The Fox (Meskwaki) Wars
The Siege of Detroit
The early French colonizers encouraged Native Nations to
establish themselves close to French trading centers for the
obvious reasons. The Meskwaki (Fox) were induced to settle near
Fort Detroit by the French, but disagreements soon arose. When
these turned violent, the Fox, together with their allies the
Kickapoo and Mascoutens, turned against the French and beseiged the fort.
A relief column of pro-French Native American warriors hastened
to Detroit. Over 600 native warriors from the Illinois, Ottawa, Sauk,
Potawatomi and Missouri nations made up the force. Speaking
for the coalition, an Illinois chieftain harangued the Fox who
were forced to withdraw. This guaranteed future hostilities between
the Illini and the Meskwaki. It also helped cement the Illini position
as the native nation with the closest ties to the French. These
battles with the Fox would contribute to the political, military,
and overall decline of the Illinois confederacy.
The Battle at Starved Rock
The Indians of southern Wisconsin, the Fox included, often hunted buffalo
on the Illinois prairie without the permission of the latter. In 1722, the Illinois
captured the nephew of Oushala, a Fox chief, and burned him alive.
Shortly thereafter, the Fox sent a strong force down into
the Illinois Country to exact revenge. They forced the Illini to
take refuge on top of Starved Rock where earlier Tonti had driven
off the Iroquois. A runner was sent to Fort de Chartres for help.
However, by the time de Broisbriand and a relief force of French and Indians arrived,
the Fox had already retreated, leaving behind 120 dead.
The de Beauharnois Expedition
Angered by Fox raids, the French decided to take the offensive. In 1726, the Marquis de
Beauharnois, the Governor of Canada, sent an expedition against the Fox which linked up with a
force from Illinois. The Illinois contingent was commanded
by Desliettes, the Commandant of the Illinois District. He led
a force of twenty French soldiers and 500 Illini warriors. However,
the Fox learned of the coming assault and escaped before they could be attacked.
The Battle of the Fox Fort
In the summer of 1730, the Iroquois League invited the Meskwaki
nation to join them. Under constant pressure by the French and their
allies, the Fox chose to accept. But to get to the Iroquois, they had
to pass across Illini territory. The Fox dispatched an envoy to
negotiate passage, but a quarrel ensued. No doubt the Illini were reluctant
to see their two greatest enemies united. A short
time later near Starved Rock, the Fox captured the nephew of a Cahokia chief
and burned him at the stake. That of course ended any possibility
of a peaceful resolution to the problem. The Fox fled the
area with the Illini in pursuit.
The Illini caught up with the Fox in the open prairie buffalo country
of Central Illinois. This was near the headwaters of the Sangamon River
in present-day McClean County, Illinois (see end note). The Fox
retreated into a grove of trees and set up a defensive position
which they fortified.
The fortification, when completed,
consisted of a log palisade reenforced with earth. A series of
trenches connected the fortification with a nearby small
river. Within the compound were cabins. The roofs of these
were formed by laying woven mats across sturdy rafters, then covering
the construction with earth. The Illini lay siege to this
fort and dispatched runners to summon their allies. The
response was greater than they could have anticipated.
The Illini and Their Allies
St. Ange marched north from Fort de Chartres with a force of 100
Frenchmen and 400 Cahokia, Peoria, and Missouri warriors. St Ange arrived
on August 17, 1730. In the meantime, 200 Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Potawatomi had already
arrived on the scene to aid the Illinois. De Villiers and Reaume came down
from St. Joseph (Michigan) at the head of a force of 400 Sauk,
Potawatomi, and Miami. Piankeshaw and Ouiatenon warriors led
by de Noyelle arrived from the Miami post on September 1st.
De Noyelle brought an order from the Governor of Canada that
there would be no peace made with the Meskwaki. This fight was to the finish.
In all, about 1000 Fox (men, women, and children) were invested by about 1400
allied warriors. The Native American nations represented were the Illinois,
Sauk, Potawatomies, Kickapoos, Mascoutens, Miamis, Ouiatenons (Weas),
St Ange positioned his forces to cut off the Fox access to the
river. At that point, the Fox defeat was just a matter of time.
Central Illinois in the late summer is very hot and dry with temperatures
often in the nineties. With their water supply cut off,
the Fox faced disaster. The Fox fortification was surrounded
and all avenues of retreat were cut off. Food supplies quickly ran
low. The Fox threw their children out to their enemies, telling
them to eat them. In fact most of these children were probably
adopted into the besieging tribes. The Fox held out valiantly for 23 days.
At last on the night of September 8th, a heavy rainstorm struck).
The Fox made their escape in the darkness and rain but soon the
allies caught up with them. From 800 to 1000 Fox men, women, and children
were killed. The Fox would not again rise to any sort of strength until almost a century
later, as allies to the Sauk Chieftain Blackhawk. The power of the Fox had been effectively broken.
The Location of the Fox Fort
No issue in the archaeological history of Native Americans in
Illinois has been as controversial as the location of this
Fox Fort. The Illinois State Department of Conservation locates
the site near Danville, on the Vermillion River. J.F. Steward
locates the fort at Maramach Hill in Kendall County, Illinois.
This writer agrees with Walthall and Emerson that the location
is probably near the headwaters of the Sangamon River, in
McClean County, near present-day Bloomington. The authenticity
of this site is not only supported by extensive archaeological
evidence, the distances covered by the various French forces
and their recorded arrival times at the battle all point to
this site. However, other will disagree.
- Jablow, Joseph. Indians of Illinois and Indiana.Garland Publishing,
New York. 1974.
- Scott, James. The Illinois Nation. Streator Historical Society, Streator, IL. 1973.
- Walthall, John, and Emerson, Thomas. Calumet & Fleur de Lys.Smithsonian
institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1992.
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