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Sauk Prairie


SAUK PRAIRIE. A broad, fertile region of central Wisconsin, Sauk Prairie is found along the north banks of the lower Wisconsin River. The combination of its geology, climate, and Native American field burning created fourteen thousand acres of prairie and oak savanna at the time of European arrival to the region beginning in the 1670s.

The name originates with the Sac tribe, who moved into the region in the eighteenth century, pushed by war, disease, and other conflicts farther east. They shared Sauk Prairie with the Ho Chunk tribe (formerly known as the Winnebagos). The New England writer and explorer Jonathan Carver noted a large Sac village when he traveled down the Wisconsin River in 1766. Several hundred occupants maintained an agricultural and trading center there. Sauk Prairie, situated where the fertile midwestern prairie merges into the woodlands of the northern regions and along a critical trading route connecting the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley, provided a strategic and economic advantage for the Sac villagers. Although the Sacs were later pushed beyond the Mississippi River, a renegade band led by Black Hawk boldly returned to their former homeland in the Black Hawk War of 1832.

Agricultural settlers began to move into Sauk Prairie in the 1840s. Ho Chunks ceded the land to the United States by treaty in 1837 and were removed westward, though many returned in the twentieth century. By the 1900s immigrant communities of predominantly German origin created a prosperous economy of mixed farming.

World War II reshaped Sauk Prairie with the creation of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant in 1941. The federal government removed eighty farm families to construct the ten-thousand-acre facility, which produced munitions until the end of the Cold War. At the beginning of the twenty-first century several community groups, including the Ho Chunk tribe, sought to restore the remaining 7,500 acres to an environment of mixed grasslands and agriculture. At that time the population of the region was approximately six thousand people living mainly in the two cities of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac.


Lange, Kenneth I. A County Called Sauk: A Human History of Sauk County, Wisconsin. Baraboo, Wis.: Sauk County Historical Society, 1976.

Wyman, Mark. The Wisconsin Frontier. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Kevin R.Marsh

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