Fox Indians

Fox Indians. A name thought to have been derived from that of the Fox clan and to have been applied to the tribe through a misunderstanding. Also called:

  • Beshde’ke, Dakota name.
  • Meshkwa kihig’, own name signifying “red earth people,” from the kind of earth from which they are supposed to have been created.
  • O-dug-am-eeg, Chippewa name, meaning “those who live on the opposite side.
  • Skaxshurunu, Wyandot name, meaning “fox people.”
  • Skuakisagi, Shawnee name.
  • To-che-wah-coo, probably the Arikara name.
  • Wakusheg, Potawatomi name, meaning “foxes.”

Fox Connections. The Foxes belonged to the Algonquian linguistic family and in one group with the Sauk and Kickapoo.

Fox Location. In the vicinity of Lake Winnebago or along Fox River. (See also Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.)

Fox History. Since the closely related Sauk Indians came to Wisconsin from Saginaw Bay, Michigan, it is probable that the Foxes once lived in that region as well, but it is uncertain. There is also a tradition that they were in northern Wisconsin and were driven south by the Chippewa. The French missionaries heard of them as early as 1640, and in 1670 found them in the location above given, where they remained for a long period. They were constantly at war with the Chippewa, and though they received aid from the Dakota, obtained little advantage in these contests. It was on account of assistance rendered the Chippewa by the French that the Foxes came to assume a hostile attitude toward the latter and finally went to war with them. In 1712 they planned an attack on the French fort at Detroit which nearly succeeded. Between 1729 and 1733 occurred a bitter war with the French in which the Foxes, though assisted by some Sauk, lost heavily. Before 1746 they were in the habit of exacting a toll from all white traders passing up Fox River, and for this reason they were attacked by a band of French, defeated, and driven down Wisconsin River, settling on the north bank of that stream about 20 miles from its mouth. In 1780, in alliance with the Dakota, they attacked the Chippewa at St. Croix Falls and were defeated. Shortly before this they had assisted the Sauk in driving the Illinois tribes from the northwestern part of the Rock River country, and they occupied these territories, but early in the nineteenth century they drew away from the Sauk and settled in Iowa. In 1842 the Foxes and the Sauk, who had taken refuge with them after the Black Hawk War, sold their lands in Iowa and were given in exchange a tract across the Missouri in Kansas. About 1857-59 the Foxes became angered at the Sauk for entering into an agreement for the disposition of the lands of the two tribes during the absence of the former, and they returned to Iowa where a few of their people had always remained. There they bought land near Tama City on Iowa River, which they increased by purchase until they had more than 3,000 acres. They have remained on this reservation down to the present day.

Fox Population. Mooney (1928) estimated that in 1650 there must have been about 3,000 Foxes, but this figure seems to be somewhat too high. In 1728 Guignes stated that they had 200 warriors, probably an underestimate, but most of the figures before 1850 fall between 1,500 and 2,500. Michelson (1919) says that the most reliable early estimate is that of Lewis and Clark in 1805, which gives 1,200. Since that date they have usually been enumerated with the Sauk. In 1885 the Indians at Tama, most of whom were Foxes, numbered 380. In 1909 the United States Indian Office gives in Iowa, besides the bands in Oklahoma and Kansas, most of whom were Sauk. The United States Census of 1910 gives only 257 in Iowa, but the Indian Office Report of 1923 raises this again to 354. In 1930 there were 887 Sauk and Fox, and it assumed that the 344 returned from Iowa were nearly all Fox. In 1937, 441 were returned from Iowa. (See Sauk Indians.)

Connection in which the Fox have become noted. Historically this tribe is remarkable:

  1. As having been almost the only Algonquian tribe of consequence to undertake a serious war with the French.
  2. From its connection with the Sauk at the time of the uprising of the latter under Black Hawk.

It has given its name to Fox River, Wisconsin, and to a second Fox River, also called Pishtaka, which rises in Wisconsin and flows through Illinois, into the Illinois River. Some small places have also been named from it.

Algonquian, Fox,

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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