Mascouten Tribe

Mascouten Indians (‘little prairie people,’ from muskuta (Fox) or mashcodé, (Chippewa), prairie’; ens, diminutive ending. By the Hurons they were called Assistaeronon, ‘Fire people,’ and by the French ‘Nation do Fen.’ These last names seem to have arisen from a mistranslation of the Algonquian term. In the Chippewa dialect ‘fire’ is ishkote, and might easily be substituted for mashkodé, ‘prairie’ ). A term used by some early writers in a collective and indefinite sense to designate the Algonquian tribes living on the prairies of Wisconsin and Illinois; LaSalle even includes some bands of Sioux under the name. The name (Mashkótens) is at present applied by the Potawatomi to that part of the tribe officially known as the “Prairie band” and formerly residing on the prairies of northern Illinois. The modern Foxes use the term Muskutáwa to designate themselves, the Wea, Piankashaw, Peoria, and Kaskaskia, on account of their former residence on the prairies of Illinois and Indiana. Gallatin was not inclined to consider them a distinct tribe, and Schoolcraft was of the opinion that they, together with the Kickapoo, were parts of one tribe. It is asserted by the Jesuit Allouez that the Kickapoo and Kitchigami spoke the same Algonquian dialect as the Mascoutens. Gallatin says the Sauk, Foxes, and Kickapoo “speak precisely the same language.” Their close association with the Kickapoo would indicate an ethnic relation. According to an Ottawa tradition recorded by Schoolcraft there was at an early day a tribe known as Assegun, or Bone Indians, residing in the vicinity of Michilimackinac. These, after a severe contest, were driven by the Ottawa into the southern peninsula of Michigan as far as Grand river. During this war on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan the Ottawa and Chippewa, who had confederated with them, became involved in a quarrel with a people known as Mushkodainsug (or Mascoutens). From this period, according to the tradition, the Assegun and Mascoutens were confederates, and were driven still farther southward in the peninsula, after which they are lost to the tradition, except that it attributes to them the well known “garden beds” of southwestern Michigan. Although this tradition stands to a large extent alone, it is possibly not wholly unsupported. The chief items which seem to accord with it are the close relations between the Mascoutens and the Sauk, who are known to have resided at an early period in the lower Michigan peninsula, whence they passed into Wisconsin, where the two tribes were found closely associated; and the statement by Denonville 1 that Champlain, in 1612, found (heard of) the people of this tribe residing at Sakinan, or Saginaw bay. To the same locality have the Sauk been traced. Although the evidence is not entirely satisfactory, it is probable that this tribe entered Wisconsin from southern Michigan, passing around the southern end of Lake Michigan.

The first mention of the Mascoutens is by Champlain, in 1616, under the name Asistagueroüon 2; on his map (v, 1384) he locates them, under the. name Assistagueronons, beyond and south of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan being unknown to him. He says the Ottawa were then at war with them. Sagard (1636) places them nine or ten days journey west of the south end of Georgian Bay 3. According to the Jesuit Relation for 1640 they were then at war with the Neuters, who were allies of the Ottawa. The first actual contact of the French with the Mascoutens of which there is any record was the visit of Perrot to their village near Fox river Wis., previous to 1669. Winsor 4 says Nicolet visited their village in 1634. That he passed up Fox river, probably to the portage, is doubtless true, but that he visited the Mascoutens is not positively known, as it is stated in the Jesuit Relation for 1646 that up to that time they had seen no European, and that the name of God had not reached them. They were visited in 1670 by Allouez and in 1673 by Marquette, both finding, then in their village near the portage between Fox and Wisconsin rivers, living in close, relation with the Miami and the Kickapoo. After the visit by Marquette they are mentioned by Hennepin, who places them in 1680 on Lake Winnebago; though Membré at the same date locates at least a part of the tribe and some of the Foxes on Milwaukee river. Marest, writing in 1712, says that a short time previous thereto they had formed a settlement on the Ohio at the mouth of the Wabash, or more likely at Old Fort Massac, whose occupants had suffered greatly from contagious disorders. In the same year the upper Mascoutens and the Kickapoo joined the Foxes against the French. In the same year the Potawatomi and other northern tribes made a combined attack on the Mascoutens and Foxes at the siege of Detroit, killing and taking prisoners together nearly a thousand of both sexes. In 1718 the Mascoutens and Kickapoo were living together in a single village on Rock river, Ill., and were estimated together at 200 men. In 1736 the Mascoutens are mentioned as numbering 60 warriors, living with the Kickapoo on Fox river, Wis., and having the wolf and deer totems. These are among the existing gentes of the Sank and Foxes. They are last mentioned as living in Wisconsin in the list of tribes furnished to James Buchanan 5 by Heckewelder, which relates to the period between 1770 and 1780. The last definite notice of them is in Dodge’s list of 1779, which refers to those on the Wabash in connection with the Piankashaw and Vermilion  (Kickapoo). After this the Mascoutens disappear from history, the northern group having probably been absorbed by the Sank and Fox confederacy, and the southern group by the Kickapoo.

Notwithstanding some commendatory expressions by one or two of the early missionaries, the Mascoutens, like the Kickapoo, bore a reputation for treachery and deceit, but, like the Foxes, appear to have been warlike and restless. According to the missionaries, they worshiped the sun and thunder, but were not much given to religious rites and ceremonies, and did not honor as large a variety of minor deities as many other tribes; but such early statements regarding any tribe must be taken with allowance. Their petitions to their deities were usually accompanied by a gift of powdered tobacco.

The missions established among the Mascoutens were St Francis Xavier and St James.Citations:

  1. Denonville, N. Y. Doc. Col. Hist., ix, 378[]
  2. Œuvres, iv, 58, 1870[]
  3. Sagard, Hist. duCanada, 194, 1866[]
  4. Winsor, Cartier to Frontenac, 152[]
  5. Buchanan, Sketches N. A. Inds., I, 139[]

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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