[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles ( Huron, Assiniboine, etc.).
This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism. At the end of this History you will find links to those Nations referred to in the History of the Sauk and Fox.
Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments... Lee Sultzman.
The Fox and the Sauk are two closely related, but separate, tribes which in 1600 occupied the eastern half of lower Michigan between Saginaw Bay and Detroit. Both of their oral histories tell of an earlier time when they migrated from the Atlantic coast via the St. Lawrence River. When this happened is unclear. The Sauk lived around Saginaw Bay (which is named from them), while the Fox were just to the south and west. Driven from their homeland during the 1640s, the Fox resettled in central Wisconsin. The Sauk crossed over to the upper peninsula near the Mackinac Strait and moved into the headwaters of the
Wisconsin River west of Green Bay. Except for the two-years (1710-12) the Fox lived near Detroit, neither tribe ever returned to Michigan. They remained in Wisconsin until 1734, when both were driven across the Mississippi River into eastern Iowa by the French.
The Fox afterwards lived along the upper Mississippi in northeastern Iowa except for the period (1765-83) when they maintained some villages in western Wisconsin. The Sauk were also located along the upper Mississippi after 1734 just south of the Fox but, being the more numerous of the two, occupied a larger area. Through wars with the Illinois Confederation, Missouria, and Osage, the Sauk expanded southward. By 1800 they controlled the upper Mississippi between St. Louis and Dubuque, Iowa. These lands were ceded to the Americans beginning with a treaty signed in 1804. Internal disagreements over accepting this treaty caused one Sauk group to separate from the others and move south to the Missouri River. Known as the Missouri Band, they remained there until 1824 when they were removed to the northwest corner of the state. In 1836 they exchanged their last lands in Missouri for a reserve west of the Missouri River on the Kansas-Nebraska border. Despite allotment, the Sac and Fox of Missouri have retained a small reservation with their tribal headquarters located in Reserve, Kansas.
Pressures from settlement after 1825 forced the Sauk along the Mississippi to leave western Illinois and relocate to southeast Iowa. The exception was Blackhawk's Band at Rock Island (Illinois) which did not finally leave until after the Blackhawk War in 1832. As a consequence of the war, the Sauk were forced to surrender a large part of eastern Iowa. The Fox and Sauk remained in Iowa until 1842 when they ceded their lands for a reserve in Kansas just south of present-day Topeka. However, many of them refused to leave Iowa and kept the army very busy trying to find them. Once in Kansas, major disagreements developed between the Fox and the Sauk. Some of the Fox moved in with the Kickapoo and later left with them for northern Mexico. By 1859 most of the Fox had left Kansas and returned to Iowa where they purchased land near Tama.
The remaining Fox and Sauk sold their Kansas land and relocated to Oklahoma in 1869 where they were given a 750,000 acre reservation in Potawatomi, Lincoln, and Payne Counties east of Oklahoma City. After allotment, most of this was released to whites in 1891. Currently, the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma, headquartered in Stroud, has kept less than 1,000 acres. On the other hand, the Fox in Iowa have used their own money to purchase land, and their tribal holdings have grown to almost 5,000 acres. The only federally recognized tribe in Iowa, they prefer to be called the Mesquaki Indian settlement, but because of treaties signed jointly with the Sauk, their official name is the Sac and Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa.
At the time of their first contact with the French in 1666, both the Fox and the Sauk were living in Wisconsin. The initial French estimates placed the Fox at 5,000 and the Sauk at 6,500. Since both tribes had just endured 30 years of war, a relocation to Wisconsin, and numerous epidemics, it appears their original populations must have been at least twice this - approximately 10,000 for each tribe. By 1712 the Fox had dropped to about 3,500. They lost half of these in the First French War (1712-14). They began the Second Fox War in 1728 with about 1,500, only 500 of whom survived the attempt by the French to remove them from the face of the earth. The Sauk relations with the French were friendly until they protected the Fox in 1734, and they numbered close to 4,000 at this time. Later estimates are sometimes confused because the Fox and Sauk were treated as a merged tribe. Both tribes increased after 1737. Zebulon Pike in 1806 listed the Fox at 1,750 and the Sauk at 2,850. His estimate of the Sauk may actually have been too low. Government records in 1829 reported there were 5,000 Sauk, 1,600 Fox, and another 500 Sauk in Missouri.
After their removal from Iowa in 1846, the population of both tribes underwent a drastic decline. The Indian Bureau in 1845 stated 1,300 Fox and 2,500 Sauk had left Iowa, but only 700 Fox and 1,900 Sauk arrived in Kansas. The Missouri Band at this time numbered less than 200. After a terrible smallpox epidemic, 300 Fox and 1,300 Sauk were all that remained on the Kansas reserve in 1852, but at least 300 Fox and an unknown number of Sauk were hiding in Iowa. Others were on the Kickapoo reserve or in places where no one could count them. Most of the Fox left shortly afterwards and returned to Iowa. Following the Civil War, 600 Sauk and 100 Fox relocated to Oklahoma. Only the Missouri Band managed to stay in Kansas. The 1910 census listed 343 Fox in Iowa, 630 Sauk and Fox in Oklahoma, and 90 Sauk in Kansas. The current enrollments of the three federally recognized Sac and Fox tribes are: 1,100 Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi (Iowa); 400 Sac & Fox Tribe of Missouri (Kansas and Nebraska); and 2,200 Sac & Fox Tribe of Indians (Oklahoma).
Although Fox will be used throughout, this is only their historical name. The Fox called themselves the Mesquakie (Meshkwahkihaki, Meskwaki, Meskwakihuk, Meskwakihugi) meaning "red earth people." Early French explorers mistook a clan name (Wagosh meaning fox) for that of the entire tribe and began referring to them as the "Renard" (French for Fox), and the English and Americans continued the error in their own language. Other names were: Asakiwaki (Sauk), Outagamie or Odugameeg (Ojibwe "people of the other shore"), Beshdeke (Dakota), Skenchioe (Iroquois), Skaxshurunu (Wyandot), Skenchiohronon (Huron), Mshkwa'kitha (Shawnee), Squawkies (British), Tochewahcoo (Arikara), Wacereke (Winnebago), and Wakusheg (Potawatomi).
Either Sac or Sauk is correct. Spelling variations of this are : Osawkee, Saki, Saque, and Sawkee. The name comes from their own language - Osakiwuk, or Asakiwaki, meaning "people of the outlet" and refers to their original homeland on Michigan's Saginaw Bay which gets its name from them - Saginaw meaning "place of the Sauk." Since the Fox were the "people of the red earth," Sauk has often been inappropriately rendered as meaning "people of the yellow earth." Alternate names for the Sauk were: Hotinestakon (Onondaga), Osaugee (Ojibwe), Quatokeronon (Huron), Satoeronnon (Huron), Zake (Dakota), and Zagi (Winnebago).
Algonquin. Southern Great Lakes (Wakashan). Fox and Sauk are virtually identical and closely related to Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Shawnee.
The Fox and the Sauk were so closely associated that these two distinct tribes are usually considered to have been a single tribe. Although joined in very close alliance after 1734, the Fox and the Sauk maintained separate traditions and chiefs. This was very apparent when Fox and Sauk chiefs at the insistence of the United States were forced to sign the same treaty. However, the signatures always appear in distinct two groupings, one for the Fox and the other for the Sauk. Both tribes have been described as extremely individualistic and warlike, although the "warlike" might come as a surprise to the whites in Iowa who have lived in peace next to the Fox for the last 130 years. But the "individualistic" part of this description might ring a bell or two. Both the Fox and the Sauk had a strong sense of tribal identity and were never reluctant to chose their own path. The French found both tribes independent and very difficult to control.
Otherwise, in most other ways, the Fox and Sauk closely resembled the other Algonquin tribes in the Great Lakes. Descent was traced through their patrilineal clans: Bear, Beaver, Deer, Fish, Fox, Ocean, Potato, Snow, Thunder, and Wolf. Politically, the Fox and Sauk had more central organization than with other Algonquin which probably was a reflection of the many wars they had fought. The tribal councils of their chiefs wielded considerable authority. Fox and Sauk chiefs fell into three categories: civil, war, and ceremonial. Only the position of civil chief was hereditary - the others determined by demonstrated ability or spiritual power. Agriculture provided most of their diet: corn, beans, squash, and tobacco, and the women were considered the owners of their fields. One important difference between the Fox and Sauk and neighboring tribes was they usually maintained large villages during the winter. Otherwise their housing was typical for the region. Large communal buffalo hunts, especially after they acquired horses in the 1760s, were conducted in the fall and provided much of their meat during winter, but like other Great Lakes Algonquin, when the Fox or Sauk wanted to hold a real feast for an honored guest, the main course was dog meat from which the expression "putting on the dog" has come.
It should be noted that the Fox were the only Algonquin tribe to fight a war with the French (actually, two wars). The French enjoyed good relations with every other Algonquin tribe in the Great Lakes (including the Sauk), but the Fox were antagonistic from the moment of their first meeting with the French. It seems likely that the Fox had taken the brunt of the fighting in Michigan with French trading partners during the 1630s and 40s and were well-aware where the steel weapons used against them had come from. Famous Sauk chiefs were Keokuk, Wapello, and Blackhawk. Keokuk has an Iowa city named after him and is the only Native American ever honored with a bronze bust in the U.S. Capitol. His likeness has also appeared on American currency. The famous Olympian Jim Thorpe (Wathohuck or Bright Star) was a Sauk/Potawatomi.
Whenever it was they had migrated from the east, the Fox and Sauk had lived in southeast Michigan for many years before the French came to the Great Lakes, and what had once been a peaceful region was disrupted by their fur trade. The French reached the Huron villages at the south end of Lake Huron in 1615. After the long and dangerous journey from Quebec, few of them were willing to go farther, and beyond this point, most of the fur trade was conducted by the Ottawa and Huron. To reach this far into the interior, the French had been forced in 1609 to win the trust of the Algonkin and Montagnais by helping them drive the Mohawk from the upper St. Lawrence River. Unfortunately, this also earned the French the lasting hostility of the Iroquois, and to avoid their war parties, French traders were forced to detour up the Ottawa River to reach the Huron. This precaution proved adequate enough until after the British captured Quebec in 1629 preventing French trade goods from reaching their native allies and trading partners.
The Iroquois defeat was only temporary. In 1610 they had started trade with the Dutch along the Hudson and, after defeating the Mahican in 1628, dominated this trade. Taking advantage of the interruption of French trade by the British, the Mohawk attacked the Algonkin and Montagnais in 1629 to reclaim the upper St. Lawrence. The 70 years of continuous intertribal warfare which followed are known as the Beaver Wars (1628-1700). By the time Quebec was returned to the French in 1632, their native allies were retreating, and the Iroquois were threatening to cut the trade route to the Great Lakes. To restore the former balance of power, the French began supplying firearms to their allies, but the Dutch quickly countered by selling guns to the Iroquois. Meanwhile, the fur trade had exhausted the beaver in the Huron homeland as well as those of their Ottawa, Neutrals, and Tionontati trading partners. Needing new hunting territory, they found this in lower Michigan and, using the firearms and steel weapons acquired from the French, attacked the Algonquin-speaking tribes who lived there.
The French were aware of this but, with the exception of Jean Nicollet's journey to Green Bay (Wisconsin) to arrange peace between the Winnebago and the Ottawa and Huron in 1634, little was done to stop it. Exactly what happened is uncertain, since only a few scattered reports were relayed to the French by the Huron. Besides the Fox and Sauk, three other Algonquin tribes occupied lower Michigan at the time: Mascouten, Potawatomi, and Kickapoo. Unfortunately, the Huron made little distinction between them and, perhaps borrowing the Ottawa name for the Potawatomi, usually referred to them collectively as the Assistaeronon (Fire Nation). Located in the southeast Michigan, the Fox took the brunt of the early fighting. They defended themselves well in the initial confrontations. In 1635 the French learned that the Erie had abandoned some of their villages at the west end of Lake Erie because of a war with an unknown Algonquin enemy.
This "unknown Algonquin enemy" was most likely either the Fox or Kickapoo, but during the next decade, the obvious advantage of European steel and firearms over traditional weapons took its toll. Constant raids by large combined war parties of Neutrals, Nipissing, Ottawa, Huron, and Tionontati began dislodging the resident tribes. The Potawatomi were the first to leave, with the first groups arriving north of Green Bay in 1641, but the very hostile reception they received from the Winnebago forced them north to seek refuge with the Ojibwe near Sault Ste. Marie. The Fox and Sauk withstood the assaults a little longer, but during 1642, 2,000 Neutral and Ottawa warriors destroyed a large fortified Mascouten village in south-central Michigan, and resistance began to collapse. The Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten retreated west around the southern end of Lake Michigan where the Kickapoo and Mascouten finally stopped in southwest Wisconsin. The Sauk apparently went north and crossed in the vicinity of Mackinac to settle on the upper Wisconsin River west of Green Bay.
After some confrontations with the Illinois, the Fox located along the Fox River between the Wisconsin River and Lake Winnebago. The reception they received from the Winnebago was just as friendly as the one given the Potawatomi a few years earlier, but this time fortune dealt harshly with the resident tribe. The Winnebago organized a large war party to attack a Fox village on Lake Winnebago, but while enroute in their canoes, it was caught on the lake by a storm and more than 500 of their warriors were drowned. Seriously weakened by this setback, the Winnebago collected into a single large village for defense, ideal conditions for the devastating epidemic which struck them. Without raising a hand against them, the Fox had the Winnebago who survived trapped inside their fort unable to harvest their corn and starving.
At this point, the Illinois, traditional enemies of the Winnebago, saw an opportunity for an alliance to fight the flood of refugees descending on them from Michigan and sent 500 warriors with food to help their old enemies. The Winnebago held a feast to honor them, but unfortunately old hatreds and distrust prevailed. In the midst of the celebration, the Winnebago turned on their guests and killed all of them. When the Illinois learned what had happened to their warriors, they began a war of extermination which almost destroyed the Winnebago. The Fox and other Michigan refugees afterwards encountered little resistance to their relocation in Wisconsin. Ultimately, almost 5,000 Fox settled in central Wisconsin and became one of the most powerful tribes in the area.
The French allies may have started the process of driving the resident tribes from lower Michigan, but they never got to complete it. With even less beaver in their homeland than the Huron, the Iroquois had soon traded what they had to the Dutch. They also needed new hunting territory but were hemmed in by powerful enemies, including the French-armed Huron to their north. Requests sent to the Huron for permission to hunt in their territory or pass through to hunt elsewhere were denied. After the Huron killed an Iroquois hunting party, there was war. In 1640 British traders from New England attempted to lure the Mohawk from the Dutch by selling them firearms (violation of British law). The Dutch responding by providing guns and ammunition in any amounts the Iroquois demanded, and the Iroquois suddenly were the best-armed military force in North America. A dramatic escalation of violence in the Beaver Wars followed.
Within a few years the Iroquois had driven the Algonkin from the lower Ottawa River and cut the trade route to the west. The French established a new post at Montreal to shorten the distance to the Great Lakes, but with Iroquois war parties in the Ottawa Valley, only large canoe convoys were able to fight their way past. By 1645 the French had been forced to sign a peace with the Mohawk which required them to remain neutral in future wars between the Huron and Iroquois. Although isolated, the Huron continued to trade with the French and deny the Iroquois permission to enter their territory. After two years of diplomacy failed to resolve this problem, the Iroquois attacked the Huron homeland. The death blow came in March, 1649 when in a series of coordinated attacks, 2,000 Iroquois warriors overran and destroyed the Huron Confederacy.
Within a year the Tionontati and Algonkin had suffered similar fates. The Neutrals fell during 1651 followed by the Erie (1653-56). Very few escaped death or capture by the Iroquois. A few Tionontati and Huron fled west to the Ottawa villages at Mackinac, and then to Green Bay. In time these Iroquian-speaking refugees would merge to become the Wyandot and revive the French fur trade, but for the moment, all was lost. The defeat of the French allies brought no relief to the tribes in lower Michigan. The Iroquois swept into the peninsula and finished the task of driving them from their homes. By the late 1650s, 20,000 battered and disorganized refugees had crowded into northern Wisconsin and were overwhelming its resources. Many farming tribes found it difficult to grow corn this far north, and facing starvation, they were fighting among themselves for hunting territory.
In the constant turmoil which prevailed, the Sauk were drawn into a loose alliance with the villages near Green Bay with their mixed populations of Fox, Potawatomi, Menominee, Ottawa, Huron, Winnebago, Noquet, Miami, and Mascouten. Iroquois war parties had followed the Wyandot west and were threatening everyone, but there were also frequent skirmishes between the Green Bay tribes and the Ojibwe to the north and the Dakota (Santee or Woodland Sioux) in the west. The Sturgeon War erupted in the area in the 1660s after a Menominee village at the mouth of a river erected a series of fish weirs which prevented sturgeon from reaching the Ojibwe villages upstream. After the Menominee refused to remove them, the Ojibwe attacked and destroyed both the weirs and village. The survivors fled to their relatives at Green Bay who called on the Sauk, Fox, Potawatomi, and others to help them against the Ojibwe, and the fighting expanded well-beyond the original antagonists. The Fox participated in this war, but in general, they remained aloof from other tribes. Their strongest ties at this time were with the Kickapoo and Mascouten in warfare with the Illinois to the south, but in northern Wisconsin, they became involved in three-way struggle with the Ojibwe and Dakota for control of the St. Croix River Valley.
The destruction of the Huron Confederacy in 1649 had left the French fur trade in shambles. In danger themselves of being overrun, the French had not intervened, and when the western Iroquois offered peace in 1653 so they could attack the Erie, the French jumped at this chance. To protect this fragile truce, the French halted their travel to the Great Lakes, but to keep their fur trade alive, they continued to invite their old trading partners to bring their furs to Montreal. With Iroquois war parties haunting the entire Ottawa River Valley, this was an extremely dangerous undertaking, but the Ottawa and Wyandot (Huron-Tionontati) were willing to try and recruited Ojibwe warriors to help them force their to Montreal. The Iroquois attempted to stop this by going after the source. Their war parties journeyed to Wisconsin and began attacking just about anyone supplying fur to the French through the Ottawa and Wyandot.
Under constant attack and with beaver dwindling near Green Bay, the Wyandot left in 1658 and moved inland to Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River. Most of the Ottawa also left but went to the south shore of Lake Superior at Keweenaw and Chequamegon (Ashland, Wisconsin) which provided them with better access for trade with the Cree to the north. That same year, the French peace with the Iroquois ended with the murder of a Jesuit ambassador. Seeing this as an opportunity to renew trade in Great Lakes, Pierre Radisson, Médart Chouart des Groseilliers, and Father Réné Ménard ignored the official ban on travel and accompanied the Wyandot on their return journey from Montreal. Radisson and Groseilliers reached the west end of Lake Superior and then travelled overland to trade with the Dakota. The French government showed its gratitude for their effort by arresting them on their return to Quebec in 1660, but the Dakota meanwhile had become aware of the value of beaver and would no longer tolerate the Wyandot presence on Lake Pepin, and their threats during 1661 forced the Wyandot to relocate north to Lake Superior near the Ottawa at Chequamegon. This concentration of beaver-hunting refugees did not please the Dakota either, and with a fourth competitor added to the contest, the three-way struggle in western Wisconsin became increasing violent.
Meanwhile, the French had tired of living under the constant threat of annihilation by the Iroquois, and the king assumed control of Canada and sent a regiment of soldiers to Quebec in 1664 to deal with them. The following year, Nicolas Perot, Father Claude-Jean Allouez, and six other Frenchmen accompanied 400 Ottawa and Wyandot on their return to Green Bay. Although the Jesuits had learned of the Fox and the Sauk as early as 1640, actual contact did not occur until Allouez met them in Wisconsin during 1666. At first, the Sauk were wary of the "blackrobe," who they suspected of witchcraft, but relations improved. But the Fox were hostile from the onset and remained that way. The French and their fur trade had brought nothing but grief so far, and the previous winter, the Seneca (Iroquois) had attacked a Fox villages killing 70 women and children and dragging 30 prisoners away to an uncertain fate. The Fox did not want the French in Wisconsin and, having been on the receiving end of French weapons before, they especially did not want them trading with the Dakota and Ojibwe (Chippewa).
By 1667 attacks by French soldiers on villages in the Iroquois homeland had produced a peace which extended to French allies and trading partners in the western Great Lakes. It lasted until 1680 and bought much needed relief for the refugee tribes. The conditions the French discovered when they came to Wisconsin were appalling: warfare, epidemic, and near starvation ...none of which were conducive for trade or religious conversion. Although intending to line their pockets and fill their churches, the French used their control over trade goods to perform a service for Wisconsin tribes and began acting as mediators to resolve intertribal disputes and end the warfare. Some of their most notable successes are attributed to Daniel DeLhut (Duluth) who came to Sault Ste. Marie during 1678. Two years later DeLhut arranged a truce between the Saulteur Ojibwe and the Dakota which endured for several years.
Tensions along the south shore of Lake Superior eased after Father Jacques Marquette convinced the Ottawa and Wyandot to leave and move east to his new mission at St. Ignace. Unfortunately, Delhut's agreement had not included the Fox or Keweenaw Ojibwe who continued fighting the Dakota, but it did produce unusual allies. The Fox and Keweenaw joined forces to defeat a large Dakota war party, while the Saulteur allied with the Dakota against the Fox. The French succeeded in ending most infighting between the refugees in Wisconsin, but with the exception of the Saulteur, virtually all still considered the Dakota as enemies. Serious problems developed when French traders began visiting the Dakota villages to trade. The Sauk murdered two Jesuit donné and joined a Potawatomi conspiracy at Green Bay to form an anti-French alliance. Meanwhile, the Menominee and Ojibwe of chief Achiganaga robbed and killed two French traders enroute to the Dakota.
DeLhut decided to hold a European-style trial for Achiganaga and the other offenders. but he faced a revolt by several important tribes if the punishment was too severe. In the end DeLhut was able to execute only one Menominee- a small tribe. The Beaver Wars had resumed in 1680 with Iroquois attacks against the Illinois, and the French could not afford to offend an important ally like the Ojibwe. With the exception of an attack at Mackinac in 1683, the fighting during the next four years was mainly to the south. The Illinois took a terrible beating, but in 1684 the Iroquois failed in their attempt to take Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock on the upper Illinois River, a defeat considered to be the turning point of the Beaver Wars. The French afterwards attempted to organize an alliance of the Great Lakes Algonquin against the Iroquois, but its first offensive was such a catastrophe that Joseph La Barre, the governor of Canada, signed a treaty with the Iroquois conceding most of Illinois.
He was replaced by Jacques-Rene Denonville who renounced La Barre's treaty, built new forts, strengthened old ones, and provided guns to Algonquin allies. Coinciding with the King William's War between Britain and France (1688-97), Denonville's new alliance took the offensive in 1687 and began driving the Iroquois back across the Great Lakes towards New York. Both Fox and Sauk warriors took part, but Fox participation was less than the French expected. Instead of fighting the Iroquois with the guns they were given, the Fox used them in western Wisconsin against the Dakota and Ojibwe. Even though they were well-armed, the Fox were hard-pressed and had managed to defeat a Dakota-Ojibwe war party in 1683 only with heavy losses to themselves. The French and Fox had traded since 1667, but relations were still antagonistic. The Fox tolerated the French so long as they provided firearms, but they remained hostile and distant. The French viewed the Fox as troublemakers and laggards in the war against the Iroquois.
Since the fighting along the St. Croix was tying up Ojibwe warriors, the French arranged a truce between the Fox and Ojibwe in 1685. This lasted for five years until warfare renewed over hunting territory along the upper Mississippi between the Dakota and an alliance of the Fox, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Kickapoo and Mascouten. The Algonquins harassed French traders to keep them from supplying the Dakota, but the Fox went beyond normal bounds when they began charging tolls to pass through their territory. This practice exasperated Nicolas Perot, the French commandant at La Baye (Green Bay), and he asked the Ojibwe in 1690 to make the Fox stop. This was all the encouragement needed. Allied with the Dakota, the Ojibwe drove the Fox from the upper St. Croix River while a French-Ojibwe expedition attacked the Fox village at the Fox Portage forcing its abandonment.
After the 1690s the Iroquois were on the defensive and near defeat. The war between Britain and France had ended in 1607 with the Treaty of Ryswick, but the French were unable to convince the Algonquin alliance to make peace with the Iroquois until 1701. In the meantime, they were losing their authority over their allies because, oddly enough, the fur trade had become too successful. As victory followed victory, the French and their allies advanced across the Great Lakes seizing most of the best beaver producing areas. Fur flowed east to Montreal in unprecedented amounts creating a glut of beaver on the European market and the price dropped. As profits plunged, the French monarchy decided the time had come to heed Jesuit protests about the corruption the fur trade was creating among Native Americans and suspended the fur trade in the Great Lakes in 1696. Since trade was what bound the alliance together, French authority crumpled.
This was immediately apparent in the inability of the French to effect a truce along the upper Mississippi. Shortages and higher prices for trade goods combined with abuse by Coureurs de Bois (unlicensed traders) added to the crisis. French traders were robbed and murdered at an alarming rate, and even Nicholas Perot found himself tied to a Mascouten torture stake ready for burning. He was saved by the Kickapoo but soon went back to Quebec and never returned to the Great Lakes. Besides their continuing war with the Dakota, the Fox joined with the Winnebago during this time to drive the Kaskaskia (Illinois) from southern Wisconsin (1695-1700), and even the Sauk managed to kill a French trader who was living among the Dakota. Meanwhile, the alliance became increasingly concerned the French would abandon them to make a separate peace with the Iroquois.
The French never did, but their allies had good reason to be suspicious. Even as they were going down in defeat, the Iroquois sensed the problems the French trade suspension had created and offered peace with access to British traders if the Ottawa would break with the alliance. The Ottawa refused, but after the peace in 1701, the lure of British trade (higher quality and cheaper than French goods) proved irresistible. Ottawa and Ojibwe traders began taking their furs to Albany rather than Montreal. Other French allies followed, and the Iroquois came closer to destroying the French with economic competition than they had ever managed by warfare. After several pleas to Paris, the French in Canada were finally able to convince their government to allow a single trading post at Detroit to retain the loyalty of the Great Lakes tribes. Responsibility for this was given to Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.
Cadillac built Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit in July, 1701 and immediately invited the Ottawa and Wyandot to settle nearby. The Queen Anne's War (1701-13) between Britain and France began that year, but it had little effect in the Great Lakes. British and Iroquois traders continued making inroads, and to keep French allies from trading with them, Cadillac asked other tribes to come to Detroit. The result was exactly as it had been 50-years previous in northern Wisconsin - too many tribes and too few resources. Even the Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Wyandot (long-time friends) began quarreling over territory, and in 1706 the Ottawa and Miami fought a brief war over this same issue. Rather than sensing a warning, Cadillac kept inviting more tribes. Eventually, 6,000 Ojibwe, Wyandot, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Miami, Illinois, Osage, and Missouria were living near Detroit. The only thing positive about the situation was the overcrowding in Wisconsin ended when many of the refugee tribes left. The final straw was added to this tense situation in 1710 when Cadillac invited the Fox. About 1,000 Fox accepted his invitation and came east bringing with them a large number of their Mascouten and Kickapoo allies.
Returning to their original homeland, the Fox found it overrun with other French allies who were not pleased to see them. Their feelings about this can only be imagined, but the Fox apparently were not reluctant to claim special privileges or tell other tribes who originally owned the area around Detroit. The Ottawa, Huron, Peoria, Potawatomi, and Miami were in no mood to listen to this and began pressing the French to send the Fox and their allies back to Wisconsin. Cadillac ignored this but made no attempt to assign territories. As a result, several skirmishes occurred between the Fox and other French allies. Meanwhile, the French heard rumors the Fox were negotiating with Iroquois for permission to trade with the British. In 1711 Cadillac was called back to Quebec for a meeting and left Joseph Dubuisson in charge at Fort Pontchartrain. In his absence, the Potawatomi and Ottawa decided to solve the Fox problem on their own and, in the spring of 1712, attacked a Mascouten hunting party near the headwaters of the St. Joseph River in southern Michigan. The Mascouten fled east to their Fox allies near Detroit. As the Fox prepared to retaliate, Dubuisson attempted to stop them, and at this point, the Fox had just about enough from the French.
The First Fox War (1712-16) began when Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten attacked Fort Pontchartrain on May 13th. The initial assault failed and was followed by a siege. With over 300 well-armed warriors pitted against 20 French soldiers inside a fort with crumbling walls, there is reason to ask if the Fox intended to kill the French or just scare them. In any case, a relief party of Wyandot, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Mississauga (Ojibwe) arrived and fell upon the Fox from behind. In the slaughter which followed, more than 1,000 Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten were killed. Only 100 of the Fox escaped to find refuge with the Iroquois (English traders called them Squawkies). Otherwise, only a few Fox returned to Wisconsin with the Kickapoo and Mascouten. They joined the Fox who had remained behind and made the French and their allies pay dearly for the massacre at Detroit.
The For Wars were essentially a civil war between members of the French alliance and an indication of how much the coalition had fallen apart after the restriction of French trade. The Iroquois must have watched with great amusement as their enemies fought each other. The Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten killed French traders and and attacked their native allies, but the French were unable to assemble a large enough force to retaliate. It was first necessary to repair their alliance, and this took almost three years. The most difficult task facing the French in Canada was to convince Paris to revive the fur trade in the Great Lakes, but permission was not received until after the death of Louis XIV in 1715. Coureurs de Bois were legalized and 25 trading permits issued, and this allowed the French to mediate disputes between the Ojibwe and Green Bay tribes and arrange peace between the Illinois and Miami. This accomplished, the French were ready to deal with the Fox.
A French-Potawatomi expedition attacked the Kickapoo and Mascouten in 1715 and forced them to make a separate peace. Even without allies, the Fox refused to quit and gathered into a fortified village in southern Wisconsin. Louis de Louvigny arrived with a large number of Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa warriors in 1716 and laid siege (during which the Sauk brought food to the Fox), but the French and their allies were finally forced to withdraw. Soon afterwards, the frustrated French offered peace, and the Fox accepted, officially ending the First Fox War. However, this was more a temporary truce than a peace, since both sides remained bitter and distrustful of each other. To meet British competition, the French reoccupied old posts and opened new ones. The more important included: Michilimackinac, La Baye, Miamis, Ouiatenon, Chequamegon (La Pointe), St. Joseph, Pimitoui, Niagara, De Chartres, and Vincennes (Au Post). but the damage was done. In 1727 the British opened a post in the Iroquois homeland at Oswego to shorten the distance Great Lakes tribes had to travel for trade. The following year 80% of the beaver on the Albany market came from French allies in the Great Lakes.
Peace between the Fox and French in 1716 did not stop the fighting between the Fox and Peoria (Illinois). The Peoria had tortured the Fox prisoners they had captured at Detroit in 1712, and the Fox afterwards gave similar mistreatment to Peoria prisoners. In 1716 the Peoria refused to return their Fox prisoners, and French attempts to mediate failed. War between the Fox and Peoria renewed and was complicated by encroachments by the Fox, Kickapoo, Winnebago, and Mascouten when they began coming south from Wisconsin to hunt buffalo on the northern Illinois prairies without permission from the Illinois. In 1722 the Illinois expressed their displeasure with this when they captured Minchilay, the nephew of the Fox chief Oushala, and burned him alive. This drew the Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Winnebago, and Mascouten into the war as Fox allies during 1724. The Peoria took refuge at their fortress at Starved Rock (Utica, Illinois) and asked the French to intervene. A relief expedition was sent from Fort de Chartres, but the Fox and their allies withdrew before it arrived leaving behind over 100 of their dead.
At the same time west of the Mississippi, the Fox had joined with the Iowa to fighting the Osage, Otoe, and Missouria which was disrupted the developing French fur trade along the Missouri River. The French held councils during 1723 with the Kansa, Pawnee, Comanche, Nakota (Yankton Sioux), Osage, Missouria, Otoe, Iowa, Fox, and Dakota. This brought some peace for the tribes on the Missouri River, but fighting erupted along the Des Moines River in southeast Iowa between the Fox and Iowa and the Osage and Missouria. The councils had a result which the French never intended. To fight all of their enemies, the Fox needed more allies, and they did this by forming an alliance with the Dakota against the Illinois. After almost 70 years of constant warfare between them, this sudden alliance of the Fox and Dakota would have made anyone suspicious, but the French needed little help in this regard. They were becoming convinced the Fox could not possibly be creating this much trouble on their own initiative and were probably part of a British plot to form a secret alliance directed against themselves.
The French decided that drastic measures would be necessary to deal with the Fox, and most of their allies agreed with them. Besides the Illinois, they had the support of the Mackinac Ojibwe, who were skirmishing with the Fox in northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan, and the Detroit Tribes (Wyandot, Ottawa, Saginaw Ojibwe, Mississauga, and Potawatomi). As they gathered their allies for in preparation for war, a series of meetings were held about the "Fox problem." One suggestion was to relocate the Fox at Detroit where the French garrison could watch them. For obvious reasons, this met with a very cool reception from Detroit tribes. Meanwhile, the French in Illinois sent an expedition with 20 soldiers and 500 Illini warriors to attack the Fox in 1726, but the Fox anticipated its approach and withdrew. The following year, the French made their first proposals of genocide. Following a war of extermination, any Fox who survived would be sold as slaves to the West Indies. No decision was made at the time.
Although unsure about extermination (not an official policy until it was approved by the king in 1732), the French had decided on war. They first took the precaution of using diplomacy to isolate the Fox from their allies. The Fox were aware of this effort but could do little about it. The Menominee refused the Fox request for an alliance and told them that in the event of war they would side with the French. The power of French trade goods caused the Dakota, Winnebago, and Iowa to withdraw their support, and the French even won a reluctant agreement from the Sauk near Green Bay. At the beginning of the Second Fox War (1728-37), only the Kickapoo and Mascouten stood with the Fox. Despite this, the French expedition sent against them under Sieur de Lignery was unsuccessful, but afterwards the Fox managed to antagonize the few friends they had. Following an argument about the refusal of the Kickapoo and Mascouten to kill the French prisoners they were holding, the Fox stalked out of the meeting and murdered a Kickapoo and Mascouten on their way home. Furious, the Kickapoo and Mascouten went over to the French in 1729.
Without the protection of allies, the Fox were battered from all sides. During the winter of 1729, a combined Winnebago, Menominee, Ojibwe war party attacked a Fox hunting village killing at least 80 warriors and capturing some 70 women and children. The Fox retaliated by besieging the Winnebago fort on the Fox River, but the attack was abandoned after the arrival of a relief force of French and Menominee warriors from Green Bay. By the summer of 1730, about 1,000 of the Fox had decided to leave Wisconsin and accept an offer of sanctuary received from the Seneca (Iroquois) in New York. But to get there, they had to pass through territory controlled by the Illinois. In a very uncharacteristic manner for them, the Fox actually sent an envoy to the Illinois to ask their permission to pass, but a quarrel developed. Perhaps as their way of saying farewell, the Fox captured the nephew of a Cahokia chief near Starved Rock and burned him at the stake. Angry Illinois warriors pursued the Fox column and caught them on the open prairie east of present-day Bloomington, Illinois.
The Fox retreated and built a rude fort to protect their women and children. It would probably have been best if they had kept going. The Illinois surrounded them and sent for help, and the French and their allies descended on the Fox fort from all directions. St. Ange arrived in August from Fort de Chartres with 100 French and 400 Cahokia, Peoria, and Missouria. De Villiers brought 200 Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Potawatomi, while Reaume came from St. Joseph (Michigan) with 400 Sauk, Potawatomi, and Miami. In September Piankashaw and Wea warriors led by de Noyelle arrived from a Miami post with instructions from the Governor of Canada that no peace was to be made with Fox. Apparently some Sauk ignored this order and provided the Fox with food, but it was not enough. Surrounded by over 1,400 warriors, the Fox fought off everything, but their food and water gave out. They began throwing their children out of the fort, telling their enemies to eat them. Many apparently were adopted by other tribes, but the fate of their parents was far worse. After 23 days, a thunderstorm struck on the night of September 8th, and the Fox took advantage of this to break out and flee. They did not make it. The French and their allies caught up and killed between 600 and 800 of them. There were no prisoners.
The 600 Fox who had remained in Wisconsin were all that were left after this. Up to this point the Sauk had usually maintained good relations with the French and a relatively low profile in history, but this changed. With everyone their enemy, the Fox remembered the Sauk given them food in 1716 and again during the siege in Illinois. They turned to the Sauk to save them, and the Sauk not only gave them refuge but appealed to the French in 1733 to make peace with the Fox. The answer came in 1734 when a French expedition under by Sieur de Villiers accompanied by Ojibwe and Menominee warriors arrived at the Sauk village west of Green Bay to demand the Sauk surrender of the Fox. The Sauk refused, and during the assault which followed, Villiers made the fatal error of placing his body in the path of a speeding bullet. In the confusion which followed, the French and their allies fell back to regroup, and the Sauk and Fox abandoned the village and fled west. They crossed the Mississippi and settled in eastern Iowa in 1735.
The French sent another expedition after them in 1736, but by this time, the French allies were beginning to have doubts about their commitment to genocide. The Illinois voiced the general concern that if the Fox could be destroyed like this, who might be the next victim? As things turned out, the Illinois had good reason to worry. Even the Ottawa, the staunchest and most anti-Fox of the French allies, said in council that "they no longer wanted to eat the Fox." De Noyelle's expedition against the Fox and Sauk in Iowa that year ended in failure after its Kickapoo guides led him in circles and through every swamp in western Wisconsin. At a meeting in Montreal during the spring of 1737, the Menominee and Winnebago asked the French to show mercy to the Fox while the Potawatomi and Ottawa made a similar request on behalf of the Sauk. The irony of this role reversal should not be lost - French allies mediating an intertribal dispute between the French and Fox. Beset by a new wars between the Ojibwe and Dakota in Minnesota and a major confrontation with the Natchez and Chickasaw which closed the lower Mississippi to them, the French bent to the concerns of their allies and reluctantly agreed.
The French attempt at genocide failed, but it came close. Only 500 Fox survived the Fox Wars. After the peace in 1737, the Sauk (with the permission of the Iowa) remained west of the Mississippi until 1743 despite French assurances intended to lure them back, but the Fox did not return to Wisconsin until 1765, two years after the French had left North America. Although they kept their separate traditions and chiefships, the two tribes afterwards were bound so close together by their experience that the British and Americans later had trouble distinguishing between them. The Fox had suffered severely from the war, so the more-numerous Sauk were the dominant tribe. The close relationship lasted for more than a century until it finally dissolved on the plains of Kansas. The Fox and Sauk forgave most of the tribes which had fought them, but not the Illinois, or the Menominee and Ojibwe who had attacked the Sauk village in 1734.
The Fox and Sauk proved every bit as troublesome for the French during the last 25 years of their rule in North America as they were before the Fox Wars. West of the Mississippi, they pushed into southern Iowa to fight the Osage and Missouria. East of the river, they joined the Mackinac Ojibwe in 1746 to fight the Detroit tribes who were led by an Ottawa war chief named Pontiac. However, the Illinois remained the main enemies for Sauk and Fox. French influenced waned during the King George's War (1744-48) after a British blockade of the St. Lawrence cut the supply of trade goods, and there was little they could do to protect the Illinois. After they had crossed to the east side of the Mississippi in 1743, the Sauk began an aggressive expansion to the south and seized territory from the Illinois. While French attention was diverted by British traders in the Ohio country, 1,000 Sauk warriors descended the Mississippi in June, 1752 and attacked the Michigamea village just north of Fort de Chartres. The Sauk also attacked and burned Cahokia. All the French could do was ask them to stop.
The Sauk apologized and returned to the French alliance in 1753, but they kept the territory they had taken from the Illinois. To the east, a French attempt to block British access to Ohio Valley with a line of forts and the British attempt to remove them led to the final British-French confrontation for control of North America, the French and Indian War (1755-63). Neither the Fox or the Sauk had much to do with this struggle although the French continued to suspect them of being British allies. Nevertheless, the Fox and Sauk were hit by smallpox which French allies brought back to the Great Lakes from New York during the winter of 1757-58. The epidemic took many of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley tribes out of the war, and after the fall of Quebec in September, 1757, the French were finished in North America. Montreal surrendered the following year, and British soldiers occupied French forts throughout the Great Lakes. However, the French kept control of Fort de Chartes and the Illinois country until 1765.
Needless to say, their authority was nil, although the Illinois remained totally loyal and refused to accept the French defeat, By 1761 the Sauk and Illinois were once again on the verge of war, but farther east there was growing dissatisfaction with the British. No longer forced to compete with the French, the British commander in North America, Jeffrey Amherst, suspended the practice of annual presents to treaty chiefs. Worse yet, he raised the prices on trade goods and restricted supply, especially for gunpowder and whiskey. Several attempts were made to organize a general uprising, but it was not until a new religious movement began with the Neolin, the Delaware Prophet, that unity was found. The leader of this was Pontiac, an important French ally during the war and the Ottawa chief at Detroit. Pontiac secretly organized a rebellion which when it struck in May, 1763 captured eight of the twelve (one more was abandoned) British forts west of the Appalachian mountains. The British were stunned but recovered, and with its failure to capture the three remaining forts, the rebellion collapsed.
Pontiac had hoped to restore French rule, something the Fox and Sauk did not wish to see. At the onset the revolt, both the Fox and Sauk had joined the Iowa, Menominee, Winnebago, and Arbre Croche Ottawa to send wampum belts to the British proclaiming their loyalty. In November Amherst was replaced by Thomas Gage who lowered prices and restored trade goods to previous levels. The British also issued the Proclamation of 1763 halting settlement west of the Appalachian crest. As a result, most tribes made peace with the British at Fort Niagara in July, 1764. Pontiac signed a separate agreement with the British in 1766, but his reputation was greatly diminished by this and the fact he had failed to take Fort Detroit during the uprising. He left Detroit and moved west to northern Illinois where he still enjoyed a considerable following. Although Pontiac had promised never to fight the British again, it appears he began organizing a second revolt in the Illinois country. During a visit to Cahokia in April, 1769, Pontiac was murdered by a Peoria warrior following a drunken argument at the establishment of a British trader named Williamson.
Suspicion immediately fell upon the British of having arranged the assassination, and Minavavana, the Ojibwe chief at Mackinac, came to Cahokia the following month and killed two of Williamson's employees. This marked the beginning of a general war against the Illinois to avenge Pontiac. The Fox and Sauk had just suffered a major smallpox epidemic in 1766 which killed almost half of them and probably could have cared less about Pontiac. However, this did not prevent them from taking advantage of the situation to join the Ojibwe, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Winnebago, and Potawatomi in attacking the Illinois. The Peoria took refuge at Starved Rock, their last stronghold in northern Illinois but were starved into submission and then annihilated. The once-powerful Illinois were almost destroyed during this war. Only a few hundred managed to flee south where they settled under the protection of the French at Kaskaskia. Afterwards, the victors divided the lands of the Illinois among themselves, with the Sauk taking most of western Illinois between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.
Rather than see it fall to the British, France had given the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi to Spain in 1763. Many of the French east of the Mississippi abandoned their homes and moved west to the new settlement at St. Louis. The Spanish were somewhat overwhelmed by the French bequest, and it took some time for them to establish administrative control. Even then, they found it convenient to let the French manage trade and relations with the native tribes. The British finally arrived at Fort de Chartes (renamed Fort Gage) in October, 1765 and took control of the Illinois country. From there and other posts along the Mississippi, British traders ranged west into Louisiana trading illegally with tribes west of the Mississippi - a matter of great concern to the Spanish.
But for the Fox and the Sauk who lived on both sides of the Mississippi, the situation was ideal. The British and Spanish garrisons spent most of their time spying on each other from opposite sides of the river. There was no attempt by either to interfere during the war of extermination against the Illinois or the subsequent Sauk movement into western Illinois. The British also had no objection when the Kickapoo and Potawatomi occupied northern and central Illinois which provided the Fox and Sauk with valuable allies against the Osage and Missouria west of the Mississippi. From the beginning, the Fox and Sauk got along well with the British - far better than they had with the French - and this was a major factor in their decision not to join the Pontiac Rebellion in 1763. The trade situation was also better than before. The British and French (same people with Spanish licenses) traders competed with each other and as a result, prices, supply, and quality improved. At the same time, Fox and Sauk chiefs could visit the Spanish in St. Louis or the British at Kaskaskia and Cahokia and expect to be feasted and loaded with gifts before they left.
The Osage were aggressive and, after trade began with the French in 1700, well armed. They fought almost every tribe that lived near them, usually several at the same time. But after 1770, the Osage had more enemies than they even they could handle. This resulted from the southward movement of the Sauk, Fox, Iowa, and Winnebago and the relocation of large groups of Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee to southeast Missouri and northern Arkansas - an impressive list even without mention of the wars the Osage were fighting with Caddo, Wichita, Pawnee, Comanche, Quapaw, Chickasaw, and Choctaw to the south and west. French and British traders armed all sides, and the Spanish never had the military strength in Louisiana to intervene. After 1780 the Sauk and Iowa started pushing south from the Des Moines River into northern Missouri, and the warfare became intense.
One of the most dangerous opponents the Osage faced during period was a Sauk war chief named Makataimeshekia, or Black Sparrow Hawk. Americans would later shorten his name to Blackhawk. By 1793 the Osage had even managed to annoy the Spanish enough that they declared war on them and asked the Kickapoo and Potawatomi across the river in Illinois to join them. These tribes needed little encouragement, but after the Spanish made peace with the Osage the following year, they were unable to stop the warfare they had just requested, and the Osage were in danger of suffering the same fate as the Illinois. The only allies the Osage had in this struggle were the Missouria, but the Fox and Sauk almost destroyed them in 1798 when they ambushed their canoes on the Missouri River while they were enroute to trade at St. Louis. By the 1800 the Osage had been forced to abandon all of their villages north of the Missouri River.
To the north, the Fox had renewed their interest in the St. Croix Valley when they crossed back into Wisconsin in 1765, and this brought new warfare with the Ojibwe who had driven the Dakota from the area during the 1740s. The Fox managed to kill the important chief Grand Saulteur during a raid in 1770, but they were too few to fight the Ojibwe by themselves. In 1780 they formed an alliance with the Dakota to retake the St. Croix Valley. During the next three years, battles were fought at Lac View Desert, Lac du Flambeau, Francis River, and the upper Mississippi, but after a major victory at St. Croix Falls, the Ojibwe destroyed six Fox villages along the Chippewa River. The Fox had fought their last war with the Ojibwe. By 1783 they had withdrawn from Wisconsin and recrossed the Mississippi into northeastern Iowa. Their alliance of convenience with the Dakota was soon forgotten, and the Fox and Dakota soon became enemies as they competed for territory along the upper Mississippi.
Throughout all these years the Fox and Sauk had yet to meet the Americans. The initial settlements west of the Appalachians began after the Iroquois ceded the Ohio Valley to the British at Fort Stanwix in 1768, but the first confrontations were in the upper Ohio Valley in western Pennsylvania and Kentucky and remote from the Fox and Sauk. Although the Fox in general remained wary of whites, they followed the lead of the Sauk who had developed close ties to the British, a relationship which endured until the 1820s. For the most part, the British were annoyed that the Americans had pressured them into opening the Ohio country to settlement, and when the fighting between frontiersmen and the Ohio tribes began, they withdrew most of their garrisons to become a neutral observer. This ended with the outbreak of the American Revolution (1775-83), when the British began to arm the Ohio tribes and encourage them to attack Americans.
The Fox and Sauk had little to do with this until George Rogers Clark led 200 Kentucky militia to Illinois in 1778 and captured Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. After winning the allegiance of the French in the area, he claimed the Illinois country for Virginia. In February, 1779 Clark defeated an attempt by Colonel Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit (known as the "hair buyer" in Kentucky because he paid for American scalps) to retake the area, prompting the major British offensive the following year to seize the entire Mississippi Basin. By this time, Spain had entered the war against Great Britain, though not necessarily as an ally of the Americans. While British forces attacked Spanish posts along the Gulf of Mexico, Captain Henry Bird's column moved south from Detroit, and gathering native allies passing through Ohio, caused havoc with the American settlements in Kentucky. Meanwhile, a third expedition commanded by Captain Emanuel Hesse moved down the Mississippi to attack St. Louis.
Thrown together in great haste by the British, it was composed of tribes not on the best of terms with each other. The Winnebago, Menominee, and Potawatomi were no problem, but there was open hatred between the Dakota and Ojibwe contingents. Because of their friendly relations with the French and Spanish in St. Louis, the British did not consider the Fox and Sauk as reliable allies. Despite his doubts, Hesse felt he needed more warriors and asked the Fox and Sauk to join the attack. This may have been a mistake. St. Louis received a warning on May 9th and had ample time to prepare. When 950 British and native allies finally struck on May 26th, they were driven off by cannon fire with heavy losses to both sides. On the American side of the river, an attack on Cahokia also failed, and the British retreated without result. The Fox and Sauk afterwards were accused of warning the Spanish. This might have been true, but it did not protect them from American reprisal. Later that year, a 225-man expedition under Colonel John Montgomery attacked and burned the Sauk villages on the Rock River.
The Revolutionary war ended with the treaty signed at Paris in 1783. The British informed their native allies the war was over and urged them to stop attacking American settlements, but unofficially they encouraged an alliance to keep the Americans out of Ohio. They also continued (in violation of the treaty) to occupy their forts on American territory until the claims of British loyalists were paid. To facilitate an alliance, Simon De Peyster, the British agent at Detroit, during 1782 reconciled several disputes between the Winnebago-Ojibwe, Menominee-Ojibwe, Fox and Sauk-Ojibwe, and Potawatomi-Miami. The British did not attend the conference at Sandusky where the western alliance was formed in 1783, but they sent the Mohawk Joseph Brant to speak on their behalf and let it be known they would back the alliance in case of war with the Americans. Membership ultimately included: Mingo (Ohio Iroquois), Wyandot, Miami, Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Chickamauga (Cherokee). Angered by the American attack on their villages in 1780, the Fox and Sauk also joined.
The British retained control of the Great Lakes and its fur trade, but despite De Peyster's efforts in 1782, intertribal warfare on the southern shores of Lake Superior and the upper Mississippi was creating problems. At the request of the Northwest Company of Montreal, the British government convened a council at Mackinac in October, 1786. The resulting treaty ended most warfare on upper Mississippi for the next 20 years with one exception, the Ojibwe and Dakota. Faced with bankruptcy if it could not sell the land in Ohio, the United States attempted to resolve ownership through treaty. Because they considered the alliance a British plot (which it was), the Americans refused to recognize it and treated with the individual tribes. The boundaries agreed to at Fort McIntosh (1785) and Fort Finney (1786) were not the consensus of the alliance, while, the American commissioners did not represent their frontier citizens. The "Long Knives" (American frontiersmen) wanted the entire Ohio Valley, not just part of it, and no government was going to stand in their way.
They simply ignored the boundaries, moved into native lands, and squatted. When Native Americans tried to expel them, there was war. As alliance warriors and frontiersmen exchanged raids and mutual atrocities, the government made a final effort to salvage the situation by treaty. In December, 1787 the American governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, asked for a meeting at the falls of Muskingum River near Fort Harmar. The alliance council met to determine its position and agreed to settle for the Muskingum as the border of settlement, but there were serious divisions. The Mohawk Joseph Brant left the meeting in disgust and went back to Ontario. The Miami, Kickapoo, and Shawnee also pulled out, but the Delaware, Wyandot, and Detroit tribes decided to attend, and as added support, they took a visiting delegation of four Sauk chiefs along with them. The Fort Harmar Treaty (1789) was the first treaty signed between the Sauk and the United States. Unfortunately, it was worthless the moment it was signed.
Because the Sauk had little stake in the outcome in Ohio, their signatures meant little. The other tribes who signed were more important, but after warfare resumed that summer, the militant Shawnee and Miami dominated the alliance, and the Americans decided to use force. The initial battles of Little Turtle's War (1790-94) were disasters for the Americans. Led by the Miami war chief Little Turtle, the alliance inflicted the worst defeats ever suffered by an American army at the hands of Native Americans: Harmar in 1790 and St. Clair in 1791. President George Washington afterwards sent "Mad Anthony" Wayne to Ohio to take command. During the next two years, Wayne trained his "Legion," a large force of regulars to back the skittish frontier militia, and made careful preparations to attack the alliance villages in northwestern Ohio. Meanwhile, the strain of continuous warfare was taking their toll on the alliance. It had 2,000 warriors but could not feed all of them for extended periods.
Complaining about the lack of food, the Fox and Sauk left Ohio in 1792 and returned to the Mississippi to concentrate on their war with the Osage. At the same time, the capture of a large number of their women and children forced the Wabash tribes (Wea, Piankashaw, and Kickapoo) to make a separate peace with the Americans and become neutrals. By the time it faced the Americans at Fallen Timbers in 1794, the alliance could muster fewer than 800 warriors. Defeated and in retreat, they watched the British close the gates of their fort to them rather than risk war with the Americans. In November, the British signed the Jay Treaty resolving their differences with the United States and agreeing to withdraw from their forts on American territory. The following August, the alliance chiefs assembled at Fort Greenville and signed a treaty ceding all of Ohio except the northwest portion. Neither the Fox or Sauk were present. They were far to the west on the Mississippi at the edge of the United States.
An uneasy peace settled across the Ohio Valley, but settlement continued its advance towards the Mississippi. With the American purchase of Louisiana in 1803, the Fox and Sauk were no longer on the western boundary of the United States. The Sauk first learned of this when visiting St. Louis where they were informed by the Spanish governor that they had a new "father." Disturbed by this news, they returned to Saukenuk (Rock Island, Illinois), but did nothing until a Sauk was imprisoned in St. Louis for killing a white. It was decided to send a delegation to St. Louis to meet the Americans and arrange his release. The Sauk arrived in November, 1804 and were "wined-and-dined" and then "wined-and-wined" by William Henry Harrison, the American governor of the Indiana territory (included Illinois at the time) and Acting Commissioner for the Louisiana Territory. When it was over, the Sauk delegation had signed away ten million acres of northeast Missouri and western Illinois for $2,500 in presents and a $1,000 annuity for 20 years. One of the signers, Quashquami, was not even a chief, and none of the others had been authorized to sell any of land.
Learning the circumstances and what had been agreed to, the Fox and Sauk refused to consider themselves bound by this treaty, but the Americans felt they had bought and paid for the land. Under the circumstances, few whites wanted to challenge the Fox and Sauk, so there was no rush of settlers into the disputed area, but the Americans were concerned about British traders in Wisconsin and the upper Mississippi and wanted to assert their authority. An expedition under Zebulon Pike was dispatched in 1805 to "show the flag" and explore the upper Mississippi. It passed the rapids above the mouth of the Des Moines River and stopped at Saukenuk. After explaining to the Sauk they were under American jurisdiction, Pike ordered them to take down their British flag and turn over British treaty medals. The Sauk chose to keep their medals, but Pike gave them an American flag anyway and then proceeded upriver to Minnesota. After similar orders and instructions to the Ojibwe and Dakota, he arranged a truce between them and started back to St. Louis. The truce was broken before he reached the Iowa line, but Pike had managed to alarm the tribes on the upper Mississippi.
The Dakota sent a wampum belt later that year asking the Fox, Sauk, Ottawa, and Potawatomi to end their war with the Osage and join with them against the Americans. At the same time, the Shawnee chief Bluejacket attempted to resurrect the western alliance at Brownstown (Michigan) and invited the Fox and Sauk to participate. As rumors of war spread across Indiana and Illinois during 1806, the Fox and Sauk sent a delegation to Fort Malden (Amherstburg, Ontario) to ask for British assistance. At the time, the British wanted to avoid a confrontation with the Americans, but this attitude changed two years later with the sudden rise of Tecumseh. Messages sent by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskatawa (The Shawnee Prophet) reached the Fox and Sauk during 1808. In light of the 1804 treaty, the call for unity and no further land cessions to the Americans had a great appeal, but in the absence of a direct challenge by the Americans to enforce the treaty, the Fox and Sauk were divided in their response. Some welcomed the trade from St. Louis and, recalling what had happened in 1794, questioned how reliable the British would be in another war with the Americans. Others saw what was coming and, following the lead of Blackhawk, supported to Tecumseh.
When the War of 1812 (1812-14) began, the "peace group," which included many who had signed the 1804 treaty, separated from their more hostile kinsmen and moved south to the Missouri River in central Missouri. Known as the Missouri Band, they refused to fight the Americans. The Fox also remained neutral, but the Sauk at Rock Island joined Tecumseh and the British. During 1809 the army had built its first permanent post on the upper Mississippi at Fort Madison (Iowa) and garrisoned it with 50-60 men. If anything, this strengthened the influence of Blackhawk and Tecumseh among the Sauk. When war broke out in June, Blackhawk's Sauk joined the Winnebago in a series of attacks which forced its abandonment in 1813. Meanwhile, Blackhawk and his warriors went east to join Tecumseh but arrived too late to help them capture Detroit. They fought at the battle on the Raisin River, and later participated in the siege of Fort Meigs in northern Ohio. Blackhawk had been a war chief for more than 20 years and killed many enemies, but he could not believe the slaughter this type of warfare entailed...
"Instead of stealing upon each other, and taking every advantage to kill the enemy and save their own people. they march out, in open daylight and fight regardless of the number of warriors they may lose! After the battle is over, they retire to feast and drink wine, as if nothing had happened; after which, they make a statement in writing of what they have done each party claiming the victory, and neither giving an account of half the number that have been killed on own their side."
Discouraged with siege warfare, the Sauk went home to Illinois. With the exception of a few raids during the summer of 1813 against the scattered American settlements along the north side of the Missouri River (the Femme Osage land grant given by the Spanish in 1799 to a recently-arrived Kentucky land speculator named Daniel Boone), this might have been the extent of their participation if left alone. After the death of Tecumseh at Battle of the Thames in October of 1813, native resistance generally ended. However, the Americans wanted to regain control of the upper Mississippi which had been lost after the abandonment of Fort Madison and the British capture of the fort at Prairie du Chien. The British controlled Wisconsin throughout the war, and from Prairie du Chien, they were able to supply the Sauk with arms and encouraged them to keep the Americans from passing Rock Island by providing a cannon and three artillery men for the purpose. In the spring of 1814 the Americans attempted to force their way past but ended up having to turn back and build Fort Edwards opposite the mouth of the Des Moines (Warsaw, Illinois). Fort Edwards lasted less than a year and was abandoned by the spring of 1815.
Meanwhile the Sauk raided settlements throughout Missouri and Illinois. Even the Missouri Band of Sauk, supposedly neutral, is known to have taken American scalps at this time. When the time finally came to make peace, the Americans demanded the Fox and Sauk accept the land cessions made in the 1804 treaty. The Missouri Band of the Sauk signed at Portage des Sioux (just north of St. Louis) in September, 1815, and in their only separate treaty with the United States, the Fox signed a day later. However, the sudden death of their head chief and resistance to the 1804 treaty delayed a treaty with the Sauk on the Rock River until the following year. Even Black Hawk "touched the quill" in this treaty but only after promises were made by the agent that the land would not be taken until needed. At the time, it is likely that even the Americans did not realize how soon this would be. When the Sauk got back to Saukenuk, they found 700 soldiers had arrived and were building Fort Armstrong.
After 1816 settlement expanded up the Mississippi from St. Louis. Most of this resulted from 160-acre parcels in the Illinois Military Grant (between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers) given to veterans for service during the War of 1812. Many of these tracts were sold to land speculators, and new settlers poured into the area. Illinois became a state in 1818 followed by Missouri in 1821, but settlement generally halted at the Iowa line because of intertribal warfare farther north. Fort Snelling (St. Paul, Minnesota) and Fort Crawford (Prairie du Chien) proved inadequate to separate the warring parties. Warfare between the Dakota and Ojibwe had continued unabated for almost a century despite French and British attempts to end it. The Americans fared little better, although white settlement along the Missouri River had succeeded in separating the Osage from the Fox and Sauk. However, north of the Iowa line, Fox, Sauk, Menominee, Ojibwe, Iowa, Winnebago, Dakota, and Potawatomi were being pushed into a decreasing area and were fighting each other for territory. Although they had been allies against the Osage, even the Sauk and Iowa had fought a brief war during 1821.
The "kiss and make up" treaty signed with the Fox in 1815 was an exception, and the United States afterwards would insist on treating the Fox and Sauk as a confederated tribe. Although forced to sign the same treaty, the Fox and the Sauk thwarted this somewhat by always signing in separate groups. The situation suited the ambitions of a young Sauk named Keokuk (The Watchful Fox). Keokuk was not a chief by birth but proved a skilled negotiator, and since American agents found him tractable to their interests, he was elevated to leadership. In 1822 Keokuk negotiated a treaty for a trading post at Saukenuk. Much to the displeasure and increasing suspicion of the Americans, many of Blackhawk's band defied Keokuk and ignored American traders by continuing to use the "Great Sauk Trail" (which ran east from Saukenuk to Detroit) to trade with the British at Fort Malden and Amherstburg, Ontario. As a result, Blackhawk and his people were commonly referred to as the British Band.
Under pressure to open more land for settlement, the United States decided to curtail warfare along the upper Mississippi by defining borders between tribal territories. A grand council for this purpose was convened at Prairie du Chien in August, 1825 and attended by the Ojibwe, Dakota, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Menominee, Iowa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. Actually getting this many hostile people together was an accomplishment in itself, but to facilitate an agreement, the American Commissioners, William Clark and Lewis Cass, were generous with feasts and the distribution of presents. The resulting agreement established boundaries with the United States having the right to make final adjustments as required. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien enjoyed only limited success. War resumed between the Dakota and Ojibwe, and as the Dakota were forced south into Iowa, they began fighting the Fox and Sauk. In 1830 the Fox and Sauk signed a treaty where they ceded a strip of land, 20 miles wide, running from central into northeast Iowa. The Dakota made a similar cession creating a 40-mile wide buffer zone between them (the Neutral Ground) which neither tribe was "supposed" to enter.
Despite the limited success of the Treaty of Prairie du Chien, settlement rushed north after 1825. The first target was not the rich farmland in eastern Iowa and northwest Illinois, but the lead mining area at Dubuque and Galena. The French had known about the deposits since the early 1700s, but they had not been exploited until Julien Dubuque, a French-Canadian fur trader from Mackinac had received permission from the Fox to begin mining in 1788. Dubuque received a Spanish land grant for the area in 1796 and became quite wealthy. When he died in 1810, his creditors and land speculators attempted to claim his holdings, but after burying him with honor, the Fox burned all of Dubuque's buildings. For some reason, no one rushed in to reopen the mines. This changed after the Treaty of Prairie du Chien.
The federal government issued the first mining permit in 1822, and after the 1825 treaty miners poured into the area. The Fox accepted this as inevitable, but on the east side of the Mississippi, the Winnebago were roused by the arguments of the Winnebago Prophet (White Cloud) and their war chief Red Bird and decided to fight the encroachment. In 1827 this brought a brief conflict known as the Winnebago War (La Fevre War). When troops were rushed north from St. Louis, Red Bird and White Cloud surrendered themselves to be hanged in order to save their people. Red Bird died in prison, but White Cloud was pardoned by the president and released. In a treaty signed a Green Bay in August, 1828, the Winnebago (also Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa) ceded the lead mining areas in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. By 1829 more than 4,000 mining permits had been issued.
The treaty the Sauk had signed in 1816 had promised they could remain east of the Mississippi until the Americans needed the land. By 1829 the State of Illinois had decided it was time for the federal government to begin removing the Sauk. For the most part, this was not a problem. The Fox had been living entirely in Iowa for many years, and when the first settlers had started moving in during the 1820s, Keokuk's Sauk had moved west of the Mississippi into Iowa voluntarily. But Blackhawk was an old man by this time and wanted very much to be buried among his ancestors when he died. Despite harassment from government officials and American squatters, he delayed his departure from Saukenuk by contending that his people had never agreed to sell their village. The impasse might well have been resolved peacefully by waiting until Blackhawk died, but in 1831 nine Fox chiefs, enroute to Fort Crawford to meet with the Americans, were killed by a Dakota and Menominee war party. The Fox then killed of 28 Menominee near Prairie du Chien.
The Fox warriors launched a raid against the Dakota, and the region braced for war. Blackhawk immediately brought his Sauk west of the Mississippi to defend against the anticipated Dakota attacks, but war was adverted when the Americans sent General Henry Atkinson (called White Beaver by the Sauk) to Fort Armstrong with 300 troops. Tensions died down without major fighting, but once the soldiers were in place, the army decided it was time to enforce removal. Blackhawk was forced by both Keokuk and Atkinson to agree not to recross the river, but in his Iowa camp that winter, the old war chief fumed and listened to the arguments of his friend Neopope and the Winnebago Prophet (who still hated Americans for the Winnebago War). After wampum belts arrived from the Winnebago, Potawatomi, and Kickapoo that spring, Blackhawk became convinced the British and other tribes were ready to support him once he crossed back into Illinois.
On June 6th, 1832 Blackhawk defiantly crossed the Mississippi at Yellow Banks (Oquawka, Illinois) almost 2,000 Sauk and started the Blackhawk War. To avoid the garrison at Fort Armstrong, they headed northeast to intercept the Rock River east of Saukenuk with the intention of following it to the Winnebago Prophet's village near the current Illinois-Wisconsin border. Two messages arrived from General Atkinson: the first ordering the Sauk to return to Iowa; and the second threatening the use of force if they did not. Blackhawk sent back a reply saying he had only come to grow corn (not quite true) and would not be the first to use force. Meanwhile, the alarm had been given, and Illinois militia were assembling at Beardstown (including a company commanded by Captain Abraham Lincoln). General Whitesides assumed command and proceeded north towards Dixon's Ferry on the Rock River. Blackhawk had gone into camp 40 miles upstream while he met with the Potawatomi and Winnebago chiefs. When it clear they had no intention of supporting the Sauk against the Americans, Blackhawk realized his predicament and decided to return immediately to Iowa.
He dispatched a message to Atkinson requesting safe passage, but the messenger had no sooner departed, than news came of the approach of a mounted regiment of scouts commanded by Major Stillman. With most of his warriors absent trying to find food, Blackhawk had only a few men available to defend the women and children. He sent a three of them forward under a white flag to negotiate with the militia commander, but Stillman refused to listen and placed them under arrest. The second delegation Blackhawk sent was fired upon, after which the troops killed the three Sauk they had captured and charged after the others only to run straight into what they thought was an ambush. Undisciplined enough to shoot helpless prisoners, the scouts broke and ran. At the Battle of Sycamore Creek (Stillman's Defeat), 250 mounted militia were routed by less than 40 Sauk.
After the battle, Blackhawk gained about 25-30 Potawatomi and Winnebago warriors and began a retreat up the Rock River towards southern Wisconsin. Slowed by their women and children, the Sauk tried to delay pursuit by launching a series of raids in the area - some intended to even old scores and the rest to keep the militia tied down protecting scattered settlements. The Potawatomi struck the settlement at Indian Creek near Ottawa, Illinois killing 15 and taking two women prisoners. The Sauk killed five men at Spafford Farm and attacked forts on the Apple River near Galena and at Kellogg Grove. One war party went to Rock Island to kill and scalp the Indian agent, Felix St. Vrain, who many of the Sauk held responsible for their troubles. Almost 200 whites were killed during these raids, and the soldiers could almost follow the Sauk north by the trail of dead bodies they were leaving in their wake. Colonel Henry Dodge's militia caught one war party on the Pecatonia River and in a fierce fight, killed 25 of them.
Crossing into Wisconsin with the army and militia close behind howling for blood, Blackhawk was still receiving assurances from Neopope and the Winnebago Prophet that the British and northern tribes would join him. By the time the Sauk reached Four Lakes (Madison, Wisconsin), it had become clear that the Winnebago not only were refusing to help, but they did not want the Sauk to come farther into their homeland. When the first soldiers began to appear, Blackhawk turned west in a desperate attempt to force his way back into Iowa. By this time, the Sauk were exhausted and starving, and the Americans caught up with them at the Wisconsin River. Blackhawk and his warriors fought a rear-guard action to allow the women and children to cross and then broke off the engagement as darkness fell. At this point, the Sauk split into two groups. The first, with many of the women, children, and old people, continued down the Wisconsin River hoping to slip across the Mississippi near Prairie du Chien. Unfortunately, they ran into soldiers waiting for them downstream and were forced to surrender. Taken as prisoners to Prairie du Chien, they were placed in a stockade at Fort Crawford.
Blackhawk and the others continued northwest into the rugged hill country of southwest Wisconsin. This slowed pursuit, but when they reached the Mississippi at the mouth of the Bad Axe River (opposite the Minnesota-Iowa border), they found their escape blocked by the gunboat "Warrior." As the Americans closed in from behind, Blackhawk on August 2nd attempted to surrender to save his people, but the Winnebago interpreter on the ship is said to have misunderstood his message. More likely, the Americans were not interested in allowing the Sauk surrender without first being severely chastised. The gunboat opened fire, and shortly afterwards, Colonel Zachary Taylor's troops attacked from the east. Trapped between, the Sauk were slaughtered. Some escaped by swimming the river under fire - the women carrying the children on their backs. Dakota warriors were waiting for them on the other side. The few prisoners captured by the Americans were taken to Prairie du Chien and placed with the Sauk captured earlier on the Wisconsin River. Many of these were massacred by Menominee warriors who slipped past American sentries to take their own revenge. Of the 2,000 Sauk who crossed the Mississippi with Blackhawk in June, fewer than 400 survived to be returned under guard to Keokuk's villages in Iowa that fall.
A marked man, Blackhawk escaped during the battle and fled north to seek sanctuary with the Ojibwe. He soon realized the hopelessness of this and went to the Winnebago village at Lacrosse where he surrendered himself to Chief Spoon Decorah (Choukeka) who was known as a friend of the Americans. The Winnebago first fed and dressed him in their finest clothes before delivering their distinguished prisoner to the Indian Agent at Prairie du Chien. Blackhawk was rushed down the river by steamboat to Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis, pausing only briefly at Rock Island so General Winfield Scott could come on board and take a look at him. His escort on this journey was a young army Lieutenant named Jefferson Davis. After spending the winter as a prisoner at Jefferson Barracks during which he was forced to wear leg irons, Blackhawk was placed under the custody the government Indian trader Colonel George Davenport and Keokuk to be brought to Washington, D.C. to meet President Andrew Jackson.
After a symbolic confinement at Fort Monroe, Virginia he was given the "grand tour" of several large eastern cities to impress him with the power of the United States and then returned to the custody of Keokuk in Iowa. Blackhawk intensely disliked Keokuk, and despite the gracious treatment he had received, this was the ultimate humiliation. He did not seem as bitter towards the Americans, and in one of his last appearances in public, he attended a 4th of July celebration in Fort Madison where in speech relayed through an interpreter, he said that he hoped the Americans would care for the lands they had taken from his people. He died near Eldon, Iowa in 1838 and was buried in the traditional Sauk manner but in the military uniform presented to him by President Jackson. But even death failed to bring him any peace. Within a few months, vandals had stolen his body, and his skeleton became a sideshow exhibit in the region until reclaimed by Iowa in 1839 and placed in a museum in Burlington (called Shokokon "flint hills" by the Sauk). The museum and its contents were destroyed by a fire in 1855.
Neither the Fox or Keokuk's Sauk had any involvement in this conflict, and it was obvious Blackhawk's people had suffered enough. However, the Americans took advantage to demand more land. In the treaty signed at Fort Armstrong in 1832, General Winfield Scott and Illinois governor John Reynolds forced the Fox and Sauk to cede all of their lands in eastern Iowa within fifty miles of the Mississippi River. The only exception being a small reservation on the Iowa River belonging to Keokuk (this was not an oversight). In exchange, the Fox and Sauk were to receive $20,000 per year for 30 years, $20,000 in trade goods and services, and the government would pay their $40,000 debt with the company owned by Colonel Davenport. This was a great deal of money for the time, and as the head chief selected by the Americans, Keokuk got to disperse this with the power to reward friends and punish enemies. Their remaining years in Iowa (1833 to 1846) were difficult for the Fox and Sauk. The Blackhawk War had cost a quarter of their population, half of their lands, and their tribal unity.
Since he was not a chief by birth, many resented Keokuk's rise to power, and the Fox and Sauk split into pro- and anti-Keokuk factions. There was also war with the Dakota after 1832 despite the efforts of soldiers from Fort Des Moines and Fort Atkinson to prevent it. In 1836 Keokuk negotiated another treaty where the Fox and Sauk sold 1,250,000 acres in central Iowa. As expected, his village on the Iowa River remained untouched. Most of the land ceded had already been occupied by white squatters, and since the army never seemed able to remove them unless they were on Keokuk's property, these lands were already lost. The Fox and Sauk were to receive an additional payment of $30,000 for ten years, $10,000 per year thereafter, and 200 horses. The steady loss of their land to whites took its toll, but the real problem for the Fox and Sauk at this time was, because of Keokuk's negotiating skill and cozy relationship with the Americans, the Fox and Sauk were relatively wealthy compared to other tribes, many of them were using their money to drink themselves to death.
At the time they signed the 1830 treaty creating the Neutral Ground, it probably did not occur to the Fox and Sauk the Americans would use this to relocate another tribe, but this is exactly what happened. If the Americans could punish the Fox and Sauk who had remained neutral in the Blackhawk War, they had no problem blaming the Winnebago who had provided guides for the Americans (often at the point of a gun) and afterwards captured Blackhawk. Six days before the Fox and Sauk signed their treaty in 1832, General Scott and Governor Reynolds had forced the Winnebago to agree to cede their lands east of the Mississippi and remove to Neutral Ground in Iowa. It took until 1837 to finalize this agreement, since the Winnebago did not relish a location between the Fox, Sauk, and Dakota and delayed leaving Wisconsin until 1840 when General Atkinson refused to pay their annuities except at the Turkey River Subagency (Decorah, Iowa).
Keokuk protested the relocation and demanded the Winnebago be sent somewhere beyond the Missouri River. Bitter memories remained of the Winnebago's failure to support the Sauk during the Blackhawk War, and with increasing white settlement in Iowa, game was becoming scarce. In 1839 the Fox and Sauk killed 40 members of a Winnebago hunting party west of Wapsipinicon River. When the Winnebago began arriving in Iowa, the threat from the Fox and Sauk was very real, and an attack on their villages near the agency during the winter of 1840-41 was only prevented by an unusually heavy snowfall that year. Afterwards, American cavalry had to be stationed at nearby Fort Atkinson to protect the Winnebago. Neopope had a special hatred for Shabbona, the Potawatomi chief at Chicago who had kept his people from joining Blackhawk in 1832 and then helped the Americans track down the Sauk. After the Potawatomi had been removed to southwest Iowa in 1836, Neopope led a group of Sauk warriors to Kansas plains the following year to attack Shabbona's hunting party. Several Potawatomi were killed, but Shabbona escaped and made his way back on foot to Council Bluffs after a harrowing four-day chase.
However, these were minor incidents compared to the fighting with the Dakota, which became brutal after 1837. In October, 1841 a hunting party of 16 Delaware and one Potawatomi, enroute to visit the Fox and Sauk, was attacked by the Dakota on the Sioux fork of Mink Creek in Iowa. Only the Potawatomi managed to escape and reach the Fox and Sauk. Over 500 warriors caught up with the Dakota and killed all of them, but the need for constant vigilance when hunting buffalo on the plains, pressure from white settlers, and growing debts with government traders convinced the Fox and Sauk it was time to leave Iowa. In 1842 Keokuk negotiated yet another treaty with the United States ceding the remaining Fox and Sauk lands in Iowa for $800,000 and the payment of $258,565.34 of accumulated debts. In turn the government was to provide a reservation in Kansas. Keokuk finally surrendered his village on the Iowa River, but the treaty stipulated that chiefs receive $500 per year as compensation for their special responsibilities.
There was serious opposition to this agreement. Keokuk and his faction of the Sauk had acquired considerable power and influence over the years relative to the Fox. This authority was increasingly abused and ultimately caused the Fox to separate themselves from the Sauk. The actual departure from Iowa did not occur until 1846. In the meantime, many of the Fox and Sauk refused to leave and went into hiding. As the time to leave approached, cavalry from Fort Des Moines ranged through the Skunk, Des Moines, Iowa, and Cedar valleys trying to collect the dissident groups, but the soldiers could not find them all. A final count by the agent before removal listed 1,300 Fox and 2,500 Sauk, but several hundred were still hiding in the woods. Those who removed were settled on a reserve south of Topeka, but internal divisions continued to plague the Fox and Sauk even after Keokuk's death in 1848 and his place was taken by his son Moses Keokuk.
After signing a treaty with the Americans at the end of the War of 1812, the Missouri Band of the Sac and Fox had taken a different route to Kansas. Over the years as Keokuk assumed ever greater control of the Fox and Sauk in Iowa, the Missouri Band grew increasingly estranged from the main body. White settlement had moved up the Missouri River more quickly than the Mississippi after 1815, and during 1824 the Sac and Fox of Missouri had signed a treaty ceding all of northern Missouri except for a small area in the northwest corner between the Little Platte and Missouri Rivers. Because of anti-slavery opposition in Congress, this area, known as the Platte Strip, was not added to the State of Missouri until the 1830s. For the northern half of Missouri, the Sac and Fox of Missouri received only $1,000 and a $500 annuity for ten years. They shared the Platte Strip with the Iowa until 1836 when they signed a treaty ceding their last piece of Missouri for $160,000 and agreed to move to a 256,000 acre reservation (to be shared with the Iowa) west of Missouri between the Kickapoo Reserve and the Grand Nemahaw River.
As it would turn out, this land would be partly in Kansas and partly in Nebraska. When Kansas and Nebraska were opened to white settlement in 1854, the Sac and Fox of Missouri ceded their half of the reservation to the United States with the exception of 32,000 acres. A treaty in 1861 reduced this even further. Pressure was applied after 1869 for the Missouri Sac and Fox to sell their remaining lands and move to Oklahoma where they were to merge with the main body of the Fox and Sauk. Chief Pashepaho resisted this, but at the cost of accepting an allotment in the 1890s which resulted in a checkerboard distribution of their tribal holdings. The Sac and Fox of Missouri were the only group of the Fox and Sauk to avoid removal from Kansas. Federally recognized, the 400-member tribe still maintains a reservation at Reserve, Kansas.
Tragedy stalked the Iowa Fox and Sauk from the moment they got to Kansas. Among the most traditional of all Native Americans, the Fox and Sauk until the 1870s consistently refused to send their children to white schools, listen to Christian missionaries, or more important because of the consequences, receive vaccinations. Shortly after their arrival, almost half died of smallpox. Because of their growing dissatisfaction with Keokuk, less than half of the Fox chose to stay on the reserve and many moved in with the Kickapoo. Their relocation to Kansas had brought the Fox and Sauk back into contact with their Osage enemies, but the Fox and Sauk were not the only immigrant tribe to have problems with the plains tribes. Wagon trains of white immigrants following the Oregon Trail during the 1840s had decimated the buffalo herd along the Platte River forcing the Pawnee and Cheyenne to hunt to the south in Kansas to survive. They did not welcome competition from the "defeated Indians" the Americans had relocated to Kansas and attacked them as intruders.
After several attacks on Delaware and Potawatomi hunters, council was held in 1848 to renew the western alliance which had fought the Americans for Ohio. Besides the Fox and Sauk, this was attended by the Delaware, Miami, Peoria, Shawnee, and Wyandot. Unfortunately, the move towards unity caused the plains tribes to unite in similar fashion. In one of epic battles of the Great Plains (largely unknown because the participants were Native Americans), a hunting party of about 100 Fox and Sauk was attacked in 1854 along the Kansas River west of Fort Riley by a combined force estimated at more than 1,000 mounted Comanche, Osage, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors. The combination of Fox and Sauk courage and modern firearms won the day, and the plains warriors withdrew after suffering heavy causalities during the three-hour battle.
That same year the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened Kansas to white settlement. Deadlocked over slavery in the new territory, Congress left this question to be decided by the people who settled there. As a result the expression "popular sovereignty" has become synonymous with organized mayhem. In the opening battles of what would become the American Civil War, thousands of heavily-armed white men rushed in to kill each other over the enslavement of black men, and Kansas became a very dangerous for red men. With their reserve some distance from Kansas-Missouri border, the Fox and Sauk at first were spared the worst effects of the influx, but by 1859 white squatters were settling on their land and they were pressured and harassed into ceding part of their reserve. In keeping with the pattern set by his father, Moses Keokuk signed at treaty in 1859 selling part of the reserve and agreeing to accept allotment. What was unforgivable about this, was he failed to consult the Fox beforehand and then kept the money from the sale for the Sauk.
Groups of Fox had been leaving Kansas and returning to Iowa since 1851, but at this point the Fox decided to break from the Sauk and end their 125 years of close association. After selling their horse herd to raise money, 300 Fox left for Iowa. Upon their return, the Fox found they were actually welcomed in Iowa. It took a special act of the Iowa legislature and permission from the federal government for them to purchase 80 acres along the Iowa River near Tama for $1,000. Lest this appear as an act of generosity by Iowa's white citizens, the Fox paid $12.50 an acre for this land - ten times what they had received for their lands a decade earlier and twice the going price for farm land in Iowa at the time. It would be easy to conclude that some of this profit found its way into the pockets of state and federal officials. Over the years, the Fox (they prefer to be called Mesquakie), have enlarged their holdings to over 3,000 acres. Still very traditional, they have their own schools, and all lands are tribally owned. For some strange reason, growing corn in Iowa came naturally to the Fox. With good land and left to make their own decisions, they are among the most prosperous group of Native Americans in the United States. There seems to be a lesson in this.
About 100 Fox remained in Kansas with the Sauk. There was relatively little participation by either tribe in the Civil War. Kansas was admitted as a state in 1861, and by 1863 its legislature was calling for the removal of all Indians. In 1867 the Fox and Sauk in Kansas signed their last treaty with the United States ceding their lands in Kansas in exchange for a 750,000 acre reservation created for them in central Oklahoma from lands the government had taken from the Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole for siding with the Confederacy. The treaty permitted the Sac and Fox of Missouri to join them if they wished. There were only 700 left when they left Kansas in 1869. Twenty years later in 1889, they accepted allotment. The excess lands from their reservation were be sold to the government and opened to settlement in 1891 resulting in a land rush by whites. Corruption and fraud cost them most of the lands they were allowed to keep. All that remains today is 1000 acres of tribal lands near Stroud, Oklahoma. Descendents of the bands of Blackhawk and Keokuk, the 2,200 members of the Sac and Fox Tribe of Indians were reorganized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act in 1936.
First Nations referred to in this Sauk and Fox History: