Sauk Tribe

Sauk Indians, Sac Indians, Sac Tribe ( Osā’kiwŭg, ‘people of the outlet,’ or, possibly, ‘people of the yellow earth,’ in contradistinction from the Muskwakiwuk, ‘Red Earth People’, a name of the Foxes). One of a number of Algonquian tribes whose earliest known habitat was embraced within the eastern peninsula of Michigan, the other tribes being the Potawatomi, the “Nation of the Fork,” and probably the famous Mascoutens and the Foxes. The present name of Saginaw Bay (Sāginā’we’, signifying ‘the country or place of the Sauk’) is apparently derived from the ethnic appellative Sauk. There is presumptive evidence that the Sauk, with the tribes mentioned above, were first known to Europeans under the general ethnic term “Gens de Feu” or that of “Asistagueronon,” the latter being the Huron translation of the specific name Potawatomi, both the terms in question being first recorded by Champlain and Sagard. In 1616 Champlain, while in what is now Ontario, learned from the Tionontati, or Tobacco Nation, that their kindred, the Neutral Nation, aided the Ottawa (Cheueux releuez) in waging war against the Gens de Feu, i. e. ‘People of the Fire,’ and that the Ottawa carried on a warfare against “another nation of savages who were called Asistagueronon, which is to say, ‘People of the Place of the Fire,”‘ who were distant from the Ottawa 10 days’ journey; and lastly, in more fully describing the country, manners, and customs of the Ottawa, he added, “In the first place, they wage war against another nation of savages who are called Asistagueronon, which is to say, ‘people of the fire,’ distant from them 10 days’ journey.” He supplemented this statement with the remark that “they pressed me strongly to assist them against their enemies, who are on the shore of the Mer Douce [Lake Huron], distant 200 leagues.” Sagard, who was in Canada during the years 1623-26, wrote in his Histoire du Canada 1 , that the sedentary and the migratory Ottawa together waged war against the Asistagueronon, who were 9 or 10 days’ journey by canoe from the Ottawa, a distance which he estimated at “about 200 leagues and more of travel.”

Before the Sauk became known as an independent tribe, it is evident that they formed a part of this group of important Algonquian communities, which was called by the Hurons and cognate peoples “Asistagueronon,” and by the French, “Nation or People of the Fire,” a translation of the former appellate. In order therefore to understand clearly the ethnic relations of the Sauk, it will be necessary to review the earliest known facts relating to this interesting group of tribes. So far as known, the Sauk were first mentioned independently in the Jesuit Relation for 1640 2 under the generic Huron name Hvattoehronon, i. e. ‘people of the sunset,’ or briefly, ‘westerners.’ They were here mentioned among a number of other tribes along with the Foxes (Skenchiohronon), the Potawatomi (Attistaehronon), the Kickapoo (Ontarahronon, `lake people’), the Mascoutens (Oherokouaehronon, ‘people of the place of grass’), the Winnebago (Aoueatsiouaenhronon, ‘saline or brackish water people’), and the Crane band of the Miami (Attochingochronon). The following citations from the Jesuit Relations embody some of the evidence that the Sauk, the Potawatomi, and the Nation of the Fork, were generally comprised in the Huron ethnic appellative Asistagueronon, i. e. ‘People of the Place of Fire,’ which is the literal signification of the tribal name Potawatomi.

Sauk Indians History

Father Allouez, the first person to describe the Sauk, wrote in 1667 that they were more savage than all the other peoples he had met; that they were a populous tribe, although they had no fixed dwelling place, being wanderers and vagabonds in the forests. He was told that if they or the Foxes found a person in an isolated place they would kill him, especially if he were a Frenchman, for they could not endure the sight of the whiskers of the European. Yet, two years later he reported that the first place in which he began to give religious instruction was in a village of the “Ousaki,” situated at the DePere Rapids, Wisconsin, wherein he found several tribes in winter quarters, namely, the “Ousaki, the Pouteouatami, the Outagami [Foxes], and the Ovenibigoutz [Winnebago] about 600 souls.” Allouez adds that a league and a half away there was another village of about 150 persons; that at 4 leagues farther away there was another of about 100 persons; that at 8 leagues away there was another of about 300 persons, situated on the opposite side of the bay; that at 25 leagues, at a place called Ouestatinong, dwelt the Foxes, and that at a day’s journey from this tribe dwelt the Makskouteng [Mascoutens, and the Oumami [Miami], the latter being reputed to be a band of the Illinois. The Indians of this region, the Father reported, were “more barbarous than usual,” having no ingenuity, not knowing even how “to make a bark dish or a ladle,” using shells instead.

In the Jesuit Relation for 1658 3 Father Ragueneau reported what he had learned concerning the upper lake tribes from Father Bruillettes, a skilful and accomplished Huron and Algonquian linguist, who in listing these tribes used to some extent the knowledge of these communities obtained by Radisson and Groseilliers, who had then but recently discovered and visited a number of them. In the descriptive list of these tribes cited by Father Ragueneau, the following statements are pertinent here: “The third nation is distant about 3 days’ journey by water from the town of St Michel, going inland. It is composed of the Makoutensak and the Outitchakouk [i. e. the Crane Miami]. The two Frenchmen [probably Radisson and Groseilliers] who have traveled in those countries say that these people are of a very mild nature.” “The fourteenth nation has 30 towns, inhabited by the Atsistagherronnons. They are southwest a quarter south at 6 or 7 days’ journey from St Michel. The Onondaga have recently declared war against them.” This is presumptive evidence from seemingly competent authority that the ethnic names Mascoutens and Atsistagherronnons were not in 1658 by any means synonymous or convertible epithets, and that therefore the peoples designated by them were not identical. This confusion as to names in question persisted until about 1671, as the following citations will show. In the Jesuit Relation for 1670 4 Father Allouez stated that “We entered the river which leads to the Machkoutench, called Assista Ectaeronnons, Nation of the Fire, by the Hurons”; but in the Relation for the following year 5 Father Allouez stated that “The Nation of the Fire bears this name by an error, properly calling themselves Maskoutench, which signifies a land cleared of trees, such as is that which these people inhabit; but because by the change of a few letters which one makes, this same word signifies fire, it follows that one calls them the Nation of the Fire.” There is in each of these statements an error which was due directly to the process of the gradual elimination of tribes becoming known from a group of unknown peoples or tribes which bore a generic name “people of the place of fire,” derived from the specific name of an important one of these tribes, the Potawatomi, whose name signifies literally, ‘people of the place of fire.’ This confounding of several tribes one with another, and the consequent misapplication of specific and generic names, were made evidently not by the Hurons but by French traders and missionaries.

In the Jesuit Relation for 1671 6 Father Dablon, speaking of Green Bay, Wisconsin, wrote that the Menominee, the Sauk, the Potawatomi, and other neighboring tribes, “being driven from their own countries, which are the lands southward near Missilimakinac, have taken refuge at the head of this bay, beyond which one can see inland the ‘Nation of the Fire,’ or Mathkoutench, with one of the Illinois tribes called Oumiami, and the Foxes.” And in the same Relation 7 , he said: “The three nations who are now in the bay of the Winnebago as strangers resided on the mainland which is south of this island [i. e. Missilimakinac] some on the shores of the Lake of the Illinois [i. e. Michigan], others on those of the Lake of the Hurons. A part of those who call themselves Salteurs [Chippewa] possessed lands on the mainland toward the west. Four villages of the Ottawa also had their lands in these quarters, but especially those who bore the name of the island, calling themselves Missilimakinac, and who were so numerous that some of those who are still living [1670] assert that they composed 30 villages, and that they had enclosed themselves in a fort a league and a half in circuit, when the Iroquois, flushed with a victory gained over 3,000 men of this tribe who had carried the war even into the country of the Mohawk, came to defeat them.” Further 8 , the Father relates: “Four nations make their abode here, namely, those who hear the name Puants [i. e., the Winnebago], who have always lived here, as it were, in their own country, and who, having been defeated by the Illinois, their enemies, have been reduced from a very flourishing and populous people to nothing; the Potawatomi, the Sauk, and the Nation of the Fork (de la Fourche) also live here, but as strangers, the fear of the Iroquois having driven them from their lands, which are between the Lake of the Hurons and that of the Illinois.” There can be little if any doubt that in these citations the names “Iroquois” and “Mohawk” should be replaced by “Neuters,” who to these fugitive tribes were known also as ‘Nadō’weg’ (see Nadowa); otherwise established facts are contravened by these statements, and it has already been shown that the “Neutre Nation” aided the Ottawa against the tribes on the shores of Lake Huron. The foregoing quotations make it evident that the Potawatomi, the Sauk, and the ‘Nation of the Fork’ were included in the Asistagueronon of Champlain and Sagard, represented by them as dwelling in 1616 on the western shore lands of Lake Huron and farther westward. Thus far no evidence has been adduced to show that Mascoutens and Asistagueronon were at first convertible or synonymous appellatives.

Further, Father Dablon, in the Jesuit Relation for 1670 9 , said with reference to the Sault Sainte Marie: “The first and native inhabitants of this place are those who call themselves Pahouitingßach Irini, whom the French name Saulteurs, because these are they who dwell at the Sault, as in their own country, the others being there only by adoption; they number only 150 souls, but they have united with three other tribes, who number more than 550 persons, to whom they have made a cession of the rights of their native country; they also reside there fixedly, except during the time in which they go to hunt. Those whom one calls the Nouquet range forth purpose southward of Lake Superior, when they came originally, and the Outchibo [Chippewa] with the Marameg, north ward of the same lake, which they regard as their own proper country.”

From the Jesuit Relation for 1644 it is learned that the long struggle between the so-called “Neutral Nation” and the “Nation du Feu” at that time was still maintained with unabated fury. Father Jerome Lallemant 10 states that in the summer of 1642 the Neuters with a force of 2,000 warriors advanced into the country of the “Nation du Feu” and attacked a town of this tribe which was strongly defended by palisades and manned by 900 resolute warriors; that these patriots withstood the assaults of the besiegers for 10 days, but that at the end of this time the devoted place was carried. Many of its defenders were killed on the spot, and 800 captives-men, women, and children were taken; and 70 of the best warriors among the prisoners were burned at the stake, the, merciless victors putting out the eyes and cutting away the lips of all the old men and leaving them thus to die miserably. The Father adds the interesting statement that “this Nation of the Fire is more populous than all the Neutral Nation, all the Hurons, and all the Iroquois, enemies of the Hurons, put together; it consists of a large number of villages wherein the Algonquin language is spoken.” This last citation is further proof that the term “Fire Nation,” or “Nation of the Place of Fire,” at that period was applied in a broad general sense rather than in a specific one. Apparently it embraced all the tribes formerly dwelling in the eastern peninsula of the present state of Michigan, and later removed to the north and west shores of the present Lake Michigan, and still later it embraced some of the Illinois tribes.

From the Jesuit Relation for 1642, 11 it is learned that the Saulteurs informed the Jesuit fathers that “a certain tribe more distant [than the Sault Sainte Marie from the Huron mission], which they call Pouteatami, had abandoned its country and had come to take refuge with the inhabitants of the Sault to escape from some other hostile tribe that vexes them with ceaseless wars.” This shows that the Potawatomi were then westward from the home of the Saulteurs, and that their emigration from the Michigan peninsula was not then of many years’ standing.

It has been shown from historical data that for a long period before 1651 the Neuters and the Ottawa together waged bitter warfare against a group of tribes which became known to the French writers as Gens de Feu, or ‘People of the Fire,’ and as Asistagueronon, or ‘People of the Place of Fire,’ and later as the Mascoutens, by an error, the last name meaning, as an appellative, `People Dwelling in Small Prairies.’ There is no known historical data showing that, during the time that the Ottawa and the Neuters occupied the peninsula north of Lake Erie, the Iroquois, specifically so called, carried on any warlike operations against tribes dwelling westward of the two just mentioned. The fact is that the name Nadoweg, or Nadō’weg, was a general name of hateful significance which was applied by Algonquian tribes generally to any people of Iroquoian stock, as the Neuters, the Tionontati, and the Hurons. Now, inasmuch as the Neuters with their allies, the Ottawa, encountered their enemies on the western “shores” of Lake Huron, i. e., in the present Michigan peninsula, and as it is known that as late as 1642 the Neuters sent into this region a force of 2,000 warriors which destroyed a stronghold of their enemies, it can be said with propriety that the Algonquian tribes formerly inhabiting the peninsula were driven there from by the Nadō’weg, meaning, conclusively it would seem, the Neuters, but understood by the French missionaries and writers to signify the “Iroquois,” properly so called. Hence, the confusion regarding the invaders who drove out the tribes formerly dwelling westward of Lake Huron. But it is also true that after the total defeat of the Neuters in 1651 by the “true” Iroquois, or League of Five Nations, these latter tribes came in touch at once with the tribes which had been at war against the Neuters, and in some cases naturally the Iroquois inherited the quarrels of the Neuters. The Iroquois proper did not, therefore, drive out the Potawatomi, the Sauk, the Foxes, and the other fugitive tribes from their ancient territories west of Lake Huron, for the Potawatomi were in Wisconsin as early as 1634, when Nicolet found them there. It was nearly 20 years later that the “true” Iroquois advanced into the lake region in pursuit of the Hurons, the Tionontati, and the Neuter fugitives, fleeing from the ruins of their towns and homes.

It seems clear that the tribes of the Algonquian stock formerly inhabiting the northern peninsula of Michigan were driven out by the Neuters and the Ottawa, their allies. It is erroneous to assume that the fugitive tribes retreated first southward and then westward around the southern end of Lake Michigan, directly across rather than directly away from the line of attack from the north along Detroit and St Clair rivers. It is learned from Perrot that the Neuters occupied Detroit river. Most Indians who have been forced to retire from a battlefield or from their homes have shown that they were past-masters in the art of eluding a pursuing foe, and it has not been shown that the Sauk, the Potawatomi, the Rasawakoueton or Fork tribe, and their allies, were devoid of this characteristic trait. It is not probable, therefore, that the Sauk, starting from the shores of Saginaw bay, deliberately exposed their flank and rear to the direct attacks of the Neuters over a march exceeding 300 miles. The more probable course of the retreat of the Sauk and their allies from the Michigan peninsula was evidently northwestward across Mackinaw straits into northern Michigan, thence westward to the region around Green Bay and Fox river, where they were first found by the early French explorers.

From the Jesuit Relation for 1666-67 it is learned that bands of the Sauk and Foxes were dwelling in the vicinity of Shaugawaumikong (La Pointe) and that Father Allouez preached to them and baptized some of their children.

During 1671-72 the expatriated Hurons, composed largely of the Tionontati and the (Black) Squirrel band of the Ottawa (Sinagos), having perfected preparations, together marched against the Sioux, who were at peace with them. On their way they succeeded in corrupting the Sauk with presents, and the Foxes and Potawatomi also were induced to join the expedition. The united tribes mustered about 1,000 warriors for this raid, nearly all of whom were armed with guns and provided with ammunition which the first two tribes had obtained in Montreal during the previous year. As a precautionary measure they had moved their villages back to Michilimackinac and Manitoulin Island. As soon as this force reached the Sioux country, it fell upon some small villages, putting the men to flight and capturing the women and children. Fugitives soon spread the alarm in all the allied villages of the Sioux, whence issued swarms of warriors who attacked the enemy so vigorously that the latter were forced to abandon a fort which they had commenced to erect and to flee in consternation. The Sioux pursued them so closely that they were enabled to kill many of the fugitives, some of whom threw away their arms to expedite their flight. These losses and those caused by hunger and the rigor of the weather resulted in the practical annihilation of the allies; the Foxes, the Kiskakon, and the Potawatomi, being less inured to the stress of warfare than the others, did not lose many warriors on this occasion, because they fled at the beginning of the combat. The Hurons, the Squirrel band of the Ottawa, and the Sauk, however, distinguished themselves by their courage and prowess, and by their stubborn resistance materially aided the others in making their escape. In the retreat, which was turned to a rout by the furious pursuit of the Sioux, the confusion became so great that many of the fugitives, driven by privation and hunger, were compelled to eat one another. The chief of the Squirrel band of the Ottawa was captured by the Sioux and condemned to torture by fire. They broiled pieces of his flesh and forced him to eat them. He and his brother-in-law, the Sauk chief, were thus fed until their death at the stake. The rest of the prisoners were shot to death with arrows.

Bacqueville de 1a Potherie says that in 1665-66 the Potawatomi took the southern, the Sauk the northern, part of Green Bay, and the Winnebago, who were not fishermen, went into the forest to live on venison and bear meat. In the spring the Foxes notified the Sauk that they had established themselves in quarters 30 leagues from the bay, forming a settlement of about 600 lodges. The French, for prudent reasons, left to the Sauk the trade in peltries with the Foxes, since they could the more quietly deal with the Sauk in the autumn.
In 1721 the Sauk were still resident at Green Bay, but owing to growing difficulties with the Foxes, they were on the point of removing to the St Joseph river. At this time their village was situated on the left bank of Fox river, near its mouth. Although consisting only of a small number of persons at this period, the Sauk had separated into two factions, of which one was attached to the Foxes and the other to the Potawatomi and the French. It was these latter who constituted the bulk of the village mentioned above.

In 1725 the Sauk, in sympathy with the Foxes and the Sioux, were preparing to attack the Illinois. According to a letter of Beauharnois, dated July 21, 1729 12 , the Sauk and the Potawatomi of St Joseph river, along with the Ottawa and the Chippewa of Michilimackinac, the Miami, Wea, and Hurons, together with the Potawatomi and Ottawa of Detroit, went to Montreal to inform him what had occurred concerning the Foxes, against whom they were then at war, and to learn what he desired them to do further. The Sauk, whose village was situated probably on the west side of Fox river, near the site of the present city of Green Bay, Wis., gave in 1733 asylum to some refugee Foxes. When the Sieur De Villiers, the younger, attempted after a formal demand for the surrender of the Foxes by the Sauk to take them by force, the Sauk resisted and killed De Villiers and Monsieur De Repentigny and several other Frenchmen, thus repulsing the detachment of French and Indian allies. Three days later the Sauk evacuated their fort by night. They were pursued by the French and their Indian allies, the Ottawa, the Menominee, and the Chippewa under the ensign, the Sieur De Villiers, who overtook the Sauk and the Foxes probably at what is now called Little Butte des Morts, near the present Appleton. De Villiers at once attacked the Sauk, and after several hours of fighting defeated them. The Sauk lost 20, the Foxes 9, and among the injured 9 others were mortally wounded. Among the French 13 officers and men were wounded and 2 were killed; the Ottawa lost 9 men, including their head chief; the Chippewa loss was 2 killed and 4 wounded.

The Marquis de Beauharnois, the governor of Canada, at once gave orders to attack the Sauk and the remaining Foxes to avenge the shedding of French blood. The death of De Villiers, who was the victor at LeRocher in 1730, led to two important events, first, the close confederation of the Sauk and the Foxes, and second, the removal of the united tribes from the territory of Wisconsin to the land of the Iowa, west of the Mississippi. Previous to the events leading up to this migration the Sauk had ostensibly been allies of the French, even taking part in the war against the Foxes, but they had nevertheless clandestinely given aid and comfort to the devoted Foxes. From this period the united tribes became known as the Sauk and Foxes.

In 1777 the Spanish authorities at San Luis de Ylinneses knew the Sauk as one of the tribes that came from the English district “to receive presents at this post; that they had 400 warriors, and that they were kindly disposed toward the Spanish,” for although “frequent bands” had visited “this village,” they had caused no trouble. In 1780 Francisco Cruzat, a Spanish officer, wrote to Governor Bernardo Galvez, of Louisiana, that he had caused the Sauk to surrender to him two English banners and thirteen medals which they desired to be replaced with Spanish medals. Cruzat accordingly afterward made the exchange in order that he might “content said chiefs.”

In the instructions for the Spanish Governor of St Louis, dated Feb. 15, 1781 13 , the writer thereof said: “I believe it is excellent for Your Grace to have distinguished the zeal and affection of the Sac tribe who have so generously lent to our district in circumstances of so little advantage [to them].  On this occasion, 16 medals are sent and 10 flags with 16 letters patent which Your Grace is to distribute among the chiefs of the Sac tribe, who, according to Your Grace’s advice of the 28th of September, surrendered 13 English medals and three banners. I hope that in spite of the great presents which are distributed by the English among these tribes, and notwithstanding the small sum that we have, their hopes will prove empty, even though the [English] governor descend from Michilimakinak, which I doubt. At all events, the zeal, honor, and activity of Your Grace promises me a happy result on our part in their boasted attack on those settlements next Spring. I approve the determination which Your Grace took with the tribes of the Misuri, in making them hand over the two English banners which had been introduced among them. Chuteau [Chouteau] delivered me the 14 medal, and 5 English flags which Your Grace recovered from the Sac and Pus [Potawatomi] tribes, as I have said, they were replaced on this occasion.” These extracts show the good effect of the Spanish policy in restraining the extreme western tribes from following English agents against the American colonists. Among the tribes of the Illinois country, the Sauk in 1769 received presents from the Spaniards.

In 1766 Carver found the chief town of the Sauk on Wisconsin river, probably on the site of Prairie du Sac; it consisted of about 90 lodges and 300 warriors. From the journal of Peter Pond, 1773-75 14 , the following citation concerning the habits and customs of the Sauk is made: “These People are Cald Saukeas. They are of a Good Sise and Well Disposed Les Inclind to tricks and Bad manners than thare Nighbers. Thay will take of the traders Goods on Creadit in the fall for thare youse. In Winter and Except for Axedant thay Pay the Deapt Verey Wel I for Indans I mite have sade Inlitend or Sivelised Indans which are in General made worse by the Operation. Sum of thare Huts are Sixtey feet Long and Contanes Several fammalayes. . . . In the fall of ye Year thay Leave thare Huts and Go into the Woods in Quest of Game and Return in the Spring to thare Huts before Planting time. The Women Rase Grate Crops of Corn, Been, Punkens, Potatoes, Millans and artikels-the Land is Exaleant-and Clear of Wood Sum Distans from the Villeag. Thare [are] Sum Hundred of Inhabitants. Thare amnsments are Singing, Dancing, Smokein, Mateheis, Gaining, Feasting, Drinking, Playing the Slite of Hand, Hunting and thay are fainas in Mageack. Thay are Not Verey Gellas of thare Women. In General the Women find meanes to Grattafv them Selves without Consent of the Men.” Pond adds that the Sauk warriors often joined the war parties of neighboring tribes against the Indians on Missouri river and westward; that sometimes they went to the vicinity of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and captured Spanish horses, of which he had seen a large number.

A Sauk band, which later became known as the Missouri River Sauk, had been for some time in the habit of wintering near the post of St Louis on the Missouri. One winter, about 1804, the head-men of this band were drawn into negotiations with government officials at the post. It is an open question if these leaders knew what they were doing. At any rate the band became a party to negotiations, which in time were to lead to the undoing of the Sauk and Foxes, by which these tribes were to relinquish all claim to territory in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri (see the 1804 Sauk and Fox treaty). The knowledge of what the Missouri River band had done naturally incensed the rest of the people. It was then that the band realized what it had done, but it was too late. Knowing the temper of the people, the band remained away, and it has continued to do so ever since. The Foxes became so angry with the Sauk for letting one of their bands act for all the people that they began at once to draw away from the Sauk, and in the course of a generation they had moved over into their hunting grounds in Iowa. Other agreements were entered into with the three divisions of these people before the treaty of 1804 was finally carried out. Out of all this, in connection with the general unrest of the tribes of this region, arose the so-called Black Hawk War in 1832. It is customary to lay the cause of this conflict to the refusal of the Sauk to comply with the terms of agreement they had entered into with the Government with reference particularly to the lands on Rock river in Illinois. Be that as it may, the actual fighting between the Sauk and the Government was of a rather feeble character. But the fighting between the Sauk on the one hand and the Sioux, Omaha, and Menominee on the other was extremely severe. These tribes, together with the Potawatomi and Winnebago, had previously sent emissaries to the Sauk urging them on to fight the whites and at the same time promising immediate assistance. The Potawatomi were the most persistent in this matter; they had prophets in the camp of the Sauk preaching restoration of the old hunting grounds, the return of the game, and the sudden miraculous destruction of the whites; but when hostilities began, their chief, Shabonee, was the first to warn the whites against the Sauk. Among the Sauk at this time was an able man of the Thunder clan known to the whites under the name of Black Hawk. He was not a chief, but had gained a good record for bravery and leadership in war. He was deeply religions, and thoroughly patriotic. He had fought under Tecumseh and had become imbued with some of the ideas of the great Shawnee. About this man rallied the hostile Sauk. He first tried holding the Sauk in check until he could count on the combined help of the Kickapoo and Foxes, but the fighting got under way before he was ready. The Sauk were thoroughly beaten, and sought refuge among the Foxes in Iowa. Considerable resentment was felt against the Winnebago for having delivered Black Hawk over to the whites when he had come to them seeking refuge; and the same feeling was entertained toward the Potawatomi for going over to the whites. For some time previous to this trouble there had been intimate relationship between the Sauk and these two tribes. This conflict practically broke the power of the Sauk and Foxes. They united again in Iowa, this time to avenge themselves against the Sioux, Omaha, and Menominee, whom they chastised in lively fashion, but not enough to satisfy their desires.

So constantly harassed were the Sioux that they finally left Iowa altogether, and the Menominee withdrew northward where they continued to remain. In 1837 the Sauk and Foxes made the last of their various cessions of Iowa lands, and were given in exchange a tract across the Missouri in Kansas. Here they remained practically as one people for about 20 years. But internal dissensions, due largely to Keokuk, were causing them to grow apart. They maintained separate villages, the Sauk in one and the Foxes in another. One summer about the years 1857-59, the leading Foxes returned from a buffalo hunt and found that during their absence the Sauk had made a treaty with the Government by the terms of which the Sauk and Foxes were to take up lands in severalty and sell the remainder, the whole transaction having been negotiated by whites to get possession of the Indians’ land for purposes of speculation.

The Fox chief refused to ratify the agreement on behalf of the Foxes, and for so doing was deprived of his chieftainship; but the Foxes did not recognize the act of the agent deposing their chief. In the fall the Fox chief went away to Iowa, and with him most of the Foxes. An incident occurring shortly before this time, i. e., in 1854, had much to do with hastening the departure of many of the Foxes for Iowa. While on a buffalo hunt a party of about 50 men were attacked by a large force of Plains Indians, consisting, it is said, of Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche. The Foxes were armed with “Kentucky rifles,” while the others had only bows and arrows. Retreating upon a rise of ground where approach was possible from only one direction, the Foxes beat off their assailants, inflicting heavy loss. On their return home they became uneasy lest the Government, on learning the news of the slaughter, might deal sternly with them, and so they quietly stole off to Iowa. A few Foxes had never gone to Kansas, but had remained in Iowa. Some had returned before the main exodus of 1859. They finally found a place on Iowa river, near Tama City, where they bought a small piece of land. This has been added to from time to time till they now have more than 3,000 acres which they hold in common. They have nothing more to do with the Sauk politically. In 1867 the Sauk ceded their lands in Kansas and in exchange were given a tract in Indian Territory. In 1889 they took up lands in severalty and sold the remainder to the Government.

The close relations of the Sauk with the Foxes in historical time make it difficult to form more than an approximate estimate of their numbers in past, but it is probable that the population of the tribe never exceeded: 3,500 souls. When first known to history, i. e. in 1650, the Sauk and Foxes together numbered probably 6,500 (Sauk 3,500, Foxes 3,000). Perrot, writing in the first quarter of the 18th century, says that the Potawatomi, the Sauk, and the Foxes composed a body of more than 1,000 warriors.
The principal estimates of the Sauk alone are: 750 persons in 1736; 1,000 (1759); 2,000 (1766); 2,250 (1783); 2,850 (1810); 4,800(Beltrami, 1825); and 2,500 (1834). The two tribes together have been estimated at 3,000 (1820); 6,400 (1825); 5,300 (1834); 5,000 (1837). The estimates of the combined tribes indicate that the Foxes (q. v.) were the more numerous, but these appear to be incorrect.

In 1885 the two tribes had a total population of about 930, of whom 457 were in Indian Territory, 380 (who claimed to be Foxes only) were at Tama, Iowa, and 87 in southeast Nebraska; in addition there were a few at the various Indian schools. The Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1909 gives 352 persons (almost all Foxes) at the Sauk and Fox agency, Iowa, 536 (chiefly Sauk) at the Sauk and Fox agency in Oklahoma, and 87 Sauk and Foxes (chiefly Sauk) in Kansas, a total Sauk and Fox population of 975.

 For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Sauk as both an ethnological study, and as a people. For more detailed information concerning the many petty wars, alliances, and migrations of the Sauk and their interrelations with the French and neighboring Indian tribes, consult:

  • Bacqueville de Ia Potherie, Histoire de L’Amérique Septentrionale, 1753;
  • Perrot, Mémoire sur les M’nrs, Coustumes et Relligion des Sauvages de l’Amérique Septentrionale, 1864;
  • Jesuit Relations, I-II, 1858, also Thwaites edition, I-LXXXIII,1896-1901;
  • the Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin;
  • Laverdière, Œuvres de Champlain, 1870; Sagard Theodat, Histoire du Canada, I-IV, 1866;
  • Sagard Theodat, Voyage du Pays des Hurons, I-II, 1865.


  1. Sagard, Histoire du Canada, I, 194, ed. 1866[]
  2. Jesuit Relation for 1640, 35, ed. 1858[]
  3. Jesuit Relation for 1658, 21, ed. 1858[]
  4. Jesuit Relation for 1670, 99, ed. 1858[]
  5. Jesuit Relation for 1671, 45, ed. 1858[]
  6. Jesuit Relation for 1671, 25, ed. 1858[]
  7. Jesuit Relation for 1671, 36, ed. 1858[]
  8. Jesuit Relation for 1671, 42, ed. 1858[]
  9. Jesuit Relation for 1670, 79, ed. 1858[]
  10. Jes. Rel. 1644, 98, ed. 1858[]
  11. Jesuit Relation for 1642, 97,ed.1858[]
  12. Wis. Hist. Coll., xvii, 63[]
  13. Wis. Hist. Coll., xviii, 419, 1908[]
  14. Wis. Hist. Coll., xviii, 335 et seq.[]


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

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