is here, and that means it is time for the popular cemetery tour sponsored by the Prairie du Chien Historical Society. This year, while Visiting Our Ancestors, participants will tour four of Prairie du Chien’s historic cemeteries and meet members of the Brisbois, Rolette and Dousman families, and also several people who once lived at Fort Crawford.

On Saturday, Oct. 5, there will be a guided tour of four historic cemeteries in Prairie du Chien. The tour begins at 12:30 p.m. at the Fort Crawford Museum, located at 717 South Beaumont Rd. All will gather at the museum, then board vans to travel to the cemeteries, beginning with the Old French Cemetery and ending at the Brisbois Cemetery high above on the bluffs. An early Prairie du Chien resident is the host of the tour. She will give a short history of the burying grounds being visited and then introduce the residents to the group. 

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, including Joseph Rolette and his daughter Elizabeth.

By 1836, a site for a new cemetery was needed. Hercules L. Dousman owned the farm lot across from the French Cemetery. He donated part of the lot for a burying ground. A section was set aside for the Dousman family, and Jane Fisher Rolette Dousman has many stories of her life. Several members of Hercules and Jane’s extended family also reside at Calvary Cemetery, including Emily Dousman Barrette. 

Two cemeteries were established within the second Fort Crawford Reservation. Today, only the officers’ cemetery exists. Burials from 1829 to 1865 present stories of the rich history of the Fort. Colonel Willoughby Morgan was the commanding officer of Fort Crawford when he died. Several officers’ wives succumbed to the rigors of life on the Wisconsin frontier.

For a very personal reason, Michel Brisbois requested that he be buried atop a bluff overlooking Prairie du Chien. Domitelle joined him several years later, and their son Bernard formed the Brisbois Cemetery Association.

Meet and converse with these residents of Prairie du Chien and hear fascinating stories.

The fee for Visiting Our Ancestors: A Tour of Prairie du Chien’s Historic Cemeteries includes admission to the Fort Crawford Museum. Reservations are suggested due to space limitations. 

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. 

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