Fox Tribe

Fox Indians (trans. in plural of wagosh, ‘red fox,’ the name of a clan). An Algonquian tribe, so named, according to Fox tradition recorded by Dr. William Jones, because once while some Wagohugi, members of the Fox clan, were hunting, they met the French, who asked who they were; the Indians gave the name of their clan, and ever since the whole tribe has been known by the name of the Fox clan. Their own name for themselves, according to the same authority, is Měshkwa`kihŭg’, ‘red-earth people,’ because of the kind of earth from which they are supposed to have been created. They were known to the Chippewa and other Algonquian tribes as Utŭgamig, ‘people of the other shore’.

When they first became known to the whites, the Foxes lived in the vicinity of Lake Winnebago or along Fox river, Wisconsin. Verwyst 1 says they were on Wolf river when Allouez visited them in 1670. As the tribe was intimately related to the Sauk, and the two were probably branches of one original stem, it is probable that the early migrations of the former corresponded somewhat closely with those of the latter. The Sauk came to Wisconsin through the lower Michigan peninsula, their traditional home having been north of the lakes, and were comparatively newcomers in Wisconsin when they first became known to the French. One of their important villages was for some time on Fox river. The conclusion of Warren 2 that the Foxes early occupied the country along the south shore of Lake Superior and that the incoming Chippewa drove them out, has the general support of Fox tradition. Nevertheless there is no satisfactory historical evidence that the Foxes ever resided farther north than Fox river in Wisconsin, and in none of their treaties with the United States have they claimed land north of Sauk county. This restless and warlike people was the only Algonquian tribe against whom the French waged war. In addition to their disposition to be constantly at strife with their neighbors, they had conceived a hatred of the French because of the aid which the latter gave the Chippewa and others by furnishing firearms, and because they gathered the various tribes for the purpose of destroying the Foxes. The proposal to exterminate them was seriously considered in the French councils, and their destruction would earlier have been attempted but for the pleas interposed by Nicolas Perrot. Their character is briefly described by Charlevoix 3 when he says they “infested with their robberies and filled with murders not only the neighborhood of the Bay [Green Bay], their natural territory, but almost all the routes communicating with the remote colonial posts, as well as those leading from Canada to Louisiana. Except the Sioux, who often joined them, and the Iroquois, with whom they had formed an alliance, all the nations in alliance with us suffered greatly from these hostilities.

It was this tribe that in 1712 planned the attack on the fort at Detroit, and but for the timely arrival of friendly Indians and the bravery of the French commandant, Buisson, would undoubtedly have destroyed it. They were almost constantly at war with the Illinois tribes south of them, and finally succeeded, in conjunction with the Sauk, in driving them from a large part of their country, of which they took possession.

From their earliest known history they were almost constantly at war with the Chippewa dwelling north of them, but usually without decided success, though often aided by the Sioux. It was by the Chippewa, together with the Potawatomi, Menominee, and the French, that their power was finally broken.

About 1746, and perhaps for some few years previous, the Foxes lived at the Little Butte des Morts on the west bank of Fox river, about 37 miles above Green Bay. They made it a point, when ever a trader’s boat approached, to place a torch upon the bank as a signal for the traders to come ashore and pay the customary tribute, which they exacted from all. To refuse was to incur their displeasure, and robbery would be the mildest penalty inflicted. Incensed at this exaction, Morand, a leading trader, raised a volunteer force of French and Indians, and after inflicting severe punishment on the Foxes in two engagements drove them down Wisconsin river. They settled on the north bank about 20 miles from the mouth.

About 1780, in alliance with the Sioux, they attacked the Chippewa at St Croix Falls, where the Foxes were almost annihilated. The remnant incorporated with the Sauk, and although long officially regarded as one, the two tribes have preserved their identity.

According to Dr William Jones 4 the culture of the Foxes is that of the tribes of the eastern woodlands with some intrusive streaks front the plains. They were acquainted with wild rice, and raised corn, beans, squashes, and tobacco. They lived in villages in summer, the bark house being the type of the warm-weather dwelling; in winter they scattered and dwelt in oval flagreed lodges.

The belief in a cosmic substance called mŭnǐtowǐwi, or unit mŭnǐtowǐwǐni, is an essential element in their philosophy. Objects, animate or inanimate, imbued with this substance become the recipients of marked adoration. The Foxes practice many ceremonies, the principal one being the feast festival of the gentes. There is probably no other Algonquian community within the limits of the United States, unless it be that of the Mexican band of Kickapoo in Oklahoma, where a more primitive state of society exists.

Besides being warlike, the Foxes were described by neighboring tribes as stingy, avaricious, thieving, passionate, and quarrelsome; their bravery, however, was proverbial. Like most of the tribes of the region of the great lakes they were polygamists. They were familiar with both dug-out and birch-bark canoes. Spears and clubs were among their weapons of war. Schoolcraft states that a band of warriors seen by him wore headdresses consisting of red-dyed horsehair tied in such manner to the scalplock as to present the shape of the decoration of a Roman helmet. The rest of the head was completely shaved and painted. They wore breech-cloths, moccasins, and leggings, and the upper part of their bodies was painted; often the print of a hand in white clay was marked on the hack or shoulder. They bore flags of feathers. Their “coat of arms” is described by Lahontan in heraldic terms: “A meadow sinople, crossed by a winding pale, with two foxes’ gules at the two extremities of the river, in chief and other words, as his figure oblique mark representing a stream, with a fox at each end on opposite sides.  He esplains this “coat of arms” as the mark or symbol which, after a victory or successful raid, they painted on trees. 5

Guignes estimated them in 1728 at 200 warriors, but most of the estimates before the last half century give them from 1,500 to 2,000 souls.  Lewis and Clark estimated them at 300 warriors, or 1,200 souls, in 1805.  Since about 1850 the two tribes have been enumerated together.  The 345 “Sauk and Fox of Mississippi” still (1905) in Iowa are said to be all Foxes.  There are also 83 “Sauk and Fox of Missouri” under the Kickapoo school in Kansas.

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Fox as both an ethnological study, and as a people.

  1. Sauk Tribe


  1. Verwyst, Missionary Labors, 178, 1886[]
  2. Warren, History Ojibways, 95, 1885[]
  3. Charlevoix, Shea trans., v, 305, 1881[]
  4. Jones, inf’n, 1906[]
  5. See Owen, Folk-lore of the Musquakie Indians, 1904[]

Algonquian, Fox,

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

4 thoughts on “Fox Tribe”

  1. Seeking the connection between the Fox Indian Tribe and Silkwood family. A Fox Indian woman married into the Silkwood Family sometime prior the 1880s. Thank you in advance for your assistance!!

  2. Looking for info on the Fox tribe. My Grandmother Fannie Mae was full Fox. She married John Mullen. We always had Fox family reunions in Cedar Falls Is.

  3. I’m interested in contact with people doing Sac-Fox history or genealogy. My ancestor “Sophia Jones” born in Keokuk area of Iowa about 1832 may have been a Fox ‘half-breed’. A brother (?) John William Jones born about 1843 had 2 sons, but none of them appear before 1860 census in MO & IL. After 5 generations I still carry 3% Native DNA from her. Awaiting FTDNA Family Finder results, hope to solve history & make connections.

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