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Term: Fox Wars (ca. 1710-1740)


a series of military confrontations between the Fox (Mesquakie) Indians and the French, largely fought between 1712 and 1730; the strongest resistance to European colonialism between King Philips War in New England (1675-1676) and Pontiac's Rebellion (1763).

The Fox, occasionally supported by Mascouten and Kickapoo allies, were the only tribe to systematically oppose French domination in Wisconsin during the colonial era. Offended at their treatment during an initial visit to Montreal, the Fox were later angered at high prices for goods and alarmed by French attempts to supply their Sioux enemies with firearms. They were also invited by some members of the Iroquois confederacy to trade with the English in New York, and so were viewed by the French as disloyal customers. During the first few decades of the 18th century, the Fox aggressivley resisted French attempts to control them economically and to arm their enemies. The most important military engagements occured in these years:

1712: When the French temporarily moved their trading headquarters to Detroit, Fox warriors laid siege to the garrison stationed there. The French only defeated them with the help of Indians from other tribes, who killed nearly all the Fox that participated in the uprising. The surviving Fox rejoined their communities in northeastern Wisconsin, where they again began to intercept French traders using the Fox River. They exacted a toll from passing boats and canoes, and attempted to prevent guns and ammunition from reaching their Sioux adversaries.

1716:  French commander Louis de la Porte de Louvigny was sent out to pacify the Fox with a force of 800 soldiers, including Indian allies. At Little Butte des Morts he attacked the Fox fortifications and brought about a surrender at the end of three days. A peace agreement was reached, but soon the Fox again began to harass the French and their allies.

1724-1728: expeditions led by Constant Le Marchand de Lignery in northern Illinois and Wisconsin created temporary truces but were largely ineffective in stopping Fox hostilities against the French. This led French officials to adopt a policy of genocide against the Fox at the end of the decade.

ca. 1730: in a daring sneak attack, Capt. Pierre Paul Marin suprised the Fox assembled on the riverbank at Little Butte des Morts with artillery fire, while his Indians allies attacked them from the rear. This battle was described by Augustin Grignon, who heard it recounted by his grandfather, a member of the expedition. Marin's attack nearly wiped out the Fox settlement at the site of modern Menaha and convinced the Fox to leave the river that still bears their name. The survivors retreated to Wauzeka, on the lower Wisconsin, where Marin made a surprise winter expedition against them while their hunters were in the field. After capturing all the Fox who remained at the town, Marin released the prisoners on condition that the Fox permanently leave Wisconsin. 

1730: most of the remaining Fox headed south, hoping to round Lake Michigan and join the Iroquois in the east. On their way, however, they were cornered and destroyed by the French and their Illinois allies.

In 1733 the remaining Fox returned to Wisconsin and sought refuge among the Sauks, with whom they lived near Green Bay before both nations moved to the lower Wisconsin River about 1745. English traveler Jonathan Carver visited them there in 1766. About 1780 the Sauk and Fox moved to the banks of the Mississippi south of Prairie du Chien, where their largest town, Saukenuk, was located at the mouth of the Rock River. Fifty years later, at the time of the Black Hawk War, the Fox and the Sauk moved across the Mississippi into Iowa.

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View pictures related to Indians at Wisconsin Historical Images.

[Source: Edmunds, David, and Joseph Peyser. The Fox Wars: The Mesquakie Challenge to New France (University of Oklahoma Press, 1993); Wisconsin Historical Collections.]
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