History of De Soto

De Soto is a village on the banks of the Mississippi River. Located on the Great River Road, it was originally part of the Northwest Territory that was the home of the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Indians.

De Soto was first known as “Winneshiek’s Landing,” from the Ho-Chunk tribal chief by that name, who came to trade his furs for supplies with French traders .  Two French families by the name of Godfrey had located here not long after the Black Hawk War.  They were persuaded to establish the trading post through efforts of Col. Hercules Dousman of Prairie du Chien. 

In 1840, Moses M. Strong established the original plat of the village.  Dr. Euclid B. Houghton purchased the plat of land from from Moses Strong.

Dr. Simeon D. Powers, Dr. Houghton and Dr. James Osgood laid out the village in 1854.  These gentlemen came from Port Washington. 

Dr. Osgood built the first house in the village, which was subsequently occupied in 1884 by Charles Lyttle as a residence.  Dr. Euclid Houghton opened the first store.

In 1837, the Ho-Chunk tribe lost most of their land east of the Mississippi River in a treaty with the United States. From 1820 to 1854, the village was known only as fur trading post in Bad Axe County.

The early settlers were dissatisfied with the name “Winneshiek Landing” and eventually chose the rather unlikely name of “De Soto” after Hernando De Soto, who is credited with discovering the southern portion of the Mississippi River although he was never known to have come as far north as the Driftless region.

Although it was intended to be an exclusive New England settlement, soon German and Norwegians settled in the area. It became a center for grain and lumber shipping on the river.

The town grew with hotels, a creamery, breweries, sawmills, grain elevators, warehouse, shoemakers, copper shop and blacksmith shop, general store, doctors and lawyers.

Historical Information

Geological History of the Driftless Area

Chief Black Hawk and the War of 1832

History of the Town of De Soto

Vernon County Historical Society


Historical Photographs provided by Jean Sandry
pictures of JS Steamboat 001 (2)
Old DeSoto 001 (3)
Main St east