The Fox Wars were two 18th-century wars between the Fox Indians and the French (mainly through their Indian allies), which occurred in territories that are now the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, U.S.A.. The First Fox War (1712–1716) broke out with the French when the Fox numbered some 3,500. After the Second Fox War (1728–1733), the remaining 1,500 Fox were reduced to 500. They found shelter with the Sauk (Sac) and retained their enmity toward the French.
The Fox controlled the Fox River system. This river was vital for the fur trade between French Canada and the interior of North America, because it allowed travel from Green Bay in Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The French wanted rights to use the river system to gain access to both the Mississippi and trade contacts with tribes to the west.
First Fox War
After the 1701 founding of Detroit as a trading post at the strategic location between the Upper and Lower Great Lakes, Governor Cadillac invited numerous tribes to settle in the area. Ottawa and Huron peoples established villages in the area, soon joined by Potawatomi, Miami, and Ojibwa. The population may have reached 6,000 at times. Conflicts between the Ottawas and the Miamis led to the Miamis' moving to the Ohio area after 1708.
The Wisconsin tribes (Fox, Sauk, Mascouten, Kickapoo and Winnebago) prevented the French from having direct trade access to the Sioux. The French invited the tribes to start settlements at Detroit. In the spring of 1712, a large group of Fox under Lamyma, a peace chief, and Pemaussa, a war chief, established villages in the area, including one only 50 feet (15 m) from the walls of Fort Pontchartrain. The Mascouten, under Kisis and Ouabimanitou, also established a village nearby. Most of the Huron and Ottawa were still out in winter hunting camps and the new French commander, Charles Regnault, Sieur Dubuisson, had perhaps as few as 30 fighting men in his garrison at the fort.
Dubuisson may have requested that the Fox remove their village and also sent messages to hurry the return of the more friendly Huron and Ottawa. At some point, the Fox and Mascouten learned of the winter raid by Saguina and his Ottawa upon a village on the St. Joseph River that had killed over 150 Mascouten. The Fox and Mascouten began threatening the Ottawa and French and took some Ottawa hostage. The hunters soon returned, with Makisabe and Saguina arriving with hundreds of men. The Illiniwek chief Makovaandely arrived, along with Illiniwek, Missouri and Osage warriors.
The Fox and Mascouten used fire arrows to damage the buildings of Fort Ponchartrain, but they were driven inside their palisaded village north of the fort. They fought from trenches to avoid the musket and mortar fire from their French-supplied opponents. After several days, the Fox asked for a ceasefire and returned some hostages; however, no ceasefire was granted. Several days later, another parley occurred, as the Fox tried to seek protection of the women and children. Dubuisson chose to let his allies decide their course; they chose to grant no mercy. After nineteen days, during a nighttime thunderstorm, the Fox escaped their village and fled north. The French-allied Indians caught them near the head of the Detroit River and inflicted four more days of fighting. They nearly overwhelmed the Fox and Mascouten, who lost 150 captives. By the end of the siege and pursuit, around 1,000 Fox and Mascouten men, women and children had been killed (including many of the captives). The French had 30 men killed, and their allies had 60 fatalities.
The French sent joint expeditions out against the Fox. In 1716, an expedition of 200 French with 600 Indian allies captured Fox warchief Pemaussa. His capture ended the war.
Second Fox War
The Fox continued to harass French settlements along the Mississippi River. They also raided the Illiniwek and attacked French trade on Lake Michigan. By 1720, Kiala led the anti-French faction of the Fox but faced raids by French-supported tribes: Potawatomi, Ojibwa, Huron and Ottawa. In 1733, Kiala was captured. The French sold him into slavery in the West Indies. The French gave other captured Fox as slaves to allied tribes.
The remnants of the tribe, numbering around 500, took refuge among the Sauk. The French pursued destruction of the Fox to such an extent as to damage their relations with other tribes.
The Sauk clans that granted membership to the survivors of the Fox are sometimes called the Sauk and Fox or, today, the Sac and Fox. Their hereditary feud with New France encouraged many Sauk and Fox warriors to develop kinship ties with France's rivals, the British. These ties continued to be significant as late as the War of 1812, when many Sauk and Fox fought on the side of British North America.
- Rites of Conquest: The History and Culture of Michigan's Native Americans, Charles E. Cleland, University of Michigan Press, 1992.
- All Our Yesterdays: A Brief History of Detroit, Frank B. Woodford and Arthur M. Woodford, Wayne State University Press, 1969.
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