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Menominee and Winnebago Locations
Along with the Winnebago and Ojibwe (Chippewa), the Menominee were one of the original tribes of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Their residence in this area extends back beyond human memory and may have been for at least 5,000 years. Their earliest known location was on the Menominee River which forms the current border between northeast Wisconsin and Upper Michigan with their original territory extending north to Escanaba, Michigan and south to Oconto, Wisconsin. Other tribes occupying Wisconsin before 1600 were the Dakota (Sioux) in the northwest, the Illinois in the south, and, in what may be a surprise for some, the Cheyenne in the west-central area of the state.
The Winnebago do not remember a time when they did not live at Red Banks on the south shore of Green Bay. Their occupation of Wisconsin is very ancient, perhaps thousands of years. Although they have no memories of mound-building, they may well be descendents of the earlier Mississippian, Hopewell, and Adena cultures. Their homeland lay between Green Bay and Lake Winnebago in northeast Wisconsin but they dominated the area from Upper Michigan south to present-day Milwaukee extending west to the Mississippi. Beginning in the 1640s, thousands of Algonquin refugees from the Beaver Wars (1630-1701) invaded Wisconsin from the east, and the resulting wars and epidemics brought the resident tribes, Winnebago andMenominee, to the point of near extinction. The Winnebago who survived remained near Green Bay but were forced to share their homeland with other tribes.
Contact with French fur traders after 1667 caused the Menominee to extend their range west while hunting for fur. Further expansion occurred after the French and Great Lakes Algonquin victory over theIroquois in 1701. The refugee tribes afterwards began to leave Wisconsin and return east. The once-numerous Winnebago had almost been destroyed by war and epidemic during the preceding 60 years, and the Menominee spread south and west filling the empty space. At their greatest extent, the Menominee controlled most of central Wisconsin as far south as Milwaukee – almost 10 million acres. White settlement and commercial logging rapidly reduced their land base after 1832. Following several treaties and land cessions, the Menominee after 1856 were confined to a 235,000 acre reservation in northeast Wisconsin. Despite attempts to remove them to Minnesota, they have remained on this reservation to the present-day.
After the French and Great Lakes Algonquin victory over the Iroquois in 1701, many of the refugee tribes left Wisconsin allowing the Winnebago to reclaim some of their homeland – especially after the near-annihilation of the Fox during the Fox Wars (1712-16 and 1728-37). The Winnebago spread south afterwards along the Wisconsin and Rock Rivers into southern Wisconsin eventually claiming a portion of northwestern Illinois. American settlement of Wisconsin began after 1825, and the Winnebago rapidly lost territory. By 1840 the Winnebago had ceded their Wisconsin land and agreed to move to northeast Iowa. Despite this many Winnebago remained in Wisconsin defying efforts to remove them. During the next 50 years, the the Winnebago were shifted around like a piece of unwanted baggage. In 1848 the Winnebago were sent north to the Crow Wing River in Minnesota. Eight years later, they were moved south to Blue Earth county, Minnesota where they remained until after the Sioux uprising in 1862. Although the Winnebago had no part in this, the government deported them to South Dakota and placed with the Nakota (Yankton Sioux).
At this point, the Winnebago began to rebel. Many left the reservation and returned to Iowa, Minnesota or Wisconsin. The others fled down the Missouri to the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. In 1865 the government accepted this and created a separate Winnebago Reservation (40,000 acres) in northeast Nebraska. During their many moves, many Winnebago never left Wisconsin. In addition, some had managed to stay in northeast Iowa and southern Minnesota when the main group was moved. Raided by the Lakota and pressured to allot their reservation, many Winnebago left Nebraska during the 1870s and 80s and went home to Wisconsin. The government would send them back, but the Winnebago just kept going, and the government finally gave up and purchased land in Wisconsin for the Winnebago. As a result, there are two separate Winnebago tribes today: the Wisconsin Winnebago with 4,400 acres (333 acres tribally owned) scattered in small holdings across ten counties; and the Nebraska Winnebago who still have 27,500 acres from their 1865 reservation, 3,100 belongs to the tribe.
Before European contact, the Menominee were a relatively small tribe on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Conservative estimates of their original population are less than 2,000, while the most optimistic do not exceed 4,000. In size, they resembled other Algonquin tribes in the area: Noquet, Kitchigami, Assegun (Bone), and Mundua. The difference being that the Menominee survived while the others disappeared or were absorbed by the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and the Menominee themselves. The Menominee, however, came very close to sharing this fate. When the French reached Green Bay in 1667, wars and epidemics which had swept Wisconsin after refugee tribes arrived in the 1650s had reduced the Menominee to about 400.
From the point of near-extinction, the Menominee population slowly recovered reaching 850 in 1736, 1,100 in 1764, and 1,350 by 1806. The American Indian agent in 1829 got a little enthusiastic and estimated there were 4,200 Menominee. This was either outright fraud or included neighboring tribes. A more accurate census during 1854 gave 1,930 in seven villages. Numbers continued to decline, and despite adding a group of landless Potawatomi and French mixed-bloods during the 1870s, the Menominee had dropped to 1,422 by 1910 – the low point. The United States Indian Office in 1937 gave 2,221 which increased to 3,720 by 1957. Current enrollment of the federally recognized Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is close to 7,200 – 3,400 of whom live on their reservation just west of Green Bay.
Estimates of the Winnebago’s pre-contact population are usually about 8,000, but it probably was much higher. On Nicollet’s second visit to the Winnebago in 1639, he estimated they had 5,000 warriors suggesting a population of 20,000. This higher figure would explain the pre-contact dominance of the region by the Winnebago. It is also more in line with Winnebago’s own tradition which says that, due to over-population, several large groups of their people (Otoe, Missouri, and Iowa) left shortly before Nicollet’s visit. Whatever their original number, the sudden drop in their population during the next 30 years was one of the most worst experienced by any tribe. When the French returned to Wisconsin in 1665, wars and epidemic had reduced the Winnebago to fewer than 500.
From the point of near-extinction, the Winnebago began a slow recovery. In 1736 the French said there were about 700, but afterwards they grew rapidly through intermarriage with neighboring Algonquin. While other native populations declined, the Winnebago actually increased. Zebulon Pike made the first American estimate in 1806 – about 2,000, but he probably was too low. In 1825 American Indian agents in Wisconsin gave 5,800, and even after a smallpox epidemic in 1835 killed 25%, this only dropped to 4,500. The first accurate count in 1842 was 2,200 Winnebago living in Iowa near Fort Atkinson. The trouble was no one knew how many Winnebago were still in Wisconsin. Four years later, the government said there were 22 Winnebago bands totaling 4,400 people. By 1848 the figure was back to 2,500. There were 1,756 “official” Winnebago in Minnesota in 1856 – 1,200 of whom were finally settled in Nebraska in 1865.
The Wisconsin Winnebago (Ho-Chunk Nation) at first actually avoided seeking federal recognition and delayed this until 1963. Tribal headquarters are at Black River Falls with an enrollment close to 5,000. Taken together, there are currently more than 12,000 Winnebago which makes them one of the larger tribes in the United States.
Also spelled Menomini, Menominee is from their own language meaning “good seed” or “wild-rice people.” Other names were: Addle-Heads, Folles Avoines (French), Folsavoins (French), Kagi (Winnebago), Malhomini, Malouminek, Mendmene, Mineamie, Nation de la Folle Avoine (French), Nepaming, Omanomini (Ojibwe), Wild Oat People, and Wild Rice People (or Men). Because of their relatively light complexions, the Menominee have also been called the “White Indians.”
Like many other tribes, the Winnebago’s name is not what they called themselves. It comes from a Fox word “Ouinipegouek” meaning “people of the stinking water.” No insult was intended. Instead, the name referred to algae-rich waters of the Fox River and Lake Winnebago where the Winnebago originally lived. The French translated this as “stinking people” and shortened it to Puan. In its English form, it became Stinkard. For obvious reasons, the Winnebago have never been overly fond of this name. They call themselves Hochungra (Hochungara, Hotcangara, Ochangra) “people of the big speech” – perhaps better rendered as “people of the parent speech” referring to their role as “grandfathers,” the original people from which other Siouan-speaking tribes sprang. Dissatisfied with their Algonquin name, the Wisconsin Winnebago recently changed their official name to Hocak Nation (pronounced Hochunk). Other names include: Aweatsiwaenhronon (Huron), Banabeouik, Bay Indians, Hatihshirunu (Huron), Hotanka (Dakota), Mipegoe, Nipegon, Ochungaraw (Otoe, Iowa, Omaha, and Missouri), and Otonkah (Dakota).
Algonquin, but a distinct dialect, more closely related to Cree and Fox than the neighboring Ojibwe and Potawatomi.
Pre-contact Band Names
Kakanikone Tusininiwug, Kakapakato Wininiwuk, Kipisakia Winiwiwdk, Manitowuk Tusininiwug, Mato Suamako Tusininiu, Minikani Wininiwuk, Misinimak Kimiko Wininiwuk, Muhwao Sepeo Wininiwuk, Namao Wikito Tusiniu, Nomakokon Sepeo Tusininiwug, Okato Wininiwuk, Pasatiko Wininiwuk, Powahekune Tusininiwug, Suamakosa Tusininiu, and Wiskos Sepeo Wininiwuk.
Aiamiqta, Aqkamot, Keshok (Keso), Le Motte, Manabusho, Ohopesha, Oshkosh, Peshtiko, Piwaqtinet, Shakitok, and Shununiu (Shunien).
Siouan – Chiwere. Besides the Dakota (Sioux) at the west end of Lake Superior, the Winnebago were the only Siouan-speaking people of the Great Lakes. Their language is identical to that of the Iowa, Otoe, and Missouri who acknowledge that they separated from the Winnebago shortly before contact. Although the Sioux (Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota) have provided the name for the Siouan language group, it appears likely that Winnebago may have been the more important branch. It is closer to the Dhegiha dialect of the Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, Kansa, and Ponca (who call the Winnebago grandfathers or elder brothers). There also appears to be a closer relationship of Winnebago to the Mandan from North Dakota and the Siouan speaking tribes in the southeast United States. Siouan-speakers in North America originally were located along a diagonal line extending roughly from North Dakota to South Carolina. The Winnebago position in Wisconsin was near the midpoint which lends weight to their claim as the “grandfather tribe.”
Fort Howard (Green Bay), Keshena, Menominee, Milwaukee, Neopit, and Tokaunee
Only a few Winnebago names have survived, all of which were in Wisconsin except as noted: Butte des Mortes, Prairie la Crose, Red Banks, Sarrochau, Spotted Arm’s Village, Tokaunee, Village du Puant (IN), Wuckan, and Yellow Thunder.
The Menominee traditionally had what has classified as an Eastern Woodland Culture which in manner and dress resembled the neighboring Ojibwe long buckskin pants, breechcloth, and long hair usually adorned with fur roach and feathers. The most noticeable difference would have been a distinct Algonquin dialect related to that spoken by the Cree or Fox. They were too far north for reliable corn cultivation – a fact of life the refugee tribes quickly discovered after they had relocated to the area during the 1650s. Instead, the Menominee provided for themselves through a combination of hunting, fishing, and gathering (particularly wild rice which was a staple of their diet). In fact, they relied so heavily on wild rice they referred to themselves as Wild Rice People which in its French form became Folles Avoines. Like most Native Americans, the Menominee adapted to their circumstances, and after they had spread south into areas with better soil and longer growing seasons, they practiced a limited amount of agriculture.
Large villages of rectangular longhouses in fixed locations were favored in the summer, but like other Algonquin, the Menominee separated into hunting groups of extended families and small domed-wigwams during winter. Villages usually were not fortified until after warfare became common in northern Wisconsin during the 1650s. Their kinship was patrilineal with totemic clans grouped in two divisions for ceremonial and social purposes. As indicated by the number of older bands listed above, Menominee tribal organization before contact was loosely organized without central authority. This changed with the arrival of the refugees and the resultant warfare. At later dates a tribal council decided civil matters with a war chief taking command only during war. The fur trade also changed the Menominee economy with emphasis shifting from the gathering of wild rice to hunting for profit. Like other tribes in the region, the Menominee referred to Americans as “Long Knives.”
A most noteworthy characteristic of the Menominee was their amazing ability to survive as an independent tribe in the midst of large and powerful neighbors: Dakota, Ojibwe, and Winnebago. Their initial resistance to encroachment almost resulted in their destruction, but the Menominee adapted to the changed situation and maintained good relations with these tribes. The French Jesuits who visited them during the 1660s only stayed until 1680. As a result, the Menominee remained traditional in religion until Franciscan missionaries arrived in 1831. By 1855 more than half of the Menominee were Roman Catholic. This religious affiliation has remained, although many Menominee today prefer either the Presbyterian or Assembly of God churches. The traditional Big Drum religion also has a sizeable following. Historically important Menominee chiefs include Tomah, Oshkosh, and Grizzly Bear.
Mention Sioux, and visions of war bonnets, horses, buffalo, and tepees flood the mind. However, this would be a poor description of the Winnebago. Although the Winnebago spoke a Siouan language, they were very much a woodland tribe whose lifestyle and dress closely resembled their Algonquin neighbors in the upper Great Lakes. Like other Siouan-speaking peoples, the Winnebago were taller than other natives (for that matter, taller than most Europeans). Nicollet in 1634 described them as brave but lacking in humility …almost to the point of arrogance. Their clothing was fringed buckskin, which the Winnebago frequently decorated with beautiful designs created from porcupine quills, feathers and beads – a skill for which they are still renown. Men originally wore their hair in two long braids, but in time this changed to the scalplock and roach headdress favored by the Algonquin. Body tattooing was common to both sexes.
In the process of rebuilding their population after 1670, the Winnebago frequently intermarried with Algonquin. So much so, it has been suggested they lost their original traditions and replaced them with Algonquin. Intermarriage certainly happened, and as a result, the purest Winnebago bloodline may actually be the Iowa and Otoe-Missouri. However, prior to contact the Winnebago resembled the Algonquin in so many ways, there was not that much to change. The Winnebago were one of the northernmost agricultural tribes. In spite of a limited growing season, the Winnebago successfully grew three types of corn together with beans, squash, and tobacco. They supplemented this with fishing and hunting, including buffalo from the prairies of southern Wisconsin. Using dugout canoes (rather than the lighter birchbark variety used by the Ojibwe and Ottawa), they also gathered wild rice from the nearby lakes during the fall. The Winnebago used pottery for cooking and food storage, and copper implements were fairly common since it was easily available from the south shore of Lake Superior.
The Winnebago also resembled the Algonquin in that they were patrilineal with descent and clan membership determined by the father. Winnebago clans served both ceremonial and social functions, but in distinctive Siouan characteristic, were grouped into two major divisions, or moieties: an Upper (Sky) with four clans; and a Lower (Earth) having eight. Of these, the Thunderbird and Bear clans were the most important with the hereditary head chief of the Winnebago almost always chosen from the Thunderbird clan. Clan membership was more important among the Winnebago than band affiliation, and a Winnebago chief governed with the help of a council composed of the principal members of each clan. Despite intermarriage with Algonquin, it would appear the Winnebago made few changes to their traditional social or political structures.
Of course, they never surrendered their distinctive Siouan language, but it was not uncommon for a Winnebago to speak several languages besides his own (Algonquin, French, and English). Originally a farming people, the Winnebago lived in large semi-permanent villages. Unlike the Algonquin, they followed the Siouan pattern and did not usually separate to small, scattered hunting camps during winter – a possible link to the earlier Mississippian Culture. The Algonquin influence, however, revealed itself in the eight types of lodge (round or oval) the Winnebago are known to have used during the historic period. This included the tepee for temporary shelter on buffalo hunts. Burials varied according to clan with the dead either buried or placed on a platform. Some things, however, never changed. They were always allies of the Menominee, but throughout their long history, the Winnebago remained enemies of the Illinois.
Menominee tradition indicates their original homeland was farther north near Sault Ste. Marie and Michilimackinac. At some period before European contact (probably around 1400), they were forced southwest to the Menominee River by arrival of the Ojibwe and Potawatomi from the east. The first Frenchman to meet with the Menominee was Jean Nicollet while he was enroute in 1634 to the Winnebago villages to the south at Green Bay. Returning to the area in 1639, Nicollet noted that the Menominee were subject to the Winnebago at La Baye (Green Bay). During the next 30 years, the relatively stable conditions in northern Wisconsin were altered by outside forces. Driven from their homelands in the eastern Great Lakes by the Iroquois as part of the Beaver Wars (1630-1700), thousands of refugees (Huron,Tionontati, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Mascouten, Fox, Sauk, andKickapoo) fled west and relocated to northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan. Similar pressures also forced the Ojibwe (Chippewa) to expand their territory south and west from Sault Ste. Marie.
The invasion overwhelmed and almost destroyed the resident Winnebago and Menominee and provoked warfare in the west with the Dakota. By the 1660s, the competition for the available resources had turned Wisconsin into a land of war, epidemic, and starvation. For the Menominee, this meant the “Sturgeon War” with the Ojibwe which occurred sometime around 1658. The origins of this conflict lay with the Menominee creation of a series of weirs on the Menominee River to catch the sturgeon which entered the river from Lake Michigan to spawn. Unfortunately, these weirs meant that none of sturgeon could make their way upstream to the Ojibwe villages which also depended on them for food. After their warnings to remove the weirs were ignored, the Ojibwe attacked and destroyed a Menominee village. Too few to retaliate by themselves, the Menominee called upon the Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, and Noquet living near Green Bay and spread the conflict well-beyond its original participants. Meanwhile, Iroquois war parties had followed the refugees west to Wisconsin and were attacking just about everybody.
The horrid conditions in Wisconsin during the 1650s began with a series of events which occurred a thousand miles to the east. French trade and weapons had allowed the Algonkin andMontagnais to drive the Iroquois from the St. Lawrence Valley in 1610. The Iroquois, however, soon were trading with the Dutch along the Hudson River. After defeating theMahican in 1628, the Iroquois dominated trade with the Dutch and were ready to reclaim territory along the St. Lawrence they had been forced to surrender in 1610. By 1645 the Iroquois had brought the French fur trade to a standstill by seizing control of the lower Ottawa Valley and blocking access to the western Great Lakes. With fewer than 400 Frenchmen in North America at this time, the French had to make peace with the Iroquois, and this forced them to remain neutral while the Iroquois destroyed the Huron in 1649. Within the next three years, the other French allies had suffered a similar fate.
In the years which followed, the French protected their fragile truce with the Iroquois by halting all of their travel to the west. At the same time, they encouraged what remained of their former allies and trading partners to bring furs to Montreal. Only the Ottawa, Huron, and Ojibwe dared to attempt this by forming large canoe fleets to force their way past Iroquois war parties on the Ottawa River. The Iroquois responded by attacking the refugee villages in Wisconsin. Peace ended between the French and Iroquois in 1658, but by then, things had changed. Officially encouraged immigration had swelled the French population in Canada allowing them to better resist Iroquois attacks. In 1664 a regiment of French soldiers arrived in Quebec and began a series of attacks on villages in the Iroquois homeland. About the same time, the French resumed travel to the western Great Lakes.
In 1665 fur trader Nicolas Perrot, Jesuit Claude-Jean Allouez, and four other Frenchmen accompanied a large Huron and Ottawa trading party on its return journey. After fighting their way past the Iroquois in the Ottawa Valley, they finally reached Green Bay just at the approach of winter. This was first visit of the French to the area since Nicolet, and there had been drastic change. The original Wisconsin tribes (Menominee and Winnebago) had almost been exterminated. Allouez reported there were less than 400 Menominee (10% of their original number), and the once numerous and dominant Winnebago had been reduced to a remnant by epidemic and war. Chaos reigned, but the French could do little until a peace was concluded with the Iroquois in 1667. Stung by French attacks on their homeland and needing to deal with their eastern enemies, the Iroquois extended the peace to include the tribes of the western Great Lakes.
The peace lasted thirteen years allowing the French, not only to resume their fur trade, but to bring some stability to the region. Perrot established a trading post at La Baye (Green Bay) in 1667, and French missionaries followed two years later. Although the Jesuits visited the Menominee, most of their efforts were concentrated on the Huron and Ottawa (with whom there had been earlier converts), and for the most part, the Menominee kept their traditional religion for the time being. Trade was a different matter, and the Menominee underwent a fundamental economic change and became hunters for profit. Competition for hunting territory might have added to an already tense situation, but the French used their influence to end much of the warfare since it interfered with the fur trade. As an experience trader, Nicolas Perrot understood native peoples fairly well and began to mediate the intertribal disputes near Green Bay. This role benefited all parties and grew as French trade expanded in the area.
Eventually, it evolved into the formal relationship of Onontio, the French governor of Canada, and his “Indian children.” Combined with the trade goods on which the tribes became dependent, it became the basis of the military alliance between the French and the Great Lakes Algonquin. Although the French fur trade was at the root of all their troubles, it also saved the Menominee and Winnebago from extinction by restricting warfare and mediating the disputes. For the most part, French mediation ended bad feelings between the Menominee and Ojibwe, but serious problems remained. Perrot was able to reconcile a Fox-Ojibwe war, and Daniel Dulhut arranged a peace between the Ojibwe and Dakota, but there was friction in the region caused by crowding which the French could never resolve completely. They never achieved a satisfactory relationship with the Fox, and the smoldering hostility between the Ojibwe and Dakota periodically erupted into wars for hunting territory along the southern shore of Lake Superior.
Even the French got pulled into this struggle, and Menominee and Ojibwe warriors of chief Achiganaga, angry by French trade with the Dakota, murdered two French traders near Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula in 1682. In retaliation, Daniel Dulhut seized Achiganaga and several Ojibwe and Menominee and was prepared to execute them, but the realities of intertribal politics, made this ill-advised. Rather than offend the powerful Ojibwe, Dulhut released Achiganaga and the Ojibwe who were the main culprits and executed a Menominee. This pragmatic but arbitrary form of justice no doubt angered the Menominee, but they were too few to matter. Meanwhile, the peace in the western Great Lakes had come to a violent end in 1680 with an Iroquois attack against the Illinois. However, some unity had evolved during the period of peace which had prevailed since 1667 which meant that the Iroquois could no longer work their will in the west without serious opposition.
The Iroquois failure in 1684 to take Fort St. Louis on the upper Illinois River is generally regarded as the turning point in the Beaver Wars. Afterwards, the French began to organize and arm the Algonquin. Taking the offensive in 1687, the alliance had the Iroquois on the defensive by 1690 and falling back towards New York. The war finally concluded with a peace treaty signed in 1701 which left the French and their allies in control of the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, the timing of this victory coincided with a glut of beaver fur on the European market. The resulting price drop and Jesuit protests about the corruption which the fur trade was creating among Native Americans contributed to the decision of the French crown to suspend the fur trade in the western Great Lakes. The post at La Baye closed in 1696 taking the Menominee temporarily out of the fur trade.
Although defeated militarily, the Iroquois were quick to take advantage of the opportunity to weaken the French by offering their native allies access to the British traders at Albany. As a rule, British trade goods were of higher quality and lower price. The offer proved irresistible, and the French alliance soon was falling apart. In desperation the French in Canada managed to get Paris to permit the establishment of a new post at Detroit to trade with the Great Lakes tribes. Built during 1701, virtually every tribe in the Great Lakes moved to the vicinity of Fort Pontchartrain. The Menominee and Winnebago were the exception, and remained in Wisconsin. Perhaps still angry by Dulhut’s executions in 1683, but more likely because of their small population, the Menominee had played no part in the French and Algonquin victory over the Iroquois in 1701. Too far west for Iroquois offers of British trade goods, they had no intention of leaving their homeland to settle near Detroit.
However, the victory of the French-Algonquin alliance over the Iroquois and the new post at Detroit provided immediate benefits for the Menominee, because the refugee tribes began to leave northern Wisconsin. Slowly the Menominee population began to recover, relations with the Dakota and Ojibwe remained friendly, and they could once again hunt, fish, and gather wild rice with a certain amount of peace and security. In truth, the Menominee must have viewed the French departure from Green Bay with relief, but the respite was only temporary. By 1712 the tensions created by too many tribes crowding into a small area had resulted in a Fox, Mascouten, and Kickapoo attack on Fort Pontchartrain. Other French allies rushed in to save the French. A great slaughter followed, and the Fox and their allies were forced back to Wisconsin from where they continued attacks on the French and their allies.
The Fox Wars (1712-16 and 1728-1737) were civil wars between members of the Great Lakes alliance, and as such, they must have been a source of great satisfaction to the Iroquois and British. The Menominee remained neutral during the First Fox War. The fighting ended in 1716, but the Fox continued to antagonize the French with their constant wars against the Illinois and Osage. As the Fox gathered other native allies to fight these enemies, the French began to suspect a plot forming against themselves and decided to destroy the Fox. They first took the precaution of using diplomacy to isolate the Fox from potential allies. After convincing the Winnebago and Dakota to switch sides, the French attacked the Fox in 1728. This time, the Menominee were involved. They refused Fox overtures of alliance and warned they intended to join the French in the event of war.
This promise was kept. 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. Meanwhile, the French under Joseph Marin had reoccupied their old fort at La Baye to prosecute the war against the Fox. Concerned about possible retaliation by the Fox, the Winnebago moved closer to the French at Green Bay and built a fortified village on an island in the Fox River. The Fox soon found them but the fortification was too strong for direct attack, so they laid siege. Trying to appease the Fox, the Winnebago seized two Menominee who had married into their tribe and killed them. The headless bodies were thrown out of the fort with the explanation that the Winnebago had killed then since they had attacked the Fox hunting party. The Fox were not satisfied, and the siege continued. At Green Bay, Marin heard of the battle and set off for the Winnebago fort with a relief party of five French and 34 Menominee warriors.
After they arrived, the Menominee learned the fate of their tribesmen, and only Marin’s threat to never sell them guns or ammunition kept the Menominee from taking revenge. The Fox finally abandoned the siege. Otherwise, it was probably best for the Menominee that they restrained themselves. Marin was still commandant at Green Bay in 1753 when one of his last official acts was to arrange a peace between Dakota and Menominee. The Second Fox War turned even uglier after this when the French decided on genocide. In 1730 most of the Fox decided to flee east to the Iroquois, but the French and their allies caught them in northern Illinois. In the ensuing battle, the Fox were almost annihilated – the few survivors finding refuge with the Sauk near Green Bay. Still not satisfied, the French in 1734 sent an expedition (of which Menominee warriors were a major part) to the Sauk village to demand they surrender the Fox. The Sauk refused, and in the battle which followed, Villiers, the French commander, was killed.
The French retreated to regroup, and the Sauk and Fox took this opportunity to abandon their village and flee west. They crossed the Mississippi and settled in Iowa, but the following year, Menominee warriors accompanied another French expedition to destroy the Fox and Sauk in this new refuge. This also failed. The French remained determined, but their allies meanwhile were becoming alarmed at the idea of genocide. At a conference 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 the same request on behalf of the Sauk. Beset by new wars against the Dakota in the west and the Chickasaw in the south, the French reluctantly agreed to a peace with the Fox and Sauk. It was a reversal of the usual roles – French allies mediating an intertribal dispute between the French and Fox. Despite their efforts to stop the French from completely destroying them, the Fox and Sauk never forgave the Menominee for their participation in the Second Fox War, and a lasting hostility had been created.
However, the Menominee were at peace with almost every other tribe in the region. After the Fox Wars, the Menominee played a more important role in the French alliance. One reason was that their numbers had slowly increased while the population of other tribes in the region had fallen. A relatively larger tribe in comparison to their neighbors, the Menominee expanded southwest into the territory in central Wisconsin recently vacated by the Fox and Sauk. Although locked in bitter war with each other during the next hundred years, neither the neighboring Ojibwe and Dakota cared to oppose this. The Menominee maintained a friendship with both tribes, and Menominee hunters could hunt freely in territory where Dakota and Ojibwe warriors would kill each other when they met. Only the Fox and Sauk remained a threat.
With the outbreak of the King George’s War (1744-48) between Britain and France, Menominee warriors joined Winnebago, Saulteur and Mississauga Ojibwe, Illinois, Potawatomi, and Wyandot to go east to protect Quebec from a British invasion. Other than this, there was little fighting in the Great Lakes during this conflict, and the Menominee contribution to the French war effort was minimal. The British blockade of Canada cut the supply of French trade goods, and without these, France had difficulty controlling its allies and preventing intertribal warfare. The Menominee joined the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, andMascouten against the Peoria in 1746. During the same year, the Menominee also allied with the Winnebago in a separate war west of the Mississippi against the Missouri. The pattern of limited participation by the Menominee was repeated in the last major conflict between Britain and France for control of North America – the French and Indian war (1755-63).
Menominee warriors fought at Fort Duquesne, Fort Oswego, Fort William Henry, and in the defense of Quebec. The price for their participation was to eliminate most of the Menominee population gains after 1667. Warriors from the Great Lakes contracted smallpox in 1757 during the siege of Fort William Henry in New York and brought it back their villages that winter. The resulting epidemic left the Menominee with only 800 people. The combination of epidemic and few trade goods strained the Menominee loyalty to the French. As the war turned against them, the French in frustration grew arrogant and abusive. The result during the winter of 1759 was a Menominee uprising at Green Bay which killed 22 French soldiers. The Menominee soon regretted their actions and seven of the participants were sent to Montreal for punishment. Three Menominee were executed or publicly whipped (the records are unclear). The other four were pardoned and sent to war. As such, they defended Quebec until its capture in September, 1759.
France was finished in North America afterwards, although Montreal did not surrender until the following year. British soldiers occupied Green Bay in 1761, and Fort La Baye became Fort Edward Augustus which forced the Menominee to come to terms with their former enemies. The breakdown of French authority at the time had the Menominee, Potawatomi, and Winnebago on the verge of war with the Ojibwe at Michilimackinac, and the British easily slipped into the old French role of mediator and provider of trade goods. The matter continued to simmer until finally resolved in 1778, but in preventing the outbreak of serious warfare, the British immediately won the trust and loyalty of the Menominee. So much so that the Menominee were one of the few tribes which refused to join Pontiac’s uprising in 1763, and at the onset of the rebellion, they immediately sent wampum belts to British proclaiming their loyalty. The Menominee also helped the Ottawa ransom British prisoners captured by the Ojibwe at Fort Michilimackinac. They remained loyal British allies during the next fifty years, fighting both the Spanish and Americans during the Revolutionary War (1775-83) and the War of 1812 (1812-14).
Very few Menominee fought the Americans in the Ohio Valley during the Revolutionary War. In an effort to organize the Great Lakes tribes against the Americans, the British in 1778 finally resolved the lingering dispute between the Menominee and Michilimackinac Ojibwe. This permitted the Menominee (also Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, Dakota, and Winnebago) to join the unsuccessful British attempt in 1780 to capture St. Louis from the Spanish (Spain had joined the war against Britain) and retake Illinois from the Americans. Despite this participation, the British agent at Detroit, Simon De Peyster, was never able to induce the Menominee to join the western alliance formed to keep the Americans out of Ohio. Apparently, there were some Menominee warriors at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, but they seem to have participated out of a sense of adventure. Afterwards Britain signed the Jay treaty abandoning its forts on American territory which it had continued to occupy since the end of the Revolution.
Although the British accepted the Mississippi as the western boundary of the United States the upper course of this river lay in uncharted territory. For this reason, the British did not abandon northern Wisconsin and the upper Great Lakes. American soldiers occupied Michilimackinac, but their activities were confined to the immediate vicinity of the fort, and it was the British and Canadians who dominated the trade and tribes (including the Menominee) of the region until the 1830s. Intertribal warfare during the 1770s and 80s was hindering the fur trade, and at the behest of the Northwest Company of Montreal, John Dease, representing Sir John Johnson, the British Indian commissioner of Canada, held a meeting with the tribes of the region at Michilimackinac in October, 1786. The British were generous with their presents to achieve a truce. The resulting treaty produced 20 years of peace with one exception: the two main combatants, Dakota and Ojibwe. Nothing could halt that warfare until after it had finally run its course in the 1860s and the Dakota had left Minnesota for the Great Plains.
Despite occasional squabbles already mentioned, the Winnebago and Menominee were generally able to remain neutral in this fighting and friendly with both sides – a remarkable achievement. The animal populations near Green Bay had never recovered from the refugee influx during the 1660s, and continuous hunting by the Menominee for fur had contributed to this. As a result, Menominee hunters were forced to travel greater and greater distances to the west to find fur. By 1800 the Menominee had abandoned most of their winter fishing villages along Lake Michigan and moved inland, eventually claiming most of central Wisconsin south to the Milwaukee River. Perhaps because it was so far away from the Ohio Valley, the Menominee (unlike the Winnebago) gave only limited support to Tecumseh’s alliance to resist American expansion. They were, however, British allies during the War of 1812, and helped take the American fort at Prairie du Chien. In August, 1814 the Menominee joined with 60 British regulars, 60 Canadians. and 500 Winnebago, Sauk, Dakota, Ottawa, and Ojibwe warriors to defeat an American attempt to retake Fort Michilimackinac.
After the end of the war, the Americans made their first appearance at Green Bay in 1815, and as they had done previously when the British replaced the French in 1761, the Menominee did their best to adapt to the new situation. In March, 1817 at St. Louis, they signed their first treaty with the United States, a “kiss and make-up” agreement ending hostilities and forgiving any injuries which may have occurred during course of the war. Other than this, the initial effects of the American occupation were indirect. In the journal from his exploration of the upper Mississippi River in 1804, Zebulon Pike mentioned that the Menominee lived in peace with all of their neighbors. Unfortunately, this was not entirely true. Wounds from the Fox Wars had never healed, and as American settlement pushed up the Mississippi from St. Louis after the war, the Fox and Sauk were forced north into confrontation with the Menominee and Dakota. After 1815 the Menominee frequently joined with the Dakota to fight against these old enemies.
Unlike the French and British, the Americans wanted the land, and the Menominee were about to discover this. Tecumseh had warned the Menominee, but their first surrender of territory began in New York. By 1821 land speculators and settlement had taken most of the Iroquois homeland, and political pressure was building to take what was left and remove the Iroquois from the state. To facilitate this, the United States gave permission in 1822 for the Menominee to sell some of their land to the Iroquois (New York Indians) so they could be resettled in northern Wisconsin. It was in this roundabout manner that, after 200 years, the Iroquois finally got a piece of Wisconsin. Stockbridge (Mahican), Brotherton (Delaware and New England Algonquin), Munsee, and Oneida began arriving 1824, but not nearly all of the Iroquois left New York, and as a result, the Menominee never received full payment. Despite a second treaty signed in 1831 in which the Menominee received $285,000 for 3 million acres (about 8 cents an acre) from the United States, the argument over exactly what and how much land was sold to whom persisted for many years.
Meanwhile, the upper Mississippi Valley had become a war zone – an undesirable situation for settlement which was certain to begin within a few years. At the suggestion of the American government, a grand council was held at Prairie du Chien in August, 1825 to end the warfare by setting specific boundaries for tribal land claims. Besides the Menominee, the conference was attended by the Ojibwe, Fox, Sauk, Iowa, Sioux, Winnebago, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. The resulting agreement gave the United States the right to adjust final claims. The results on limiting warfare were mixed, but during the next 25 years, most of the tribal lands passed into the hands of whites. As American settlement moved into northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, tensions rose.
Some Menominee fought the Americans during the Winnebago War of 1827, but this was brief and limited. Tribal wars continued, and in response, the government attempted to organize a second council to keep peace. The effort produced war instead. In 1830 a Menominee and Dakota war party murdered 15 Fox chiefs enroute to a treaty conference with the Americans at Prairie du Chien. In retaliation, the Fox killed 26 Menominee setting in motion the events leading to the Blackhawk War (1832) in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Menominee warriors first served as scouts and helped the American army track down Blackhawk and his followers. Afterwards, the Menominee exacted a further revenge by massacring some of the Sauk prisoners being held by the Americans at Prairie du Chien.
Afterwards, the rush to take the Menominee lands went forward at a dizzying pace. Their service to the Americans during the Blackhawk barely completed, the Menominee met with the Americans at Green Bay to hear the amendments made by the United States Senate to the 1831 treaty. The unilateral changes imposed came as an unpleasant surprise, but Grizzly Bear and the other Menominee chiefs finally agreed. In the atmosphere created by the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, this was only the beginning. At Cedar Point in September, 1836, the Menominee surrendered another 4.2 million acres – including all of their lands in Upper Michigan for $620,000. White settlement poured into Wisconsin, and as statehood approached in 1848, Oshkosh and the Menominee were pressured into ceding their remaining Wisconsin land in exchange for a 600,000 acre reservation on the Crow Wing River in Minnesota.
The Crow Wing River is a beautiful place, but at the time it was a war zone separating the Dakota from the Ojibwe. No one – French, British, or American – had ever succeeded in stopping the fighting between these two powerful peoples, and although the Menominee were friendly with both, Oshkosh looked at the situation in Minnesota and refused to leave Wisconsin. All of which gave the federal government an insoluble problem. Wisconsin in the meantime had become a state, and in the constitutional interpretations which prevailed prior to the American Civil War, the United States needed a state’s permission to keep Native Americans who were not subject to state law within its borders. A settlement was finally reached, and the Wolf River treaty signed in May, 1854 established a reservation for the Menominee in northern Wisconsin. Through Oshkosh’s wise decision and stubborn resistance, the Menominee became the only Wisconsin tribe to entirely avoid removal.
A final treaty signed with the United States in 1856 ceded two townships for the purpose of creating a separate reservation for the Stockbridge Indians …finally settling the land disputes with the New York Indians which had begun in 1821. The Menominee Reservation contained 235,000 acres of their homeland (less than 3% of the original 10 million acres they controlled). Joined later by a small group of Potawatomi, the Menominee have remained in this location ever since. This was not always as easy as it sounds. Timber interests descended on the area to exploit its forests after the Civil War. Despite the legend of Paul Bunyan taught in our schools, these men were determined to become wealthy and bring civilization to northern Wisconsin by converting it into a bunch of tree stumps. What they immediately noticed was the United States had obviously made a serious error in creating the reservation. The Menominee had actually been left with a valuable resource – 350 square miles of prime White Pine timber.
Just about every dishonest means known to man was employed to relieve the Menominee of this encumbrance to poverty – fraud, bribery and outright theft. All of these efforts ultimately failed, and under government supervision, the Menominee in 1872 began operation of their own tribally-owned saw mill which competed directly with private American timber companies in the area. Wisconsin’s timber was soon gone and the lumber barons moved on, but the Menominee remained. In the first large-scale application of this concept in the United States, the Menominee began a program of sustained yield harvest in 1908 to assure an income for future generations. The enterprise was a success, and became the primary source of income for the Menominee. By 1955 the United States Treasury had accumulated over $10 million in a Menominee trust account from their timber operations.
However, the government apparently did not always fulfill its obligation to supervise the mill in their best interest, and after a lawsuit initiated against the federal government, the Menominee won a $9.5 million judgment for mismanagement between 1954 and 1959. Not too coincidentally in 1961, the federal government unilaterally terminated the Menominee’s tribal status, and their reservation became a Wisconsin county. The saw mill could not provide enough tax base to pay for all of the services a county government was required to provide, and the Menominee instantly went from being one of the most self-sufficient tribes in the United States to the lowest standard of living in Wisconsin – a pretty clear indication of the current economic status of most Native Americans in the United States relative to their white counterparts. To meet their obligations, the Menominee were forced to sell part of their reservation as lakefront lots for vacation homes. Federal recognition was restored in 1973.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Winnebago lived in the vicinity of Green Bay in northeastern Wisconsin. The most powerful tribe in the region, they dominated the western shore of Lake Michigan from Upper Michigan to southern Wisconsin. As part of major climatic change in North America sometime around 1400, three closely related tribes – Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa – began moving west along the shore of Lake Huron towards the point where Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan meet. The Ottawa stopped at Manitoulin Island, but the Ojibwe occupied the north shore of Lake Huron including Upper Michigan near Sault Ste. Marie. About 1500 the Potawatomi crossed over the Strait at Mackinac into northern part of the Lower Michigan peninsula. The invasion drove the original tribes of the region south and west. Among the victims were the Menominee and possibly the Cheyenne, Sutai, and Arapaho. The Menominee were forced south where they became tributary and allies of the Winnebago. The Cheyenne and Arapaho, however, were set adrift to the west until they reached the Great Plains.
The Winnebago were obviously powerful enough for the moment to prevent the Ojibwe from moving further south, but the loss of territory and and a growing population must have stressed the resources available to them. From subsequent events, it appears that the Winnebago tried to solve this by moving into southern Wisconsin creating confrontations with the tribes of the Illinois Confederation. With no place to expand, the Winnebago began to separate. Sometime around 1570, the Iowa, Missouri, and Otoe left the Winnebago near Green Bay and moved west. Passing down the Wisconsin River, they crossed the Mississippi and settled in Iowa before separating into individual tribes. Weakened by this defection, the remaining Winnebago concentrated into large villages near Green Bay to defend their homeland against the Ojibwe from the north or Illinois in the south.
It was in this state of siege that the Winnebago felt the first effects of Europeans in North America. The French had begun their fur trade along the St. Lawrence River in 1603 and, during 1609, had helped the Algonkin, Huron and Montagnais defeat the Iroquois and drive them south. Following the Ottawa River west, Étienne Brulé reached the Huron villages in 1611 and Sault Ste. Marie in 1623. But for the most part, the French stopped at the Huron villages on the south end of Lake Huron and allowed native traders to conduct the fur trade beyond that point. The Ottawa and Huron soon linked with the Ojibwe in upper Michigan and then made attempts to open trade with the Winnebago to south. The French first learned about the Winnebago from the Ottawa in 1620, and what they heard was not especially good. Knowing that the Ottawa were closely related to and trading with their Ojibwe enemies, the Winnebago were suspicious and refused to allow Ottawa and Huron traders to proceed further west.
The matter smoldered for several years, while the Winnebago felt their first taste of the steel weapons the Ojibwe were receiving from the French in exchange for their furs. Trying to break the impasse, the Ottawa finally sent envoys to the Winnebago to arrange trade. Revealing a talent for treachery, the Winnebago killed and ate the Ottawa representatives. While the Ottawa and Huron prepared for war, the French in 1634 sent Jean Nicolet west to the Winnebago on what appeared to be a suicide mission. When Nicollet landed at Red Banks on the south shore of Green Bay, he was the first European the Winnebago had ever seen which probably saved his life. Nicollet ultimately succeeded in arranging a truce between the Winnebago, Huron, and Ottawa which allowed trade. The fragile arrangement lasted for some time afterwards allowing Nicollet to make a second visit to the Winnebago villages at La Baye (Green Bay) in 1639. Twenty-six years would pass before another Frenchman would visit Green Bay.
The Winnebago were almost destroyed in the meantime. The Beaver Wars started in 1628 when theIroquois, having defeated the Mahican for control of the Dutch fur trade, began a war to reclaim their territory on the upper St. Lawrence River from the Algonkin.Montagnais, and Huron. The fighting quickly spread west to other tribes. Having exhausted the beaver in their homelands, Ottawa,Neutral, andTionontati warriors equipped with firearms and steel weapons invaded lower Michigan to seize hunting territory from the Algonquin living there. The first refugees from these wars to arrive in Wisconsin were a group of Potawatomi who attempted to settle near Green Bay in 1641. Showing no mercy, the Winnebago immediately attacked and by 1642 had driven them north into upper Michigan.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. The remaining Potawatomi soon joined the early arrivals followed by other tribes from lower Michigan. As all of these refugee tribes united against them, disagreements arose among the Winnebago over how to deal with the situation resulting in fighting among themselves. In the end most Winnebago decided on war and to concentrate on the Fox. Disaster was immediate. Crossing Lake Winnebago in canoes to attack the Fox, the Winnebago were caught in a storm and 500 warriors were drowned. The three largest Winnebago bands then drew together into a single village – a traditional defensive measure in times of war, but it proved to be a death trap. 12,000 people in a confined space was the perfect conditions for the epidemics which accompanied the refugees to Wisconsin, and they struck the Winnebago with devastating effect. Smallpox has been blamed, but the Winnebago say the disease turned their people yellow suggesting it was something else.
The Winnebago emerged from this with less than 1,500 warriors and 4,500 people. They were also starving since war and epidemic had made it impossible to harvest their crops. As mentioned, the hostility between the Illinois and Winnebago must have existed for many years before the refugees began to arrive. Perhaps motivated by a need to form an alliance against the newcomers who were also overrunning their territory, or even pity for an old enemy fallen on hard times, the Illinois sent 500 warriors and food to help the Winnebago. This proved a serious mistake. The Winnebago welcomed and held a feast for them, but in the midst of the dancing and celebration, they secretly cut the Illinois’ bowstrings. Then they fell upon their benefactors and killed all of them to appease the spirits of Winnebago warriors killed earlier by the Illinois.
It took the Illinois some time to learn what had happened. In the meantime, the Winnebago had anticipated retaliation and retreated to an island in the middle of a lake where they built a fort. A sensible precaution, since it was impossible for the Illinois to bring their heavy dugout canoes overland with them to attack the Winnebago. The Illinois proved patient and waited a year to take revenge. When the lake froze that winter, a large Illinois war party crossed over the ice to attack the village only to find the Winnebago were absent on their winter hunt. After a six-day pursuit, they caught up with the Winnebago and, during the slaughter which followed, almost annihilated them. Few Winnebago escaped to find refuge with the Menominee. About 150 Winnebago prisoners were taken back as slaves to the Illinois villages and, after several years of hard usage, released to return to Wisconsin. Less than 500 Winnebago survived to provide a future for their people, but their near-extermination was the second serious mistake made by the Illinois. Despite the circumstances which had caused it, the Winnebago never forgave or forgot what had happened.
In the east the Beaver Wars had grown in intensity and threatened the French fur trade. The climax came in the early spring of 1649 when the Iroquois overran and destroyed the Huron. Other French allies fell victim during the next few years while the Iroquois moved into the Ottawa Valley cutting French access to the western Great Lakes. The Iroquois then invaded lower Michigan during the 1650s expelling the remaining Algonquin. 20,000 refugees fled west to Wisconsin producing a tide which the decimated Menominee and Winnebago could not resist. Even the Illinois were forced to surrender territory in southern Wisconsin. So far as is known, the Winnebago made only one attempt at resistance during this period when they managed to keep the Mascouten from locating near Green Bay in 1655. However, this success proved temporary and made the Winnebago hated by the refugees. Within three years theMascouten had allied with theKickapoo and Miami and settled where they pleased. Only Iroquois attacks in the area during 1660 forced them inland to a safer location at the Fox Portage.
The Iroquois victory over the Huron in 1649 had virtually destroyed the French trade, but they managed to continue on a limited basis by inviting tribes to bring their furs to Montreal. This was only possible for large, heavily-armed canoe fleets able to fight their way past the Iroquois on the Ottawa River. Having become dependent on French trade goods, only the Ottawa and Huron were willing to try, and supported by Ojibwe warriors, they fought their way to and from Montreal. In this manner, French trade goods continued to reach the western Great Lakes in limited amounts, but it also brought Iroquois war parties west to Wisconsin to stop the trade at its source. The French had made a separate peace with the Iroquois in 1645, but this collapsed in 1658. Six years of raids and harassment followed before the French got serious and sent a regiment of soldiers to Quebec to deal with the Iroquois. Their attacks on Iroquois homeland produced an alliance between the British and Iroquois and marked the beginning of the British-French struggle for control of North America.
Meanwhile, the French resumed travel to the western Great Lakes. In 1665 fur trader Nicholas Perrot, Jesuit Claude-Jean Allouez, and four other Frenchmen accompanied a large Huron-Ottawa trading party (400 warriors) on its return journey. After fighting their way past the Iroquois along the Ottawa River, they reached Green Bay. What they found was a disaster: war, disease, and starvation. Allouez mentioned sadly that only 500 remained of once-numerous Winnebago described by Nicollet. French attacks on the Iroquois homeland produced a lasting peace in 1667. For the first time, it also extended to French allies and trading partners, including those in the western Great Lakes. This allowed the French to resume their fur trade, but they first needed to bring some order to the area and end the warfare. Using the threat of withholding trade, they began mediating intertribal disputes, a role which eventually evolved into the relationship of Onontio (the French governor of Canada) and his “Indian children.”
Although the French fur trade had been at the root of the Beaver Wars which almost destroyed the Winnebago, it also saved them from extinction. As peace was restored, the Winnebago accepted the Algonquin refugees in Wisconsin and began to intermarry with them adapting parts of their culture in the process. The exception, of course, being that there was nothing the French could do to end the Winnebago’s hatred of the Illinois. The peace lasted thirteen years, until the Beaver Wars renewed to the south in 1680 between the Iroquois and Illinois. The Winnebago must have taken a certain pleasure during the next two years while Seneca war parties struck the Illinois with genocidal effect. During 1684, however, the Iroquois failed to take Fort St. Louis on the upper Illinois River after which the tide turned. The French strengthened their forts, provided firearms to their allies, and organized an alliance to fight the Iroquois.
The alliance took the offensive in 1687, and by 1690 the Iroquois were on the defensive and retreating towards their New York homeland. The warfare (coinciding with the King William’s War (1688-97) between Britain and France) continued until a peace was signed in 1701 which left the French and their allies in control of the Great Lakes. Still recovering their population, Winnebago participation in this victory was minimal but the benefits enormous. With the Iroquois defeated, refugees began leaving Wisconsin for new homes to the south and east. This relieved the overcrowding and competition for resources, and after 60-years, the Winnebago regained most of their homeland. Meantime, the French fur trade had continued unrestricted and by the 1690s had produced a glut of fur on the European market. The resulting price drop motivated the French monarchy to finally listen to protests from Jesuit missionaries about the corruption the fur trade was creating among Native Americans. In 1696 licenses were revoked and trade suspended in the western Great Lakes.
Since the French alliance was based on trade, it was a terrible decision. Even while they were going down in defeat, the Iroquois sensed the French vulnerability and began to offer French allies access to British traders at Albany. Suspecting the French would make their own peace with the Iroquois, the alliance began to unravel, and the French had great difficulty getting their allies to agree to the peace signed with the Iroquois in 1701. Urgent appeals sent to Paris from Canada asking for a resumption of trade in the Great Lakes brought limited relief in 1701 when Antoine Cadillac was allowed to build Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit to trade with the Great Lakes tribes. Cadillac quickly invited just about every tribe in the region to move to Detroit, and the result was overcrowding and warfare between former allies. Rather than solving the problem, it further strained what remained of the French alliance and during 1712 erupted into the First Fox War (1712-16).
Following confrontations with neighboring tribes, the Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten attacked the French at Fort Pontchartrain. In midst of the siege, Ottawa, Huron, and Potawatomi warriors arrived to save the French and killed most of the Fox. The survivors retreated west to southern Wisconsin from where they continued to war on the French and their allies. Although the Winnebago had helped the Fox drive the Kaskaskia (part of the hated Illinois) from southern Wisconsin in 1700, they had never left Wisconsin. When the war between the French and Fox moved west, the Winnebago remained neutral. The French used Potawatomi allies to defeat the Kickapoo and Mascouten taking them out of the war, but an expedition against a Fox fort in southern Wisconsin ended in frustration. Afterwards, the French offered peace, and the Fox accepted. The fighting stopped, but neither side, trusted the other.
Unfortunately, it did not end the fighting between the Fox and Peoria (Illinois) after the Peoria refused to return Fox prisoners captured at Detroit in 1712. French attempts to mediate failed, and the war spread as the Mascouten and Kickapoo joined the Fox against the Peoria. By 1724 the Fox had added the Winnebago and Dakota to their side, and the French began to suspect the Fox were forming an alliance against them. With the Illinois getting the worst of it, the French decided to intervene in 1726 and sent an expedition against the Fox. Like their previous efforts to subdue a tribe they considered a troublemaker, this accomplished nothing, and the French decided to exterminate the Fox. However, they first took the precaution of isolating the Fox from their allies. The Dakota dropped out, and then the Winnebago.
With the outbreak of the Second Fox War (1728-37), the Winnebago switched to the French. During the winter of 1729, a combined Winnebago, Menominee, Ojibwe war party attacked a Fox hunting party killing at least 80 warriors and capturing some 70 women and children. The French, in the meantime, had reoccupied their old fort at La Baye to prosecute the war against the Fox. Concerned about Fox retaliation, the Winnebago moved close to Green Bay and built a fort on an island in the Fox River. The Fox found them but the fort was too strong for direct attack, so they laid siege. To appease the Fox, the Winnebago seized two Menominee who had married into their tribe and killed them. The headless bodies were thrown outside the fort with the explanation that the Winnebago had killed them because they were part of the war party which had attacked the Fox. This did not satisfy the Fox who continued the siege. The French finally arrived from Green Bay with 34 Menominee warriors to help the Winnebago, but when the Menominee learned what had happened, it was all the French could do to stop them, with Fox warriors just outside the gate, from killing every Winnebago in sight.
The Fox eventually abandoned the siege, after which the Winnebago made amends with the Menominee who had always been their allies. The war continued during which the Mascouten and Kickapoo ended their alliance with the Fox after a fatal argument over French prisoners. Without allies, the Fox decided in 1730 to leave Wisconsin and flee east to the Iroquois. Caught in the open in northern Illinois, they were almost annihilated by the French and their allies. The few remaining Fox found refuge with the Sauk living near Green Bay, but the French were determined to finish the Fox and dispatched an expedition in 1734 to demand the Sauk surrender the Fox. This was refused, and in the battle which followed, the French commander was killed. In the confusion, the Sauk and Fox escaped and fled west of the Mississippi into Iowa. Another French expedition against them failed in 1736, and at a conference held in Montreal during the spring of 1737, the Winnebago and Menominee asked the French to show mercy to the Fox while the Potawatomi and Ottawa made the same request on behalf of the Sauk.
The French reluctantly agreed and made peace. The departure of the Fox and Sauk from Wisconsin provided the Winnebago an opportunity to expand their range to the south and west. Although some Winnebago remained in the vicinity of Green Bay after 1741, most moved their villages inland. Since the animal populations near Green Bay had never recovered from the stress placed on them by the refugees during the 1600s, the Winnebago had been forced to make longer and longer trips inland to feed themselves and find the furs they needed for trade with the French. Although the Dakota and Ojibwe were at war with each other over hunting territory in western Wisconsin, neither objected to Winnebago hunters in the area. The Menominee enjoyed the same immunity, but in their case, the Fox and Sauk were a serious threat. The Winnebago were able to establish a friendly relationship with the Fox and Sauk after 1737, but the Menominee could not.
Little fighting occurred in the western Great Lakes during the King George’s War (1744-48), but Winnebago warriors travelled east to Montreal with the Ottawa, Menominee, Saulteur and Mississauga Ojibwe, Illinois, Potawatomi, and Huron to defend Quebec from the British. The capture of the French fortress at Louisbourgh in 1745 allowed a British blockade of the St. Lawrence which cut the supply of French trade goods. The effect was immediate, and the French quickly lost control of their allies in the the Great Lakes. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the increasingly beleaguered Illinois. In 1746 while the Winnebago and Menominee were fighting the Missouri west of the Mississippi, the Mascouten, Potawatomi, Menominee, and Ojibwe joined to force the Peoria from their last strongholds in southern Wisconsin. Without the leverage of their trade goods, the French were powerless to protect the Illinois, and the other Algonquin continued to attack them. Between 1751 and 1754, the Mascouten, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi took more territory from the Peoria – this time in northern Illinois.
With the start of the French and Indian War (1755-63), the Winnebago once again went east to fight for the French. They helped to defeat Braddock at Fort Duquesne and also fought at Oswego and in the French campaign in northern New York in 1757. They paid a terrible price when Great Lakes warriors contracted smallpox at Fort William Henry and brought it back with them to their villages that winter. Smallpox swept through the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley taking most the western tribes out of the war. Meanwhile, a British blockade was having the same effect it had in 1746 in stopping French trade goods. Dissatisfaction resulted, and during the winter of 1758, an Menominee uprising at Green Bay killed 22 French soldiers. After the capture of Quebec by the British in September, 1759. France had lost the war in North America. Montreal surrendered the following year, and British soldiers occupied Green Bay in 1761.
The breakdown of French authority in the region had brought the Winnebago, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Winnebago at Green Bay to the verge of war with the Michilimackinac Ojibwe in 1761, but the British assumed the old French role of mediator and provider of trade goods. In preventing the outbreak of serious warfare, the British won the trust and loyalty of the Winnebago and Menominee. With the start of the Pontiac Rebellion in 1763, the Winnebago (also the Menominee, Sauk, Fox, Iowa and Arbre Croche Ottawa) sent wampum belts to the British as a token of their loyalty. Pontiac’s revolt quickly collapsed, and discredited among his own people after signing a peace with the British in 1766, he abandoned his village near Detroit and moved to northern Illinois where he still had a loyal following. In 1769 he was murdered by the nephew of a Peoria chief during a visit to Cahokia (just east of St. Louis). Almost all of tribes of the old French alliance united in a war against the Illinois and almost exterminated them. The Peoria made their last stand at Starved Rock that year from which fewer than 200 reached safety at the French settlement of Kaskaskia. After a long wait, the Winnebago finally had their revenge against the Illinois. The victors then occupied much of the Illinois territory – the Winnebago’s share was a portion of northwest Illinois valued because of its lead deposits.
During the next 50 years, the Winnebago would ally with the British by fighting both the Spanish and Americans during the Revolutionary War (1775-83) and The Americans during the War of 1812 (1812-14). Early fighting in the west during the Revolutionary War was mostly confined to Ohio and Kentucky and did not involve the Winnebago. George Rogers Clark’s capture of the Illinois country in 1778 created alarm. and the British moved to reconcile disputes between the Great Lakes tribes and to use them against the Americans. To this end, they settled the lingering hostility between the Green Bay tribes and the Michilimackinac Ojibwe as well as other disputes between the Ojibwe, Fox, and Sauk. and the Potawatomi and Miami. This allowed the Winnebago (also Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, Dakota, and Menominee) in 1780 to join an unsuccessful British effort to capture St. Louis from the Spanish (Spain had joined the war against Britain) and retake Illinois from the Americans. The Revolutionary War “officially” ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, but in the Ohio Valley, the British continued to occupy Detroit and their other forts on American territory until the United States paid its treaty obligations to British loyalists.
In the meantime, the British encouraged the formation of a western alliance to keep the Americans out of Ohio. They succeeded until the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The Winnebago in Wisconsin were too far away to participate in this effort, but the British dominated the tribes and trade of the Upper Great Lakes until the 1830s. Intertribal warfare during the 1770s and 80s had hindered the fur trade, and at the request of Montreal fur traders, the British met with the tribes of upper Great Lakes at Michilimackinac in October, 1786. The treaty signed there produced 20 years of peace with the exception of the war between the Dakota and Ojibwe which continued until the 1850s. This, however, was not a problem for the Winnebago who were friendly with both parties and free to hunt in the war zone between them. They also maintained a friendship with the Fox and Sauk living along the Mississippi in eastern Iowa and western Illinois, and it can be said that during this period the Winnebago lived in peace with very few enemies. However, their ties to the Fox and Sauk and those lead deposits in northwest Illinois would soon bring this to an end.
The United States purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 changed the Winnebago’s homeland from being at the edge to the center of American territory. Before this, the Winnebago had known the Americans as a distant enemy. Aside from their foray into the Illinois with the British in 1780, the Winnebago had never really met an American. This changed when Zebulon Pike’s expedition explored the upper Mississippi in 1805. His meeting with the Winnebago near Prairie du Chien was peaceful, but the Winnebago soon had reason to worry. During 1804 William Henry Harrison entertained a visiting Fox and Sauk delegation at St. Louis and, after getting them drunk, succeeded in convincing them to sign away their tribe’s lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for a few presents. Next came Fort Madison, the first American fort on the upper Mississippi, built in southeast Iowa in 1809 and garrisoned with 50 soldiers.
The Fox and Sauk refused to acknowledge the 1804 treaty and instantly became hostile to the Americans. The Winnebago were also concerned because of the lead deposits in their lands in northwest Illinois. In 1788 the Fox had allowed Julien Dubuque, a French-Canadian from Michilimackinac, to open a lead mine near the site of the Iowa city which now bears his name. Dubuque obtained a Spanish land grant to the site in 1796 and became wealthy from fur trading and lead mining. When he died in 1810, St.Louis creditors and land speculators attempted to seize his holdings, but the Fox and Sauk prevented this by burning Dubuque’s buildings to the ground. The threat of American takeover was no longer a distant threat in Ohio, and the Winnebago listened with great interest in 1809 to the religion of Tenskwatawa, theShawnee Prophet and the call for unity and no further land cessions by his brother Tecumseh. Within a short time, the Winnebago were one of the most militant members of Tecumseh’s alliance against the Americans.
The Winnebago began making regular visits to Prophetstown (Tippecanoe) in Indiana during 1810 and even established a permanent village (Village du Puant) nearby. Tecumseh went south in the fall of 1811 to enlist the southern tribes against the Americans, During his absence, the Potawatomi attacked American settlements in Illinois starting a frontier war. William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, organized an army and in November marched on Prophetstown. Tenskwatawa ignored his brother’s instructions to avoid any confrontation with the Americans while he was absent and ordered his warriors to attack. The Winnebago lost heavily at the Battle of Tippecanoe, but the military defeat was not nearly as important as the damage done to Tensquatawa’s reputation as a prophet. Angry Winnebago warriors held him prisoner for two weeks and almost killed him. When Tecumseh returned in January, 1812, his alliance was in shambles, but he able to rebuild and soon regained the allegiance of the Winnebago. With the outbreak of the War of 1812 (1812-14) in June, the Winnebago threw their support to Tecumseh and the British.
With the Fox, Sauk, and Potawatomi, the Winnebago besieged Fort Madison and forced its abandonment in 1813. Winnebago warriors also fought as part of Tecumseh’s forces at Maumee Rapids and River Raisin in Ohio and Michigan. After Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames (October, 1813), the Winnebago joined 500 warriors from the upper Great Lakes to help the British defeat the American attempt to retake Fort Michilimackinac in August, 1814. The War of 1812 ended in a stalemate between the British and Americans, but for the tribes of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley it was total defeat. The Winnebago made peace with the Americans at St. Louis in June, 1816. Their first treaty with the United States did not involve land cessions and called upon both sides to forgive and forget injuries suffered during the war. The Winnebago kept their part of the agreement but remained hostile. They allowed Americans to travel through their territory from Mississippi to the Fox portage but charged tolls.
After the War of 1812, settlement began to advance up the Mississippi from St. Louis, but warfare in Iowa and Minnesota between the Dakota, Ojibwe, Fox, and Sauk slowed its progress. The government in 1825 attempted to end the fighting at a grand council held with the area’s tribes at Prairie du Chien. Attended by the Ojibwe, Fox, Sauk, Menominee, Iowa, Sioux, Winnebago, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, the resulting treaty attempted to end intertribal warfare by establishing boundaries between them. It also created a 40-mile wide buffer zone between the Dakota, Fox and Sauk in northeast Iowa. Called the Neutral Ground, the Americans hoped to relocate the Winnebago there since they were friendly with both sides, but the Winnebago did not share the Americans optimism for this arrangement. Since its purpose was to facilitate settlement, the treaty made almost no provision to protect native lands from white encroachment. It had only limited success in preventing warfare, but settlement afterwards moved north at an accelerated pace.
During the next 15 years the Winnebago would be forced to surrender most of their homeland. The first target was the lead deposits in northwest Illinois, and in what can be described as the first (and last) “lead rush,” Americans rushed in to stake their claims. Government agents described these people as “lawless” but did nothing to prevent encroachment. Less than two years after the Treaty of Prairie du Chien, the Winnebago were forced into war to defend their lands. The resistance, known as the Winnebago War (1827), was led by the Winnebago Prophet White Cloud and the war chief Red Bird. Fighting began in the summer of 1827 when a barge ascending the Mississippi near Prairie du Chien was fired upon. Other attacks killed some settlers along the lower Wisconsin River and struck the lead mines near Galena, Illinois. Soldiers were rushed north from Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis, and by August it was over. Faced with a war they could not win, Red Bird and White Cloud surrendered themselves to be hanged to save their people. Red Bird died in prison, but White Cloud was pardoned by the president and released. Meanwhile, in a treaty signed a Green Bay in August, 1828, the Winnebago (also Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Ottawa) ceded northern Illinois for $540,000.
With the lead mining district secured, the next victims were the Fox and Sauk in western Illinois. As a condition of peace in 1816, the United States had finally gotten their reluctant acceptance of that dubious treaty signed at St. Louis in 1804 ceding all of their lands east of the Mississippi. The bait was that the Fox and Sauk could stay until the Americans needed the land. Most likely. neither the Fox, Sauk nor the American representatives realized how soon this would be. Illinois became a state in 1818 and within ten years was pressing for removal. Blackhawk’s Sauk at Rock Island refused to move, but after the Menominee and Dakota murdered 15 Fox chiefs enroute to a meeting with the Americans at Prairie du Chien, war seemed eminent. Blackhawk brought his people west into Iowa to protect the Fox and Sauk villages there from Dakota attacks which never came. When he started back to Illinois, the Americans refused to allow him to recross the Mississippi.
Throughout the winter of 1831-32, the old war chief sat in eastern Iowa and fumed. In his anger, he listened to arguments from his friend Neapope and the Winnebago Prophet (White Cloud) convincing him the British and other tribes were ready to join him against the Americans. In the spring he defiantly crossed the river into Illinois touching off the Blackhawk War (1832). The help did not materialize. Only a few Potawatomi and White Cloud’s small following among the Winnebago joined the revolt. Pursued by the army and Illinois militia, Blackhawk retreated towards Wisconsin hoping to reach safety with either the Winnebago or Ojibwe. Most Winnebago wanted nothing to do with him and refused to help. Finally realizing this, Blackhawk turned west to try to return to Iowa. He never made it. Trapped between an American army and gunboat at the mouth of the Bad Axe River, the Sauk were slaughtered before surrendering. Menominee and Dakota warriors killed many of those who managed to elude capture by the Americans.
A marked man, Blackhawk escaped before the battle and fled north. He was captured by the Winnebago of Chief Spoon Decorah (Choukeka), a friend of the Americans, who delivered him to the Indian Agent at Prairie du Chien. Despite this, the general feeling among the Americans was that the Winnebago had cooperated with Blackhawk. By the harsh terms of the treaty negotiated by General Winfield Scott at Fort Armstrong in September, 1832, the Winnebago ceded their lands east of the Mississippi and agreed to move to Neutral Ground in northeast Iowa. They were to receive $270,000 ($10,000/year for 27 years) and were required to surrender several of their tribesmen accused of murdering whites during the war. Settlement moved into southern Wisconsin afterwards, but the Winnebago remained in their old lands, primarily because of hostility among the Fox and Sauk for the Winnebago’s failure to help them during the Blackhawk War.
One out of four Winnebago died during a smallpox epidemic in 1836, which may have been a not-so-subtle hint for them to leave Wisconsin. A second treaty signed at Washington, D.C. in 1837 confirmed the Winnebago cession of Wisconsin and reduced the size of the Neutral Ground, but the Winnebago did not leave until 1840 when General Henry Atkinson refused to make their annuities except at the Turkey River Subagency (Decorah, Iowa). By 1842 approximately 2,200 Winnebago had settled in villages near the agency which was guarded by cavalry stationed nearby at Fort Atkinson, a necessary precaution since the threat of attack by the Fox and Sauk was very real. During the winter of 1839, they had killed 40 members of a Winnebago hunting party west of Wapsipinicon River. The following year, Fox and Sauk decided to attack the Winnebago villages near the agency but were only prevented by a unusually heavy snowfall that winter. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Winnebago had remained in their homeland giving Fort Atkinson’s cavalry the added problem of keeping the Iowa Winnebago from going back to Wisconsin.
With Iowa statehood in 1846, it was time for the Winnebago to be moved again. In a 1845 treaty, the Winnebago exchanged their Iowa lands for the 800,000 acre Long Prairie (Crow Wing River) reserve in Minnesota and $190,000. The move ended the threat of the Fox and Sauk, but placed the Winnebago as a buffer between the Dakota and Ojibwe. Some Winnebago managed to remain in northeast Iowa for more than a century, but the main group was moved during 1848 and 1849. The new location was unsatisfactory from the beginning. Not only was there poor soil and a short growing season, but the Ojibwe used the agency as a way-station to attack the Dakota. In a treaty signed in 1856, the government allowed the Winnebago to exchange the Long Prairie reserve from another farther south in Minnesota at Blue Earth. As their population declined, the Winnebago surrendered a part of this in 1859 as excess lands.
All went well until the Dakota uprising erupted in the Minnesota River Valley during 1862 killing over 400 whites. The Winnebago had no part in this, but in the aftermath, Minnesota was no longer safe. The Winnebago were forcibly gathered together and deported by steamboat down the Mississippi and then up the Missouri to the Crow Creek reservation in South Dakota with the Yankton (Sioux). Some got to leave the steamboat at Hannibal, Missouri and travel by train to St. Joseph where they were put back on a boat for the rest of their journey up the Missouri. Even allowing that the Civil War was in progress, conditions were terrible at the South Dakota reservation. Many Winnebago slipped away to return to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Finally, the remaining 1,200 left enmass and fled down the Missouri to ask the Omaha in eastern Nebraska for a refuge.
The government finally accepted their self-relocation and in 1865 purchased 40,000 acres from the Omaha to provide the Winnebago with their own reservation. Life in Nebraska was far from easy, and exposed to Lakota (Sioux) raids, many of the Nebraska Winnebago volunteered as army scouts against Lakota during 1868. While Winnebago were serving as scouts, the Indian Bureau – in its wisdom – conceived a plan of relocating the Winnebago to North Dakota as a buffer between the Lakota and the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. For some reason, the Winnebago declined. Meanwhile, the Winnebago in Wisconsin were routinely being arrested and returned to Nebraska. Within a month, they were usually back in Wisconsin. After ten years of this game, the government gave up after 1875, purchased homestead lands for the Winnebago, and let them stay in Wisconsin. During the 1880s, over half of the Nebraska Winnebago went home to Wisconsin where they have remained ever since scattered across ten counties. The other Winnebago remained in Nebraska although 1/3 of their original 40,000 acre reservation was eventually lost to whites through allotment after 1887.
In 1600 the Potawatomi lived in the northern third of lower Michigan. Threatened by the Ontario tribes trading with the French (Neutrals, Tionontati, Ottawa, andHuron) during the late 1630s, the Potawatomi began leaving their homeland in 1641 and moved to the west side of Lake Michigan in northern Wisconsin. This was completed during the 1650s after the Iroquois defeated the French allies and swept into lower Michigan. By 1665 all of the Potawatomi were living on Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula just east of Green Bay. They remained there until 1687 when the French and Great Lakes Algonquin began driving the Iroquois back to New York. As theIroquois retreated, the Potawatomi moved south along the west shore of Lake Michigan reaching the south end by 1695. At about the same time, one band settled near Jesuit mission on the St. Joseph River in southwest Michigan. Shortly after
the French built Fort Ponchartrain at Detroit in 1701, groups of Potawatomi settled nearby. By 1716 most Potawatomi villages were located in a area between Milwaukee to Detroit. During the 1760s they expanded into northern Indiana and central Illinois.
Land cessions to the Americans began in 1807 and during the next 25 years drastically reduced their territory. Removal west of the Mississippi occurred between 1834 and 1842. The Potawatomi were removed in two groups: the Prairie and Forest Bands from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin went to Council Bluffs in southwest Iowa; and the Potawatomi of the Woods (Michigan and Indian bands) were relocated to eastern Kansas near Osawatomie. In 1846 the two groups merged and were placed on a single reservation north of Topeka. Arguments over allotment and citizenship led to their separation in 1867. The Citizen Potawatomi left for Oklahoma and settled near present-day Shawnee. Most of their lands were lost to allotment in 1889. The Prairie Potawatomi stayed in Kansas and still have a reservation. Several Potawatomi groups avoided removal and remained in the Great Lakes. Three are in Michigan: the Huron Potawatomi in the south-central; the Pokagon Potawatomi in southwest and northern Indiana, and the Hannaville Potawatomi of upper peninsula. The Forest County Potawatomi live in northeast Wisconsin, and the Canadian Potawatomi in southern Ontario have become part of the Walpole Island and the Stoney Point and Kettle Point First Nations.
Estimates of the original Potawatomi population range as high as 15,000, but 8,000 is probably closer to the truth. Although they had undergone 30 years of war, relocation, and epidemic, the French estimated there were about 4,000 in 1667. Since all Potawatomi bands had gathered into four villages near Green Bay at that time, this probably was fairly accurate. Later estimates vary between 1,200 to 3,400, but the Potawatomi had separated into many bands, and these estimates failed to list all of them. Accurate counts were not possible until the Potawatomi had been moved to Kansas. In 1854 the Indian Bureau listed 3,440 on the reservation, but some had left with theKickapoo for northern Mexico. The report also mentioned 600 “strolling Potawatomi,” who had avoided removal and were somewhere in Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. It also failed to include the 4-600 Potawatomi in Canada. The 1910 census listed 2,440 Potawatomi in the United States, with another 180 in Canada – total of 2,620. The current population of all Potawatomi in Canada and the United States is almost 28,000.
The Potawatomi name is a translation of the Ojibwe “potawatomink” meaning “people of the place of fire.” Similar renderings of this are: Fire Nation, Keepers of the Sacred Fire, and People of the Fireplace – all of which refer to the role of the Potawatomi as the keeper of the council fire in an earlier alliance with theOjibwe and Ottawa. In their own language, the Potawatomi refer to themselves as the Nishnabek or “people” (similar to the Ojibwe name for themselves, Anishinabe (Anishinaubag, Neshnabek). A lengthy name like Potawatomi has had a variety of spellings: Pattawatima, Putawatimes, Pouteouatims, and Poutouatami. Also called: Adawadeny or Atowateany (Iroquois), Assistaeronon (Huron), Kunuhayanu (Caddo), Ouapou, Pekineni ( Fox), Pous, Poux, or Pu (French), Tcashtalalgi (Creek), Undatomatendi (Huron), Wahhonahah (Miami), Wahiucaxa (Omaha), Wahiuyaha (Kansa), and Woraxa (Iowa, Missouri, Otoe, and Winnebago).
Central Algonquin – very close to Ojibwe and Ottawa.
During the 1700s there were three groups of Potawatomi based on location:
Detroit Potawatomi – southeast Michigan
Prairie Potawatomi – northern Illinois
St. Joseph Potawatomi – southwest Michigan
By 1800 the names and locations of these three divisions had changed to:
Potawatomi of the Woods – southern Michigan and northern Indiana
Forest Potawatomi – northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan
Potawatomi of the Prairie – northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin
Assiminehkon (Paw-Paw Grove), Calumet, Chicago, Little Rock, Mesheketeno, Minemaung, Mosheketeno, Nayonsay, Rock Village, Sandy Creek, Sawmehnaug, Secawgo, Shaytee (Grand Bois), Shobonier (Shabbona), Soldier’s Village, and Waisuskuck.
Abercronk, Ashkum, Aubbeenaubbee, Checkawkose, Chekase, Chichipe Outipe, Chippoy (Chipaille), Comoza, Elkhart (Miami), Kethtippecagnunk (Wea), Kinkash, Macon, Massac, Mamotway, Maukekose, Menominee, Menoquet, Mesquawbuck, Metea, Moran, Mota, Muskwawasepeotan, Pierrish, Rum, Tassinong, Tippecanoe, Toisa, Wanatah, Wimego, Winamac, and Wonongoseak.
Bawbee’s Village, Big Wolf, Cheenauge, James Burnett, Koassun, Le Clerc, Macousin, Mangachqua, Mary Ann, Matchebenashshewish, Matchkee, Menoquet, Mickkesawbee, Moccasin, New Village, Nottawaseppi (Natowapsepe), Pokagon, Prairie Ronde, Saint Joseph, Seginsavin, Tondagaie, Tonguish, Topenebee, and Wolf Rapids.
Big Foot (Gros Pied, Maumksuck), Manitowoc, Maquanago, Mechingan, Milwaukee (Ojibwe, Ottawa), Mitchigami, Mukwonago, Oconomowoc, Rock County, St. Michael, Skunk Grove, Waubekeetschuk, and Waukesha.
At present, there are seven separate groups of Potawatomi – six in the United States and one in Canada:
Canada – When removal to Kansas and Iowa began in the 1830s, some Potawatomi escaped by moving to Canada. Those from Indiana and lower Michigan slipped into southern Ontario, where they settled among the Ojibwe and Ottawa at Walpole Island, Stoney Point, Kettle Point, Caradoc, and Riviere aux Sables. At the same time, other groups of Potawatomi west of Lake Michigan crossed near Sault Ste. Marie to the Ojibwe and Ottawa communities on Cockburn and Manitoulin Islands. After the “heat was off,” some of the northern groups returned to the United States and became the Hannaville Potawatomi. Although Canada listed 290 Potawatomi in Ontario in 1890, the Canadian Potawatomi over the years have intermarried with the Ojibwe and Ottawa blurring tribal identity. At present, more than 2,000 Native Americans in Canada can claim Potawatomi descent.
Citizen Potawatomi – Federally recognized, the Citizen Potawatomi are the largest Potawatomi group. Most are descended from the Potawatomi of the Woods (southern Michigan and northern Indiana) including the Mission Band from St. Joseph in southwest Michigan. Acculturated and mostly Christian, it was easier for them to accept allotment and citizenship in 1861 than the more traditional Prairie Potawatomi. This led to a separation (not on the best of terms) in 1870 when the Citizens moved to Oklahoma. Allotment took most of their land in 1889, and they have kept only 4,371 acres, less than two acres of which is tribally owned! Most Citizen Potawatomi have remained in Oklahoma – the Indian Bureau listing 1,768 of them in 1908 – but during the dust bowl of the 1930s, many left for California. Headquartered in Shawnee, they are organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act with a current enrollment of more than 18,000.
Forest County Potawatomi – Probably the most traditional group, the Forest County Potawatomi of northern Wisconsin have retained much of their original language, religion, and culture. They are descended from three Potawatomi bands from Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin who avoided removal by moving north to the Black River and Wisconsin Rapids. In 1867 they were joined by Potawatomi who had left Kansas. In 1913 the government accepted their residence in Wisconsin and purchased 12,000 acres for them. Since the original intention was to distribute this in individual allotments, the parcels were scattered, but resistance to individual ownership delayed this until they had re-organized under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. All land, except for 200 acres, is tribally owned. Federally recognized with an enrollment close to 800, they live in three separate communities with the tribal headquarters in Crandon, Wisconsin.
Hannaville Potawatomi – The Hannaville Potawatomi at Wilson in upper Michigan share a similar history with their Forest County counterparts. Originally from Illinois and Wisconsin, they refused to leave after 1834 and moved to northern Wisconsin. For a time, some lived with the Menominee while others stayed with the Ojibwe and Ottawa in Canada. Some returned to the United States in 1853 but were landless. Peter Marksnian, an Ojibwe missionary, found some land for them in 1883, and Hannaville was named after his wife. Congress in 1913 acknowledged the Hannaville Potawatomi and purchased 3,400 acres of scattered parcels – 39 acres were added in 1942. Federally recognized since 1936, membership is almost 900.
Huron Potawatomi (Nottawaseppi) – Originally a part of the Detroit Tribes in southeastern Michigan, the Huron Potawatomi did not entirely escape removal. Gathered by soldiers and sent to Kansas in 1840, the bands of Mogwago and Pamptopee escaped and returned to Michigan. The government relented in 1845 when President Polk signed a bill giving 40 acres of public lands in southeast Michigan to the Huron Potawatomi. Another 80 acres was added to this in 1848, with a Methodist mission established the following year. Most Huron Potawatomi became citizens and took their lands in severalty during 1888, and federal tribal status was officially terminated during 1902. However, the Nottawaseppi continued their tribal organization and traditions, and with an enrollment of approximately 600, they were successful in regaining their federal recognition late in 1995.
Pokagon Potawatomi – Roman Catholic and acculturated because of the St. Joseph mission, the Pokagon were protected from removal by treaty and were allowed to stay in southwest Michigan. Their name derives from Chief Simon Pokagon, a famous Native American lecturer during the 1850s. Refused tribal status under the Indian Reorganization Act (1934), their long struggle to gain federal recognition finally succeeded in 1994. With tribal offices located in Dowagiac, Michigan, the Pokagon are in the process of reacquiring a land base. Currently, most of their 2,600 members are scattered among the general populations of southern Michigan and northern Indiana.
Prairie Potawatomi – Formed from the Forest and Prairie Potawatomi bands west of Lake Michigan, they were removed to southwest Iowa in 1834. They were accompanied by Ottawa and Ojibwe from the same area who merged with them. Placed on a Kansas reservation in 1846 with the Potawatomi of the Woods and Mission Band, the Prairie Potawatomi preferred to hold their land in common and remained in Kansas when the Citizens left for Oklahoma in 1870. They were eventually forced to accept allotment which reduced their land from 77,400 acres to the current 20,325 – 560 tribally owned. Population in 1908 was only 676, but since then, it has grown to almost 4,000 with the tribal headquarters in Mayetta, Kansas. The Prairie Potawatomi are usually traditional, and many practice either the Drum Religion or belong to the Native American Church.
The Potawatomi originally provided for themselves as hunter/gatherers because they were too far north for reliable agriculture. Like the closely-related Ojibwe and Ottawa, their diet came from wild game, fish, wild rice, red oak acorns, and maple syrup, but the Potawatomi were adaptive. After being forced by the Beaver Wars (1630-1700) to relocate to Wisconsin, they learned farming from the Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, andWinnebago. When the French arrived at Green Bay, Potawatomi women were tending large fields of corn, beans, and squash. They even took their agriculture a step further and in time were known for their medicinal herb gardens. Agriculture was an extension of the women’s role as gathers, but other than clearing the fields, the men remained hunters and warriors.
By 1660 the Potawatomi were agricultural, and their movement south after 1680 was most likely motivated by a desire for better soil and a longer growing season. Other things changed as European contact continued. Besides the switch to metal tools and firearms, the Potawatomi by the 1760s were abandoning birchbark canoes for horses “borrowed” from white settlers. This served well for buffalo hunts, first on the prairies of northern Indiana and Illinois, and later the Great Plains. One other skill they adopted was standard infantry tactics from their wars with the Americans, and during their fights in Kansas during the 1850s, the Pawnee experienced the devastating effect of continuous fire as Potawatomi warriors maintained a steady advance in two alternating ranks, the first kneeling and firing while the other stood to the rear and reloaded.
Early French accounts describe the Potawatomi as a little shorter, but more robust and darker skinned than other Algonquin. Otherwise, Potawatomi were a typical Great Lakes tribe. Summer villages were fairly large with rectangular, bark-covered (or woven brush) houses. After their buffalo hunt in the fall, they separated into small hunting camps of extended families. Winter homes were oval, dome-shaped wigwams resembling those of the Ojibwe. In later periods, most Potawatomi preferred log cabins much like their white neighbors. While some polygamy occurred with men marrying two or more sisters, the Potawatomi were generally more strict about chastity than other tribes. Kinship was determined by patrilineal descent, although marriage was matrilocal (husband moved in with his wife’s family). Warriors wore their hair long except in times of war when they shaved their heads except for a scalplock to which they added an upright roach of porcupine hair with an eagle feather. War paint was red and black. Women’s hair was parted in the middle with a single long braid behind.
The Potawatomi followed the Ojibwe pattern of tribal identity with little central political organization. The independent bands were bound to each other by a common language and a shared clan system which cut across band lines. This was later reinforced by the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society), a secret religious organization of both men and women, whose members performed elaborate healing ceremonies to deal with epidemics. Although their political structure was not what Europeans expected, it functioned quite well, and Potawatomi bands rarely fought each other and could cooperate when the situation required. However, it created problems for the Americans in negotiations. Separate treaties were needed with each band, and before they were finished, the Potawatomi had signed forty-two separate documents with the United States.
In a tradition shared by all three tribes, the Potawatomi came from the northeast with the Ottawa and Ojibwe to the eastern shore of Lake Huron. This is believed to have happened sometime around 1400 after the North American climate became colder. The Ottawa remained near the French River and on Manitoulin and the other islands in Lake Huron, but the Potawatomi and Ojibwe continued north along the shoreline until they reached Sault St. Marie. About 1500, the Potawatomi crossed over and settled in the northern third of lower Michigan. Although separated, the three related tribes remembered their earlier alliance and referred to each other as the “three brothers.” As the keepers of the council fire of this old alliance, the Potawatomi were called “potawatomink” or “people of the place of fire.”
Although they did not meet until later, the French first learned of the Potawatomi on far side of the “Great Freshwater Sea” when the Huron mentioned them to Champlain in 1615 during his first visit to their villages. There is a chance Jean Nicollet may have met the Potawatomi in 1634 while enroute to Green Bay to arrange a truce between the Winnebago and the Ottawa and Huron. However, Nicollet followed the north shore of Lake Michigan, so it is probable he missed them. In any case, his list of the tribes living on Lake Michigan (many of whom he never met) became the basis for first mention of the Potawatomi in the Jesuit Relations of 1640. French contact occurred the following year during the visit of Jesuits Charles Raymbault and Issac Jogues to the Ojibwe at Sault Ste. Marie. By this time, some of the Potawatomi had already moved to the west side of Lake Michigan. During the 1630s, the Huron, Ottawa,Neutral, andTionontati had exhausted the beaver in their homelands and were seizing new hunting territory from the tribes in lower Michigan.
Because the French at this time rarely ventured beyond the Huron villages, they only knew of this from the Huron who, borrowing the Ottawa name for the Potawatomi, referred to all Algonquin in lower Michigan (Potawatomi,Mascouten, Fox, Sauk, and Kickapoo) as Assistaeronon (Fire Nation). Since there was no threat to the fur trade, the French did not try to intervene. The warfare in lower Michigan was a part of the Beaver Wars (1630-1700) which had started in the east between the French-alliedAlgonkin andMontagnais fighting the Dutch-allied Iroquois for the upper St. Lawrence River. This set off a chain reaction as tribes competed with each other for territory and fur. As the Iroquois gained the advantage, they were threatening to cut the trade route through the Ottawa Valley to the Great Lakes, and the French began selling firearms to the Huron, Ottawa, and Algonkin. The Dutch countered with their own sales to the Iroquois, and after British and Swedish entered the picture, it was an arms race. The French weapons found their way through trade to the Tionontati and Neutrals, who turned them against the Michigan tribes. With only traditional weapons, the Potawatomi and others resisted bravely, but at a tremendous disadvantage.
The Potawatomi which the Jesuits met at Sault Ste. Marie in 1641 had been among the first to leave. After crossing the lake, they had first attempted to settle near Green Bay, but the hostile reception received from the Winnebago forced them north to a refuge with the Ojibwe. During the nest few years, other refugee tribes arrived in Wisconsin from lower Michigan, and the Winnebago, Menominee, and Illinois soon had more invaders than they could handle. Sometime between 1642 and 1652, the Winnebago became involved in a war with the Fox who had settled uninvited on the west side of Lake Winnebago. Enroute to attack a Fox village, 500 Winnebago warriors were caught on the lake in their canoes by a storm and drowned. The Winnebago drew themselves into a single large village which was perfect for the epidemic which struck next. Shortly afterwards, they were nearly exterminated in a war with the Illinois. Aside occasional skirmishes with the Dakota (Sioux) or Ojibwe (Chippewa), there was little resistance after fall of the Winnebago to the resettlement of other refugees in Wisconsin.
The French allies and trading partners started the depopulation of lower Michigan but never finished it. Iroquois victories in the east drove the Algonkin and Montagnais from the upper St. Lawrence and lower Ottawa Valleys and cut the trade route from the Great Lakes. To shorten the travel distance for the Huron and Ottawa, the French built a new post at Montreal in 1642, but with Iroquois war parties roaming the lower Ottawa River, only large canoe convoys could get through. As the flow of fur slowed to a trickle, the French in 1645 were forced to agree to a peace with the Mohawk and promised to remain neutral in future wars between the Iroquois and Huron. During the next two years, the Iroquois, who were running out of beaver in their own homeland, used every diplomatic means to gain Huron permission to hunt in their territory or to be allowed to pass through to hunt in the lands beyond. When their requests were denied, the Iroquois resorted to war. After two years of attacks on villages in the Huron homeland, 2,000 Iroquois warriors in March of 1649 launched a coordinated attack which overran and destroyed the Huron Confederacy.
Huron who survived the onslaught fled to neighboring tribes, only to have the Iroquois pursue them and destroy their allies. The Tionontati fell later that year followed by the Algonkin and Nipissing in 1650. The Neutral suffered a similar fate during 1651, and the Erie were defeated after a three-year war with the Iroquois which ended in 1656. At the same time, Iroquois war parties swept into lower Michigan and completed the expulsion of its original inhabitants. During the next forty years, lower Michigan was a “no man’s land” between the Iroquois and their defeated enemies in Wisconsin and upper Michigan. Thousands of Iroquian-speaking captives were adopted into the tribes of the Iroquois League swelling their ranks to over 25,000 but also creating a serious problem. So long as one group of their former enemies remained free, the Iroquois were in danger of an insurrection from within, and 1,000 Tionontati and Huron had escaped and fled north to the Ottawa villages at Mackinac. Iroquois warriors followed and tried to capture them in 1650. This failed, but certain of another attack, the Tionontati and Huron (who would merge to become the Wyandot), evacuated Mackinac and moved west to an island in Green Bay. But the Iroquois were relentless, and a Mohawk and Seneca war party attacked their new village in 1652.
Needing allies to survive, the Wyandot and Ottawa joined with the Potawatomi to build a large fortified village (Mitchigami). The Iroquois returned in 1653, but their first attack was repulsed, and during the long siege which followed, the Iroquois ran out of food and were forced to retreat. Unfortunately, they had also attacked the Nikikouek Ojibwe on the northern shore of Lake Huron, and the Mississauga Ojibwe killed almost half of them on their return to New York. Although they were making enemies in the process, the Iroquois kept coming back to Wisconsin after the Wyandot. There was another attack in 1655, and by 1658 the Wyandot had left Green Bay and moved inland to Lake Pepin on the Mississippi. The Ottawa also left for the south shore of Lake Superior at Chequamegon and Keweenaw Bay. However, their departures brought little relief for the Potawatomi and other refugees at Green Bay.
After the Iroquois had overrun the Huron in 1649, the French fur trade was in shambles. In danger of being overrun and destroyed (only 400 Frenchmen in North America at this time), the French welcomed an offer of peace from the western Iroquois (Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga) in 1653, and to protect this truce, the French stopped their travel to the Great Lakes. However, they kept inviting their former trading partners to bring furs to Montreal. With the Iroquois in control of the Ottawa River, this was an extremely dangerous undertaking requiring large canoe fleets and hundreds of heavily-armed warriors to force their way past the Iroquois blockade. But having become dependent on European trade goods, the Wyandot and Ottawa were willing to try. After collected furs from the Cree far to the north and the Wisconsin tribes, they used Ojibwe warriors to supplement their ranks and fought their way to and from Montreal. Unable to stop the convoys, the Iroquois went after their source, and their war parties moved into Wisconsin and upper Michigan attacking any tribe supplying fur to the Wyandot and Ottawa.
The renewed trade and raiding added to the misery in the region. More than 20,000 refugees had crowded into an area which was, for the most part, too far north for maize agriculture. This forced the farming tribes to rely on hunting to feed themselves which quickly used up the limited resources available. Hunting for fur only aggravated the problem. Harassed by Iroquois warriors, ravaged by epidemics, and stalked by starvation, the refugees fought among themselves or with the neighboring Dakota and Ojibwe over hunting territory. The Potawatomi were more fortunate, because their villages were located on the Door Peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan to form the south side of Green Bay. With some of the best soil in the area, this was where the Winnebago had grown their corn for centuries. Blessed with an ample food supply, the Potawatomi found it easier to maintain their tribal unity while larger tribes separated into mixed villages.
Potawatomi villages were mixed but not as much, and this allowed them to become the dominant tribe in an area which also contained: Wyandot, Ottawa, Illinois, Miami,Nipissing, Noquet,Menominee, Winnebago, Mascouten, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, several varieties of Ojibwe, and even some Cheyenne, with occasional unfriendly visits from the Dakota, Iowa, and Iroquois.In this tense atmosphere, warfare was constant between shifting alliances based more on locality than tribal affiliation. One example was the Sturgeon War which erupted sometime around 1658 between the Ojibwe and Menominee over fish weirs at the mouth of a river. After the Menominee refused to remove their weirs which prevented sturgeon from moving upstream, the Ojibwe destroyed their village. The survivors fled to their relatives at Green Bay who asked the nearby villages (Green Bay tribes) to help them retaliate against the Ojibwe. Before it was over, the Potawatomi, Fox, Sauk, and Noquet had joined the fighting.
While chaos ruled in Wisconsin, the French peace with the Iroquois ended in 1658 after the murder of a Jesuit ambassador. War resumed along the St. Lawrence, but since there was no longer a peace to protect, Pierre-Espirit Radisson and Médart Chouart des Groseilliers saw an opportunity to ignore the travel ban and renew fur trade in the Great Lakes. Joining a party of Wyandot on their return journey, they reached the west end of Lake Superior and traded with the Dakota. They were arrested and had their furs confiscated when they got back to Quebec in 1660. But by 1664, the French had tired of living in fear of the Iroquois. Canada was placed under the king and a regiment of regular French soldiers was sent to Quebec to deal with the Iroquois. The ban on travel west was also lifted, and in 1665 the fur trader Nicolas Perrot, Jesuit Father Claude-Jean Allouez, and six other Frenchmen accompanied 400 Ottawa and Huron on their return to the Great Lakes. They reached Green Bay in September and spent the winter.
Allouez was interested in re-establishing contact with the Wyandot and Ottawa converts that the Jesuits had made before 1649, but he visited many other villages in the area and observed the Potawatomi were growing corn. Perrot, of course, was interested in more practical matters like fur. During 1665 the French soldiers in Quebec began attacks on the Iroquois homeland, and by 1667 the League had agreed to a peace which included French allies and trading partners. This brought a much-needed period of peace to Wisconsin and allowed the French to travel unmolested to Green Bay and beyond. However, as the dominant tribe in the area, the Potawatomi were not happy with the increased French presence. During the 1660s, some of them had accompanied the Ottawa to Montreal, and they had come home angered by the lack of respect and abuse they had received.
The Potawatomi were also accustomed to being middlemen in the collection of furs for the Ottawa and Wyandot to take to Montreal, and they viewed the French traders at Green Bay as competitors in this enterprise. In 1668 the Potawatomi attempted to bypass the French and trade directly at Montreal, but Perrot thwarted them by building a permanent trading post at La Baye (Green Bay). A Jesuit mission, St. Francis Xavier, was added the following year. As the number of French grew, the Potawatomi lost some of their former influence, and to help their fur trade, the French began mediating intertribal disputes to end the warfare endemic to the region. This also annoyed the Potawatomi who attempted to usurp the French by mediating a dispute between the Illinois and Miami. Despite these problems, the Potawatomi learned to tolerate the French who provided the firearms they were using against the Dakota. In 1671 the Potawatomi provided the guides which took Perrot south to the Miami villages near Chicago.
To keep the French supplied with fur, the Green Bay tribes were forced to hunt farther west, and this brought confrontations with the Dakota. To fight them, the Potawatomi after 1675 were with the Fox, Sauk, and Ottawa, but the Dakota were not easily intimidated and attacked a Potawatomi village near Green Bay in 1677. By this time, the Jesuits had made their first converts among the Potawatomi. One of these was a young warrior from an important family who shortly afterwards was killed by a bear while hunting. In itself, this was not unusual, but the bear had been particularly enraged and ripped his corpse to pieces. The warrior’s family felt that the mutilation and dismemberment had to be avenged, so the Potawatomi declared war on bears and, during the next few years, captured and tortured-to-death more than 500 bears.
In 1680 Daniel DeLhut (Duluth) negotiated a truce between the Saulteur Ojibwe and Dakota which allowed French traders to visit the Dakota villages. Unfortunately, the agreement did not include the Keweenaw Ojibwa or the Green Bay tribes. They were still at war with the Dakota and did not want the French to arm their enemies. In 1682 Menominee and Ojibwe warriors of chief Achiganaga murdered two French traders in upper Michigan. DeLhut’s attempt to punish Achiganaga and his warriors was frustrated when the Potawatomi and Ottawa let it be known there would be trouble if Achiganaga’s punishment was too severe. DeLhut relented and executed only one Menominee, but unrest grew as the French continued to trade with the Dakota. Rumors spread among the Potawatomi that the Jesuits used witchcraft to cause epidemics, and in 1683 theSauk murdered two Jesuit donné. The Potawatomi chief Onanghisse began to organize a conspiracy to force the French to leave Green Bay.
This might have gotten serious if other events had not intervened. The peace with the Iroquois had ended in 1680 with a series devastating attacks against the Illinois which marked the beginning of the second phase of the Beaver Wars. It is a common mistake to view the French effort in the Great Lakes as unified, when competition between French traders was often as treacherous as any intertribal rivalry. When Robert La Salle tried to open trade with the Illinois Confederacy in 1679, Perrot and the other Green Bay traders took advantage of the traditional animosity between the Miami and Illinois to secretly encourage the Miami and Mascouten to settle at the south end of Lake Michigan and block his access. La Salle slipped past in 1680 and built Fort Crèvecoeur on the upper Illinois River, but this new post caused the Illinois to increase their beaver hunting, the main reason for the Iroquois attacks that year.
With an extraordinary sense of timing, La Salle had left Henri de Tonti in charge of Fort Crèvecoeur and gone back to Quebec when the Iroquois attacked. Tonti and the other French abandoned the post and fled north to Green Bay where they would have starved for all the help they got from the French at La Baye, but Onanghisse’s Potawatomi defied Perrot and fed them. Tonti went back later to the devastation the Iroquois had left behind in Illinois. The Iroquois returned the following year, but Tonti afterwards built Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock (Utica, Illinois) and convinced the Illinois and Miami to settle nearby and defend it. The Iroquois failure to take Fort St. Louis in 1684 is generally regarded as the turning point of the Beaver Wars. Encouraged by this victory, the French tried to organize an alliance against the Iroquois, but its first offensive was such a fiasco, Joseph La Barre, the governor of Canada, signed a treaty with the Iroquois conceding most of the Ohio Valley east of the Illinois River.
Up until this point, the French at Green Bay had ignored the trouble their rivals had gotten into down in the Illinois country and had no desire to join the fight against Iroquois. Although concerned by a Seneca attack at Mackinac in 1683, the Potawatomi and other Wisconsin tribes were angry about French trade with the Dakota and had no wish to defend French interests in the south. This changed when Jacques-Renede Denonville replaced La Barre. Orders were issued for the French to end their differences and cooperate with each other. Denonville repudiated LaBarre’s treaty, built new forts and strengthened old ones. More importantly, he began to arm and organize an alliance of the Great Lakes Algonquin against the Iroquois. The Potawatomi became an important member of this alliance after it took the offensive in 1687, a date roughly coinciding with the beginning of the King William’s War (1688-97) between Britain and France.
By the 1690s the Iroquois were on the defensive and retreating across the Great Lakes to their homeland in New York. This provided an opportunity for the Potawatomi and other refugee tribes to leave the overcrowded conditions near Green Bay for places with better soil and longer growing seasons. The Potawatomi began expanding south along the west side of Lake Michigan – apparently adding to their population along the way by taking in Abenaki and New England Algonquin refugees from the King Phillip’s War (1675-76) who had immigrated to the Great Lakes. By 1685 there was a Potawatomi village at Milwaukee, another at Chicago in 1695, and at about the same time, almost 1,000 Potawatomi settled on the opposite corner of Lake Michigan near the St. Joseph mission which Father Allouez had established for the Miami in southwest Michigan.
By 1696 the Iroquois had been beaten and were asking for peace, but French influence had declined so much, they had difficulty persuading their allies to agree. The reason was a glut of fur on the European market had caused a drastic fall in the price of beaver. Finally willing to listen to Jesuit complaints about the corruption the fur trade was causing among Native Americans, Louis XIV issued a decree in 1696 suspending the fur trade in the Great Lakes. Without the trade goods needed by their allies, French authority collapsed. Sensing this weakness, the Iroquois offered peace and access to British traders to the Ottawa and Ojibwe if they would break with the alliance. This were refused, but suspicion grew within the alliance that the French would abandon them to make their own peace with the Iroquois. Using every possible argument, the French finally managed to convince the Algonquin to sign a treaty with the Iroquois in 1701 just as another war started with Great Britain – the Queen Anne’s War (1701-13).
Most of the fighting during this war was in New England and the Canadian Maritimes, while the exhausted Iroquois (except for the Mohawk) honored their agreement with the French and remained neutral. This was fortunate, because the French alliance was unravelling without the fur trade. A fresh round of fighting broke out along the upper Mississippi in western Wisconsin during the 1690s between the Dakota, Ojibwe, Fox, Mascouten, Kickapoo, Illinois, and Miami. The Potawatomi had moved south by this time and were not a major participant. Further east, the British and Iroquois has started trading with French allies and were subverting their loyalty. After several desperate pleas from Canada explaining the situation, permission was finally given for a new post at Detroit to retain the loyalty of the Great Lakes tribes. In 1701 Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac arrived, built Fort Ponchartrain, and invited the Ottawa and Wyandot to settle nearby. Many of them left Mackinac at this time and moved south.
Groups of Ojibwe followed and settled just to the north, but to keep French allies from trading with the British, Cadillac kept inviting other tribes to Detroit, including some groups of the Potawatomi who came during 1704. Rather than strengthening the alliance, the French within a few years reproduced the same miserable conditions which had existed in Wisconsin during the 1660s …too many people and too few resources. Meanwhile, the Ottawa still at Mackinac in 1706 defied the French and prepared a war party to send against the Dakota. This upset the Wyandot and Miami in the vicinity so much, they were planning to punish them by attacking the Ottawa village as soon as its warriors left. However, a Potawatomi warned the Ottawa who ambushed five Miami chiefs and then attacked the Miami village driving them into the French fort. Before the fighting was over, 50 Miami, 30 Ottawa, and two French were dead, and the fighting spread to Detroit. A confusing situation, but indicative of the problems afflicting the French alliance at the time.
In response to the fighting at Mackinac, the Ottawa and Miami fought with each other near Detroit that year, and even the Wyandot, Ottawa, and Ojibwe (normally on the best of terms) were having occasional skirmishes over hunting territory in the vicinity. Aware of the tension at Detroit, the St. Joseph Potawatomi decided not to join their relatives and asked for their own trading post and garrison. Unfortunately, the French could not grant this until after the death of Louis XIV in 1715 allowed the trade suspension to be rescinded. Meanwhile, Cadillac had ignored all the warning signs and in 1710 invited the Fox to move to Detroit. Hostile to the French from the time of their first meeting, and angry about the recent Ojibwe attack that the French had encouraged to force them from the St. Croix Valley and Fox Portage in Wisconsin, 1,000 Fox arrived at Detroit accompanied by many of their Kickapoo and Mascouten allies.
The Fox were returning to what had been their homeland before the Beaver Wars, and they were not reluctant to inform the other tribes they found living there of this. Within a short time, the Potawatomi, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Ojibwe were demanding that the French order the Fox to return to Wisconsin. When the French ignored them, they took matters into their own hands, and in the spring of 1712, Ottawa and Potawatomi warriors attacked a Mascouten hunting party near the headwaters of the St. Joseph River. The Mascouten fled east to their Fox allies, and as the Fox prepared to retaliate, the French attempted to stop them. At this point, the Fox, Mascouten, and Kickapoo decided to attack Fort Ponchartrain. The first assault failed and was followed by a siege, but a relief force of Potawatomi, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Ojibwe arrived and fell upon the Fox from the rear. Only 100 Fox escaped during the slaughter which followed. Most of these fled to the Iroquois, but some returned to Wisconsin with the Mascouten and Kickapoo. Once there, they joined the Fox who had remained behind and began taking their revenge on the French and their allies for the massacre at Detroit.
The Potawatomi were one of the most important French allies during the First Fox War (1712-16), but the French alliance was in such disarray that it took almost three years to gather an effective force to go after the Fox. In 1715 a French-Potawatomi expedition defeated the Kickapoo and Mascouten and forced them to make a separate peace, but the Fox refused to quit and gathered into a fort in southern Wisconsin. The following year, Louis de Louvigny arrived with a large party of Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa warriors and laid siege. The French were finally forced to withdraw and afterwards offered peace. The Fox accepted, but both sides remained bitter and distrustful of the other. In the years following, the Fox fought with the Illinois and Osage and continued to antagonize the French. Under pressure from the Potawatomi and other allies to do something about the Fox, the French decided on drastic measures.
Although not official policy until approved by the king in 1732, the drastic measures turned out to be genocide – after a war of extermination, any Fox who survived would be sold as slaves to the West Indies. By this time, the Fox had aggravated enough tribes, there was little opposition within the alliance to this. After isolating the Fox from their Dakota and Winnebago allies, the French attacked in 1728. The initial French offensive of the Second Fox War (1728-37 accomplished little, but the Fox afterwards managed to “shoot themselves in the foot” by alienating the only allies they had left, the Mascouten and Kickapoo. When these tribes went over to the French, the Fox were isolated and battered from all sides. In 1730 about 1,000 Fox decided to accept an Iroquois offer of sanctuary and leave Wisconsin, but crossing northern Illinois, they got into a fight with the Illinois. Forced to build a temporary fort to protect their women and children, the Illinois surrounded them and called in the French.
The French and their allies (including Detroit and St. Joseph Potawatomi) came from every direction. After a 23-day siege, the Fox were starving and attempted to escape one night during a thunderstorm, but the French and their allies caught up and killed all of them. All that remained after this were the 500 Fox who had stayed in Wisconsin. They fled to the Sauk west of Green Bay, and the French went after them in 1734. When the Sauk refused to surrender the Fox, they were attacked, but the French commander was killed during the assault. In the confusion which followed, the Fox and Sauk abandoned their village and fled west across the Mississippi into Iowa. The French sent another expedition against them in 1736, but by this time their allies were having doubts about genocide. At a meeting in Montreal in the spring of 1837, the Potawatomi and Ottawa asked the French to forgive the Sauk, while the Menominee and Winnebago made a similar request on behalf of the Fox. Faced with a revolt of their allies, a war with the pro-British Chickasaw which had closed the lower Mississippi, and fighting between the Ojibwe and Dakota in Minnesota, the French reluctantly agreed.
By 1718 the Potawatomi had replaced the Miami at St. Joseph. Their warriors continued to serve as loyal French allies and raided the pro-British Chickasaw andCherokee during 1740-41, but the French had a more serious problem with the increasing competition from British traders. To meet this, the French reoccupied or opened new posts at Michilimackinac, La Baye, Ouiatenon, Chequamegon, St. Joseph, Pimitoui, Miamis, Niagara, De Chartes, and Vincennes, but the damage was done. British goods were generally cheaper and better than what the French could offer, and by 1728, 80% of the beaver at Albany was coming from French allies. This became critical during the King George’s War (1744-48) after a British blockade of the St. Lawrence cut the supply of French trade goods. As during the Queen Anne’s War, there was little fighting in the Great Lakes during this conflict, but the Potawatomi joined other Great Lakes warriors to travel to Montreal and defend Quebec from a British invasion which never came.
However, economic warfare in the Ohio Valley between the British and French continued throughout the war and in the years which followed. Ohio was claimed by the Iroquois by right of conquest, the French by right of discovery, and the British since the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) had placed the Iroquois under their protection. In truth, none of these claims were valid, and Ohio belonged to the Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo (Ohio Iroquois) who lived there. Nominally members of the Iroquois Covenant Chain, the Ohio tribes were independent of the League and had no wish to be dominated by the Iroquois, British, or French. But they did want to trade, and because of this, British traders were able to visit Ohio and trade directly. This proved irresistible to French allies, and in 1748 Orontony’s Wyandot at Sandusky burned their French trading post and attempted to organize a revolt against the French at Detroit. This collapsed after Orontony’s death in 1750, but was followed by a more dangerous conspiracy of the Miami chief Memeskia (known as La Demoiselle to the French and Old Britain to the British).
Memeskia sacked a French trading post on the Wabash and moved his people east to a new village at Pickawillany (Piqua, Ohio), where he allowed the British to build a trading post. He then invited other Miami, as well as Kickapoo, Illinois and Potawatomi to come to his village to trade. The French noted the defections from their alliance when the Potawatomi and other tribes ceased their attacks on the Chickasaw and Cherokee south of the Ohio River. The French tried to organize an attack on Memeskia to force the Ohio tribes to expel the British, but the Detroit tribes (including the Potawatomi) were thinking of dumping the French for the British and, using the excuse of recent smallpox epidemic, refused to act. In desperation, Charles Langlade, a Métis (mixed blood), gathered a war party of 250 Ojibwe and Ottawa at Mackinac and in June, 1752 attacked and destroyed Pickawillany. “Old Britain” and 30 Miami were killed and the British trading post looted and burned. The attack sent a chilling message to French allies thinking of breaking with the alliance to trade with the British.
By fall, the Potawatomi, Miami, andWyandot had apologized to the French and renewed their attacks on the Chickasaw. This encouraged the French to construct a line of forts in western Pennsylvania to block British access to Ohio. Virginia in 1754 sent a young militia major named George Washington to demand the French abandon their new forts, but he got into a fight with French soldiers which started the French and Indian War (1755-63). The Potawatomi supported the French throughout this war, first sending warriors to defeat Braddock’s army at Fort Duquesne in 1755, and then east to Montreal to take part in the French campaigns in northern New York in 1756-57. It was during the siege of Fort William Henry in 1757 that their warriors contracted smallpox and brought it back to their villages. The epidemic which swept through the Great Lakes during the winter of the 1757-58 took most of the French allies out of the war. Quebec fell to the British in September, 1759 and Montreal surrendered the following summer.
The French were finished in North America. British soldiers occupied most of their forts in the Great Lakes later that year, and only Fort de Chartes in the Illinois country remained under French control. In 1761 the Potawatomi and other members of the French alliance met with Sir William Johnson at Detroit to learn what to expect from their new British “fathers.” Johnson hoped to continue the old French system, but he was overruled by Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander in North America. Amherst despised American colonials, so his feelings about Native Americans are not difficult to imagine. As an economy measure, he ordered an end to the annual presents given to chiefs, increased the prices of trade goods, and restricted supply, especially of gunpowder and whiskey. He then left it to Johnson to deal with the dissatisfaction which was not long in coming. At the Detroit meeting, Johnson discovered that the Seneca were circulating a war belt calling for a general uprising.
Johnson squashed this, but calls for revolt continued. A drought in the Ohio Valley during summer of 1762 brought famine that winter. At the same time Neolin, the Delaware prophet, began preaching a return to traditional native values and a rejection of the whiteman’s trade goods. The St. Joseph Potawatomi, who by this time were heavily Catholic due to the Jesuit mission, accepted many of his ideas but gave them Christian interpretations. However, Neolin’s most important convert was Pontiac, the Ottawa chief at Detroit, who decided a return to traditional values meant getting rid of the British and bringing back the French. In meetings during the spring of 1763, he secretly organized an revolt which, when it struck in May, captured nine of the twelve British forts west of the Appalachians. The Detroit Potawatomi joined Pontiac’s attack on Fort Detroit, while the St. Joseph Potawatomi overwhelmed their British garrison. However, the uprising collapsed after the failure to take Forts Pitt, Niagara, and (most importantly) Detroit.
Pontiac was forced to abandon the siege and flee west to northern Indiana. As the British rushed troops to the area, the intractable Amherst was replaced by Thomas Gage and the Proclamation of 1763 was issued halting further settlement west of the Appalachians. The Potawatomi and other tribes attended a conference with Johnson at Fort Niagara in July, 1764 and made peace. Gage ended the trade restrictions, and Pontiac signed his own peace in 1766 promising never to fight the British again. Unpopular among his own people because of this and his failure to capture Detroit, he settled in northern Illinois where he still enjoyed a considerable following. There were rumors Pontiac was secretly trying to organize another uprising in the west, but in 1769 he was murdered by a Peoria (Illinois) at the establishment of a British trader in Cahokia. The British were suspected of arranging his assassination, but the wrath of his supporters fell on the Illinois. The Potawatomi allied with the Ojibwe, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, Winnebago and Ottawa and avenged Pontiac by destroying the Illinois Confederation.
Fewer than 400 Illinois survived this war to reach the protection of the French settlement at Kaskaskia. The victors divided their abandoned lands among themselves, with the Prairie Potawatomi expanding down the Illinois River as far as present-day Peoria. With the Prairie Potawatomi controlling most of northeast Illinois and southeast Wisconsin, the St. Joseph Potawatomi began to push south into northern Indiana. This was particularly annoying to the Miami, who had been giving ground to the Potawatomi for many years, and relations between these two tribes were strained. Their dispute was poorly timed, since the American colonists had forced the British to rescind the Proclamation of 1763 and negotiate with the Iroquois to open the Ohio Valley for settlement. Illegal squatters had started coming after the Pontiac Rebellion, but after the Iroquois cession of Ohio at Fort Stanwix in 1768, the trickle became a flood.
Shawnee protests to the Iroquois brought threats of extermination if they resisted, and in 1769 the Shawnee made overtures of alliance to the Potawatomi, Illinois, Kickapoo, Wea, Piankashaw, Miami, Wyandot, Ottawa, Delaware, Mascouten, Ojibwe, Cherokee and Chickasaw. Meetings were held on the Scioto River in 1770 and 1771, but William Johnson’s threats of war with the Iroquois kept other tribes from helping the Shawnee and Mingo during Lord Dunmore’s War (1774). Afterwards, the British washed their hands of the whole affair, withdrew most of their garrisons, and sat back to watch. Their detachment ended with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War (1775-83) when they armed the Ohio tribes and urged them to attack American settlements. Because the disputed lands were in Kentucky and Ohio, only the Shawnee and Chickamauga Cherokee were involved at first, but by 1779 the British had brought the Detroit and St. Joseph Potawatomi, Saginaw and Mackinac Ojibwe, Delaware, Wyandot, Miami, Ottawa, and Kickapoo into the fight with the “Long Knives” (American frontiersmen) along the Ohio River.
France had given Louisiana to Spain in 1763 rather than see it fall into British hands, and the Prairie Bands of the Potawatomi and Kickapoo in central Illinois had become closer to the French traders from St. Louis than the British. Because of this and their remoteness to Ohio, they had remained neutral during the first years of the Revolution and not participated in the attacks on the Kentucky settlements. This changed when George Rogers Clark and his army of 200 Kentucky frontiersmen arrived in the Illinois country in 1778 and surprised the small British garrison at Kaskaskia. Clark also took Cahokia and won the support of the French in the area, but he hated Native Americans and spurned their offers to help capture Detroit. The opportunity slipped through his fingers, and that fall, Colonel Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit (known in Kentucky as the “hair buyer” because he paid for American scalps), recaptured Fort Sackville at Vincennes with a force of Detroit warriors and French. Clark made a daring mid-winter trek across southern Illinois to Vincennes, and after a brief siege, Hamilton surrendered in February, 1779.
The British and French were spared, but Clark and his men executed the warriors with tomahawks. Among the victims were Detroit Potawatomi, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Saginaw Ojibwe, and although Clark had once received overtures of cooperation from almost every tribe in Illinois who traded with the French and Spanish (Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Illinois, Winnebago, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Miami), this brutality turned most of them against the Americans. For the remainder of the war, only the Milwaukee Potawatomi of Letourneau (Blackbird or Siggenauk) and some of the Illinois remained friendly. During the winter of 1779-80, the British planned an offensive, not only to reclaim the Illinois country, but to seize control of the entire Mississippi basin. By this time, Spain had entered the war against the British, so part of the offensive was directed against them. While British naval forces attacked Spanish posts on the Gulf of Mexico, a column under Captain Henry Bird left Detroit with 600 warriors (150 Potawatomi) in April, 1780 and, adding another 600 as it moved south, struck the settlements south of the Ohio River. Before turning back, Bird’s army left a trail of death and destruction throughout Kentucky.
Meanwhile, another expedition under Captain Emanuel Hesse moved down the Illinois River to attack St. Louis. However, the Spanish and French were warned of its approach and had ample time to prepare. When the assault by 950 British and their allies (Ojibwe, Fox, Sauk, Winnebago, Dakota, and Potawatomi) finally occurred on May 26th, it was repulsed after heavy losses to both sides. An attack against Cahokia across the Mississippi also failed, and the British retreated without result. Potawatomi participation in the remaining years of the war varied considerably. The Detroit bands remained active in the British cause and in 1782 helped defeat the Colonel William Crawford’s army (June) and Kentucky militia at Blue Licks (August) during which Daniel Boone’s son Israel was killed. The Milwaukee Potawatomi sided with the Spanish and Americans, and at their suggestion, the Spanish in 1780 launched a retaliatory raid against the British post at St. Joseph, but the British caught the raiders in northern Illinois and killed or captured most of them.
After the Spanish and French entered the war, the loyalty of the heavily Catholic St. Joseph Potawatomi to the British was wavering, so before launching a second attack on St. Joseph, the Spanish promised them a share of the plunder. In January, 1781 Spanish troops of Capt. Eugene Pourre destroyed the British fort and trading post without any resistance from the Potawatomi. The St. Joseph Potawatomi were reluctant British allies at best, and their encroachment into northern Indiana created problems. In 1780 the Miami had attacked a Potawatomi war party heading south to attack the Kentucky settlements, and, to keep both tribes fighting Americans instead of each other, had required Simon De Peyster, the British agent at Detroit, to use all of his skills as a mediator.
The Revolutionary War “officially” ended in 1783 with Treaty of Paris which, because of George Rogers Clark’s conquest of the Illinois country, placed the western boundary of the United States at the Mississippi River. “Unofficially,” the war continued to 1794 because the British, using the pretext of debts owed to British loyalists (Tories), refused to withdraw from its forts on American territory until these were paid. This, of course, was impossible unless the Americans could sell the lands in Ohio, and the British knew this. Although they urged their native allies to stop attacking American settlements in 1783, they were also encouraging an alliance to keep the Americans out of Ohio. In the fall of 1783, the alliance was formed at a meeting at Sandusky. The British did not attend, but they sent the Mohawk Joseph Brant to speak on their behalf and let it be known they would support the alliance in the event of war with the Americans.
The membership ultimately included: Potawatomi, Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo, Iroquois (Canadian), Miami, Wea, Piankashaw, Fox, Sauk, Ottawa, Ojibwe, Kickapoo, and Chickamauga (Cherokee). With more than 2,000 warriors, the alliance was a formidable barrier to American expansion in the Ohio Valley. After forcing the Iroquois to acknowledge their previous cession of Ohio at Fort Stanwix in 1768, the United States tried to establish a boundary with the Ohio tribes through treaty. However, the Americans refused to deal with the alliance because they considered it a British plot (which it was). Instead, they signed treaties with individual tribes at Fort McIntosh (1785) and Fort Finney (1786). Since the chiefs signing these agreements did not represent the alliance (and often their own tribe), the treaties were worthless. To make matters worse, the American commissioners did not represent their frontier citizens who had rid themselves of one government trying to keep them out of Ohio and were ready to take on the one in Philadelphia if it stood in their way.
Frontiersmen simply ignored the treaty and moved onto native lands. The tiny American army could not stop this, and when native warriors tried to remove the squatters, there was war. The first council fire of the alliance was at the Shawnee village of Waketomica, but it was burned by the Americans in 1786 and the capital was moved to Brownstown, a Wyandot village near Detroit. As alliance warriors and frontiersmen exchanged raids and atrocities, the government made a final attempt to resolve the dispute by treaty. In December, 1787 the governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, requested a meeting to be held at the falls of Muskingum River. The alliance met to determine its position, and it was agreed to accept the Muskingum as the boundary. However, there was opposition, and 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 (including the Potawatomi) decided to attend. The Fort Harmar Treaty (January, 1789) was the first treaty between the United States and Potawatomi. Unfortunately, it was meant very little. There were no Potawatomi villages in Ohio, so they had little stake in the outcome. The signatures of the other tribes were more important, but after the fighting resumed that summer, the alliance was dominated by the militant Shawnee and Miami, and the Americans decided to use force. The initial battles of Little Turtle’s War (1790-94) ended in disaster for the Americans. Led by the Miami war chief Little Turtle, alliance warriors inflicted the worst defeats an American army ever received from Native Americans: Harmar (1790) and St. Clair (1791).
But the Americans could not afford to quit, and President Washington sent “Mad Anthony” Wayne to Ohio. Wayne was anything but “mad.” During the next two years, he trained his “Legion,” a large force of regulars to back the frontier militia, and began careful preparations for an offensive to destroy the alliance villages in northwest Ohio. Meanwhile, continuous warfare was taking its toll on the alliance which could not feed its warriors for extended periods. Complaining about the lack of food, the Fox and Sauk left in 1792. At the same time, General Charles Scott attacked the villages on the lower Wabash and captured a large number of women and children which forced the Wabash tribes (Wea, Piankashaw, and Kickapoo) to make a separate peace. By the time it was defeated by the Americans at Fallen Timbers in 1794, the alliance had less than 800 warriors. During their retreat after the battle, the warriors watched the British close the gates of Fort Miami to them rather than risk a confrontation with Wayne’s army.
In November the British signed the Jay Treaty resolving their differences with the United States and agreeing to leave their forts on American territory. Abandoned by the British, the alliance chiefs assembled at Fort Greenville in August, 1795 and signed a treaty ceding Ohio except the northwest. Negotiations involved an unusually large number from the alliance (the Americans counted 1,130 attended). Of these, 240 were Potawatomi, and the 24 signatures of their chiefs represent the largest delegation to sign the treaty. Although the Potawatomi did not surrender any of their land at Greenville, they received $1,000 for signing. More than 60 of the Potawatomi who attended mysteriously got sick and died afterwards, and the British claimed they had been poisoned by the Americans. There was no evidence to support this, but the suspicion remained and prepared the way for Tecumseh and his brother, the Shawnee Prophet.
An unhappy peace settled across the Ohio Valley afterwards, but in the wake of military defeat, it was a terrible period of social disintegration and breakdown of tribal authority. The Shawnee chief Blue Jacket tried to resurrect the council at Brownstown in 1801, but his efforts were thwarted by Little Turtle and the other “peace chiefs” trying to reach an accommodation with the Americans. They had an impossible task. The Americans had finally gotten Ohio in 1795 but would not be satisfied until they had the entire Ohio Valley. William Henry Harrison arrived as the new governor of the Northwest Territory in 1800 with specific instructions to end native title to their lands through treaty, and he set about his work. The Potawatomi and others signed treaties at Fort Wayne (1803), Fort Industry (1805), and Grouseland (1805), ceding portions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, but it was at the Detroit treaty signed in November, 1807 ceding the southeast quarter of lower Michigan where the Potawatomi for the first time were required to surrender some of their own land. The Americans took a little more at Brownstown in 1808.
It was a good time for a prophet and one arose among the Shawnee. His name originally was Lalawethika, and he was known among the Shawnee as a drunkard and loud-mouth. In 1805 Lalawethika received a spiritual vision and changed his name to Tenskwatawa “the open door.” Unwilling to struggle with his Shawnee name, Americans simply called him The Prophet. His message similar to the Delaware Prophet Neolin’s in 1763 – return to traditional values and reject trade goods and whiskey. His brother Tecumseh, a respected war chief, added a political element to this – no more land cessions to the Americans. To make this point, the brothers established their village at the treaty line on the abandoned grounds of Fort Greenville. Interest in Tenskwatawa grew quickly, but many turned away after his followers killed some of the Delaware and Wyandot for witchcraft. Tenskwatawa recovered by predicting an eclipse in 1806 (some would say with the help of a British almanac), but he was never able to win widespread support among the important tribes of the old alliance, including the Shawnee.
This was partly due to the opposition of the “peace chiefs” who saw the new movement as a threat to their authority. Instead, most support for Tecumseh and the Prophet came from the tribes farther west, the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Sauk, Fox, and Winnebago who were allies in a bitter war with the Osage west of the Mississippi. They had not yet lost land to the Americans but realized it was only a matter of time. Upset by the American purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, the Dakota sent a wampum belt to the Fox, Sauk, and Potawatomi in 1805 asking them to end their war with the Osage and join an alliance against the Americans. Unsure of what to do, a Potawatomi and Sauk delegation visited the British at Fort Malden (Amherstburg, Ontario) to ask for their support. The British refused to commit themselves, but rumors of war circulated across the frontier during 1806. By the time Tecumseh visited Fort Malden in 1808, the British had changed their minds and gave him every encouragement.
The Prophet’s message found fertile ground among the Prairie Potawatomi, especially the band of Main Poche (French for Withered Hand), a war chief and shaman who had spent his life fighting the Osage in Missouri. Main Poche and his people visited the Prophet at Greenville in 1807 and extended an invitation to relocate his village to Tippecanoe in western Indiana. Tenskwatawa accepted and left Greenville in the spring of 1808. There was nothing accidental about the location of Prophetstown to Tippecanoe. It was disputed ground between the Potawatomi and Miami and was intended as an insult to a most important peace chief, Little Turtle of the Miami. In September, 1809 the peace chiefs of the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Delaware, and Miami met with Governor Harrison at Fort Wayne and ceded over three million acres of southern Illinois and Indiana. When Tecumseh learned of this, he denounced the treaty, threatened the chiefs who signed with death, and promised the provisions would never be carried out.
He made good on his threat when his Wyandot followers executed the old chief Leatherlips in 1810 and sent the alliance wampum belts to Tippecanoe. The reaction of the peace chiefs meeting in Brownstown was to condemn the Prophet as a witch. Tecumseh met twice with Harrison at Vincennes, but their talks almost ended in armed confrontations. In the fall of 1811, Tecumseh left Prophetstown to recruit the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee against the Americans. Before leaving, he warned his brother to avoid a fight with Americans while he was gone. He would have done better to tell Main Poche the same thing. Launching his own protest against the Fort Wayne Treaty, his Potawatomi attacked settlements in southern Illinois throwing the frontier into alarm and bringing out militia. Harrison seized upon this to gather an army and march on Tippecanoe. When it arrived in November, Tenskwatawa ignored his brother’s instructions and ordered an attack on Harrison’s camp. During the battle which followed, the natives were forced to withdraw, and the Americans captured and burned Prophetstown.
The military defeat at the Battle of Tippecanoe was of little consequence compared with the damage done to Tenskwatawa’s reputation as a prophet. When Tecumseh returned in January, he had to rebuild his alliance. He had little time for this, since the War of 1812 (1812-14) began in June. Other than Main Poche, the Potawatomi did not automatically join Tecumseh and the British. Thanks to Thomas Forsyth, the American Indian agent at Peoria, the bands of Black Partridge and Gomo (Nasima) on the Illinois River remained neutral, while the Milwaukee Potawatomi stood by the Americans as they had done during the Revolution. The St. Joseph and Huron bands were divided, with some following the Brownstown council’s decision to remain neutral and others joining Tecumseh. However, Main Poche was able to convince the Prairie Potawatomi to attack Fort Dearborn (Chicago). Besieged and surrounded the fort’s garrison in August received orders from General William Hull to abandon the fort and join him at Detroit.
Negotiations were held for a safe withdrawal, but on the night before they were to leave, the fort’s commander ordered the fort’s powder supply thrown down a well rather than leave it for the Potawatomi as promised. The Indian agent at the fort was William Wells. Captured as a child, he had been adopted by the Miami and was married to Little Turtle’s daughter. When Wells saw what was done with the powder, he blackened his face in the traditional Miami manner and prepared for death. On August 16th, the 42-man garrison marched out of the fort and headed east. They had not gone far when the ruined powder was discovered, and they were attacked. Everyone was killed, including Wells. The Potawatomi mutilated his body and ate his heart. Black Partridge arrived too late to save the garrison, but he buried the dead and protected the few civilian survivors from massacre until they could be sent safely to the British at Detroit.
Detroit was British because on that same day, General Hull had surrendered his command to a smaller force without a fight – an act which earned him the distinction of being the only American general court-martialed for cowardice and sentenced to death by firing squad (later pardoned by President Madison). Because of the British victory at Detroit and the efforts of the British Indian agent, Robert Dickson, the Potawatomi and warriors >from many tribes joined Tecumseh at Detroit, but Black Partridge, if anything, still leaned towards the Americans. Unfortunately, Illinois territorial governor Ninian Edwards needed to respond to the Fort Dearborn massacre and attacks on Fort Madison (Iowa), and in November, 1812, sent an expedition from Fort Edwards (Edwardsville) under Colonel William Russell to attack the hostile Kickapoo and Potawatomi villages on the Illinois River. As always, the innocent were easier to find than the guilty, and the militia attacked Black Partridge’s village on Peoria Lake while he was absent helping to rescue one of Forsyth’s relatives. The attack in the middle of the night killed 25-30 Potawatomi including Black Partridge’s favorite daughter and her child. After this, all of the Potawatomi were fighting the Americans.
Potawatomi warriors went to Ohio and became a major part of Tecumseh’s army. They defeated the Americans at the Raisin River, but after William Henry Harrison assumed command of the American forces, the tide turned. The British and their allies failed to take Fort Meigs in northwest Ohio and afterwards began a retreat towards Detroit. Discouraged by the heavy losses and boredom of siege warfare, Main Poche left to pursue his own war against the Americans in Illinois. However, Shabbona and the other Potawatomi remained with Tecumseh. After Perry’s victory over the British fleet on Lake Erie, Detroit was abandoned as Harrison’s army approached. Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames in October, 1813 while covering the British retreat across southern Ontario, and the last chance for Native Americans to stop the Americans from taking their land died with him.
Although native resistance generally ended after the death of Tecumseh, Potawatomi and Kickapoo attacks in Illinois resulted in an almost separate conflict known as the Peoria War (1813). In August, 150 soldiers from St. Louis came to Peoria by keelboat and began building Fort Clark. An attack by Black Partridge’s Potawatomi was repulsed, and soon afterwards, reinforcements arrived in the form of 800 mounted rangers commanded by former Missouri governor Benjamin Howard. The troops destroyed two nearby villages (including Gomo’s). Meanwhile, Roger’s Rangers from St. Louis attacked and destroyed the Kickapoo-Potawatomi village at “The Bluffs” on the Mississippi (Quincy, Illinois). Faced with overwhelming military force, the Potawatomi ended their last war with the Americans. Sanatuwa and Iatapucky made peace that fall, and Black Partridge met with William Clark (Lewis and Clark fame and younger brother of George Rogers) at St. Louis in January, 1814. Gomo began supplying Fort Clark’s garrison with meat and kept the peace even after whites murdered some of his hunters.
The War of 1812 is generally thought to have ended in a stalemate between Great Britain and the United States, but for the Native Americans it was total defeat. With Tecumseh dead and British support gone, there was nothing to stop the Americans. New agencies and forts were added at Green Bay, Chicago, Rock Island, Peoria, Prairie du Chien, St. Paul, and Peoria. The first treaties signed by the Potawatomi after the war made peace and forgave injuries: Greenville (1814) – tribes allied with the Americans (Delaware, Seneca, Shawnee, and Wyandot) made peace with the Miami, Kickapoo, Ottawa and Potawatomi; Portage des Sioux (1815) – Prairie Potawatomi made peace with the Americans; and Spring Wells (1815) – Detroit Potawatomi and other Tecumseh allies agreed to peace and were allowed to return from Canada. However, the Prophet remained in Canada until he was lured back to the United States in 1824 by Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan to convince the Shawnee to leave Ohio and remove to Kansas.
After this, the Americans got down to the business of taking native lands east of the Mississippi. The usual method was to force tribes into smaller areas where their only real income was annuities. Government traders (the only persons allowed to trade with Native Americans) extended credit, and as debts increased, the tribes were forced to sell land to pay. Because the Potawatomi were north of the early settlements, they did not lose much of their land until 1821, but they were called upon earlier to surrender claims to land occupied by other tribes: St. Louis (1816) – Potawatomi surrender claim to western Illinois lands ceded by the Sauk and Fox in 1804; Fort Meigs (1817) – Wyandot ceded three million acres of Ohio, but the Detroit Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Ojibwe lost only 500,000 acres; and St. Marys (1818) – Potawatomi abandon claims to lands in Indiana south of the Wabash and ceded a narrow strip north of the river.
The treaty signed at Chicago in 1821 was the first major land cession by the Potawatomi since 1807 and set the pattern for things to come. The St. Joseph bands surrendered a large tract in southwest Michigan (and a small strip of northern Indiana in exchange for reservations for the individual bands. Four years later, the Forest Potawatomi in Wisconsin participated in the Grand Council at Prairie du Chein (1825) which attempted to prevent intertribal warfare along the upper Mississippi by creating boundaries between tribal territories. The Americans continued to whittle away at Potawatomi holdings with the Wabash Treaty (1826) taking another narrow strip of Indiana north of the Wabash, while the 1827 treaty with the Huron Potawatomi completed the establishment of reservations in Michigan by consolidating several bands and moving them away from the Chicago-Detroit highway.
The treaty at Prairie du Chein in 1825 had little effect on the warfare on the upper Mississippi, but it was enough for American miners to rush into the lead mining area of northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin which resulted in a brief war with the Winnebago (Winnebago War) in 1827. In a treaty signed at Green Bay in 1828, the Winnebago, Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Ojibwe surrendered their claims to the area. That same year, the St. Joseph Potawatomi ceded another small area along Lake Michigan which included parts of Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, and in response to growing white settlement, the Prairie Potawatomi in 1829 gave up part of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin and agreed to a series of reservations. Within the brief period of eight years, the Potawatomi lost 70% of their land and allowed themselves to be confined on small reservations where it was almost impossible to support themselves. With the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the stage was set for their removal to west of the Mississippi.
This was delayed while the government focused on getting Blackhawk’s Sauk at Rock Island to accept the 1804 treaty and leave western Illinois. The opportunity came in 1831 during a war between the Fox and Dakota, when Blackhawk moved his people across the river into Iowa to defend the Fox. After the danger passed, the army refused to allow him to return to his village in Illinois. The matter would have been settled here if Blackhawk had not spent the winter in Iowa fuming and listening to the arguments of his friend Neopope and the Winnebago Prophet (White Cloud). Wampum belts arrived from the Winnebago and Potawatomi which convincing Blackhawk they would support him if he defied the Americans and crossed back into Illinois. In June he led 2,000 Sauk across the Mississippi and started the Blackhawk War (1832).
Avoiding Fort Armstrong at Rock Island, Blackhawk moved northeast up the Rock River to contact the Potawatomi and Winnebago. Although the alarm was out and the militia was assembling all over Illinois, there had been no hostilities up to this point. Blackhawk went into camp upstream from Dixon’s Ferry and left for a council with the Potawatomi. At this meeting, it became clear that Shabbona and the other Potawatomi chiefs would not join him, and Blackhawk decided to return to Iowa. A messenger was dispatched to request safe passage from the army, but he had no sooner left than mounted militia arrived and prepared to attack his camp. Blackhawk tried to arrange a truce, but his messengers were taken prisoner and the next group was fired upon. The militia then killed their prisoners and charged after the Sauk, only to panic when they ran into what they thought was an ambush. At the Battle of Sycamore Creek (Stillman’s Defeat), 250 mounted militia were routed by less than 40 Sauk warriors.
Although he had stayed with Tecumseh until his death in 1813, Shabbona had accepted the outcome and afterwards tried to get along with the Americans. His influence was the main reason the Potawatomi had refused to support Blackhawk, but after the Sauk victory at Sycamore Creek, several Potawatomi bands were considering fighting the Americans. Shabbona rode to the scattered villages to stop this, but at Big Foot’s village, his arguments fell on deaf ears, and he was taken prisoner. Some Potawatomi felt this was an affront to a chief who had come for a council, and he was released but had to flee for his life. Aware that some Potawatomi warriors were planning to join Blackhawk and avenge old injuries from settlers in the area, Shabbona rode all night and warned the whites to leave.
Some did not listen, and Potawatomi warriors killed 16 whites at Indian Creek (near Ottawa). Shabbona volunteered his people as scouts for the Americans during the pursuit of the Sauk into Wisconsin. Afterwards, he was hailed as the “whiteman’s friend,” but this did not prevent the cession of five million acres at the Treaty of Chicago (September, 1832) or the removal of his people to Iowa. Shabbona got to keep a small reserve in Illinois for his loyalty and service. The Sauk never forgave him for what they considered a betrayal, and Neopope made an unsuccessful attempt in Kansas to assassinate him during the fall of 1837. This forced Shabbona to return to Illinois until Neopope died in 1849. He lived with his people in Kansas for the next two years, but when he returned to Illinois in 1851, he discovered whites have taken his land. Almost 80 at the time, Shabbona cried. He died in 1859 and was buried at Ottawa. In 1903 white citizens erected a monument in his honor but never returned his land.
The Prairie Potawatomi were removed in 1834 along with Ojibwe and Ottawa of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin and assigned a land between the Missouri and Little Platte Rivers known as the Platte Purchase. Some bands refused to leave and moved north to lands belonging to the Menominee and Ojibwe. A few went to Canada to escape. In 1836 the southern part of the Platte Purchase was added to the state of Missouri. A brief war ensued (Heatherly War) that year after the Potawatomi killed two white men. Army dragoons and Missouri militia attacked the Missouri Band of the Sauk and Fox in retaliation (a not-too subtle suggestion to move), and in 1837 the Potawatomi were relocated north of the Missouri line to a reservation near Council Bluffs. It was not a peaceful place. In 1841 a hunting party of 16 Delaware and a Potawatomi were attacked by the Dakota near the Sioux Fork of Mink Creek in Iowa. Only the Potawatomi escaped to reach the Sauk and Fox villages. A Sauk and Fox war party caught the Dakota raiders and killed them.
The removal of the Potawatomi of the Woods from Michigan and Indiana did not proceed as smoothly. Rather than agree to immediate removal, they signed two treaties in October, 1832 (Tippecanoe or Wabash Treaties) ceding most of their remaining land in exchange for reserves and annual annuities. This temporary solution continued while American agent A.C. Pepper negotiated a series of treaties with the individual bands (four in 1834 and eight in 1836) to cede their reserves and agree to removal. Once this was done, a collective agreement with five bands was signed in February, 1837 at Washington, D.C. The chiefs signed, but there was widespread resistance to this agreement. Some bands simply slipped across the border into Ontario where they have remained ever since. Others were not so passive, and the chief at Nottawaseepe was poisoned by his own people while trying to convince them to accept removal. Menominee and his band at Twin Lakes, Indiana refused to sign any of the treaties. Confronted at a meeting in July, 1838, he still refused to sign or leave Indiana.
Indiana governor David Wallace sent General John Tipton to force removal. He arrived at Menominee’s village on August 30th and arrested every Potawatomi there. Menominee was thrown into a caged wagon. The soldiers burned the village, and on September 4th, 859 Potawatomi departed on what they would call the “Trail of Death.” Not as nearly as famous as the Cherokee Trail of Tears, it was every bit as deadly. The second day out, the first child died, and 51 Potawatomi became too sick to continue. By the time they reached Logansport, four more children were dead. The 300 who were sick required a halt so a hospital could be erected. The march continued across northern Illinois until it reached the ferry crossing the Mississippi at Quincy, Illinois. The Potawatomi camped outside the town for a few days while the ferry carried their baggage across. When Sunday came, more than 300 of these “wild Indians” attended mass at the local Catholic church. The church was less than a half mile from the site of the Potawatomi village destroyed by Roger’s Rangers in 1813.
Less than 700 Potawatomi arrived at Osawatomie in November. Half of the graves marking their route were filled with their children. Among the casualties was Father B. Petit who had volunteered to accompany his congregation on their journey to Kansas, but he became ill when they reached the Illinois River and died at St. Louis in February, 1839. Some Potawatomi remained behind and hid for many years. Laws were passed as late as 1870 to force their removal but never enforced. They remain today as part of the Huron and Pokagon Potawatomi in southern Michigan. The Potawatomi of the Woods remained on their reservation in eastern Kansas for almost eight years. In 1846 the government decided to consolidate the two groups of Potawatomi into a single tribe on one reservation. By this time the Ojibwe and Ottawa who had accompanied the Prairie Potawatomi west had merged with them, but it was still necessary to have both groups of Potawatomi sign the agreement. This was accomplished in June, and in exchange for $850,000 for their old reserves, both groups moved to a new reservation north of Topeka in 1847.
The merger into a single tribe did not go well. The Prairie Potawatomi bands were more traditional and clashed with the more acculturated Potawatomi of the Woods. The balance between the two factions was disturbed in 1850 by the arrival from Michigan of 650 members of the Mission Band. They settled near the St. Mary’s Mission. Some of the more traditional Potawatomi could not adjust to these circumstances and left with the Kickapoo for northern Mexico in 1852. Besides their internal divisions, there were serious problems with the Pawnee and other plains tribes. Many of the immigrant tribes in Kansas removed from east of the Mississippi supported themselves by becoming professional hunters, a source of considerable annoyance to the plains tribes who depended on the buffalo for food. This was aggravated by traffic through the Platte Valley to Oregon during the 1840s and the California gold rush in 1849. The increased traffic decimated the Platte River buffalo herd forcing the Pawnee and Cheyenne to hunt south in central Kansas. Hungry, they were not inclined to share this hunting territory with a bunch of “defeated Indians” from the east.
After several Pawnee attacks designed to keep them confined to their reservation villages, the Potawatomi declared war in 1850. Supported by other immigrant tribes, a battle was fought along the Blue River in June. The Pawnee lost 40 warriors in this engagement and afterwards were inclined to leave the Potawatomi alone. In 1861, Kansas became a state. Unlike the Delaware, Wyandot, and Shawnee farther east, the western location of the Potawatomi protected them from the fighting in eastern Kansas between pro- and anti-slavery forces after Kansas was opened for white settlement by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. This was especially apparent in the case of the Potawatomi of the Woods. Their old reservation was the site of some of the worst incidents: the Potawatomi Massacre (1856); and the Marais des Cygnes Massacre two years later. Their location also kept the Potawatomi from the American Civil War.
However, it could not protect them from Kansas statehood, and having been this way once before, the Potawatomi of the Woods and the Mission Band foresaw problems. They pushed for citizenship and allotment – something unacceptable to the traditional Prairie Band. Unable to resolve their differences, the two groups divided their reservation in a treaty signed in 1861. The Prairie Potawatomi continued to hold their half in common, but the Citizen Potawatomi agreed to 160 acre allotments and citizenship – the excess land to be sold to the Leavenworth, Pawnee& Western Railroad. In 1864 the Kansas legislature called for the removal of all Indians from Kansas. Disturbed by this, Potawatomi attended the Peace on the Plains council with the Confederates on Oklahoma’s Washita River in May, 1865. The meeting was well-attended (Osage, Pawnee, Iowa, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Wichita, Navaho, Mescalero, Yankton, Lakota, and Cheyenne), but Lee had already surrendered in Virginia, and the war was over.
The Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad never purchased the Citizen Potawatomi lands, so a treaty was signed in 1867 allowing their sale to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Most of the immigrant tribes left Kansas in 1867 and moved to the Indian Territory. Two years later the Citizen Potawatomi asked permission to do likewise. After selling their remaining lands in Kansas, they moved in 1870-71 to the vicinity of Shawnee. Most of their lands were lost in 1889 to allotment and and “grafting” (a polite way in Oklahoma of describing massive fraud and corruption), but most of them chose to remain in Oklahoma. The Prairie Potawatomi remained in Kansas. Chief Wabwabashkot resisted allotment until 1895, and tribal organization disintegrated afterwards. The tribal council ceased after 1900, the agency closed in 1903, and annuities stopped six years later. By 1925 only 22% of their land remained scattered in a checkerboard pattern through the original eleven square miles of the reservation. However, the Prairie Potawatomi survived. Federal recognition has been maintained despite efforts to terminate them in 1953.
In a tradition shared with the Ottawa and Potawatomi, the Ojibwe remember a time when they lived near an ocean. This may have been the Atlantic near the gulf of the St. Lawrence, but more likely it was Hudson Bay. Sometime around 1400, the North America climate became colder, and the first Ojibwe, Ottawa and Potawatomi bands started to arrive on the east side of Lake Huron. The Ottawa remained at the mouth of the French River and Lake Huron islands, but the Ojibwe and Potawatomi continued northwest occupying the shoreline to the Mackinac Strait which separates upper and lower Michigan. By 1500 the Potawatomi had crossed into lower Michigan while the Ojibwe continued west to Lake Superior and Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands. When the French had their first meeting the Saulteur in 1623, the Ojibwe were concentrated in the eastern half of upper Michigan.
Through the fur trade and war, the Ojibwe after 1687 expanded to the east, south, and west. During their wars with the Iroquois, the Ojibwe pushed down both sides of Lake Huron and by 1701 controlled most of lower Michigan and southern Ontario. Following the French fur trade west during the 1720s, they moved beyond Lake Superior and into a war with the Dakota (Sioux) in 1737. During the next century, the Ojibwe forced the Dakota out of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Reaching Manitoba and North Dakota during the late 1700s, some bands adopted the plains lifestyle and continued west into Montana and Saskatchewan. At the same time, other Ojibwe moved south to settle in northern Illinois. By 1800 Ojibwe were living in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. No other tribe has ever come close to controlling so vast an area as the Ojibwe did at this time. White settlement ultimately took most of their land and forced them onto reservations, but with the exception of two small bands, the Ojibwe have remained in their homeland.
Canada recognizes more than 600 First Nations – more than 130 of which are Ojibwe (at least in part). These are located in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
In the United States, 22 Chippewa groups have federal recognition.
Bay Mills Indian Community of the Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of L’Anse of Chippewa Indians, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of Lac Vieux Desert of Chippewa Indians, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of Ontonagon Bands of Chippewa Indians, Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan (Isabella)
Minnesota Chippewa Nation of Minnesota (six bands):
Boise Forte (Nett Lake), Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and White Earth. Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of the Red Lake Reservation
Chippewa-Cree Indians of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Sokoagon Chippewa Community – Mole Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, St. Croix Chippewa Indians
Ojibwe without federal recognition
Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (MI), Consolidated Bahwetig Ojibwe and Mackinac (MI), Kah-Bay-Kah-Nong (Warroad Chippewa) (MN), Lake Superior Chippewa of Marquette (MI), Little Shell Tribe of Chippewas (ND and MT), NI-MI-WIN Ojibweys (MN), Sandy Lake Band of Ojibwe (MN), and Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa (KS and MT).
Made up of numerous independent bands, the Ojibwe were so spread out that few early French estimates of them were even close. 35,000 has been suggested, but there were probably two to three times as many in 1600. The British said there were about 25-30,000 Ojibwe in 1764, but the the Americans in 1843 listed 30,000 in just the United States. The 1910 census (low-point for most tribes) gave 21000 in the United States and 25,000 in Canada – total 46,000. By 1970 this had increased to almost 90,000. Currently, there ar 130,000 Ojibwe in United States and 60,000 in Canada. The 190,000 total represents only enrolled Ojibwe and does not include Canadian Métis, many of whom have Ojibwe blood. If these were added, the Ojibwe would be the largest Native American group north of Mexico.
To end any confusion, the Ojibwe and Chippewa are not only the same tribe, but the same word pronounced a little differently due to accent. If an “O” is placed in front of Chippewa (O’chippewa), the relationship becomes apparent. Ojibwe is used in Canada, although Ojibwe west of Lake Winnipeg are sometime referred to as the Saulteaux. In United States, Chippewa was used in all treaties and is the official name. The Ojibwe call themselves Anishinabe (Anishinaubag, Neshnabek) meaning “original men” (sometimes shortened to Shinob and used as a nickname among themselves). Ottawa and Potawatomi also call themselves Anishinabe, and at some time in the past, the three tribes were a single tribe. Ojibwe, or Chippewa, comes from the Algonquin word “otchipwa” (to pucker) and refers to the distinctive puckered seam of Ojibwe moccasins. Various spellings: Achipoes, Chepeway, Chippeway, Ochipoy, Odjibwa, Ojibweg, Ojibwey, Ojibwa, and Otchipwe.
Some major Ojibwe had specific names according to location:
Missisauga in southern Ontario; Salteaux of upper Michigan; and Bungee for the Ojibwe of the northern Great Plains. Other names: Aoechisaeronon (Huron), Assisagigroone (Iroquois), Axshissayerunu, (Wyandot), Bawichtigouek (French), Bedzaqetcha (Tsattine), Bedzietcho (Kawchodinne), Bungee (Plains Ojibwe, Plains Chippewa) (Hudson Bay), Dewakanha (Mohawk), Dshipowehaga (Caughnawaga), Dwakanen (Onondaga), Eskiaeronnon (Huron), Hahatonwan (Dakota), Hahatonway (Hidatsa), Jumper, Kutaki (Fox), Leaper, Neayaog (Cree), Nwaka (Tuscarora), Ostiagahoroone (Iroquois), Paouichtigouin (French), Rabbit People (Plains Cree), Regatci (Negatce) (Winnebago), Saulteur (Saulteaux) (French), Sore Face (Hunkpapa Lakota), Sotoe (British), and Wahkahtowah (Assiniboine).
Algonquin – central Algonquin group. Ojibwe is virtually identical to Ottawa, Potawatomi and Algonkin, with a more distant relationship to Illinois and Miami. After 1680, Ojibwe became the trade language in the northern Great Lakes.
While the Ojibwe were concentrated near the Mackinac Straits 1650-85, the French called them Saulteur, with some groups apparently being confused with the Ottawa. Ojibwe and Chippewa came into use later. By 1800 there were five divisions:
…included the Mississauga of southern Ontario, the Ojibwe villages near Detroit, and the Saginaw who occupied the eastern half of lower Michigan.
…northern Ontario between the north shore of Lakes Huron and Superior bounded on the north by the divide between the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay drainages, and on the west by Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba.
…south shore of Lake Superior from Mackinac across upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin to the headwaters of the St. Croix River.
…Minnesota north of the Minnesota River.
…Red River Valley and Turtle Mountains of eastern North Dakota ranging west into Montana, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
Ojibwe Bands and Villages in 1650
Achiligouan, Amicoures, Amikouet (Amikwa, Amikouai), Auwause, Bawating, Chequamegon, Keweenaw, Kitchigami, Macomile, Malanas, (Mantouek (Mantoue, Nantoüe), Marameg, Mackinac (Mikinac), Missisauga (Mississague, Missisaki, Tisagechroanu), Mundua, Nikikouek, Noquet (Nouquet, Nouket), Oumiusagai, Ouasouarini (Aouasanik, Ousouarini), Outchibou (Ouchipoe), Outchougai (Atchougue, Outchougi), Ouxeinacomigo, and Saulteaux (Saulteur).
Later Bands and Villages
Saulteau (Beaver, Cree).
Berens River, Bloodvein, Brokenhead, Buffalo Point, Crane River (Ochichakkosipi), Dauphin River, Ebb and Flow, Fairford, Fisher River (Cree), Garden Hill (Cree), Hollow Water, Jackhead, Keeseekoowenin, Lake Manitoba, Lake St. Martin, Little Black River, Little Grand Rapids, Little Saskatchewan, Long Plain, Pauingassi, Peguis (Cree), Pine Creek, Poplar River, Portage du Prairie, Red Sucker Lake (Cree), Rolling River, Roseau River, Sagkeeng (Fort Alexander), Sandy Bay, St. Theresa Point (Cree), Swan Lake, Tataskwayak, Tootinaowaziibeeng, Wasagamack (Cree), Waterhen, and Waywayseecappo.
Angwassag, Bawating, Bay du Noc, Beaver Island, Big Rock, Blackbird, Gatagetegauning, Kechegummewininewug, Ketchenaundaugenink, Kishkawbawe, Lac Vieux Desert, Little Fork, Mekadewagamitigweyawininiwak, Menitegow, Menoquet, Mackinac (Michilimackinac), Nabobish, Nagonabe, Ommunise, Ontonagon, Otusson, Pointe Au Tremble, Reaums Village, Saginaw, Shabwasing, Thunder Bay (Ottawa), Wapisiwisibiwininiwak, Wequadong, and Whitefish.
Anibiminanisibiwininiwak, Crow Wing, Fond du Lac, Gamiskwakokawininiwak, Gawababiganikak, Grand Portage, Gull Lake, Kahmetahwungaguma, Kechesebewininewug, Knife Lake, Leaf Lake, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Misisagaikaoiwininiwak, Miskwagamiwisagaigan, Mishtawayawininiwak, Munominikasheenhug, Mukmeduawininewug, Onepowesepewenenewak, Oschekkamegawenenewak (2), Oueschekgagamiouilimy, Pillager, Pokegama, Rabbit Lake, Red Lake, Saint Francis Xavier, Sandy Lake, Wabasemowenenewak, Winnebegoshish, and White Earth.
Alderville, Alnwick (Rice Lake), Bagoache, Balsam Lake, Batchewana (Rankin), Beausoleil (Christian Island), Big Grassy, Big Island, Caldwell (Point Pele), Cape Croker (Potawatomi), Caradoc (Potawatomi), Cat Lake (Cree), Chapleau, Cockburn Island (Ottawa), Cochingomink, Constance Lake (Cree), Couchiching, Credit River, Curve Lake, Deer Lake (Cree), Dokis, Eabametoong (Fort Hope), Eagle Lake, Epinette, Flying Post, Fort William, Garden River, Georgina Island, Ginoogaming (Long Lake), Grassy Narrows, Gull Bay, Henvey Inlet, Hiawatha, Iskutewisakaugun, Jackfish Island, Keewaywin (Cree), Kettle Point (Potawatomi), Kojejewininewug, Koochiching (Cree), Lac des Mille Lacs, Lac La Croix, Lac Seul, Lake Helen, Lake Nipegon, Lake of the Woods, Long Lake (2), Magnetewan, Manitoulin Island (Ottawa), Manitowaning, Marten Falls, Matachewan (Makominising), Matawachkirini, Mattagami (Cree), McDowell Lake (Cree), Michipicoten, Mishkeegogamang (Osnaburg) (Cree), Mississagi River, Mississauga, Mnjikaning (Rama), Moose Deer Point, Mud Lake, Naicatchewenim, Namakagon, Nameuilni, Nawash (Big Bay), New Slate Falls (Cree), Nicickousemenecaning, Nipissing, Northwest Angle (2), Obidgewong (Ottawa), Ochiichagwe (Dalles), Omushkego, Onegaming (Sabaskong), Ottawa Lake, Ouasouarini, Outchougai, Parry Island, Pays Plat, Pickle Lake (Cree), Pic Mobert, Pic River (Pic Heron), Pikangikum, Point Grondine, Poplar Hill, Rainy River, Red Rock, Riviere aux Sables (Potawatomi), Rocky Bay, Sagamok (Spanish River), Sandpoint, Sarnia (St. Clair Rapids), Saugeen (2), Savant, Scugog Lake, Seine River, Serpent River, Shawanaga, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Shoal Lake, Snake Island (Lake Simcoe), Stanjikoming, Stoney Point (Potawatomi), Sucker Creek, Sugwaundugahwininewug, Tahgaiwinini, Thames, Thessalon, Wabasseemoong (Islington, Whitedog), Wabauskang, Wabigoon Lake, Wahgoshig, Wahnapitai, Walpole Island (Bkejwanong, Chenail cart) (Ottawa, Potawatomi), Wanamakewajejenik, Wasauksing, Washagamis Bay, Wauzhushk (Rat Portage), West Bay (M’Chigeeng) (Ottawa), Whitefish Bay, Whitefish Lake, Whitefish River, Whitesand (Cree), and Wikwemikong (Ottawa).
Bungee (Bunbi, Bungi, Plains Chippewa, Plains Ojibwe), Little Shell, Midinakwadshiwininiwak, Pembina, and Turtle Mountain.
Cote, Cowessess (Cree), Fishing Lake, Gordons (Cree), Keeseekoose (Cree), Key, Kinistin, Muscowpetung, Muskowekwan (Cree), Nibowisibiwininiwak, Okanese, Pasqua (Cree), Sakimay, Saulteaux (Cree), White Bear (Cree), and Yellowquill.
Betonukeengainubejig, Burnt Woods, Cedar Lake, Chegwamegon, Chetac Lake, Kechepukwaiwah, Lac Courte Oreilles, Mole Lake, Red Cliff, Rice Lake, Shaugawaumikong, Sukaauguning, Trout Lake, Turtle Portage, Wahsuahgunewininewug, Wauswagiming, Wiaquahhechegumeeng, and Yellow Lake.
The Ojibwe were the largest and most powerful Great Lakes tribe; perhaps the most powerful east of the Mississippi; and quite possibly the most powerful in North America. The Lakota (Sioux) and Apache have gotten better press, but it was the Ojibwe who defeated the Iroquois and forced the Sioux to leave Minnesota. Very few Americans realize that the Ojibwe were a major power. Their location was well north of the main flow of settlement, and their victories over native enemies have never received proper credit. A variety of names (Ojibwe, Chippewa, Bungee, Mississauga, and Saulteaux) and division of their population between Canada and United States has masked their true size. In addition, the Ojibwe never fought with Americans after 1815. Even before this, their participation in wars between Britain and France or fighting Americans in the Ohio Valley was fairly limited. Considering the prowess of Ojibwe warriors, this was probably just as well for the Americans. However, this does not mean they have been ignored by government.As the Chippewa, they signed more treaties with the United States than any other tribe fifty-one! North of the border, the Ojibwe have “touched the pen” more than thirty times with the French, British, and Canadians.
Europeans came to the upper Great Lakes for fur, but after 200 years, this trade had ended. Most of the Ojibwe homeland had poor soil and a short growing season which did not attract settlement. Some whites came later for the minerals and timber, but even today, the area is not heavily populated. Because of this limited exposure, the Ojibwe have been able to retain much of their traditional culture and language. Most Americans have heard the Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha.” Unfortunately, he got his tribes mixed. The name of Hiawatha was borrowed from the Iroquois, but the stories were Ojibwe. Most Ojibwe were classic Woodlands culture, but since different groups lived across such a wide area, there were major differences. Like all Native Americans, the Ojibwe adjusted to their circumstances. After reaching the northern plains, the Bungee (Plains Ojibwe) adopted the Buffalo culture and became very different from the other Ojibwe in their art, ceremony, and dress. Towards the southern part of their range in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Ojibwe villages were larger and permanent with the cultivation of corn, squash, beans, and tobacco.
However, most Ojibwe lived in the northern Great Lakes with a short growing season and poor soil. They were hunter-gatherers who harvested wild rice and maple sugar. Woodland Ojibwe had no salt to preserve food and generally mixed everything with maple syrup as seasoning. They were skilled hunters and trappers (useful skills in war and the fur trade). Fishing, especially for sturgeon, provided much of their diet and became progressively more important in the northernmost bands. As a rule, Woodland Ojibwe rarely used horses or hunted buffalo. Dogs were the only domestic animal and a favorite dish served at their feasts. The Ojibwe used birchbark for almost everything: utensils, storage containers, and, most importantly, canoes. Coming in a variety of sizes depending on purpose, the birchbark canoe was lighter than the dugouts used by the Dakota (Sioux) and other tribes. Birchbark was also used to cover their elliptical, dome-shaped wigwams.. When a family moved, the covering of the wigwam was rolled up and taken along leaving only the framework.
Summer clothing was buckskin with fur outer garments added for winter. The men wore breechcloths, but both sexes wore leggings. Moccasins were the distinctive puffed seamed style that gave Ojibwe their name. These were often colored with red, yellow, blue, and green, dyes made by the women. Long, cold winters were spent confined inside their wigwams also allowed time to add intricate quill and moose-hair designs. The Ojibwe often passed these times and entertained each other with stories, an art for which they are still renown. Generally, men and women wore their hair long and braided. In times of war, men might change to a scalplock. Ojibwe scalped, but as a rule they killed and did not torture. Like other Great Lakes warriors, there was ritual cannibalism of their dead enemies. Polygamy was rare. Their social organization was based on approximately 15-20 patrilineal clans which extended across band lines and provided their initial sense of tribal unity.
Before contact, the clans and a common language were all that bound them to each other as the Anishinabe. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Ojibwe required they separate into small bands moving in a fixed pattern to take advantage of available resources. During winter, they separated into extended families in isolated hunting camps which allowed the men to cover a large area without competition from other hunters. During warmer months, they gathered in bands of 300-400 at known locations where fish, berries, and wild rice were abundant. There was little central organization, and the authority of hereditary Ojibwe chiefs before contact was limited and confined pretty much to his own band. Tribal councils occurred only when several bands made common cause in times of war but otherwise were rare. However, this, changed after the beginning of the fur trade with the French, and the different bands began merging.
The Ojibwe were outstanding hunters and trappers. The colder weather in their homeland gave their beaver thicker coats resulting in a high quality fur. The Ojibwe became so heavily involved in the French fur trade their language became the unofficial trade language of the northern Great Lakes. Both the French and Ojibwe prospered as a result. The trade and weapons brought the Ojibwe wealth and power. At the same time, they became dependent on the French and trade goods. Because they handled the dealings with French traders, the authority of Ojibwe chiefs increased. Bands became larger and began to cooperate on a greater scale, especially during the Beaver Wars (1630-1700) with the Iroquois. Traditional ties between their clans added to the new sense of unity and purpose, but trade had also brought them their first experiences with European epidemics.
Before contact, Ojibwe religion was similar to their political organization. There was little formal ceremony. For healing, they had relied on medicinal herbs gathered by the women and shamans. These were overwhelmed by the new diseases which were deadly beyond anything they had seen. What evolved was the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society), a secret religious society. Open to both men and women, its members performed elaborate healing ceremonies to deal with sickness. Among the Ojibwe, the Midewiwin kept records on birchbark scrolls, an actual written record unique among the Great Lakes tribes. Beyond its healing and religious functions, Midewiwin membership crossed band lines and provided an additional element of political leadership binding the different Ojibwe groups to each other. Within 50 years of their first meeting with a European, the Ojibwe had united to become one of the most powerful tribes in North America.
The arrival of the Ojibwe at Sault Ste. Marie sometime around 1500 displaced several of the resident tribes. TheMenominee were pushed south into an alliance with the Winnebago, and it would appear the Cheyenne and Arapaho started a series of movements which eventually would take them to the plains of Colorado. Continued Ojibwe expansion west along the shores of Lake Superior also brought them into conflict with the Dakota (Santee or Eastern Sioux) and Assiniboine at the western end. The date of the first meeting between the French and Ojibwe is uncertain, because the French at first did not distinguish between Ottawa and Ojibwe. Champlain is reported to have met some Ojibwe at the Huron villages in 1615. Three years later while exploring Lake Huron, Étienne Brulé went far enough north that the people should have been Ojibwe, but it was not until he reached the falls of the St. Marys River (Sault Ste. Marie) in 1623, we can be certain of a meeting between the Ojibwe and French.
The journey from Quebec to the Huron villages on the south end of Lake Huron was long and dangerous, and the French and Jesuit priests stopped here allowing the Ottawa and Huron to conduct the fur trade farther west. The Ojibwe and their Ottawa neighbors had always been friendly, and since the Ojibwe had a lot of quality fur, the Ottawa did most of their trading with them. In this way, French trade goods and weapons reached the Ojibwe years before they had regular contact with the French themselves. Despite the hostilities already mentioned, the western Great Lakes were relatively peaceful before 1630, but the fur trade changed this. Fur traded for steel weapons allowed the Ojibwe to take hunting territory from other tribes. This gave them more fur to trade for more weapons to expand even farther. War with the Dakota andWinnebago became more intense, and when the Ottawa andHuron attempted to arrange trade with the Winnebago in 1633, the Winnebago killed the Ottawa ambassadors since their trade provided weapons to the Ojibwe.
At the Huron villages, the French learned what had happened and, seeing the Huron and Ottawa prepare to retaliate, intervened to stop a war which might halt trade. In 1634 Jean Nicolet was sent west to the Winnebago villages at Green Bay to arrange a peace and possibly discover the Northwest Passage. Nicolet never found the passage but became the first European to enter Lake Michigan. He also succeeded in arranging a peace which lasted for several years and allowed the Huron and Ottawa to trade along Lake Michigan. Nicollet returned to Green Bay in 1639, and must have met with some Ojibwe enroute, but there was little mention of them until the Jesuit Relations of 1640. The following year, the Ojibwe accepted a Huron invitation to visit their villages during the Feast of the Dead providing the first opportunity for Jesuits to meet the Saulteur (people of the rapids).
Fathers Charles Raymbault and Issac Jogues accepted an Ojibwe invitation to accompany them on their 17-day return journey to Sault Ste. Marie. The Jesuits did not stay but during the visit learned the Ojibwe already lived as far west as Chequamegon (La Pointe WS) and were fighting with a powerful enemy at the west end of Lake Superior whom they called the Nadouessioux (rattlesnakes). Over the years, the French would shorten this name until it became “Sioux.” Despite the peace arranged by Nicollet, the fur trade turned the Great Lakes into a war zone. The Beaver Wars (1630-1700) began in the east but soon spread to the Great Lakes. The British capture of Quebec in 1629 halted the flow of French trade goods, and the Iroquois (supplied by the Dutch) took advantage of this and attacked the Algonkin and Montagnais to recapture the upper St. Lawrence River which they had been forced to abandon in 1610. The French did not regain control of Quebec until 1632, and by then their native allies were in serious trouble.
Trying to restore a balance of power and protect the trade route through the Ottawa Valley, the French broke a long-standing rule and began to supply firearms to the Algonkin and Montagnais. This turned the tide only briefly, since the Dutch started selling guns to the Iroquois. The result was an arms race and greater violence. The Huron and Ottawa also received firearms from the French, and some of these weapons were traded to the Neutrals and Tionontati. All this new armament arrived just as beaver were becoming scarce in southern Ontario from supplying the French. Huron, Ottawa,Neutral, andTionontati hunters solved this by moving into lower Michigan and using their new weapons to take territory from the Assistaeronon, or Fire Nation (an alliance of Fox, Sauk,Mascouten, and Potawatomi). Although the French were aware of what was happening, they made no attempt to stop it.
During the 1640s, the advantage of steel and firearms over traditional weapons began to dislodge the resident tribes in lower Michigan. After a ten-day siege in 1641, 2,000 Ottawa and Neutral warriors destroyed a major Assistaeronon village. That same year, the first groups of Potawatomi refugees attempted to relocate near Green Bay, but the hostile reception they received from the Winnebago forced them to retreat north to the protection of the Ojibwe. Within a few years, there would more Michigan refugees in Wisconsin than Winnebago could handle, and the Potawatomi settled near Green Bay unopposed. During the same period, the Ojibwe defeated the Mundua who lived in the northern part of lower Michigan and absorbed the survivors. They also combined with the Ottawa to drive the Assegun (Bone) from Michilimackinac (Mackinac) into lower Michigan where they apparently found refuge with, and became part of, the Mascouten.
The French allies and trading partners started the process of forcing the original tribes from lower Michigan, but they never got to complete it. Facing a similar shortage of beaver in their homeland from trading with the Dutch, the Iroquois during the 1630s needed to find new hunting territory but were hemmed in by powerful enemies. Diplomatic requests to the Huron for permission to pass through their territory to hunt were refused. The Huron were aware of the Iroquois predicament but had no wish to help a potential rival. After the Huron killed anIroquois hunting party in disputed territory, war erupted between the Iroquois and Huron. At first, the Huron held their own, but a series of epidemics struck them killing half of their population. During 1640 British traders from New England attempted to break the Dutch monopoly with the Mohawk by offering firearms. The Dutch responded by selling the Iroquois any amount of weapons they wanted. The Iroquois became the best-armed military force in North America.
Driving theAlgonkin from the lower Ottawa River, the Iroquois cut the French trade route from the Great Lakes. Large parties could force their way past the Iroquois blockade, but the amount of fur reaching Montreal dropped off to almost nothing. By 1645 the French were forced to agree to a peace with the Mohawk which required them to remain neutral in the Huron-Iroquois conflict. The Huron still refused to allow the Iroquois to hunt in their territory and continued forcing their way to Montreal with their furs. War resumed with the Iroquois making direct attacks against the Huron villages. The Huron were overrun in 1649, and later that year, the Tionontati, Algonkin, and Nipissing suffered similar fates. The survivors fled west to the Ojibwe and Ottawa at Mackinac. Iroquois war parties followed, and in 1651 the Huron-Tionontati (Wyandot) and Ottawa relocated west to Green Bay. The Iroquois by this time had destroyed the Neutrals and were preparing for a war with the Erie in northern Ohio.
To assure success, the western Iroquois (Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga) in 1653 offered peace to the French. With less than 400 French in North America versus 25,000 Iroquois, there was little choice. The truce allowed the Iroquois, not only to fight the Erie that year, but send 800 warriors against the refugee villages at Green Bay. The attack failed when the Iroquois ran out of food and were forced to retreat. Unfortunately for the Iroquois, they had also attacked the Nikikouek Ojibwe on the north shore of Lake Huron. The Mississauga killed almost half of them during their retreat to New York marking the beginning of Ojibwe involvement in the Beaver Wars. Iroquois raids continued, but unlike their other enemies, the Ojibwe did not fold and run. Instead, they gave ground slowly and began to concentrate near Sault Ste. Marie. To defend themselves, the Ojibwe began to organize and merge, and although they probably did not realize it at the time, the Iroquois had created a dangerous enemy.
This did not happen over-night. The Iroquois defeated the Erie and then drove the remaining Algonquin from lower Michigan. The sudden arrival of so many refugees not only overwhelmed the Wisconsin tribes, but also the resources. Most of this area was too far north for reliable agriculture. Disorganized and starving, the Algonquin were fighting among themselves over hunting and fishing territory. The Sturgeon War began when the Menominee built a series of weirs at their village near the mouth of the river. However, this prevented sturgeon from reaching the Ojibwe villages upstream. Demands to remove the weirs were ignored, and the Ojibwe attacked and destroyed the village. Too few to retaliate, the Menominee called on the Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, and Noquet at Green Bay for help spreading the fighting well-beyond the original participants.
The French fur trade was almost destroyed by the Huron defeat in 1649. To maintain their fragile peace with the Iroquois, the French halted their travel to the Great Lakes, but they still encouraged their former allies to bring furs to Montreal. With the Iroquois occupying much of southern Ontario and controlling the Ottawa Valley, this was dangerous and possible only for large, heavily-armed canoe convoys. Despite the risk, the Ottawa and Huron were accustomed to French trade goods and willing to try. Lacking enough warriors, they enlisted the Ojibwe near Sault Ste. Marie. The French at this time made no distinction between the Algonquin bringing furs to Montreal and called everyone an Ottawa, but many of these were Ojibwe. This did not go unnoticed by the Iroquois who had their own ambitions of controlling the French trade as they already did with the Dutch. To stop the convoys, Iroquois went to their source, and their war parties roamed through Wisconsin attacking just about everyone. Because of this (and very few beaver), theWyandot left Green Bay in 1658 and moved west to Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River. Having established trade with the Cree to the north, most of the Ottawa also withdrew and relocated near the Ojibwe at Chequamegon and Keweenaw on the south side of Lake Superior.
The peace between French and Iroquois came to a violent end in 1658. Seeing opportunity in this, Pierre Radisson, Médart Chouart des Groseilliers, and Father Réné Ménard ignored the ban on travel and joined the Wyandot on their return journey to the west. The first French to reach Lake Superior, their guides took them to Chequamegon (La Pointe) where they wintered with the Ottawa and Ojibwe. Ménard wandered off into the woods and may have been killed by the Dakota. This failed to discourage the others who travelled overland to trade with the Dakota. For their efforts to restore the fur trade (and enrich themselves), Radisson and Des Groseilliers were arrested when they got back to Quebec in 1660. Now aware of the value of fur, the Dakota did not want to share their beaver with the Wyandot on the Mississippi. After several threats, the Wyandot left Lake Pepin in 1661 and joined the Ottawa at Chequamegon. The Dakota were still not pleased by this large gathering of beaver hunters on their border, but tolerated it for the moment.
The Iroquois, however, saw a chance to strike their enemies who were now gathered in one place, but to reach them, they would have to pass undetected through Ojibwe territory. They tried and paid dearly. The Saulteur, Amikoue, Nipissing, and Ottawa in 1662 surprised a large Mohawk and Oneida war party (100 warriors) just west of Sault Ste. Marie and annihilated them. Known today as Iroquois Point, the Ojibwe still call this “the place of Iroquois bones.” The Iroquois never again attempted raids into Lake Superior, and behind a wall of Ojibwe warriors, the Ottawa and Wyandot had a refuge from which to collect furs to trade to the French. Meanwhile, back on the St. Lawrence, the French had tired of living in constant fear of the Iroquois. Up to this point, settlement and the fur trade had been a private commercial venture, but this changed after the British captured New York from the Dutch. Charters were revoked in 1664, and the king assumed control of Quebec. France also sent a regiment of soldiers to Canada which began direct attacks on the Iroquois homeland.
This ultimately pushed the Iroquois into a military alliance with the British beginning the 100-year struggle between Britain and France for North America. It also brought great changes for the Ojibwe and Great Lakes. No longer concerned with antagonizing the Iroquois, the French resumed travel to the west. In 1665 fur trader Nicolas Perot, Jesuit Claude-Jean Allouez, and 6 other French accompanied 400 Ottawa and Wyandot on their return journey. Fighting their way past Iroquois along the Ottawa River, they reached Green Bay. Allouez went on to Chequamegon where he encountered a mixed population of Wyandot, Ottawa, Ojibwe plus a few Potawatomi and Kickapoo. He remained there and built the mission of St. Esprit for Huron and Ottawa converts the Jesuits had made before the disaster of 1649. By 1667 French attacks on their homeland had forced the Iroquois to agree to a peace which also extended to French allies and trading partners.
For the next thirteen years, this much-needed peace permitted the French to visit the Great Lakes unopposed. Beside fur traders, Jesuit missionaries came also. In 1668 Allouez was joined by the Father Jacques Marquette. The conditions they found in Wisconsin and upper Michigan were appalling – starvation, epidemic, and constant warfare. Raising corn on the south shore of Lake Superior was almost impossible, even for farming tribes like the Ottawa and Wyandot, and starvation stalked them almost every winter. Some years they were reduced to eating their own moccasins when the food ran out. Meanwhile, over-hunting for food and fur was creating a war with the Dakota to the west. For purposes of both conversion and trade (although these would soon be in conflict), it was in the French interest to bring order to the region. To end warfare, the French became mediators in intertribal disputes. This role was formalized in 1671 by treaty at the Grand Council held at Sault. Ste. Marie, in which Simon Daumont annexed the entire Great Lakes for France.
In the meantime, Father Marquette was able to convince the Wyandot and Ottawa to leave Chequamegon in 1669 and relocate to Mackinac near his new mission at St. Ignace. Both the move and annexation were premature. The Seneca attacked and burned St. Ignace and the nearby villages in 1671, but the mission was rebuilt, and Wyandot and Ottawa stayed. Their departure left only the Ojibwe and Dakota confronting each other along the south shore of Lake Superior. Smallpox hit Sault Ste. Marie during the winter of 1670-71 reducing the original Saulteur at Bawating to less than 200, but the loss had little effect on the Ojibwe. Small bands such as the Amikwa, Nikikouek, and Marameg merged with the survivors, and the Ojibwe of upper Michigan continued to grow in size and influence. Jesuits made few conversions among the Ojibwe, but in the French fur trade, they became extremely important.
Before 1670, the Ottawa had gotten much of their fur from the Cree, but the British established their first posts on Hudson Bay that year. Able for the first time to trade directly without a middleman, the Cree began taking their fur to the British, and the Ottawa had lost their main supplier. The Ojibwe stepped in to fill the void and, with French encouragement, began expanding west along both shores of Lake Superior. The movement along the northern shore blocked British access to other Great Lakes tribes and brought skirmishes with the Assiniboine and Cree alliance which traded with the British. However, it was the expansion along the south shore which produced the most trouble. It not only started a war between the Ojibwe and Dakota, but fighting with the Fox who were also competing for hunting territory in the area.
Daniel DeLhut (Duluth) arrived at Sault Ste. Marie in 1678 and two years later negotiated a truce between the Saulteur and Sioux. He also was able to arrange a peace between the Dakota and Assiniboine. This second one did not last, but the Saulteur and Dakota agreement endured for some time, and fur flowed east to Montreal in unprecedented amounts. Despite a second smallpox epidemic at Sault Ste. Marie in 1681, the Ojibwe and Ottawa by 1685 were supplying over 2/3 of the French fur trade. Unfortunately, the 1680 treaties did include all of the Ojibwe. The Saulteur signed, but the Keweenaw Ojibwe remained at war and joined forces with the Fox to defeat a large Dakota war party. The Saulteur, of course did nothing against their Keweenaw relatives, but they formed an alliance with the Dakota against the Fox. Neither the Keweenaw nor the Fox wanted the French to trade with the Dakota, and to prevent this, Menominee and Ojibwe warriors of chief Achiganaga murdered two French traders in upper Michigan in 1682.
DeLhut brought the culprits in for a European-style trial, but the Saulteur and Ottawa intervened on behalf of Achiganaga. In the end, DeLhut was only able to execute a single Menominee (a small tribe) rather than offend the Ojibwe, an important ally and trading partner. He really had no other choice, because the French at the time needed the Ojibwe. Peace in the Great Lakes ended in 1680 when the Iroquois began a series of devastating attacks against the Illinois. At first, the fighting was confined to the south, but in 1683 the Seneca brought the war north with an attack on Mackinac. The following year, the Iroquois failed in their attempt to take Fort St. Louis on the upper Illinois River which is generally regarded as the turning point of the Beaver Wars. Afterwards, the French attempted to organize an Algonquin alliance against the Iroquois, but its first offensive was such a fiasco, 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 the Ojibwe and other Algonquin. A much stronger alliance took the offensive in 1687. Largely ignored because it coincided with the King William’s War between Britain and France (1688-97), this was one of the critical events in North American history. By 1690 Algonquin victories in massive battles fought between canoe fleets on Lakes St. Clair and Erie had driven the Iroquois from lower Michigan allowing the Ottawa to return to their old homes on Manitoulin Island. The Ojibwe pushed much farther, occupying not only their former lands on the north and east shore of Lake Huron, but continued south taking the western shore in lower Michigan as far south as Saginaw Bay, while the Mississauga seized the old homelands of the Neutrals, Tionontati and Huron in southern Ontario. By 1696 the Iroquois had abandoned most of their villages in southern Ontario and, except for eastern Ohio and northern Pennsylvania, were pretty much confined to their original homeland.
The victories in the west belonged entirely to Algonquin warriors. The French helped with attacks against the Iroquois homeland from Quebec. In the Great Lakes their contribution was arms, ammunition, and keeping the alliance together. Providing weapons was the easy part. The alliance included the Ojibwe, Ottawa, Wyandot, Potawatomi, Missisauga, Fox, Sauk,Miami, Winnebago, Menominee,Kickapoo, Illinois, and Mascouten. All agreed the Iroquois were an enemy, but not all of them liked each other which kept the French very busy. The three-way war between the Ojibwe, Dakota, and Fox along the St. Croix in northwest Wisconsin continued until the French finally managed a Ojibwe-Fox truce in 1685. This lasted five years, during which time the Fox attempted to block French trade with the Dakota by charging tolls on traders passing through their territory. This exasperated Nicolas Perot, the French commandant at Green Bay, and in 1690 he asked the Ojibwe to make the Fox stop this. They did much more than this. Allied with the Dakota, the Ojibwe drove the Fox from the St. Croix Valley.
French influence over the Algonquin alliance came mainly from control of trade goods on which their allies were dependent. During the first years of the war, the French opened more trading posts. Despite hostilities, the amount of fur reaching Montreal increased as the French and Algonquin drove the Iroquois east. In fact, there was so much fur it created a glut on the European market, and the price fell. This had immediate effect on the ability of the French to control their allies. Native Americans understood little about economic laws of supply and demand. The price drop in Europe meant French traders in North America suddenly were giving native hunters fewer goods for the same amount of fur, and this was perceived as greed. Relations were already strained when warfare broke out during the 1690s over hunting territory along the upper Mississippi between the Dakota and an alliance of Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Fox, Kickapoo and Mascouten.
The warriors involved in this would have been better used against the Iroquois, but as trade goods became fewer and more expensive, the French were losing control. The Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 ended the war between Britain and France, but fighting between the Algonquin and Iroquois continued. Nearing collapse, the Iroquois asked for peace to which the French – concerned continued fighting could bring another war with the British (Iroquois allies) – were receptive. But their allies, sensing blood, were not interested. Since the Iroquois had already made offers of peace and trade to the Ottawa and Ojibwe if they would leave the alliance, there was also fear the French would abandon their allies and make a separate peace. Using every diplomatic skill available, it took the French until 1701 to convince the Algonquin to agree to a peace with the Iroquois. With this, the Beaver Wars ended with France in control of the Great Lakes, and the Ojibwe occupying lands from the northern side of Lakes Erie and Ontario to the west end of Lake Superior.
The French then proceeded to throw away their victory. For many years, Jesuit missionaries had complained about the corruption which the fur trade was creating among Native Americans. These protests fell upon deaf ears, especially after Louis XIV’s dispute with Rome began in 1673. However, when the price of fur dropped and profits plunged, the French monarchy suddenly got “religion” and in 1696 issued a decree suspending the fur trade in the western Great Lakes. What appeared to the government in Paris as a practical decision, was disaster to the French in North America. As posts closed and official trade ended, Coureurs de Bois (illegal and unlicensed traders) attempted to take up the slack. Many were honest, but most were not, and their abuse and dishonesty added to the tension. The French in 1701 negotiated another truce between the Saulteur and Dakota ending fighting which had occurred since the 1690s, but the Algonquin in Wisconsin still opposed French sales of firearms to the Dakota. French traders enroute to Dakota villages were robbed and murdered, and even the highly respected Nicholas Perot found himself tied to a Mascouten torture stake ready to be burned alive. Saved by the Kickapoo, Perot went back to Quebec and never returned to the Great Lakes.
Under the 1701 treaty, the Iroquois were required to remain neutral in British-French wars and consult the French if there were any conflicts with their allies. The Mississauga must not have heard this, because they continued to attack the remaining Iroquois villages in southern Ontario. Iroquois complaints to Onontio (their name for French governor of Canada) went unanswered, mostly because the French were occupied with fighting the British in the Queen Anne’s War (1701-13). True to their word, the Iroquois remained neutral in this conflict, but it was neutrality only in the military sense. Using their ties to British traders at Albany, they offered trade to French allies and began an economic war which almost destroyed the French.
Since British trade goods were of higher quality and cheaper than anything the French could offer, Ojibwe and Ottawa traders were soon taking most of their furs to Albany. By 1707 the Missisauga had moved near Niagara Falls, not to fight, but to trade. Without native allies, Canada was vulnerable to British invasion. Urgent requests were sent from Quebec to Paris, and in 1701 the French government relented by allowing the construction of single trading post at Detroit for the Great Lakes Algonquin. The responsibility was given to Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the commandant at Mackinac, who despised Jesuits in general and blamed their meddling for the suspension of the fur trade. Cadillac built Fort Ponchartrain and took great delight in inviting the Ottawa, Wyandot, and Ojibwe to settle nearby for trade. So many left Mackinac, the Jesuits were forced to close their mission at St. Ignace.
The Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Wyandot settled in the vicinity of Detroit, but the jostling for territory brought skirmishes between the Ottawa and Ojibwe who normally were on the best of terms. Worse things would follow. Cadillac ignored this ominous sign and, to keep them from trading with the British, invited other tribes to move nearby. Within a short time, more than 6,000 Saulteur, Saginaw, and Missisauga Ojibwe, Wyandot, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Miami, Illinois, and even Osage relocated to Detroit completely overwhelming the area’s resources. During 1706 there were fights between the Ottawa and Miami, but the final straw occurred in 1710 when Cadillac invited the Fox. About 1,000 Fox arrived bringing with them many of their Kickapoo and Mascouten allies. Already antagonistic to the French from their experiences in Wisconsin, the Fox were returning to what had been their homeland before the Beaver Wars. They were not at all shy about letting other tribes know this, and in the tense situation which prevailed, the other alliance tribes demanded the French order the Fox to return to Wisconsin.
The French delayed a decision, and during the winter of 1711-12, the Ottawa and Potawatomi took matters into their own hands by attacking a Mascouten hunting party near the headwaters of St. Joseph River. The Mascouten fled east to their Fox allies at Detroit. As the Fox prepared to retaliate, the French commander at Fort Ponchartrain ordered them to stop. At this point, the Fox had had just about enough, and they attacked the French fort. In the midst of this, a relief force of Ojibwe, Ottawa, Huron, and Potawatomi arrived and almost annihilated the Fox. A few escaped and found refuge with the Iroquois. The others made their way back to their relatives in Wisconsin who retaliated by attacking the French and their allies. The Fox Wars (1712-16 and 1728-37) were actually a civil war within the French alliance. To fight the Fox and their Kickapoo and Mascouten allies, the French first had to rebuild the alliance.
They started with the Detroit tribes, but there were other problems. After the establishment of Fort Ponchartrain in 1701, many of the refugee tribes had left Wisconsin and moved east. This relieved the crowding, but the area had been over-hunted for many years, and as the Ojibwe ranged south from Lake Superior, there was renewed competition for hunting territory. The peace the French had arranged in 1701 between the Saulteur and Dakota allowed these two tribes to combine against the remaining Algonquin, and in 1711 the Saulteur were at war with the tribes near Green Bay. To the south, the Miami were fighting the Illinois. It took the French some time to organize enough allies to fight the Fox, but in 1715 the Potawatomi defeated the Kickapoo and Mascouten causing them to sign a separate peace with the French. Despite the loss of their allies, the Fox refused to quit.
The following year, the French mediated the dispute between the Ojibwe and Green Bay tribes allowing the Ojibwe and Potawatomi to join a French expedition against the Fox in southern Wisconsin. However, this failed to take the Fox fort, and the French offered peace to the Fox. The Fox accepted, but both parties were still angry and distrusted each other. The Fox continued to annoy the French by becoming involved in a long and bitter war with the Illinois. At the same time west of the Mississippi, they were also fighting with the Osage which disrupted the developing French trade along the Missouri River. To fight both of these wars, the Fox formed alliances with the Dakota, Kickapoo, Iowa, Mascouten, and Winnebago which the French suspected were directed against themselves. In the meantime, the Iroquois had been watching this fighting among their enemies with a certain amount of glee and, by offering access to British traders, continued to make inroads into French trade in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.
It took the Fox Wars for the French in Canada to convince their government in Paris that the suspension of the fur trade in the Great Lakes had been a terrible mistake, and they moved rapidly to correct things. Coureurs de Bois were legalized in 1715; their frequent intermarriage with native women (especially Ojibwe and Cree) eventually created a new group of mixed-blooded people that known as the Métis. They also reoccupied old posts and created new ones: La Baye, Chequamegon, Credit River, Des Chartes, La Pointe, Miami, Mackinac, Ouiatenon, Niagara, Pimitoui, St. Joseph, and Vincennes. But the damage had already been done. During 1717 the Saginaw Ojibwe and Ottawa had started trading with the British. Fort Oswego was built in the Iroquois homeland during 1727 to shorten the distance the Algonquin had to travel to reach the Albany traders. By 1728, 80% of the beaver on the Albany market had come from French allies.
Meanwhile, the Fox had continued to be a major problem for everyone, and the French were under increasing pressure from their allies to do something. French expeditions to support the Illinois against the Fox ended in frustration. The first suggestion of genocide was made in 1727, but this was not official policy until approved by the king 1732. The French first took the precaution to isolate the Fox from their Dakota and Winnebago allies and by 1728 were ready to strike. The Fox added to this by killing some of the Kickapoo and Mascouten after an argument, and the Kickapoo and Mascouten went over to the French. Under attack from all sides, the Fox accepted an offer of sanctuary from the Iroquois and left Wisconsin. Crossing northern Illinois in 1730, they became involved in fighting with the Illinois and were forced to fort up. This allowed the French to bring forces against them from all direction including Saginaw and Mackinac Ojibwe. When the Fox attempted to escape the siege, they were caught and massacred.
All that remained were the Fox who had chosen to remain in Wisconsin. They fled to the Sauk at Green Bay. The Sauk asked the French to make peace with the Fox, but this was refused. In 1734 a French expedition with Menominee and Ojibwe warriors arrived at the Sauk village to demand the surrender of the Fox. The Sauk refused, and during the ensuing battle the French commander was killed. In the confusion,the Fox and Sauk escaped west into eastern Iowa. The French attacked them again in 1736 without success, but by this time the French allies had lost their desire to “eat the Fox” and began urging the French to make peace. Faced with the rebellion of their allies, a war against the Natchez and Chickasaw on the lower Mississippi, and an uprising by the Dakota in Minnesota, the French reluctantly agreed. One of the largest Great Lakes tribes prior to contact, fewer than 500 Fox remained in 1737.
The Dakota uprising against the French in 1737 had been building for many years and would be the beginning of 130 years of continuous warfare between the Ojibwe and Dakota. There were hostilities between these two tribes before the first European saw the Great Lakes, but this had been low-level compared to what the fur trade created. Despite their close relationship with the Ojibwe, the French had been eager to trade with the Dakota. This frequently got them in trouble with their Algonquin allies who had no wish to see the Dakota either rich or well-armed. Competition from the British trading posts on Hudson Bay after 1670 only added to the French effort, and they encouraged Ojibwe expansion west along the northern shore of Lake Superior. This brought the Ojibwe into conflict with the Assiniboine who were allied with the Cree, the primary trading partner of the British at Hudson Bay. Although closely related, the Assiniboine were enemies of the Dakota, and it was the fact the Dakota and Ojibwe had mutual enemies which allowed DuLhut in 1680 to negotiate the peace between them.
It was, of course, an unnatural arrangement between two people who really did not like each other, and it was not accepted by all of the Ojibwe, most notably the Keweenaw. As a result, the French were kept busy during the next thirty years stopping the warfare which erupted periodically. In this, the Fox had been the third competitor for hunting territory at the west end of Lake Superior. The near annihilation of the Fox during the Fox Wars removed them from the picture leaving the Ojibwe and Dakota to face just each other. French traders had begun regular trade with the Dakota at Fond du Lac (Duluth) as early as 1712 and, for the most part, were bringing the Ojibwe with them. A post (and Ojibwe village) was established in 1717 at Thunder Bay, and by 1727 they reaching west to the Pigeon River from Grand Portage to Rainey Lake and Lake of the Woods to the Red River, Lake Winnipeg, and the northern plains. Pierre Vérendrye built Fort St. Pierre at Rainy Lake in 1731, Fort St. Charles at Lake of the Woods in 1732, and Fort Maurepas (Pembina) in 1734.
By this time, the Ojibwe had ended their hostilities with the Cree and Assiniboine, but the Dakota had not. With the Ojibwe neutral in these conflicts, their friendship was of less use to the Dakota. In addition, Ojibwe had used up most of the beaver on their own lands supplying the French. This forced them to rely more on hunting territory shared peacefully with the Dakota and to look with a jealous eye on the fur and rice lakes the Dakota had in Minnesota. The Dakota became increasingly disturbed by the heavy Ojibwe hunting, but the explosion came in 1736 when Vérendrye attempted to lure the Cree and Assiniboine away from the British by selling them firearms. The Dakota would not tolerate the French arming their enemies and attacked Fort St. Charles killing 21 Frenchmen (including Vérendrye’s son). Perhaps more for their own reasons than to avenge the French, the Ojibwe swore revenge, formed an alliance with the Cree and Assiniboine, and attacked the Dakota villages on Lake Pepin on the Mississippi.
French traders at La Pointe tried to halt the fighting, but this had been coming for years, and neither the Dakota nor the Ojibwe would listen. Starting from Chequamegon (La Pointe), the Pillager Band began an invasion of the Dakota homeland. The initial movement was inland towards Lac Courte Oreilles and Lac Flambeau to take northern Wisconsin. From there they spread west into Minnesota to attack the center of the Dakota world, Mille Lacs. Allied with the Cree and Assiniboine, the Ojibwe at the same time advanced west from Thunder Bay up the Rainey River portage dislodging the Dakota from what is now the border of Minnesota and Ontario. Following the three-day battle at Kathio in 1750, the Dakota abandoned most of their villages in northern Minnesota (Mille Lacs, Sandy Lake, Red Lake, Leech Lake, Cass Lake, and Lake Winnebegosh) and retreated south. By 1780 there was not a single Dakota village north of the Minnesota River.
Since it occurred far from any white settlements, this epic struggle went largely unnoticed by Europeans. Their attention was focused on the confrontation between Britain and France for North America. The French had things pretty much their own way in the upper Great Lakes, especially after the Ojibwe victory over the Dakota, and were making their initial forays onto the plains. But back in the eastern Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, British and Iroquois traders were cutting into French trade. The Mississauga and Saginaw Ojibwe were taking most of their furs to Oswego, and after the Iroquois allowed British traders to enter the Ohio country, the Miami and Wyandot joined the defectors. South of the Ohio, the British had found an ally in the Chickasaw who often blocked the Mississippi to French trade, and which no combination of the French and their allies seemed able to defeat. By the beginning of the King George’s War (1744-48), the infection had spread to the Choctaw, the most important French ally on the lower Mississippi.
There was almost no fighting between the Britain and France west of the Appalachians during this conflict, but the trade competition continued unabated. The Ojibwe and other Great Lakes tribes participated by sending warriors east to defend Quebec from a British invasion. The major victory in this war occurred in 1745 when the British captured the French fortress at Louisbourgh. This enabled them to blockade the St. Lawrence River and cut the supply of French trade goods. Without these, the French alliance collapsed. The Miami and Wyandot broke with the French and began to trade openly with the British. French traders were murdered, and the Fox, Sauk, and Mackinac Ojibwe were fighting with the Detroit tribes (Ottawa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi). Meanwhile, the Mississauga in southern Ontario were calling for a revolt against the French and alliance with British. When the war ended in 1748, the French rushed around with gifts and mediating disputes, but the unrest persisted.
In 1749 a conspiracy developed among the Saginaw Ojibwe, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Miami to trade with the British, and by 1752 even the Illinois were secretly organizing a coalition for this purpose. Meanwhile, large numbers ofShawnee, Delaware, and Mingo (independent Iroquois descended from adopted Huron and Erie) had settled in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio during the 1740s. Referred to collectively as the Ohio tribes, these newcomers were nominally members of the Iroquois Covenant Chain, but they had come west in defiance of the League’s authority. Nevertheless, it suited them to trade with the British and honor the Iroquois claims to Ohio, if for no other reason than to counter French claims to the same area. In 1751 Chabert de Joncaire travelled through Ohio demanding the expulsion of British traders only to have the Mingo demand to know by what authority the French were claiming Iroquois land.
Unable to win over the Ohio tribes, the French in 1751 asked the Detroit tribes to attack them and expel the British traders. Using the smallpox epidemic which swept the area that year as an excuse, they declined, but it appears they were considering going over to the British themselves. Desperate, the French had to reach to the north for reliable allies. Charles Langlade, a Métis of French-Ojibwe heritage, gathered a war party of 250 Ojibwe and Ottawa at Mackinac and led them south in June, 1752 to attack the Miami village and British trading post at Pickawillany (Piqua, Ohio). One British trader was killed and five captured along with £3000 of trade goods. Thirty Miami were also killed in the attack including their chief, Memeskia (called La Demoiselle by the French and Old Britain by the British).Langlade’s warriors afterwards boiled his body and ate it. Other French allies abandoned whatever thoughts they had of trading with the British. The Wyandot renewed attacks on Chickasaw that fall, and in 1753, the Miami, Potawatomi, and Sauk apologized to the French and returned the alliance.
With their alliance intact, the French began construction of string of forts across western Pennsylvania to block British access. The Ohio tribes appealed to the Iroquois who turned to the British. Virginia also claimed Ohio as a result of a questionable 1744 treaty with the Iroquois. In 1753 it sent a 23-year-old militia major named George Washington to demand the French remove their forts from “British territory.” The French refused, and during a second mission to the area in 1754, Washington got into a fight with French soldiers and started the French and Indian War (1755-63). Determined to destroy the French forts, the British in 1755 assembled a large army under General Edward Braddock to capture Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). Since they had no desire to be dominated by either the French or British, the Shawnee, Delaware and Mingo remained neutral and refused to help the French defend the fort.
This forced the French to bring in warriors from Canada and western Great Lakes. Langlade and his Mackinac Ojibwe once again played an important part in the ambush which almost annihilated Braddock’s command. The war moved east after this, and Ojibwe warriors went to Montreal to participate in French campaigns at Lake Champlain in northern New York. It was during these the Ojibwe contracted smallpox in 1757 which they brought back to their villages that winter. The resulting epidemic took many of the Great Lakes tribes out of the war, but the Ojibwe war chief Mamongesseda and his warriors fought at Quebec in 1759. The French were finished after the fall of Quebec. Montreal surrendered in 1760, and British soldiers took over the French forts across the Great Lakes with the Rangers of Major Robert Rogers occupying Mackinac.
Perhaps because they had traded with them for so many years, the Mississauga were the only Ojibwe to readily accept British rule. With the general breakdown of authority preceding the French defeat, the Mackinac Ojibwe in 1761 were on the verge of war with the Menominee and Winnebago. The British slipped into the old French role of mediator, but, while the agreement they negotiated ingratiated them to the Menominee and Winnebago, it aggravated the Ojibwe who remained hostile and dangerous. Meanwhile, the British commander in North America, Lord Jeffrey Amherst chose to ignore the advice of the British Indian commissioner William Johnson and ended the practice of making annual presents to tribal chiefs. This was taken as an insult. To make matters worse, Amherst raised the prices on trade goods and restricted their supply, particularly firearms and gunpowder. By 1761 the Seneca were circulating a war belt calling for a general uprising against the British.
Only the Delaware and Shawnee responded, but William Johnson discovered the plot during a meeting at Detroit with the tribes of the old French alliance. However, this did not prevent Minavavana, representing the Mackinac Ojibwe at this meeting, from complaining that the lack of presents was undermining the chiefs’ authority. It also undermined British authority. During 1761 the Miami, Ottawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi almost went to war against Shawnee, and the following year Fox warriors killed the important Ojibwe chief, Grand Saulteur. Drought hit the Ohio Valley and southern Great Lakes during the summer of 1762 followed by famine that winter. In the midst of this suffering, the prophet Neolin arose among the Delaware urging the tribes to reject their dependence on trade goods (especially alcohol) and return to their traditional values. His most important convert was Pontiac, the Ottawa chief at Detroit (his mother was an Ojibwe).
An important French ally in the old alliance, Pontiac interpreted Neolin’s return to traditional values to mean getting rid of the British and bringing back the French. To this end, he began secretly organizing the Pontiac Conspiracy. When it struck in May of 1763, the British lost eight of their twelve forts west of the Appalachians. The Saginaw joined Pontiac’s attack on Detroit while the Mississauga helped the Seneca to besiege Fort Niagara. At Fort Mackinac, word of the uprising had not reached its garrison by the time of the King’s birthday on June 4th. The Ojibwe used a lacrosse game to lull the soldiers into false security while the warriors assembled as spectators and participants. Suddenly, the ball was launched towards the gates of the fort, and grabbing weapons hidden under the blankets of their women, the warriors rushed in and overwhelmed the garrison. Sixteen soldiers were killed outright, but the French were not harmed. A Jesuit priest and Charles Langlade intervened to save twelve others, including the commander, Captain George Etherington. Given to the Ottawa, they were joined by the garrison from Fort Edward Augustus (Green Bay) and escorted to Montreal.
Pontiac’s rebellion collapsed as Forts Detroit, Pitt, and Niagara continued to hold and British forces began to arrive. The Mississauga, whose support had never been too strong, were among the first to make a separate peace. They joined with the Caughnawaga Iroquois to escort Colonel John Bradstreet’s army to Detroit. The British issued the Proclamation of 1763 forbidding further settlement west of the Appalachians, and Amherst was replaced by Sir Thomas Gage. The Mackinac Ojibwe attended the general peace conference held at Niagara in July of 1764, but the La Pointe and Mississippi bands did not. The British restored annual presents to the chiefs and promised to reopen trading posts with more trade goods. Despite this, the Mackinac and Saginaw remained aloof and hostile for some time – the Saginaw attacked British traders on the Ohio River in 1767. At Mackinac, the British wisely started using French traders to deal with the Ojibwe. Alexander Henry and Jean Cadotte (Metis) organized the Voyagers who used large 36′ canoes with 12-man crews, many of them Ojibwe, to bring furs to market.
Pontiac’s reputation suffered with the collapse of his uprising. He signed his own peace with the British in 1766 and afterwards left Detroit to settle in northern Illinois where he still had a considerable following. Although he had promised never to fight the British again, he appears to have been trying to organize another rebellion in the west. In 1769 he was murdered in Cahokia by a Peoria (Illinois) after a drunken argument at the establishment of a British trader named Williamson. The British were suspected of having arranged the assassination, and Minavavana, the Ojibwe chief at Mackinac, arrived in Cahokia escorted by two warriors looking for Williamson. Not finding the man he wanted, he killed two of his employees. This was the beginning of a general war against the Illinois to avenge Pontiac. The Ojibwe had already fought the Illinois in 1752 and seized some of their territory in northern Illinois. Now they were joined by the Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Winnebago. After making their last stand at Starved Rock, fewer than 300 Peoria survived to flee down the Illinois River to the French at Kaskaskia – the victors taking over the lands formerly occupied by the Illinois.
The Proclamation of 1763 was doomed as soon as it was issued. American frontiersmen simply ignored it and came anyway to squat on native lands. The British could not stop them, and the inability to speculate in frontier lands was pushing the wealthier American colonists towards revolution. It was hurting the Iroquois who were losing their homeland east of the mountains to squatters and legal settlement. To solve this, the Iroquois and British met at Fort Stanwix in 1768 and signed a treaty where the Iroquois ceded their claims to Ohio and opened it for settlement. No one bothered to consult the Delaware and Shawnee who actually lived there. Their protests to the Iroquois ignored, the Shawnee took matters into their own hands and made overtures for an alliance to the: Illinois (the few who were left), Wea, Piankashaw, Miami, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, Delaware, Mascouten, Ojibwe,Cherokee, and Chickasaw. Meetings were held at the Shawnee villages on the Scioto River in 1770 and 1771, but William Johnson was able to prevent an alliance with threats of a war with the Iroquois.
This left the Shawnee alone to face the frontiersmen and Virginia militia during Lord Dunmore’s War (1774). The British remained interested observers in the struggle for the Ohio Valley until the beginning of the American Revolution (1775-83), at which time they began actively supporting the Ohio tribes against the Americans. Only the Saginaw had any important part in this fighting. The Lake Superior and Minnesota Ojibwe took no interest, and Mackinac participation was very limited. However, the British remained in control of the Great Lakes throughout the war and their fur trade continued. To allow the northern tribes to be used against the Americans, the British in 1778 were finally able to resolve the still-smoldering dispute between the Mackinac, Menominee and Winnebago. The truce freed these in 1780 to participate in the British expedition which attacked St. Louis (Spain had joined the war against Great Britain). In the east, Mississauga warriors joined Joseph Brant’s Mohawk in a series of attacks against frontier settlements in New York and Pennsylvania.
War between the Dakota and Ojibwe did not end when the Dakota were driven into southern Minnesota during the 1750s. Large battles gave way to continuous, raids designed make life miserable and give the other side little rest. These were mostly killing and burning. Few prisoners were taken. On most occasions, the Dakota got the worst of this. The Ojibwe were better armed and had the advantage of birchbark canoes (Dakota used dugouts). Neither had horses at the time, but to be fair, the Lakota (Teton Sioux) had already left Minnesota for the northern plains. With only 3-400 warriors, the Dakota were completely outnumbered, and even the Ojibwe admit they were a brave and dangerous enemy. Despite their disadvantages, the Dakota continued to resist and in 1780 formed an alliance with the Fox and Sauk to retake the St. Croix Valley. After a major battle at St. Croix Falls, the Ojibwe destroyed six Fox villages along the Chippewa River. By 1783 the Fox had withdrawn from Wisconsin and crossed the Mississippi into Iowa.
Allied with the Cree and Assiniboine, the Ojibwe had swept across northern Minnesota and western Ontario during the 1740s. By 1750 groups of Ojibwe (Pembina band) had reached the Red River at the edge of the plains in Manitoba and western Minnesota. They paused here, adapted to the plains culture, and began to venture onto the plains to hunt both buffalo and Lakota. The Ojibwe seemed determined to drive the Sioux into the Pacific Ocean. The Cheyenne, who lived in eastern North Dakota at this time, were caught in the middle. In 1770 the Ojibwe decided the Cheyenne were favoring the Lakota, and they destroyed their village while the warriors were absent on a hunt. The Cheyenne left soon afterwards and moved west to the Missouri River. Before 1750 the eastern Dakotas were dominated by the Mandan who lived in permanent, agricultural villages along the upper Missouri. The area was shared somewhat with the Lakota who spent their summers on the plains but returned to Minnesota each winter.
The Ojibwe invasion changed this, and the Lakota stayed permanently pushing the Mandan back towards the Missouri. On their heals, came the Assiniboine, Plains Cree, and Plains Ojibwe (Bungee or Plains Chippewa). The pursuit ended when the Lakota got horses, something their enemies also acquired, but never as many. As a result, the Lakota became the most powerful tribe on the northern plains, and the westward expansion of the Ojibwe into the Dakotas stopped at the Turtle Mountains. Smallpox struck the Red River during the winter of 1781-82. The Assiniboine, famous for large winter encampments, were especially hard-hit. The survivors left the valley afterwards and joined the Plains Cree moving west. The Ojibwe custom of small groups during the winter had protected them. Many stayed near the Red River, but others joined the westward migration. Because the Lakota controlled most of North and South Dakota, the remaining Ojibwe movement to the west occurred in Canada. Called Saulteaux by the French and Bungee by Hudson Bay traders, groups of Plains Ojibwe accompanied the Cree and Assiniboine, eventually reaching the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta.
The Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, but in Ohio and Great Lakes, it continued until 1794. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the boundary of new United States extended through the Great Lakes and west to the Mississippi River. The Americans were also required to compensate British loyalists (Tories) for their property losses during the revolution. Saddled with heavy debts from the war, there was no way the Americans could pay these obligations unless they could sell the land in Ohio. The British, of course, knew this, and continued to occupy their forts in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes until the Americans paid. Meanwhile, they armed the tribes fighting to keep the Americans out of Ohio and sat back to watch their former colonies fall back into their hands through economic collapse.
Officially, the British had told their native allies in 1783 to stop their attacks on the Americans, but the year before, Simon De Peyster, the British agent at Detroit, had begun the initial steps towards an alliance by reconciling disputes between the: Ojibwe, Winnebago, Fox, Sauk, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Miami. The British did not attend the meeting held at Sandusky in 1783 where the alliance was formed, but they brought the Mohawk Joseph Brant west to speak for them and let it be known they would support the western alliance against the Americans. The United States were also active, and among the first things the new government did was to meet with the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix in 1784 and force them to confirm their 1768 cession of Ohio. Badly mauled by Americans during the war, the Iroquois did as demanded. American commissioners were sent west to gain the acceptance of the Ohio tribes. The treaty signed at Fort McIntosh in 1785 was the first between the Ojibwe and the United States.
The treaty recognized American authority in Ohio and established a boundary between white and native lands. Unfortunately, the chiefs who signed did not represent the alliance anymore than the American commissioners represented the interests of its frontier citizens. The encroachment continued, and settlements were attacked in retaliation. Frontier militia responded with their own raids against the southernmost alliance villages forcing the council fire to be moved from Shawnee village of Waketomica in Ohio to Brownstown near Detroit. In a final attempt to resolve this through treaty, the American governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, in December, 1787 asked for a conference to be held at the falls of the Muskingum River (Fort Harmar). The alliance was divided on how to respond. Joseph Brant was opposed to the surrender of any land in Ohio. He stormed out of the meeting in disgust and went back to Ontario.
The Wyandot decided to attend and convinced the Detroit Ojibwe and Ottawa, Delaware, and Potawatomi to join them. The Saginaw Ojibwe and Ottawa expressed their opinion that summer by attacking soldiers building the meeting house at Fort Harmar. The Fort Harmar Treaty (January, 1789) establish the frontier on the Muskingum River but failed for the same reasons as the Fort McIntosh Treaty in 1785 – encroachment, raids, and retaliation. After Americans attacked the Wabash villages that summer, the militant Shawnee and Miami dominated the alliance, and the Americans decided on war. The first efforts met with disaster. Harmar’s (1790) and St. Clair’s (1791) defeats were the worst beatings ever inflicted on an American army by Native Americans. President Washington sent “Mad Anthony” Wayne to Ohio to take command. Wayne was anything but “Mad.” A deliberate and cautious man, he took two years to train a large force of regulars to back the skittish frontier militia. In the meantime, constant warfare was taking its toll on the unity of the western alliance.
The alliance could muster more than 2,000 warriors, but it could not feed them. Hungry Fox and Sauk warriors went home in 1792. That same year, Americans captured many of the Wabash tribes (Wea, Piankashaw, and Kickapoo) women and children forcing them to make a separate peace. Meanwhile, Wayne’s careful preparations were creating doubts within the alliance, most notably the Miami war chief Little Turtle who had given the alliance its greatest victories. American peace commissioners were sent to offer peace in exchange for acceptance of the Muskingum boundary. The Shawnee murdered two of them in 1792, but the delegation which included Hendrick Aupamut, a Stockbridge (Mahican) with relatives among the Delaware, arrived safely in 1793. The alliance was divided, but the arguments of Joseph Brant prevailed, and the conference ended without bringing peace.
The alliance had decided to fight but remained divided. After Wayne began his advance north from Fort Washington at Cincinnati, Little Turtle was replaced by Bluejacket (Shawnee). Saginaw and Detroit Ojibwe were among the warriors who faced Wayne at Fallen Timbers in August, 1794, but the 700 who participated were far fewer than in earlier battles. As the warriors retreated from the battlefield afterwards, the British at Fort Miami refused to open their gates. Great Britain had decided to reach an accommodation with the Americans rather than risk war.In November, it signed the Jay Treaty agreeing to withdraw from forts on American territory. Abandoned by the British, alliance chiefs signed the Fort Greenville Treaty in 1795 ceding Ohio except the northwest part. As part of the alliance, the Detroit and Saginaw Ojibwe also signed, but the loss of Ohio did not affect their lands which were north of the treaty line.
The British gave up the forts, but the Jay treaty allowed them to trade in American territory. American soldiers occupied Mackinac, but their activities were confined to the immediate vicinity of the fort. British and French Canadians dominated the region’s tribes and trade until the 1820s. After the British had assumed control of Canada in 1763, the fur trade had continued to operate mostly from Montreal. In 1779 several Montreal traders merged to form the Northwest Company, and at their request, the British government called a council the following year at Mackinac with the Ojibwe, Dakota, Fox, Sauk, Menominee, and Winnebago to end the intertribal warfare which was crippling the fur trade. The resulting treaty brought 20 years of peace to the region with one very important exception: the Dakota and Ojibwe. Nothing could stop this, but the Northwesters still managed to bring a lot of fur back to Montreal. By 1798 they were making regular visits to the Mandan villages on the Missouri River. To counter the competition from the Northwesters, Hudson Bay traders began moving their posts inland from Hudson Bay. By 1793 they had a permanent post on the Red River at Pembina. A third competitor entered the scene with the formation of the XYZ Company. Before this three-way competition began, alcohol was not a major problem for the Ojibwe, but ruthless competition made it readily available.
The Northwesters and XYZ merged in 1804 ending the worst abuses, but British traders were all over the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and an increasing concern to the Americans. The factory system was created during the 1790s to compete with the British, but it was poorly managed and ineffective. During his exploration of the upper Mississippi in 1806, Zebulon Pike ordered the Ojibwe to stop trading with the British and arranged a truce between them and the Dakota. Pike had barely started back down the Mississippi, when war with the Dakota and trade with the British resumed. John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company entered the Lake Superior trade just after the War of 1812. The British were still allowed to trade in the area, but United States law now required a permit. For some reason, these were difficult to obtain, and Astor was soon able to buy out the Northwesters. However, farther west in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and northern plains, British and Métis traders from the Red River remained active for many years. Known to the Lakota as the Slota, Métis traders took their high, two-wheeled Red River carts out on the plains. They were an important source of firearms for the Lakota until the 1870s.
The years after the Greenville Treaty were terrible for the western alliance tribes. Defeated and crowded into a shrinking land base, there was widespread social disintegration and breakdown of tribal authority. Drinking was a serious problem, and “peace chiefs” trying to reach an accommodation with the Americans were often in danger of being killed by their own people. The alliance collapsed, although the Shawnee chief Bluejacket tied to resurrect it in 1801. Not satisfied with the lands gotten at Greenville, the Americans continued to whittle away at the remaining native lands in the Ohio Valley. William Henry Harrison, the American governor of the Northwest Territory, had instructions to extinguish native land titles, and he set about his work. The Illinois ceded southern Illinois in 1803 even though they no longer controlled it. That same year, the Delaware sold part of southern Indiana. This was followed by treaties in 1805, 1807, and 1808 wherein the Detroit Ojibwe, Ottawa, Wyandot, and Potawatomi ceded parts of northern Ohio and southeastern Michigan.
The times called for a prophet. In 1805 a Shawnee drunkard named Lalawethika received a spiritual vision. He never touched alcohol again and took a new name – Tenskwatawa (The Open Door). Unwilling to wrestle with the pronunciation of his Shawnee name, Americans called him “The Prophet.” The Shawnee were surprised at the sudden change in this man, but after he predicted a solar eclipse in 1806, Tenskwatawa gained a large following from several tribes. His message was essentially the same as Neolin’s in 1763 – reject the white man’s trade goods and whiskey and return to traditional ways. His religious movement probably would have run its course and disappeared unnoticed into history, but his brother was Tecumseh. A spell-binding speaker and respected Shawnee war chief, Tecumseh added a political force to his brother’s movement. His main argument was there were to be no more land cessions to the Americans …period! This placed him in direct opposition to the peace chiefs and Harrison.
Tecumseh visited Canada in 1808 and received strong British encouragement and offers of support. The Prophet’s messengers also made their first visits to the Ojibwe villages that year. Many listened, but there was the competing movement of Trout, an Ottawa mystic at Mackinac, and strong opposition from the Midewiwin, who were not only a healing society but a major political force binding the Ojibwe bands to each other. Despite this, some of the Ojibwe and Ottawa decided to visit the Prophet at Prophetstown (Tippecanoe) in western Indiana. They arrived skeptical, and a harsh winter with starvation and disease at Prophetstown made them more so. They left angry after killing a Shawnee woman and her child in defiance of Prophet’s teachings and were planning an attack on Prophetstown until dissuaded by Michigan governor William Hull.
William Henry Harrison ignored the growing strength of Tecumseh and the Prophet and kept pressing for more land. In 1809 he negotiated treaties at Fort Wayne and Vincennes with the Delaware, Potawatomi Miami, and Illinois which ceded 3,000,000 acres in southern Indiana and Illinois. When he heard this, Tecumseh threatened to kill the chiefs who signed. He made good on this when his followers executed the Wyandot chief Leatherlips in 1810. The peace chiefs at Brownstown condemned the Prophet as a witch, but this was more a bark than a bite. Wyandot loyal to Tecumseh defied the council and brought the wampum belts of the old alliance to Prophetstown that year. Certain of war, Tecumseh left Tippecanoe to gather support from the tribes south of the Ohio. While he was absent, the Potawatomi attacked settlements in Illinois, and Harrison used this as an excuse to gather an army and march on Prophetstown in November, 1811.
Disregarding his brother’s orders to avoid confrontation with the Americans while he was gone, Tenskwatawa attacked. The battle of Tippecanoe followed, during which Prophetstown was burned. The military defeat was not nearly as important as the damage done to Tenskwatawa’s reputation as a prophet. After Tecumseh returned to Indiana, he had to use all of his powers to rebuild his alliance before the War of 1812 (1812-14) erupted that summer. Tecumseh and his followers fought on the British side during this conflict, but participation by the Ojibwe is more complex. Many of the Detroit and Saginaw Ojibwe joined Tecumseh until he was killed at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. Mississauga warriors helped the British defend Canada against American invasion. However, the Lake Superior and Mississippi (Minnesota) Ojibwe remained neutral, with their chief Bugonaykishig (Hole In the Day) as friendly to Americans as he was dangerous to the Dakota. The Mackinac helped the British capture Fort Michilimackinac in 1812, and two years later joined forces with the British garrison and 500 Menominee, Winnebago, Sauk, Dakota, and Ottawa warriors to defeat an American attempt to recapture it.
So far as Britain and the United States were concerned, the War of 1812 ended in stalemate, but for Native Americans it meant total defeat. The Americans were in control afterwards, and native lands began to dwindle away. The first treaties like the one at Spring Wells in 1815 were “kiss and make up” where tribes recognized United States authority and both parties agreed to forgive injuries which occurred during the war. The United States got down to business at the Fort Meigs Treaty (September, 1817) when the Ojibwe and others exchanged their remaining Ohio lands for reservations. The Saginaw surrendered a large part of southeast Michigan in 1819, followed in 1821 by the cession of northern Indiana lands by the Ojibwe and Potawatomi. Strangely enough, the first Ojibwe land losses occurred in Ontario with the Mississauga. This began shortly after 1783 to make room for the resettlement of Joseph Brant’s Mohawk who had been forced from New York during the Revolutionary War. Thousands of British loyalists also left the United States to settle in Upper Canada, and in 1792 Moravian Delaware arrived to escape the fighting in Ohio. Game became scarce, and the Mississauga began attacking Delaware hunters. The Mississauga eventually lost almost all of their land. By the 1840s they were destitute, but they still managed to donate £50 (a considerable sum at the time) for Irish famine relief.
There were no wars and few confrontations between the Americans and Ojibwe after 1815, but this was not true about the Ojibwe and Dakota. The Ojibwe had driven the Dakota south of the Minnesota River by 1780, but the Dakota made up for their losses by taking territory from the much-smaller Iowa tribe. As the Iowa retreated southward they came into conflict with the Osage and formed an alliance with the Fox and Sauk – also at war with the Osage. Despite the brief Fox-Dakota alliance against the Ojibwe (1780-83) and British efforts to negotiate a peace at Mackinac in 1786, the upper Mississippi was a war zone in 1800. After the War of 1812, the United States, for the first time, had control of its own territory free from British interference, but settlement advanced up the Mississippi from St. Louis no farther than the present southern border of Iowa because of the warfare to the north. Although the French and British had both failed, the Americans were determined to stop this.
Fort Snelling (St. Paul, MN) was built in 1819 to control British traders in Minnesota and provide a barrier between the Dakota and Ojibwe. It was more effective in controlling the British than the Dakota and Ojibwe. Despite a major Dakota victory at Cross Lake, Ojibwe villages by 1800 were located as far south as the Crow Wing River with the Ojibwe usually attacking the Dakota rather than the other-way-around. One American in Wisconsin during the early 1820s observed an Ojibwe war party return to their village with more than 300 scalps. With the fighting occurring up to the gates of their forts, the Americans decided to solve the problem by defining tribal territories. To this end, a Grand Council was held at Prairie du Chien in August, 1825 (Ojibwe, Dakota, Fox, Sauk, Iowa, Ottawa, Menominee, Winnebago, and Potawatomi). William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) headed the American delegation and, using lavish gifts and the promise of American trade factories, secured a treaty with general boundaries. Final adjustments were to be made at the discretion of the United States.
Not all of the Ojibwe were represented at Prairie du Chein, and it took two other treaties – Fond du Lac (1826) and Butte des Morts (1827) to complete the process. Unfortunately, these treaties bought little peace. In 1826 the Ojibwe ambushed the Dakota just north of Fort Snelling, and the Dakota retaliated the following year with an attack on an Ojibwe chief visiting the fort. The Americans captured the responsible Dakota and turned them over to the Ojibwe. By 1828 full-scale warfare had resumed, with the soldiers at Fort Snelling as spectators. Despite this, American settlement surged up the Mississippi Valley after the Prairie du Chien treaty. The first target was the lead deposits between Prairie du Chien and Galena, Illinois. This caused a brief war with the Winnebago during 1828, after which, the Winnebago were forced to surrender their claim to the area. Additional treaties the following year with the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi completed the takeover.
Further south, Blackhawk’s Sauk in 1832 refused to surrender their western Illinois lands as required by a questionable 1804 treaty, and this erupted into the Blackhawk War. Although Blackhawk thought the Ojibwe, Winnebago, and even British would support him, only a few Potawatomi in northern Illinois joined in. Soundly beaten, the Sauk were forced to cede their remaining lands in Illinois as well as parts of eastern Iowa. In the aftermath, pressure built to remove the other tribes from Illinois. At the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi in northern Illinois ceded their remaining lands and agreed to move to Council Bluffs on the Missouri River in southwest Iowa. After a few years, the Illinois Ojibwe merged with the more-numerous Prairie Potawatomi. The combined tribe was forced from Iowa in 1846 and removed to eastern Kansas.
After the Blackhawk War, settlers moved into northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa and then started looking north towards Minnesota for more land. In the meantime, fighting between the Dakota and Ojibwe had continued, and a government peace mission headed by Henry Schoolcraft in 1831 failed to produce lasting results. However, the Ojibwe over-hunted Minnesota, and as the fur dwindled, they acquired almost $70,000 in debt to American traders. The Dakota had similar problems and obligations. To pay these, both tribes agreed in 1837 (Treaty of St. Peters) to cede a disputed area between the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers (including much of northwest Wisconsin) which they had fought over for a century but neither could safely use. The Ojibwe receive a $35,000 annual payment which gave the Americans leverage in preventing hostilities.
Unfortunately, many of the northern Ojibwe bands got nothing and continued to raid the Dakota. When the Ojibwe delegation came to Fort Snelling in the summer of 1839 to collect their annuities, the Dakota attacked them. 100 Ojibwe and 23 Dakota died in a battle which took place on the grounds of the fort itself. In 1848 the Winnebago (friendly with both tribes) were brought to Minnesota and placed at Long Prairie between the Ojibwe and Dakota. In 1851 a group of Ojibwe visiting the Winnebago agency slipped off unnoticed and killed five Dakota. Fighting between the Ojibwe and Dakota only slowed after the Dakota were moved to reservations in southwest Minnesota during the 1850s. However, occasional outbreaks continued until 1862 when the Americans drove the Dakota from Minnesota during the Minnesota Valley Uprising.
Until the late 1800s, many Ojibwe in Minnesota maintained closer ties with Canada than the United States. Winnipeg and Fort Geary were actually closer to them than the American traders at St. Paul, and the “medicine line” (U.S.-Canada border) meant little. Like the Americans, Canadian relations with the Ojibwe were mostly friendly, but there were major problems with the Métis (French-Ojibwe-Cree mixed bloods) who had settled in the Red River Valley and become almost a nation. The Hudson Bay Company began the first white settlements in the area in 1811. These was opposed by the Northwesters, who by 1815 were urging the Ojibwe, Cree, and Assiniboine to attack the settlements. The Ojibwe and others refused, but the Bois Brulé (French-Ojibwe mixed bloods) agreed. Disguised in native dress, they captured the governor and Pembina and forced 140 settlers to flee for their lives. The insurrection was finally crushed by Lord Thomas Selkirk in 1817. Selkirk reorganized the settlements and negotiated peace treaties with the Cree, Assiniboine, and the Ojibwe. He even managed a treaty with the Dakota who recently had killed 33 Saulteaux (Red River Ojibwe) in fighting near Pembina.
Hudson Bay and the Northwesters merged in 1821 ending their no-hold-barred competition, but Métis resentment against newcomers continued and erupted into the Red River Rebellion of 1869 led by Louis Riel. It took almost the entire Canadian army to put down this revolt, and Riel fled south to, of all places, the United States. Meanwhile, at the urging of mining and timber interests, the Canadian government was extinguishing Ojibwe land titles. Signed during the 1850s, the Robertson Treaties (Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties) and Manitoulin Island Treaty cost the Ojibwe their lands on the northern and eastern shores of Lakes Superior and Huron and the Saugeen Peninsula. A series of five treaties (1871-75) followed with the Plains Ojibwe, Cree, and other tribes which are known only by their number (Treaty No. 1, etc.). This concluded in 1923 with the Williams Treaty with the Ojibwe of southern Ontario.
In the United States, the process was similar. Spread over such a large area, their lands passed into white ownership and the public domain through a series of treaties rather any single agreement. This initially happened where soil and growing season permitted agriculture: Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, southern Wisconsin. After their first cessions in 1819 and 1821, the Saginaw through six treaties (1836-39) ceded their lands and agreed to temporary reservations until arrangements could be made for their removal to Kansas. Only the Black River and Swan Creek bands actually moved. The others decided to stay in Michigan and refused to leave. Some joined the Ojibwe in upper Michigan, but the rest used the money from their original cessions to purchase new lands. By 1854 the government accepted this but required allotment (individual rather than tribal ownership). During the next fifteen years, the Saginaw lost at least 300,000 acres to fraud. The situation was so rotten even the federal government noticed and was forced to intervene.
Their treaty promised to send them to Minnesota, but the Black River and Swan Creek Ojibwe arrived in Kansas in 1839. They settled near Ottawa on lands originally intended for all of the Saginaw. When it became clear in 1854 the other Saginaw were going to stay in Michigan, 8,320 acres were given to the Black River and Swan Creek bands. After Kansas was opened to white settlement by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the immigrant tribes from the east began to sell their lands. This left a group of Moravian Delaware from Ontario without land, but the Ojibwe gave them permission to settle on their lands. The two groups merged shortly afterwards and, after agreeing to allotment and citizenship, stayed in Kansas when the other tribes left for Oklahoma after the civil war. Most still live in the vicinity.
Although it always took several treaties to reach agreement with every band, the United States initially treated the Ojibwe in upper Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as one tribe. Since most of their land was useless for agriculture, pressure for land cessions occurred later than with other Ojibwe. Only a small area near Sault Ste. Marie for a fort and trading post and the St. Martin Islands were ceded in two treaties signed in 1820. The 1826 treaty at Fond du Lac was similar, but the Americans received permission to explore and mine the south shore of Lake Superior. Rich cooper deposits were discovered on the Keweenaw Peninsula, and at La Pointe in 1842, the Ojibwe ceded most upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin retaining only their right to hunt and fish. For this the United States paid $75,000 for the debts accumulated with American traders and an annuity of $36,000 for 25 years. However, the agreement split the Lake Superior Ojibwe (who got most of the money) from the Mississippi bands in Minnesota who had opposed the cession.
Whites rushed in to exploit the copper and timber, and by 1847 there was talk of moving all of the Ojibwe to Kansas. Three years later President Zachary Taylor ordered the removal, but his death that year postponed the implementation. This allowed time for opposition to organize – not only Christian missionaries working among the Ojibwe, but the Minnesota legislature in 1853 voted its opposition to removal. Taylor’s order was rescinded by his successor, Millard Fillmore. Since it no longer intended to remove the Ojibwe, the government needed to assign reservations. In the treaty signed at La Pointe in 1854, the Lake Superior Ojibwe gave up seven million acres in exchange for six reservations too small to support them. It took twelve years and eight additional treaties to finalize the Ojibwe reservations in Minnesota.
Louis Riel went back to Canada to lead a second rebellion in 1884. This time he was captured, brought to trial, and hung. His supporters had included not only the Métis, but also Cree and Ojibwe, and afterwards, many found sanctuary in the United States. Ojibwe of Rocky Boy (Stone Child) Ojibwe crossed into northeast Montana and settled along the Milk River in 1886. The army considered them Canadian Indians and wanted to deport them, but with the support of Montana citizens, they were allowed to stay and given the Rocky Boy Reservation. In 1910 they were joined there by Little Bear’s Cree. Back in North Dakota, the Plains Cree escaped the government attention until 1882. Whites moving into the area wanted to know why all of the “Indians” were still running loose. Since the United States no longer dealt with Native Americans through treaty, the Turtle Mountain Reservation was created that year by executive order.
The Plains Ojibwe did not always remain on this reservation and often left on extended buffalo hunts. During one of these absences of Little Shell’s group of almost 5,000 Ojibwe and Métis in 1884, the government concluded Turtle Mountain was too large for the number of Ojibwe living there and reclaimed 90% of the reservation for sale to whites. This left Little Shell and his people stranded in Montana without land. The government offered to compensate the Ojibwe for the loss of ten million acres at the rate of 10¢ per acre – the “Ten Cent Treaty.” Many Ojibwe took the money and returned to the crowded reservation in North Dakota, but Little Shell rejected the settlement, and his people have remained without recognition ever since. The real embarrassment to the government occurred when the reservation was allotted in 1892. Even without Little Shell’s people, there was not enough land available on the reservation. 2,000 allotments had to be added from public lands in Montana and South Dakota.
After 1815 there were few confrontations between the Ojibwe and Americans, but the fight between the Army and Pillager Band of Ojibwe on October 5th, 1898 was the last official battle of the Indian Wars. Troops were sent to the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota to arrest Bugonaygeshig, a dissident Ojibwe elder. Bugonaygeshig had been arrested once before and, after a trial in Duluth, had to walk back to Leech Lake. He was in no mood to repeat this experience. As the Ojibwe gathered to protect him, an army rifle accidentally discharged, and the soldiers suddenly found themselves surrounded and under fire from all sides. Cooler heads prevailed, and after a truce, the army withdrew without Bugonaygeshig. This skirmish produced the last Medal of Honor awarded in an Indian campaign. To Private O. Burchard: “For distinguished bravery in action against hostile Indians for action during the uprising of Chippewa Indians on Leech Lake, northern Minnesota.” A soldier got the medal, but as was the case with almost every enemy they had ever faced, the Ojibwe had won the battle.
Sauk and Fox Location
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 theKickapoo 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).
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 otherAlgonquin 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 andMontagnais 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 theHuron homeland as well as those of their Ottawa,Neutrals, andTionontati 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, theDelaware 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, andCherokee 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.
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