Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Short History of the Sac & Fox Indians

By Benjamin F. Gue.
Chief Keokuk

There is evidence to show that early in the seventeenth century the Foxes occupied the country along the Atlantic coast now embraced in the State of Rhode Island. Later they moved to the valley of the St. Lawrence River and thence to the vicinity of Green Bay, where they were found by Jean Nicolet in 1634. In 1667 Claude Allouez, a French Jesuit, found on the Wolf River in Wisconsin, a village of Musquakies, which contained a thousand warriors, and nearly five thousand persons. The Musquakies seemed to realize that the invasion of the west by French trappers and missionaries threatened the eventual occupation of their lands by the whites, and from the first, they waged war against the French intruders and were nearly the only tribe with whom the French could not live in peace. The English and Dutch were seeking to gain possession of the far west, and they bribed some of the Indian tribes to assist them. They succeeded in forming an alliance with the Musqukies and other tribes, for the purpose of exterminating the French. The French, on the other hand, formed an alliance embracing the Hurons, Ottawas, Pottawattamies, Sacs, Illinois, Ojibwas and other tribes who greatly outnumbered the Musquakies and their allies and a long war followed.

In 1712 the Foxes joined the Iroquois in an attack upon the French fort at Detroit but were defeated with heavy losses. They were driven by the French out of that part of the country and settled on Fox River in the vicinity of Green Bay. They continued their war on the fur traders and explorers, but met with a disastrous defeat on a battlefield which was given the name of “Hill of the Dead.” The Foxes lost hundreds of their bravest warriors at this place and the remnant of them retreated to the valley of the Wisconsin River.
In the early years of this war, the Kickapoos and Mascoutines were allies of the Foxes, but they were finally won over by the French, and in 1732 joined the Hurons, Iroquois, and Ottawas against their former friends. In this unequal conflict, the Foxes were nearly exterminated, so that in 1736 their warriors were reduced to little more than one hundred. The Foxes now formed a close alliance with the Sacs, in the nature of a confederacy; each tribe, however, reserved the right to make war or peace without the consent of the other. The headquarters of the Foxes was at Prairie du Chien and the Sacs at Prairie du Sac, in Wisconsin. The Foxes had villages on the west side of the Mississippi, while the Sacs remained on the east side. The Sacs could muster about three hundred warriors and the Foxes about three hundred and twenty. The Sacs had long before occupied the region about Saginaw, in Michigan, calling it Sauk-i-nong, from which came Saginaw. They called themselves Sau-kies, signifying “Man with a red badge.” Red was the favorite color used by them in personal adornment. The Indian name of the Foxes was Mus-qua-kies, signifying “Man with a yellow badge.” The name Fox originated with the French, who called them Renards. The river in Wisconsin where these Indians had their home, was called by the French “Rio Reynor,” as will be seen on the early French maps. When the English wrested the country from France, they gave the river its English translation Fox. The early English writers called the tribe Reynards. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, the Sacs joined the Miamis in an attack upon St. Louis. The Foxes appear to have remained in the vicinity of the lead mines of Galena and Dubuque, for in 1788 they ceded to Julien Dubuque for mining purposes the right to a strip of land northward from the Little Maquoketa in Iowa.

The first treaty made by the United States with the Indians of the Northwest was on the 9th of January, 1789, at Fort Harmar on the Muskingum River in Ohio. It was conducted by Arthur St. Claire, then Governor of Northwest Territory, on part of the government. The Indian tribes represented were the Pottawattamies, Chippewas, Wyandots, Delawares, Ottawas, and Sacs.

The territory embracing Iowa was represented by two Sac chiefs. The objects of the treaty were to fix the boundary between the United States and the several Indian tribes. It was agreed that the Indians should not sell their lands to any person or nation other than the United States; that persons of either party who should commit robbery or murder, should be delivered up to the proper tribunal for trial and punishment. By this treaty, the United States extended protection and friendship to the Pottawattamies and Sacs.

When Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike ascended the Mississippi River with his exploring party in 1805, he found four Sac villages. The first was at the head of the Des Moines Rapids on the Iowa side and contained thirteen lodges; the second was on the Illinois side about sixty miles above; the third was near the mouth of Rock River, and the fourth was on the lower Iowa River. The Foxes had three villages: one on the west shore of the Mississippi River above Rock Rapids, one twelve miles west of the Dubuque lead mines and another near the mouth of Turkey River. Lieutenant Pike reported their numbers as follows: The Foxes, 1,750, of which 400 were warriors, 500 women, and 850 children; Sacs, 700 warriors, 750 women, and 1,400 children; making a population of 2,850.

The Sac village on Rock River was one of the oldest in the upper Mississippi Valley. Black Hawk, in his autobiography, says it was built in 1831; it was namedSaukenuk. This was for more than fifty years the largest village of the Sacs and contained in 1825 a population of not less than eight thousand. The houses were substantially built, and were from thirty to one hundred feet in length and from sixteen to forty feet in width. They were made with a frame of poles covered with sheathing of elm bark fastened on with thongs of buckskin. The doorways were three feet by six and before them were suspended buffalo skins. These houses were divided into rooms separated by a hall extending the length of the building. Fire-pits were provided with openings for the smoke. The beds were made of skins of animals thrown over elevated frames of elastic poles. Half a mile east of the town is a bold promontory rising two hundred feet from the bed of Rock River. This was known as “Black Hawk's Watch Tower,” and was the favorite resort of the great Sac chieftain. here he would sit smoking his pipe, enjoying the grand scenery spread out before him; the beautiful valley of Rock River, the mighty current of the Mississippi and the bluffs of the Iowa shore fringed with forests. Here he was born and it was the home of his father, Py-e-sa, one of the great Sac chiefs. It is to his credit that he clung to his old home and fought his last hopeless battles against overwhelming numbers of well-equipped white troops in defense of his native land.

On the 27th of June, 1804, William H. Harrison, governor of Indiana Territory and of the Louisiana District, being also superintendent of Indian affairs, was instructed by President Jefferson to negotiate with the Sacs and Foxes for a portion of their lands. In November Harrison met five Sac and Fox chiefs at St. Louis, and obtained their signatures to a treaty which granted to the United States fifty-one million acres of their land, embracing a region east of the Mississippi River extending from a point nearly opposite St. Louis to the Wisconsin River, for the insignificant sum of $2,234 worth of goods and one thousand dollars in money a year. Black Hawk and several other chiefs repudiated this treaty and claimed that the chiefs making it had no authority to dispose of this immense tract of land, including the site of the principal and oldest village of the Sac nation. The chiefs were sent to St. Louis to secure the release of a prominent member of their tribe and Black Hawk always asserted that they had no right to thus dispose of their choicest lands. When it was claimed that he had subsequently ratified the treaty of 1804 with his own signature he asserted that he had been deceived, and did not intend to dispose of their lands. There can be no doubt that the whites violated the terms of the treaty which stipulated that the Sacs should remain in undisturbed possession of the lands until they were surveyed and sold to white settlers.

In 1808 adventurers began to enter the Indian country attracted by reports of rich mines of lead, and frequent collisions occurred between them and the Indians. In order to protect the whites a fort was built, which was named in honor of the President. The building of this fort without their consent, in undisputed Indian territory on the west side of the Mississippi River, was a clear violation of the treaty and could only be regarded as an act of hostility. The Indians resented its occupation as a violation of the treaty of 1804 and young Black Hawk led a party of Sac and Fox warriors in an assault upon it, which was repulsed by the garrison. When the war of 1812 against Great Britain began, the Sacs and Foxes were sent into Missouri to be out of reach of British influence. But they soon crossed the river and became allies of the English army. In 1813 a stockade was built near the present town of Bellevue, in Jackson County, Iowa, in order to hold the country from the hostile Winnebagoes, Sacs and Foxes.

In 1814 Major Zachary Taylor was sent with a detachment of 334 soldiers up the Mississippi River by boats, with orders to destroy the corn fields of the Sacs andFoxes and burn their villages on the Rock River. The Indians were located on both sides of the Mississippi in the vicinity of Rock Island and Davenport. They rallied from all points to the attack. A detachment of British soldiers from Prairie du Chien joined them and the battle lasted three hours. The Indians led by Black Hawk fought with great courage to save their homes and Taylor was driven back with heavy loss and compelled to retreat. Black Hawk had become an ally of the British upon a promise that they would aid him to drive the Americans out of the valley which he claimed and refused to abandon. But when the war closed and the British were unable to aid him farther, he returned to his old home on Rock River and found that Keokuk had become a chief of the party friendly to the Americans.

In 1815 a large council of Sacs and Foxes assembled near the mouth of the Missouri River at which the treaty of 1804 was ratified, but Black Hawk refused his assent to it and withheld his signature, as did many of the minor Fox chiefs. They would not consent to the barter of their country and ultimate removal from it. Black Hawk made no resistance to the erection of Fort Armstrong in 1816 as a portion of his tribe under Keokuk had determined to give up their lands on the east side of the river and move to the Iowa side. Settlers now began to come in under the protection of the soldiers and open farms in the Rock River Valley and vicinity. But the old war chief, Black Hawk, with about 500 followers, held his village and lands on Rock River.

In 1824 the Sacs and Foxes ceded to the United States all lands lying between the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers south of the north line of Missouri, excepting a small portion lying at the junction of these rivers afterward known as the “half-breed tract,” which they reserved for the families of the whites who had married Indian wives. In 1825 an agreement was reached in council held at Prairie du Chien fixing the southern boundaryof the Sioux country, separating their hunting grounds from those of the Sac, Fox and Iowa Indians, on the south. It began at the mouth of the Upper Iowa River, extending westward to its fork in Winneshiek County, thence west to the Red Cedar in Black Hawk County, thence west to the east fork of the Des Moines in Humboldt County, then in a direct line west to the lower fork of the Big Sioux in Plymouth County, following that river to its junction with the Missouri.

In 1828 the Sioux and Winnebagoes, then in alliance, sent an invitation to the Sac and Fox chiefs near Dubuque to meet them in council and forever bury the hatchet. The Fox chiefs, unsuspicious of treachery, started toward the place of meeting. On the second evening as they were in camp for the night on the east shore of the Mississippi near the mouth of the Wisconsin River, they were fired upon by more than a thousand Sioux warriors. Rushing from their hiding place, the treacherous Sioux killed all but two of the Foxes, who plunged into the Mississippi and swam to the west shore, carrying news of the massacre to their village. Stung to desperation by the act of treachery, the Foxes prepared to avenge the murder of their chiefs. A war party was organized, led by the newly elected chief, Ma-que-pra-um. They embarked in canoes and stealthily landed in the vicinity of their enemies, concealed by the dense underbrush. Toward midnight they swam the river and crept up silently upon the sleeping foe. Nerved with the spirit of vengeance, they silently buried their tomahawks in the heads of seventeen Sioux chiefs and warriors and escaped to their canoes without loss of a man. The war between the Sioux and Sacs and Foxes was waged for many years.

Taken from - History of Iowa From Earliest Times.  1903

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