Around 1785, when the area was under Spanish rule, Basil Giard moved from Wisconsin and made a land claim; he built three cabins and began farming a small plot. The American government refused to recognize his land claims, so in 1808 he moved back to Prairie du Chien. After his death, his claims were ultimately upheld and awarded to his heirs, who sold off the land; some of the land became the town of McGregor, and some became North McGregor.
Bloody Run Creek empties into the Mississippi at Marquette; it was initially known as Giard’s Creek. (I think you can figure out why.) The current name apparently goes back to Lt. Martin Scott from Fort Crawford, an avid hunter in the area, who, on his frequent trips across the river, would reportedly remark: “I am going to make the blood run today over on my hunting ground.” His soldier buddies heard this so often that they started to refer to the creek as Bloody Run. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s not a bad story.
When the railroad reached Prairie du Chien in 1857, Iowa got a serious case of railroad envy. Speculation that a rail line would be built up the Bloody Run valley led to the development of a supply point in 1857 at the mouth of Bloody Run Creek and a small settlement grew up around it that was called North McGregor. Just a year later, North McGregor had 300 residents and a booming business community.
After a few failed attempts, construction of the proposed line from North McGregor to Monona, Iowa was finally completed in 1864. North McGregor was eventually tied into the first all-rail route between Chicago and the Twin Cities (completed in 1867); the only missing rail link was over the Mississippi River at North McGregor.
All of this excitement doubled the town’s population in ten years. The presence of the railroad spurred other business growth, such as a foundry and Flemming Lumber—one of town’s largest employers ever. In 1870, construction began on another railroad line, one that paralleled the Mississippi River from Dubuque. In late 1871, the tracks reached North McGregor, making it a two-railroad town. With all the trappings of a modern town in hand, residents of North McGregor voted to incorporate on April 25, 1874. In that same year, a reliable rail connection between Prairie du Chien and North McGregor was completed as the innovative pontoon bridge opened.
Marquette has suffered through high water from the Mississippi River many times, but flash floods have done the most damage. On May 24 1896, five inches of rain in one hour drenched North McGregor and sent a wall of water 20 feet high racing down Bloody Run valley, washing out bridges and railroad tracks, tossing box cars around like rubber duckies, and killing more than 20 people. A similar event triggered a flash flood on June 1, 1916, causing severe damage to the rail yards and roundhouse, but without the fatalities. After the 1916 flood, the railroad built new yards west of town on a higher grade, complete with a new roundhouse, and re-routed Bloody Run Creek. In 1920 residents of North McGregor voted to change their town’s name to Marquette in honor of the 17th century explorer. Marquette still has the railroad lines, but it is no longer a rail terminal.