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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

The Fox Nation in 1820

Editor's Note:

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793 - 1864) was an Indian agent among the Ojibwe at Sault St. Marie and a prolific author. He explored Missouri and Arkansas (1817-18) and searched for the sources of the Mississippi on this 1820 expedition before becoming Indian agent for Lake Superior (1822-36) and then Michigan commissioner of Indian Affairs (1836-41). Besides ethnographic works (which were heavily indebted to his Ojibwe wife and mother-in-law) and travel narratives, he wrote a richly detailed volume of personal memoirs.


Kettle chief: This Fox chief controlled access to the lead mines which had been leased to Julien Dubuque in 1788. The chief's birth date is untraced, but he was killed in 1830 during a Sioux raid near Prairie du Chien, according to James Lockwood's memoir (Wisconsin Historical Collections 2: 170)


Dubuque: Although French and Indians had mined the lead of the Upper Mississippi for centuries, Julien Dubuque (1762-1810) was the first modern settler in the Lead Region. Born in Quebec, in 1788 he negotiated with the Sauk and Fox Indians for the right to mine lead in the vicinity of the modern Iowa city that bears his name.


[July 9. Because Marsh wrote nothing this day, we’ve inserted excerpts from the journal of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who visited the Fox in the summer of 1820 to learn about the mineral resources of the Upper Mississippi. The full text of his book is online in the Library of Congress American Memory collection. Schoolcraft's description sets the stage for Marsh's subsequent entries on living with the Fox nation:]


The Fox, or Outagami Indians, upon whose territories these mines are situated, are settled upon both banks of the Mississippi, between Prairie du Chien and Rock rivers, and claim the lands thus occupied, and extending a certain distance east and west of the river. They are bounded by the lands of the Sioux of the Missouri, on the west, -- by the Winnebagoes, and Pottawattamies, on the east, and by the Sacs and Kickapoos on the south. Their principal village is that called the Kettle Chief's, at Dubuque's mines, seventy-five miles below Prairie du Chien. They have another village at the Rock river rapids, a hundred and sixty miles below. It consists of fourteen lodges, and a hundred and fifty souls. On the east bank of the Mississippi, near the foot of Rock island, there is a large village of Foxes and Sacs, living promiscuously together. It consists of sixty lodges, being one of the largest and most populous Indian village on the continent. They have also a small village at the mouth of Turkey river, thirty miles below Prairie du Chien, but it is at present temporarily deserted.


These villages comprise the strength of the Fox tribe, which is estimated at four hundred souls. They are nearly related to the Sacs, from whom they have seceded within the last century. They also claim relationship with the Chippeways. Of their own origin they know very little. As far as their traditions extend, they came from the neighbourhood of Kingston, in Upper Canada. From thence they were driven into the vicinity of Michilimackinac, and afterwards to Green Bay, and along the river which falls into it head, and bears their name. At Fox river, they suffered a signal defeat, from a body of combined French and Indians, at a place since called La Butte de Mort, or the Hill of the Dead; and were driven to the banks of the Ousconsing, from which they subsequently emigrated, to the country they now occupy. ... In 1780, a discovery of lead ore was made upon their lands by the wife of Peosta, a warrior of the Kettle chief's village, and extensive mines have since been discovered. These, were granted by the Indians to Julien Dubuque at a council held at Prairie du Chien in 1788.


[August 7th, 1820] ... It commenced raining in twenty minutes afterwards, and continued incessantly until my arrival at the Fox village of the Kettle chief, where I landed at
ten o'clock, having descended the river forty-five miles.


The Kettle chief's village is situated on the west bank of the river, and consists of nineteen lodges, built in two rows -- pretty compact -- with a population of two hundred and fifty souls. In the Mississippi river, directly opposite this village, there is a large island, where a number of traders are constantly stationed for the purpose of supplying the Indians with merchandize, and purchasing their lead. Concluding I should there find an interpreter of the Fox language, I first landed upon the island, and met with the most friendly reception from the traders, who readily communicated to me the information I sought, respecting the location, number, and value of the mines, and the method of working them, together with specimens of the ores, and accompanying minerals.


The rain ceased an hour after my arrival, when I proceeded across an arm of the Mississippi to the Kettle chief's village, to solicit his permission, and procure Indian guides, to explore the mines which are situated in the interior. I was accompanied on this visit by Mr. Gates, as interpreter, and by Dr. S. Muir, a trader of the island, who politely offered to go out with me. On entering the Kettle chief's lodge, I found him suffering under a severe attack of bilious fever. As I approached him, he sat up on his pallet, being unable to stand, and bid me welcome, but soon became exhausted by the labour of conversation, and was obliged to resume his former position. He appeared to be a man of eighty years of age -- with a venerable look, but reduced to the last state of physical debility, yet retaining, unimpaired, his faculties of sight and hearing, and his mental powers; and he spoke to me of his death with calm resignation, and as a thing to be desired.


On stating the object of my visit, some objections were made by the chiefs who surrounded him, and they required further time to consider the proposition. In the mean time, I learned from another source, that since the death of [Julien] Dubuque, to whom they had formerly granted the privilege of working the mines, they had manifested a great jealousy of the whites -- were afraid they would encroach upon their rights -- denied all former grants, and did not make it a practice even to allow strangers to view their diggings, &c. Apprehending some difficulties of this kind, I had provided myself with some Indian presents, and concluding this to be the true cause of the reluctance manifested, directed one of my voyageurs to bring in a present of whiskey and tobacco; and in a few moments afterwards received their assent, and two guides were furnished to conduct us out. One of these, was a soldier-chief of the Fox tribe, called Sca-bass, or the Yelling Wolf; and other, Wa-ba-say-ah, or the White Fox Skin...

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