18th Century Articles
Battle of Camden: False Hope
Siege of Yorktown
Winning Empire
The 1712-1736 Fox Wars
Margaret Cochran Corbin
The Return of Rogers' Rangers
George Washington and James Monroe
Benedict Arnold in Canada
Revolutionary War in the Caribbean

Robert Daniels Articles
The 1712-1736 Fox Wars
WWII Veteran Interview
Hell Ship - Philippines to Japan
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
WWII Veteran Interview
The Spanish Civil War
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Muslim Invasion of Iberia
The Failures at Spion Kop
Combatants in Black Hawk War

Books by Robert Daniels

World War II in Mid-America: Experiences from rural mid-America during the Second World War

1220 Days: The Story Of U.S. Marine Edmond Babler And His Experiences In Japanese Prisoner Of War Camps During World War II

The 1712-1736 Fox Wars: the Fox Indians and the French battle over the fur trade
By Robert C. Daniels

The 1712-1736 Fox Wars, like all Indian Wars – wars between the various Native-American tribes and the people of European decent, including the French, the English, the Spanish, and finally the Americans – was a tragedy for all who participated in it, but especially for the Indians. To fully understand the war, one must begin at, well, the beginning – who were the antagonists, and how did they get to the point to where war was the only option? So, let us first cover what led up to the wars.

The Foxes, who called themselves Měshkwa`kihŭg’ or Mesquakies, meaning ‘red-earth people,’ from the soil they were believed to have been created from, were commonly referred to by the French as Renards, or Foxes, since, when the Red Fox clan of the Mesquakies was first encountered by the French and asked what tribe they were, they replied in the Algonquian language that they were of the Red Fox clan. The French misunderstood that they were simply a clan or gen of the Mesquakies, and, believing they were a completely distinct tribe, gave them the name Renards, which is the French word for Foxes. The Chippewas and Ottawas referred to the Foxes as the Outagamie, meaning “the People of the Opposite Shore,” basically meaning people from the western shore of the Lake of the Ilimouek, or Lake Michigan. [1]

The tribe is first mentioned in European writings in French historian Bacqueville de la Potherie’s Histoire de l’Amérique septentrionale. As de la Potherie states, in 1665 they were living approximately 30 leagues west from the Sauk tribe. This would place them approximately 103 miles west of present day Green Bay, Wisconsin. It is unclear where or if the Foxes originated elsewhere. But, according to the Foxes’ own oral traditions, they, like the Sauk tribe, had migrated from the Atlantic Coast, most likely from around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Some sources mention the Foxes as originally occupying areas on the southern shores of Lake Superior, which would be in the modern-day Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and that the Chippewas, moving into the area, chased the Foxes south. This latter also has the support of Fox tradition. Others state that the Foxes had never been north of the Fox River in Wisconsin, and that the Foxes, also being an Algonquian tribe, may have the same original ancestors as the Sauks. Nonetheless, by the 1665-1666 timeframe, the Foxes were living within 30 leagues of the Sauks west of the Green Bay area. [2]

The Foxes tended to be warlike and restless, especially against the Chippewas to the north – most likely due to their earlier treatment by the Chippewas when that tribe reportedly ousted the Foxes from the Foxes’ northern homeland – and towards the French, due to the French assisting the Chippewas and eventually attempting to antagonize other neighboring Indian tribes against the Foxes. In fact, of all of the Algonquian tribes, up to that point only the Foxes were at odds with the French, and visa-versa. In addition, from time to time the Foxes would ally themselves with the Sioux and the Iroquois against their common enemies. [3]

The Foxes also controlled the Fox River, whose mouth empties into what they called the ‘stinking bay’ because of the smell of dead fish; the French translated this in their writings and usage as Baie des Puants, literally meaning stinking bay. Jean Nicolet, the first French explorer of the region, in 1634 called it La Baie Verde, or Green Bay, due the bay’s green colored water. The river itself weaves its way northward to the stinking bay (modern-day Green Bay, Wisconsin) from within one mile of the Ouisconsin River, where there exists an easy portage from the Fox River to the Ouisconsin River at modern-day Portage, Wisconsin. The word Ouisconsin or Ouisconsing, which would eventually be written as Wisconsin, comes from the misreading by French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, of French explorer and missionary Father Jacques Marquette’s June 1673 journal entry mentioning the river called "Meskousing" or “Meskonsing” by his Miami guides as he and fur trader Louis Joliet travelled through the Ouisconsin/Wisconsin area. Cavelier/La Salle misread Marquette’s “M” as “Ou” and the wording stuck. In the Miami language Meskousing means "this stream meanders through something red," or "river running through a red place." It is believed to be in reference to the red colored sandstone bluffs near and around Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, which Marquette, his travelling partner Louis Jolliet, and their Indian guides would have passed on their way to the Mississippi River. [4]

Once portaging canoes and their contents from the Fox River to the Wisconsin River at the portage, one can then easily canoe southwest to the Mississippi River, and from there north into modern day Minnesota, south to the Gulf of Mexico, or west to the Rockies, the latter via the Missouri River. Without the availability of roads, this river course represented the best trading route to and for various Indian tribes west of the Great Lakes, including the Sioux, which the French wanted to trade with. Therefore, this waterway combination was an important transportation route of Native Americans and eventually French, English, and American explorers, traders, and settlers. The control of which was vital.

The Foxes, positioning many of their villages along the shores of the meandering Fox River, tended to exact heavy tribute from anyone passing their villages on the river, Indian and French alike. Furthermore, many who passed through the Fox territory, especially the Foxes’ fur trading rivals, and even some who were related to the Foxes, also considered the Foxes as troublemakers and untrustworthy, which from time to time caused intertribal wars. This tribute paying, the reported un-trustful nature of the Foxes, and the intertribal wars disrupted the French fur trade . . . and anything that disrupted the French fur trade was seen by the French as a great imposition that had to be settled, regardless of the means to do so. As such, the Fox Tribe’s control of the Fox River compounded the ill feelings between the French and the Foxes to the point where the French used the Sauks as middlemen for trading with the Foxes for furs. [5]

The French themselves began their involvement in North America as early as 1534 when French navigator Jacques Cartier claimed lands bordering the Gulf of St. Lawrence for France. [6.] The French considered most Native Americans they encountered as new trading partners, and attempted to get along with these tribes. This is in contrast to the early Spanish, English, and Dutch early settlers. For instance, upon arrival to the New World, the Spanish conquered and settled their territories, such as New Spain – basically, territory that included the Caribbean Islands, Florida, several southwestern states of modern-day United States, and modern-day Central America, and Mexico – and force converted any Native Americans they encountered to Roman Catholicism as well as enslaved them. The English and, to an extent, the Dutch likewise took the lands they encountered on the east coast of North America and settled them, and in doing so forced the Native Americans to move further west as well as sometimes enslaved them.

Based out of their New France cities of Quebec and Montreal, the French form of dealings with the Native Americans, at least initially, usually worked well for both the French and for the various Indian tribes they encountered. Dealing fairly with the Indians, they traded European goods, including guns, gunpowder, metal hatchets, and other metal tools and pots and pans, along with trinkets, mirrors, cloth, and other European items for furs. Beaver and otter furs were especially prized in Europe at the time, making for a very lucrative business for the French of New France.

Within a generation or two of contact with Europeans, most Indians in all areas of the New World would soon become dependent upon these European made goods, especially guns, ammunition, gunpowder, and steel tomahawks and knives, which quickly replaced the Indians’ more traditional use of bows and arrows and stone tomahawks and stone knives for both hunting and war making. These new European-made items soon began to change the culture as well as the balance of power among the various Indian tribes. As the tribes acquired these new weapons, they quickly used them against their ancient enemies, sometimes with the aid and support of their European trading partners. The Indians in the Great Lakes region were no different. They readily traded with the French fur traders. Included in these tribes were the Foxes.

While many encounters between the French and the Indians went well for the French, some did not. If, for instance, the fur trade, being extremely lucrative for the French and hence their main reason for encountering and interacting with the various Indian tribes, was interrupted by intertribal wars or conflicts, the French were usually rather quick to take sides – whichever side was to their fur-trading advantage – and assist one tribe to war against another tribe or one tribe to subdue another. For example, in doing just such, the French had early on become mortal enemies to the strong Iroquois Alliance, known as the Iroquois Nation, when they took sides to gain favor with the Hurons, helping and arming the Hurons against the Iroquois – the Hurons at the time living in areas on the French westward route to the Great Lakes fur region, and the Iroquois living south of this route. Sometimes these squabbles would include the French’s European rivals as well, the English and their fur traders, as well as the various Indian tribes allied with the English – the Iroquois being one of these tribes that allied with, or at least favored the English over the French.

The French Jesuit missionaries, called Black Robes by the Indians because of the black robes they wore, although Roman Catholic like their Spanish Franciscan counterparts in New Spain, were also not as zealous in converting the Indians they encountered as the Franciscan were. This is not to say they did not try and were not extremely willing to convert the Indians when able to do so, but they were more tolerant with Indians that preferred their existing religion over converting to Catholicism. The Black Robes also attempted to keep whisky away from the Indians they interacted with. In addition, French fur traders commonly intermarried and fathered children with Indian women, some becoming tribal members themselves and both living with and dressing as their Indian hosts, a few even becoming minor chiefs of various tribes. All of this was in contrast to Spanish, English, and Dutch settlers, who tended to treat the Indians they encountered as either sources of slave labor or peoples who were in the way of European expansion, therefore, needing to be driven off or exterminated.

The first recorded Black Robe to formally settle amongst the Foxes was Pere Claude Allouez, who in 1671 established a mission on the Fox River at the Rapids Des Peres, or Rapids of the Father, at what is now De Pere, Wisconsin, just south of the city of Green Bay. Allouez first encountered the Foxes, however, a few years earlier around 1666 on the southern shores of Lake Superior when a group of Foxes visited an Ottawa village while Allouez was ministering to the Ottawas of that village. Four years later, in 1670, Allouez visited the Foxes in their own village of Ouestatimong, along the Wolf River near the small, modern-day unincorporated community of Leeman, Wisconsin, in Outagamie County. [7]

Prior to these dates, other than the early French explores, such as Nicolet, the only Europeans to venture into this area were a few hardy early fur traders known as coureurs des bois, or runners of the woods – basically, free-lance French fur traders and trappers. Many would ply their trade without proper French permission, essentially becoming rouge traders. [8]

The life of the coureurs de bois was not an easy one. They lived off the land, carried all of their gear, including trading supplies, on horseback, in canoes, or even on their own backs, and at times lived in fear of those that they met and traded with. As Father Allouez reported, both the Foxes as well as the Sauks were said to kill a man if they found one alone and at a disadvantage, and this was especially true if he were a Frenchmen. Not wanting to settle anywhere permanent, rarely would these early fur traders build anything more than a temporary shelter. For instance, it was not until 1684 that the first somewhat permanent trading establishment was established west of Lake Michigan. In that year licensed French fur trader Nicolas Perrot built, in the Green Bay area near the same location where Father Allouez had his mission, a temporary fort used for trading. [9]

Although Father Allouez’s attempts to ‘Christianize’ the Foxes resulted in some converts, the majority of the Foxes refused to change manitous, as they called their gods. The Foxes also questioned Allouez and other Black Robes why these same Black Robes and other French befriended the Foxes’ enemies, especially war parties of Christianized Illinois that attacked the Foxes. Intertribal squabbling also continued to occur between the Foxes and some of their neighboring tribes, such as over blood feuds and kinship vendettas, especially between the Foxes and the Chippewas, all making the area fur trade hazardous. [10]

In 1671-1672, a band of Huron, allied with a band of Ottawa, marched against the Sioux. Passing through the Green Bay area on their route to the Sioux, the Huron-Ottawa warriors, with the help of presents, enticed some Fox, Sauk, and Potawatomi warriors to join them, bringing the expedition’s strength up to around 1,000 warriors strong. Most of these warriors were armed with guns and ammunition provided by the Hurons and Ottawas, having themselves obtained this ammunition from the French in Montreal. Upon reaching the first small Sioux villages, they captured some of the Sioux women and children while driving off the villages’ warriors. The word of the attacks quickly spread amongst other nearby Sioux communities. A large number of Sioux warriors soon sprang into action and retaliated against their attackers, quickly putting the Huron-Ottawa-Fox-Sauk-Potawatomi warriors to flight. The Fox, Potawatomi, and some Kishkakon (the Bear clan of the Ottawas) warriors, being somewhat less used to the stress of warfare, fled at the outbreak of the oncoming swarms of enraged Sioux warriors, therefore, losing very few of their own warriors. In contrast, the Hurons, the Sauks, and the main body of Ottawas, being more courageous, initially stood their ground. This allowed the others time to escape but resulted in the Huron, Sauk, and Ottawa casualties to be much higher than their allies’ that fled, resulting in the formers’ near annihilation. The retreat from the furious and overwhelming Sioux warriors became such a rout that many of the fleeing Hurons, Sauks, Foxes, Potawatomis, and Ottawas threw away their weapons to expedite their escape. An Ottawa chief, having been captured by the Sioux, was tortured until he died, having his flesh cut from him, boiled, and then forced fed it. His bother-in-law, the chief of the Sauks that accompanied him against the Sioux, was also tortured-fed this same way until his death. Other captured Huron, Potawatomi, and Sauk warriors were executed by the Sioux with arrows. In the days that followed the rout, the deprivation of those that did escape to the wilds was so severe that some were even compelled to eat each other. [11]

In 1679, the Sioux, wanting access to French guns and other goods, made a peace pact with the Chippewas in order to allow French fur traders passage through Chippewa territory. Prior to this, the Sioux, although formidable warriors, had few guns, since the only way the French fur traders with their supply of guns could reach the Sioux was by way of the Rock-Wisconsin River route, which was still controlled by the Foxes, or through the Chippewa-controlled northern woodlands. Without these French guns, the Sioux were of no real military threat to the Foxes. This, however, changed once the French traders were able to reach the Sioux by way of the northern Chippewa-controlled route. The new weapons both emboldened and strengthened the Sioux, placing them on a more equal footing with the Foxes, resulting in the Foxes seeing the Sioux as a menace to the Foxes’ safety and welfare, as well as now a competitor in the French fur and arms trade. With this new boldness, the 1680’s saw Sioux war parties attacking Fox hunting camps in the western Wisconsin area. These attacks, coupled with the sense of the unwanted trade competition, heightened the dislike of the Foxes for the French, and once the French set up trading posts along the Mississippi River specifically for the Sioux, the Foxes became incensed. As such, the next several years saw war parties from both the Fox and Sioux tribes engaging each other, with the French, especially fur trader Nicolas Perrot, playing diplomat, attempting – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to maintain the peace. [12]

Between these wars with the Sioux, and the Foxes’ growing belief that the French favored the Sioux over the Foxes as trading partners, the Foxes became more and more anti-French as well as anti-Sioux. Partially in consequence, in the 1680’s the Foxes also began interacting with the Iroquois, who attempted to entice both the Foxes and the Ottawas into the British fur trade, even telling the two tribes that the French were abandoning them for the Sioux. As a result, the Foxes started to become interested in the British fur trade and renewed their plundering of the French fur traders along the Fox River as these traders traveled to trade with the Sioux. [13] With the French and British being both competitors in the fur trade and rivals for control of North America, this friendliness of the Foxes towards the British alarmed the French. Having a pro-British tribe of Indians in the middle of New France certainly could not bode well for the French fur trade.

By this time, the Foxes themselves became divided between tolerating the French and fighting them. One faction, championed by Chief Okimaouassen, although representing the minority of the Foxes, argued that offending the French would result in political isolation and economic risk. In opposition, the majority faction, led by Chief Noro, maintained suspicions of the French and their policies. [14]

Realizing the nearly constant wars between the area Indian tribes interfered with the extremely lucrative French fur trade, especially where the Foxes were concerned, in 1695 and then again in 1701 the French called grand councils at Montreal inviting representatives of many of the mid-western Indian tribes to attend. It was the goal of the French governors-general of New France, first Louis de Baude, comte de Frontenac, in 1695 and later Louis-Hector de Callières in 1701, that these councils would not only end these intertribal wars, but also gain the tribes that attended as allies against the Iroquois. The Fox tribe, as well as other tribes, sent delegates to these councils. [15]

In 1796, a year after the first grand council, in an additional attempt to end the warfare, Governor-General Frontenac informed a delegation of young Fox warriors that he would no longer convey guns or gunpowder to the Sioux, and that he would “chastise” any Frenchman that did. This, in fact, was not so much in response to the Foxes’ concerns, but a new French general trade policy prompted by a glutted fur market and complaints by Jesuit missionaries about coureur des bois’ debauchery amongst the Indians. [16]

Both grand councils, those of 1695 and 1701, made progress with the Foxes, but did not end the Foxes’ distrust for the French, nor did the councils stop the Foxes from their interest in the Iroquois and British fur trade. In fact, at the council of 1701, Miskousouath, one of Chief Noro’s anti-French faction, after listening politely to Governor-General Callières, stated that although he had hatred for the Sioux, he had no issues with the Iroquois. [17]

It would be these rise of tensions brought on by the French fur trade and the Foxes’ own aggressiveness towards both the French and the other Indian tribes that would lead to the First Fox War between the years 1712 through 1716. It would be a war between the Foxes and some of their Indian allies against the French and some of their Indian allies.

In 1710, the Foxes, like other tribes, had been invited by Antoine de le Mothe Cadillac, a French adventurer, fur trader, and former commandant of the French Fort Michilimackinac at the junction of Lakes Huron and Michigan, to relocate to his newly created Fort Pontchartrain (at modern-day Detroit, Michigan). Cadillac’s scheme in creating Fort Pontchartrain nine years earlier in 1701 was to provide a small colony of Frenchmen, led by himself, where all of the western tribes would resettle. This would, he reasoned, serve as a cultural, military, economic, and moral bastion in fending off the ever encroaching English traders, and, if required, allow him to have a ready and strong army of allied Indian nations which he could quickly raise at a moment’s notice to fight against the hated Iroquois. It was also a scheme to place Cadillac in control of the lucrative fur trade where he would most certainly reap personal profits. [18]

When the Foxes that ventured to Fort Pontchartrain arrived at the area, most likely in the fall of 1711, land disputes quickly arose between the Foxes and the various tribes that were already present, the Foxes claiming previous rights to the lands. This brought to the surface old, longstanding issues and rivalries amongst the different tribes. The new French commander at Fort Pontchartrain, Jacques-Charles Renaud Dubuisson – Cadillac having recently been relieved of his command and transferred to a new post in Louisiana – not only disagreed with the relocation of the Indians that Cadillac had urged, he disliked the Foxes. As such, he refused to get involved in these disputes, and soon the Foxes, envisioning themselves as the new masters of Fort Pontchartrain, were quarrelling with the peoples of the Ottawa, Potawatomi, Miami, Huron, and Peoria tribes, as well as pilfering the French livestock in the area. Then the Ottawas and Potawatomis attacked a hunting party of Mascoutens a day or so journey away from the fort. The Mascoutens fled to take refuge with the Foxes. By this time the Foxes had had enough of the French, the other tribes in the area, and the overall situation around Fort Pontchartrain. With the help of the Mascoutens and the Kickapoos, on 13 May 1712 the Foxes, mustering a conglomerate of 300 warriors, attacked the fort. [19]

At the time, Fort Pontchartrain contained only 20 French soldiers and was in disrepair. The Ottawas, Potawatomis, Ojibwas (also known as the Chippewas), Peorias and Hurons, all of whom were loyal to the French, arrived in the nick of time for the besieged French soldiers and fell on the Foxes and their allies from the rear, killing more than 1,000 of the Fox, Mascouten, and Kickapoo warriors and their people. As a result, very few of the Foxes survived to return to Wisconsin, and approximately 100 took refuge with the Iroquois. In addition, since the Peoria, a member of the Illinois Confederation, tortured the Fox prisoners they captured in and after the battle, the remaining Foxes vowed vengeance against the Illinois. This began the Fox Tribe’s hatred toward the Illinois, a hatred that would cause countless future wars between the two tribes. [20]

Partially in response to the Fox led attack on Fort Pontchartrain, in 1716, 200 French soldiers and merchants, along with numerous coureurs des bois, many of the latter having gone legally afoul of the French authorities and seeking both amnesty and profits, with assistance of a large number of Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Ottawa warriors, attacked a fortified Fox village in southern Wisconsin. During this attack, the French and their Indian allies, totaling over 800 strong, laid siege to the village, but were forced to withdrawal. That same year, after that attack’s failure, the French offered the Foxes a peace settlement. With the Foxes acceptance of this peace offer, the First Fox War came to an end, and the following year, 1717, the French re-built Nicolas Perrot’s abandoned trading fort at Green Bay, naming it Fort St. Francois. [21]

Although tensions between the Foxes and the French ceased, they would soon rise again. This would once more be caused by the Foxes’ continued aggressiveness, which would again interfere with the French fur trade.

By 1721, the Sauks, still residing in the Green Bay region, like the Foxes, split into two separate factions, one of which attached itself more to the Potawatomis and the other more to the Foxes. For instance, in 1725 the two Sauk factions took sides when Foxes and Sioux, along with some Sauks who were associated with the Foxes, were making preparations to attack the Illinois – the Illinois still being greatly hated by the Foxes for their earlier torturing of the Foxes at Fort Pontchartrain, as well as being trading rivals of the Foxes. The Sauks that were associated with the Potawatomis joined a delegation of Potawatomis, Ottawas, Chippewas, Miamis, Weas, and Hurons and travelled to Montreal to inform the Marquis de Beauharnois, the current governor-general of New France, of the pending war and to ascertain from the governor-general what he desired for the tribes to do. [22]

The year before, in 1724, in retaliation of the Illinois two years earlier in 1722 capturing and burning to death a nephew of a Fox chief for hunting buffalo on the prairies in northern parts of what would become the state of Illinois with a group of Foxes, Mascoutens, Kickapoos, and Winnebagos, the Foxes, along with warriors from these same other tribes lay siege to an Illinois fortress at what was called Starved Rock, located at modern day Utica, Illinois. The French sent a relief expedition to assist the Illinois, but by the time the French party arrived the Fox alliance had already left the area. [23]

In June 1727, in response to the French government’s intention of expanding their territory of New France farther west, including again advancing their fur trade with the Sioux, Governor-General Beauharnois was directed to establish a mission and post amongst the Sioux. With the troublesome Foxes in the way by their controlling of the Fox River’s vital portage to the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, Beauharnois sent an expedition, which included a Jesuit Priest, to the tribe in hopes of shoring up diplomacy between the French and the Foxes. Soon afterwards, news arrived that the Foxes had renewed their war against the Illinois, and in it several Frenchmen had been killed. At the same time word reached Beauharnois that British traders were inviting the Foxes and other tribes to drive the French from the west. In response, and without orders from France, in 1728 Beauharnois secretly sent a combined 1,500 strong French and Indian force under the command of Constant Le Marchand Lignery, the French commandant of Fort Michilimackinac, against the Foxes. The campaign failed, however, when the Foxes, warned of the arrival of the attacking force, fled west. After destroying the Foxes’ village and crops, as well as the burning and evacuating Fort St. Francois at Green Bay, Lignery and his forces departed. The French also began circulating word among their Indian allies that they, the French, would begin refusing trade with any tribe that associated with or assisted the Foxes. These actions would mark the beginning of the Second Fox War, which would last from 1728 to 1736. [24]

With the threat of the French withdrawing their trade from tribes allying themselves with the Foxes, a combined Ojibwa, Winnebago, and Menominee war party attacked a Fox winter hunting camp in 1729, killing some 80 Fox warriors and capturing 70 women and children. [25]

The next year, 1730, with the Foxes still defiant towards the French, after Governor-General Beauharnois’ relentless attempts to isolate the tribe diplomatically and more and more local tribes now clearly siding with the French against the Foxes, 300 Fox warriors and 600 women, children, and elderly decided to seek refuge with the Senecas, a member of the Iroquois Nation. Enroute, the Foxes were waylaid by a combined force of 1,400 French militia from both the Canada and Louisiana providences of New France, and their respective Indian allies. The French forces were jointly led by Robert Groston de St. Ange, commanding Fort de Chartres, which was located in southwestern Illinois about 20 miles southeast of modern-day St. Louis, Missouri; Sieur de Villiers (Nicolas-Antoine Coulon de Villiers), commanding Fort St. Joseph, in southern Michigan on the Joseph River near modern-day Niles, Michigan; Nicolas-Joseph des Noyelles, commanding Fort Miamis, on the Maumee River near modern-day Maumee, Ohio; and Simon Réaume, a trader from Fort Ouiatanon, which was located on the Wabash River about 30 miles northwest of modern-day Indianapolis, Indiana. Their force consisted of French soldiers, traders, coureurs des bois, and creoles, as well as hundreds of Indian allies. The Foxes suffered several hundred killed with many others being enslaved by the victorious Indian allies of the French. After this defeat, the Foxes remaining were only the roughly 600 that had stayed in the Wisconsin area. [26]

Beauharnois, having a year earlier, in 1729, sent Paul Marin de la Malgue and a few French soldiers back to Baie des Puants (Green Bay) to re-established the earlier abandoned Fort St. Francois, he now sent Sieur de Villiers to command it. Beauharnois as well now encouraged his various post commanders, mission (Christianized) Indians, and western Indian allies to attack any remaining Fox Indians until “that damned nation shall be entirely extinguished,” even sending, in 1733, the principle Fox chief Kiala and his wife, captured in the joint French militia/Indian attack in 1730, as slaves first to the French Island of Martinique in the Caribbean and then to South America. [27]

This tactic, however, backfired. Many of Beauharnois’ Indian allies were taken aback at the ruthlessness of the French towards the Foxes – if the French would annihilate the Foxes, they reckoned, would they not do the same to us? As a result, several of the tribes even released many of Foxes that they had taken as slaves. The Sauks went so far, that same year, 1733, as granting the remaining Fox refugees asylum in Sauk villages along the west side of the Fox River. Soon thereafter, on 16 September 1733, when Sieur de Villiers, the new French commandant at Fort St. François at Baie des Puants, demanded the Sauks surrender the Foxes, the Sauks refused, and a battle ensued in which upwards of nine Frenchmen were killed, including Sieur de Villiers himself, shot dead by a 12-year-old Sauk by the name of Makautapenase, or Black Bird. Other Frenchmen killed in this quick, but violent skirmish included one of de Villiers own sons (whose actual name is lost to history), Jean-Baptiste-René Legardeur de Repentigny (the French commander of Fort Michilimackinac who had accompanied de Villiers to Fort St. François to aid him in destroying the Foxes), and six other French officers and soldiers. The remaining French and Indian forces, including de Villiers’ eldest son, Ensign Nicolas-Antione Coulon de Villiers, Jr., a younger son, Cadet Louis Coulon de Villiers, and de Villiers son-in-law, François Regnard Duplessis, fled back to the nearby Fort St. François. [28]

Three days later, after the Sauks and Foxes evacuated their fortified town and began heading down the Fox River in hopes of reaching safety in what is now Iowa, Ensign Nicolas-Antione Coulon de Villiers, Jr., eager to exact revenge for the death of his father and brother, led the remaining French troops along with their Ottawa, Menominee, and Chippewa allies in pursuit. Included in this troupe was de Villiers’ remaining brother, Cadet de Villiers, his brother-in-law, Duplessis, and sixty or so French troops, merchants, and courers de bois. De Villiers’ force overtook the Sauks and Foxes rear-guard at most likely what is now called Little Butte de Morts (French for Hill of Death) near present day Appleton, Wisconsin, and another battle ensued that lasted several hours. During this latter action the Foxes lost 9 and the Sauks 20 killed outright; several others would later die of their wounds. The French casualties amounted to nearly every Frenchmen in the skirmish being wounded, both officers and men, including Cadet de Villiers, with two of the French officers being killed. Their allied Indians lost somewhere between 11 and 17 killed, including the head chief of the Ottawas, and another 4 wounded. [29]

Prior to these battles, the Sauks and the French had been on friendly terms. This, however, now changed, and from this point on the two tribes began to be known by the French as one tribe, the Sauks and Foxes, and, as a direct result of the French aggressiveness against the two tribes, by 1734 the Sauks and Foxes had been forced out of the Wisconsin area and were living across the Mississippi River in what is now modern-day Iowa. They first settled, living for the most part as one group or at least in very close proximity to each other, about thirty miles up the Wapsipinicon River from its confluence with the Mississippi River. This would place them somewhere a few miles west or southwest of present-day DeWitt, Iowa. As a result of their new location, they were now no longer of any real threat to the French, including the French fur trade. [30]

Governor-General Beauharnois, however, wanting retribution against both the Foxes and now their new Sauk allies, in late 1734, sent Nicolas des Noyelles – a captain in the French Army who had earlier participated in the 1730 Fox defeat while the Foxes were on their way to join the Seneca – at the head of a punitive expedition against the two combined tribes. With word of this new French led expedition against them on the way, the two tribes fled further west into present day Iowa, building a strong, fortified village in an island in the Des Moines River – possibly around modern-day Ottumwa, Iowa. During the winter of 1734-1735, des Noyelles, at the head of a large band of Huron and mission Iroquois warriors and 84 French soldiers and settlers, journeyed across the plains of Illinois into Iowa. In late March, des Noyelles’ army confronted the Sauks and Foxes along the banks of the Des Moines River. Although des Noyelles’ forces were superior in numbers to the Sauks and Foxes, des Noyelles’ men were low on food and positioned out in the cold winter plains with little shelter. As a result, the battle ended in what is described as an indecisive skirmish, with the French and their Indian allies giving up and returning home. [31]

Then, in 1736, by the behest of other Indian tribes in the area, including even the Illinois, who, seeing how the French dealt with the Foxes, realized that the French could just as easily begin to treat them, the other Indian tribes in the area, the same way if given the right circumstances, peace was made between the Sauk-Fox tribes and the French, effectively ending the Second Fox War. By this time, with the Foxes being down to only around a total of 500 souls, having lost so many of its people during the ensuing wars, the Sauks became the rather dominant peoples of the two tribes. [32]

Ostensibly now at peace with the French, the combined Sauk-Fox tribes, for the most part, also chose to forgive the various Indian tribes they had warred against during the previous years – with the distinct exception of the Illinois Confederation. Residing west of the Mississippi River in Iowa country (the Iowa being a Siouan tribe related to the Winnebagos), and for the most part living peaceable, from time to time the two combined tribes did, however, fight against the Osage and Missouria tribes in the southern parts of modern-day Iowa, and even in 1746 against the Detroit (Ottawa) tribes that were led by Pontiac, an Ottawa war chief. They also fought against the hated Illinois. For instance, in June of 1743, the Sauks (and most likely the Foxes) sent 1,000 warriors to attack a Michigamea village (a member of the Illinois Confederacy) north of the French Fort de Chatres, which was located about 30 direct miles south of St Louis, Missouri, and just east of the modern-day town of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. The French, who at the time were busy dealing with British traders in the New France’s Ohio country, could only ask the Sauks-Foxes to stop. In 1753, the Sauks apologized and returned to the good graces of the French, but kept the Illinois territory they had captured. [33]

Two years later, in 1755, the French and British went to war over conflicting encroachments in the Ohio River Valley area, a war that would be known in North America as the French and Indian War. It would involve French regular troops, French colonial troops and militias, and some of their Indian allies against English Royal Troops, British colonial militias, and some of their Indian allies. It also eventually included Spain, Austria, France, Russia, and Sweden, fighting throughout Europe and other colonies around the world, becoming a true world war as the Seven Years War.

The war began over conflicts between the French and English quests for control of the Ohio River valley, including the area’s fur trade, which was contested between the two nations and their respective colonists. Although the Sauk-Fox tribes were currently at peace with the French, they still clearly held strong anti-French views. As such, the French expected the joint tribes to side with the British. However, with a few exceptions, including a few Fox and Sauk warriors fighting on the side of the French at English General Braddock’s Defeat in Pennsylvania and a few others helping the French at the campaign against Fort William Henry in New York, this was a war the Sauks and Foxes stayed clear of, not taking either side in the conflict. [34]

With the eventual British defeat of the French and the 3 November 1762 Treaty of Paris officially ending the war, France ceded all of its possessions east of the Mississippi River to England. That same year, 1762, in order to see the territory not fall to the English, in the Treaty of San Ildefonso, the French yielded claims to their Louisiana territories to Spain. With these two treaties, the French effectively relinquished all of their claims to territories on the North American continent. As a result, and nearly overnight, the Sauks and Foxes no longer had to worry about their long-time antagonist the French. However, now they would now have to deal with both the English and the Spanish, and eventually the Americans, and their disputes would change from the fur trade to control of lead mines and land. [35]

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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© 2024 Robert C. Daniels

Published online: 07/26/2019.

Written by Robert C. Daniels. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Robert Daniels at:

About the author:
Robert C. Daniels, a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, holds a BA in History from Old Dominion University (ODU), Norfolk, VA, and a MA in Military Studies, Land Warfare from the American Military University (AMU), Manassas Park, VA. He has written and published two books telling the exploits of both WWII era veterans and civilians: 1220 Days and World War II in Mid-America and several military history articles published on He currently is writing a book about the Black Hawk War, and teaches U.S. History, World Civilization History, and Western Civilization History at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach, VA, as an adjunct professor.

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