Located in the “Upper Village” of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, the Vertefeuille Site was occupied by French Canadian fur trader Francois Vertefeuille and his family between approximately 1809 and 1826. During his tenure at Prairie du Chien, Vertefeuille had strong ties to British fur trading firms, as well as the British military. 

The horizontal “piece sur piece log dwelling that Vertifeuille built around 1809 still stands. Very near the house, a large earthen-walled pit cellar was exposed during construction in the 1990s. Avocational archaeologist Robert Camardo salvaged the contents of the feature, which produced hundreds of domestic artifacts dating from the 1810s though the early 1820s

In 1998, the Center funded the sorting and analysis of this significant assemblage, which is the largest early 19th century artifact sample yet excavated at Prairie du Chien. Some of this information was included in Robert Mazrim’s 2002 book “Now Quite Out of Society” (ITARP/University of Illinois). 

The cellar feature produced a minimum of over 160 refined ceramic vessels, with the sample dominated by tea-related wares. All table service vessels are of creamware, pearlware, or porcelain – no French faience is present. The cellar produced fragments of several embossed patent medicines, including one “Essence of Peppermint” and two “Robt. Turlington’s Balsam of Life”. The sample also includes a number of Native American / fur trade related items, including catlinite pipe fragments, a catlinite ear spool, trade beads, and trade silver.Mineral pigment pearlware teawares
 from the Vertifeuille site (1810s).THE ROLETTE SITEThe Rolette Site is located in the Upper Village of Prairie du Chien. The site may have been settled by fur trader Joseph Rolette, who improved and occupied the property in 1810. Rollette owned and “occupied” an adjacent lot as well, so the actual resident of the Rolette Site during the 1810s is unclear. The Center conducted limited testing at the site in 1998.

Those investigations encountered evidence of at least two structures on the lot, which are both spatially and temporally separate. The earliest of these is represented by a large rectangular pit cellar. Probably associated with a dwelling, the cellar contained material dating to the first two decades of the 19th century, and was probably closed around 1825. Significantly, the unstable sand walls of the cellar pit appear to have been partially lined and floored with the hull of a wooden boat, the decayed remains of which could be seen in the form of a shaped layer of compact, organically-stained soil on the lower walls and floor of the feature.	

A subsequent occupation dating to circa 1830-1845 is represented by a larger subfloor cellar. A significant quantity of hand forged iron scrap and coal clinkers was encountered in this feature, suggesting that a blacksmith was working on the site during the 1830s.

Unusual trade silver ornament, probably recycled from a larger piece. Found in the 1810s cellar.THE GAGNIER SITEIn the summer of 1827, a band of Winnebago arrived at Prairie du Chien seeking revenge for the executions of Winnebago prisoners by the U.S. Army. Just outside of town, they visited the home of Registe Gagnier. The Gagnier family knew the leader of the group - Red Bird – and are said to have welcomed him and his followers into the house. Violence followed, however. Rigeste Gagnier was shot, as was a hired man. Gagnier's wife and her three-year-old son escaped, but Gagnier's one-year-old daughter remained in the house. She was scalped and left for dead. The Winnebago fled the area, and the young girl eventually recovered. The event was remembered as the “Red Bird Massacre”.

In 1998, Robert Mazrim accompanied Mr. Robert Camardo of Prairie du Chien to what was thought to be the site of the Gagnier home. The site was located on a low knoll at the base of the Mississippi Valley bluff line. The field on which the site was located had recently been plowed, and traces of 1810s and 1820s domestic debris were found on the surface. 

Only one day of testing was ultimately conducted at the Gagnier site, but that work immediately encountered two substantial features. Feature 1 was a subfloor cellar, originally lined with stone. Approximately 60 feet north, Feature 2 (measuring 8 feet square) was earthen-walled, but may also have been a subfloor cellar. Area histories remember that two houses stood on the ridge during the 1820s. 

Artifacts from the initial excavations include Chinese export porcelain, English pearlware, and two pewter American military buttons (one “script I” infantry and one “U.S.”). All of the material is consistent with a domestic site dating to the 1810s and 1820s, and the site very probably reflected the archaeological remains of the Gagnier family farm. Unfortunately, before further work could be conducted the site was purchased by the Wal-Mart Corporation, and was completely destroyed during the construction of a department store. THE VERTIFEUILLE SITEPit cellar dug into the sand beneath the ca. 1810 dwelling at the Rolette site. The angular, dark stain at the base turns upward on the west wall of the pit, and may represent the decayed remains of the hull of a boat used to floor the cellar.
The Gagnier site as it appeared in 1998.A depiction of the “Red Bird Massacre”.Artifacts from the Gagnier site.A catlinite earspool.The horizontal “piece sur piece log dwelling at the Vertifeuille site.A possible monstance fragment and a brass pendant.