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Author recounts colorful history of a river town
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Now, there’s a book that explains the history of Prairie du Chien by examining and explaining its people.

Author and historian Mary Elise Antoine has written a book appropriately titled  ‘Legendary Locals of Prairie du Chien.’  It’s 128 pages of quick-paced history of people from the explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet to current residents of the city. The families, businesses and accomplishments of legendary locals are described and the history of one of the oldest cities in the state unfolds before you.

Yes, there are French Canadian fur traders and famous military men that command the forts, which were a cornerstone of the establishment of Prairie du Chien, but there’s much more.

There are restaurateurs, cabinet shop owners, builders, captains of commerce and some ordinary folks known as neighbors.

Antoine is the ideal author for this book in two ways. She’s the fifth generation of her family to live in Prairie du Chien and she lived with, and was influenced heavily by, her grandmother and her knowledge of the history of the community.

Mary Elise Antoine is a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy in Prairie du Chien and Marquette University.

In addition to her family’s deep roots in Prairie du Chien, Antoine is also an academically trained historian. She received a master’s degree in History Museum Studies from the State University of New York at Oneonta. For many years, she worked in museums, first in the Mohawk Valley of New York and later for the Wisconsin Historical Society at Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien.

Mary Elise Antoine is also the President of the Prairie du Chien Historical Society. One of her primary focuses is the French Canadian and fur trade culture of the early 1800s. She has written another book titled simply ‘Prairie du Chien’ as part of the Images of America. She is currently working on two books including one titled ‘The War of 1812 in Wisconsin.’

‘Legendary Locals of Prairie du Chien’ has seven chapters and an introduction. The first chapter ‘The Lasting Impression’ sets the stage for the formation of Prairie du Chien. Featured in this chapter are the explorers Marquette and Joliet, as well as Michel Brisbois and Joseph Rolette, the legendary French Canadian fur traders. Also the military careers of Zebulon Montgomery Pike and William Clark are discussed in the chapter, as well as the stories of famous Native Americans, like the Ho Chunk warrior, Red Bird, and the Fox-Sauk leader, Black Hawk.

Others mentioned in the first chapter include Jefferson Davis, Zachary Taylor, Catholic missionary priest Father Samuel Charles Mazzucelli and Hercules Dousman, the fur trader turned businessman and land speculator, who built the house now called Villa Louis.

The author includes Dr. Francis Antoine, of course, who became a Prairie du Chien Mayor in 1930 on the ‘Square Deal Ticket.’

The second chapter examines business in the city. The family names of most of the business people of today are included tracing the roots of these businesses back to their origin. The Howes’ printing and newspaper business is explained. Also included are Peter Gokey, the originator of Pete’s hamburger stand, the Dillmans and their many business ventures including Prairie Sand and Gravel and Prairie Redi Mix, Frank Weeks and his creation of Design Homes—the builder of modular pre-fabricated houses. The names and businesses continue tying the present to the past through the generations. Some of those Antoine writes about here include the Kozelkas, the Starks, the Pankas and the Rickleffs.

One subsequent chapter focuses on legendary educators, while another spotlights local coaches and athletes. Educators like Bernard A. Kennedy, Margaret Garrity and many others are featured, as are legendary coaches Bill Hoffman and Cecil Smith along with winter Olympics athlete Matt Antoine, the author’s son.

The fifth chapter explains through the local people the importance of the river and its heritage. People tied to the river like commercial fisherman Mike Valley and fresh water pearl buyer John Peacock are some of those featured.

The sixth chapter tells the stories of the interesting promoters and entrepreneurs that worked in Prairie du Chien and includes stories of Brunson, McGregor’s, Brisbois and many more.

The final chapter of the book is called simply ‘neighbors.’ It’s review of lots of local people from mailmen to doctors and includes a police chief and even local radio personality Norb Aschom.

Are you looking for a particular ‘Legendary Local of Prairie du Chien,’ because if you are, there’s an index at the back of the book that has more than 150 names and the pages on which each appears.

‘Legendary Locals of Prairie du Chien,” $21.99, Arcadia Publishing went on sale Monday, March 9 and is available at local retailers, online book stores or through Arcadia Publishing at or 888-313-2665.

Mary Elise Antoine has performed an immense service in writing this book and preserving a very real people’s history of that Wisconsin city on the Mississippi River known as Prairie du Chien, her hometown.

“I hope that with this book I will make known to people today some men and women that time has forgotten, but were very important to what Prairie du Chien was and is,” Antoine wrote of her recently released book.

For anyone interested in meeting author Mary Elise Antoine she will be at the Fort Crawford Museum at 717 S. Beaumont Road in Prairie du Chien on Saturday, March 28 from 1 to 4 p.m. (More information call 608-236-6961.) Then, on Saturday, April 4 from 1 to 3 p.m. you can meet the author at Paper Moon Books and Beyond, located at 206 A Street in McGregor, Iowa. (More information call 563-873-3357.)