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The Fox Indians during the French

By Louise Phelps Kellogg, Ph. D.

Editorial Assistant on the Society's Staff"

- Xm

I UUH '-, ...

[From Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1907]




Wisconsin Historical Society

The Fox Indians During the
French Regime

By Louise Phelps Kellogg, Ph. D.

In the keystone of the great arch of colonial empire that the
French sought to rear in North America, with one end at Que-
bec and the other at New Orleans, lay the territory now known
as Wisconsin. Two of the chief routes connecting the upper
waters of Canada with the Mississippi passed through this re-
gion, and it was one of the earliest interior portions of the con-
tinent to be explored. Fourteen years after English colonists
first touched the coast of Massachusetts, the first French ex-
plorer, Jean Nicolet, stood upon the shores of Green Bay.

But in his first visit to Wisconsin, Nicolet encountered none
of the Fox Indians. Not until twenty-five or more years had
passed, did this brave and contumacious tribe make its appear-
ance upon the river to which it gave a name and whose valley
it has made historic. •**. •

The origin of the Foxes is lost in* the obscurity of Indian
legend and tradition. They called themselves Musquakkie
(Mus-quak-kie-uck). 1 Because of their wily nature, their
neighbors called them Outagami, a word translated by the
French into Renards, which again the English rendered into
Foxes. There seems to be some trace among them of a com-

i Jedidiah Morse, Report to the Secretary of War on Indian Affairs
(New Haven, 1822). Appendix, p. 122; Wis. Hist. Colls., iii, p. 127.


Q. ol

Fox Indian Wars

posite origin. 2 Perrot, than whom none knew the Northern
aborigines more thoroughly, reports that the Outagami were
composed of two divisions, one named Red Earth, the other
Renards, each with its own chieftain. 4





Vlk.UltU'3 VltTany

Seat of the Fox Wars in Wisconsin and Illinois

The original habitat of the tribe is not certain. Of Algon-
quian origin, closely allied in language and customs to the

a/d., ii, p. 492; iii, p. 203.

4 Bacqueville de la Potherie, Histoire de VAmerique Septentrionotle
(Paris, 1703), ii, p. 174. Note also the meaning in Wis. Hist. Colls.,
iii, p. 127.


Wisconsin Historical Society

Sauk, Mascoutin, and Kickapoo, 5 a dim tradition of an early
home in the St. Lawrence valley, near Montreal, seems to
have clung to their memories. 6 Thence they appear to have
drifted westward with the general Algonquian movement
along the northern shores of lakes Ontario and Erie. The
early seventeenth century found them occupying lower Michi-
gan, 7 in near proximity to the Sauk, who have left their name
in Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron.

One interesting episode of their history which seems to have
occurred while still in Michigan, is related by La Potherie.*
The Winnebago tribe, then on the shores of Green Bay, were
at war with the Outagami, "qui habitoient a Fautre bord du
lac" (who dwell upon the other side of the lake). The former
sent a body of five hundred warriors, who all perished in a
tempest that arose while they were crossing the lake. The pre-
sumption is, that so great a disaster as this, must have occurred
on Lake Michigan itself. Moreover, Father Claude Allouez,*
referring to this war, says that it occurred "about thirty years
ago," which would place it between 1636 and 1639, at a time
when it is apparently demonstrated that no Foxes lived in
Wisconsin. 10

The first definite knowledge we have that the Outagami were
in Wisconsin is from the information of Father Gabriel Druil
lettes, who on his visit to Mackinac in 1656 met Pierre Esprit
Radisson, with his confrere Grosseilliers. From Radisson
the missionary learned that the Outitchkouk were among the
tribes gathered at Green Bay, and that they were of a very gen-

is Morse, Report, App., p. 122.

« Ibid., p. 138.

ilbid., p. 123; Wis. Hist. Colls., iii, p. 137; Draper MSS. 28J34.

» La Potherie, Hist., ii, p. 72.

• Thwaites, Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (Cleveland,
1896-1902), li, p. 77.

ioC. W. Butterfield, History of the Discovery of the Northivest by
John Nicolet (Cincinnati, 1881), p. 64.


Fox Indian Wars

tie disposition. 11 Father Allouez, who met them on Lake Su-
perior in 1065, gives a more unfavorable account of their tem-
perament, saying they are "less docile than the Potawatoini." 12
It was during this decade (1655-65) that the tribe was just
finding its way into Wisconsin, and searching for a new site
upon which to fix their village home. Driven with the other
Algonquian people before the fleeing Huron, who on their part
were pursued by the fierce blast of Iroquois wrath, the Foxes
with rheir kin, the Sauk, Mascoutin, and Kickapoo, abandoned
their Michigan habitat, and sought refuge upon the lakes and
waterways of Wisconsin. It seems probable, since they did
not at this period use lake-going canoes, that they came around
the southern end of Lake Michigan, pushing back the Illinois
confederacy, that lrad previously ranged from the Ohio to Lake
Superior. 13 Once upon Wisconsin soil they found the Win*
nebago who had already battled with them, but who now al-
lowed them to settle and marry among them. 14 Farther east
were the Potawatomi, whose language they could understand,
who had come from Mackinac via the islands of Green Bay.
To the west the Mascoutin, Kickapoo, and Miami, had built a
great town upon a prairie near the upper Fox. 15

nJes. Rel., xliv, p. 247. Radisson makes no mention of this tribe
in his journal, but gives it in his general enumeration; G. D. Scull,
Radisson's Voyages (Boston, 1885), p. 246.

™Jes. Rel, li, p. 43.

13 Gen. William Clark, for many years superintendent of Western
Indian affairs, related that he believed the Foxes and Sauk dispo&r
sessed the Illinois of the country west of Lake Michigan, and that
some desperate battles were fought a little below Chicago on the
shore of the lake. See Draper MSS., 28J34.

With regard to the use of canoes by the Foxes, it is repeatedly
stated by the early teachers and missionaries that they did not know
their use — Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, pp. 56, 70, 257, 374; N. Y. Colon.
Docs., ix, p. 160. Later, however, they appear to have learned to em-
ploy them from their Winnebago and Potawatomi neighbors; see Wis.
Hist. HJolls., xvi, p. 311; xvii, p. 33.

**Jes. Rel., li, p. 77.

if* For this site see Wisconsin Historical Society Proceedings, liv,


Wisconsin Historical Society

Some time during the winter of 1665-66, 16 the Foxes, seek-
ing safety from the murderous Iroquois, and a fertile land to
sow their corn, built for themselves a village on the waters of
Wolf River, somewhere probably in the present county of Wau-
paca, Wisconsin. 17 Here they were first visited in the summer of
1666 by that astute trader and explorer, Nicolas Perrot. Weil
would it have been for the French empire in America had all
their traders and negotiants exercised the diplomacy of Per-
rot in dealing with the haughty Foxes. Years afterwards he
reminded them that he was "their father since he had been the
first Frenchman to open the door of their cabin." 18 The
Foxes complained in 1701, at the great council at Montreal,
that now they have no more spirit since Perrot has left them.

Perrot, responding to the invitation of their chiefs to visit
them, gives a somewhat disagreeable picture of this great vil-
lage, which comprised six hundred cabins. 19 "They found a

pp. 167-182. Butterfield (op. cit., note 10, ante) assumed that this
village existed here at the time of Nicolet's visit. I find no proof
thereof, but think these people doubtless came with the great migra-
tion of 1650-65.

is This date is fixed by Perrot, who first came to Wisconsin in the
spring of 1666 (Jes. Rel., lv, p. 320), and says that the Outagami vil-
lage was a new establishment built the preceding winter; Wis. Hist.
Colls., xvi, p. 39.

17 Allouez gives the name of this village as Ouestatimong (Jes. Rel.,
liv, p. 12). Its exact location has not been determined; see Wis. Hist.
Colls., xvi. p. 39, note.

is La Potherie, Hist., ii, p. 173.

is This would be a very large population for an Indian town, but
no larger than that reported for the kindred Mascoutin village, which
is represented as having at one time 20,000 souls. Allowing ten per-
sons to a cabin, a low estimate, the total population would have
reached 6,000. Allouez mentions six cabins as having contained one
hundred women and children while the men were away hunting, an
average of about eighteen to a cabin. On this estimate, the Wolf
River village would have a population of about 10,000. Allouez says
the tribe is renowned for being populous, and has more than 400 war-
riors. He says later there were but 200 cabins; but with five, six, or
ten families to each, the population would approach that indicated by

[146 1

Fox Indian Wars

large village, but destitute of everything. These people had
only five or six hatchets, which had no edge, and they used
these, by turns, for cutting their wood; they had hardly one
knife or one bodkin to a cabin, and cut their meat with the
stones which they used for arrows." These are, then, aborig-
inal tribesmen, relying upon their own resources of stone
knives and flint instruments, unaccustomed to the goods of the
French trader, and using only the arts of primitive life. Their
destitution, however, was probably only relative. Allouez
mentions the excellence of the soil, and the advanced state of
agriculture among them. Their cabins were well-made, and
covered with thick bark, and they knew the art of fortifying
their village.

Perrot's visit was their first contact with the white man.
They had heard of these marvelous visitors who brought iron
knives and hatchets, guns to slay enemies, kettles to cook food,
and beautiful glass beads for the adornment of their persons.
They had even secured a few of their products through the
Potawatomi, who had been down to Montreal, and brought
back materials for trade. Xow one of these wonderful
strangers had appeared in their midst. They followed his
footsteps at every turn, importuning him for gifts "for those
Savages imagined that whatever their visitors possessed ought
to be given to them gratis; everything aroused their desires,
and yet they had few Beavers to sell." The practical Perrot
left some Sauk to do his trading for him, and returned to
Green Bay.

Other French traders with whom the Outagami came early
in contact impressed them less favorably than Perrot. When
a hundred and twenty of the tribe visited Chequamegon dur-
ing the winter of 1666-67, Allouez reported that they and the
Sauk would kill a Frenchman if they found him alone, be-
cause they disliked beards. 20

Perrot. It is doubtful, however, whether their numbers ever ex-
ceeded 5,000 all told.
20 Jes. Rel., li, p. 44.


Wisconsin Historical Society

When the good Jesuit father first came to Green Bay, it
was at the urgent request of the Potawatomi, "to curb some
young Frenchmen, who being- among them for the purpose of
trading, were threatening and maltreating them." 21 Allouez
found similar conditions in the Fox village. Instead of the
exalted idea they had first received of the Frenchman as a
god — a manitou sent by the Great Spirit, the shocking conduct
of two French traders had given them a low opinion of the
whole nation, an idea the Jesuit labored hard to remove. 62
When Allouez prepared to return to them the following an
tunm, he learned that some of the Foxes had that summer
made the then momentous voyage to Montreal, and that there
they had been maltreated by French soldiers, and were so bent
upon revenge that not a trader dared venture into their vicin-
ity. Even Allouez, in going among them, took his life in his
hand.- 1

The specimens of humanity found on the frontier of white
advance into barbarian territory are either the best or the
worst of their race. With the exception of Perrot, the Foxes
had found the French traders unjust, deceitful, arrogant, and
brutal. Nor did the devoted services of the "black-gown"
missionaries make much impression on these men of the for-

The devoted Allouez spent three days in their village (April
24-27, 1B70), and there founded the mission of St. Marc.
Had the French traders who had been among them behaved
better, "I would have had less trouble," he succinctly remarks.
In his autumn visit of the same year he received a very frigid
welcome for causes before noted. 24 In February of the fol-
lowing year, the faithful missionary again sought his Fox
neophytes. Going overland, in the depths of a Wisconsin
winter, he Avas frost-bitten, and suffered much physical hard-

21 Id., liv, p. 197.
^ Ibid., p. 255.
as id., lv, p. 185.
z* Hid., p. 219.


Fox Indian Wars

ship. All this he counted as nothing compared to his bitter-
ness of spirit when he was received with mockery and ribald
jests, by these souls for whose salvation he yearned. Gradu-
ally their spirit, touched by his patience and fidelity, softened.

In 1672 he erected a cross in the village, and a party of
young warriors going against the Sioux inscribed the sacred
symbol on their shields, and returned victorious. 25 But the
following year, this new species of exorcism had proved a fail-
ure. The Sioux had killed or taken prisoners thirty Fox sol-
diers of the cross, and the good father found them "badly dis-
posed towards Christianity." 26 Nor did the mission of St.
Marc ever become flourishing; for eight years (1670-78) the
black-robed apostles made them frequent visits but never more
than an occasional baptism of an ailing infant or a dying old
man rewarded their efforts. Upon the mass of the tribe Chris-
tianity made no impression. They remained wedded to their
primitive vices and their ancient superstitions, and were "self-
Avilled beyond anything that can be imagined." 27

The first years' residence of the Foxes in Wisconsin were
thus the momentous ones of their first contact with the
French, when the seeds of distrust Avere sown, which were to
blossom later into a harvest of hatred and war. It is not con-
tended that the treatment of the Foxes was worse than that
accorded by the French to the other Algonquian tribes around
Green Bay ; but the former were a stronger race, of a more
consistent self-regard, less easily subdued by a show of force,
self-reliant, and revengeful, cherishing their vengeance long,
and venting it when the moment seemed opportune. This ap-
pears from the earliest reports, wherein they are noted as "less
docile than the Potawatomi," and "a proud and arrogant peo-
ple," held in low estimation by their neighbors 28 — no doubt be-

26 id., lvi, p. 143.

26 Id., lviii, p. 47.

27 Ibid., p. 49.

28 Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, p. 153.


Wisconsin Historical Society

cause of their superior qualities — and as displaying "more
steadfast courage than did the other allies." 29

Their remote situation, also, hidden behind the lakes and
swamps beyond the Fox-Wisconsin trade route, distant from
Green Bay and removed from constant intercourse with
traders, preserved their native spirit and promoted their inde-
pendence. In their village on Wolf River they lived as had
their forefathers, devoting their energies to war and hunting,
with flourishing families growing up around them, their in-
dustrious women cultivating the fields of corn and squash,
dressing their skins, weaving their mats, and satisfied with
native manufactures. One kind of implement, however, they
learned to use and never failed to secure from the traders —
the implements of war. Hunting still with bows and arrows,
they reserved their new and deadly weapons for raids upon
Sioux, Chippewa, or Iroquois, and every Fox warrior pos-
sessed his gun and a well-stocked powder-horn. Thus strong
in primitive virtues, and secure in their independence, the
Foxes dwelt remote until the changing conditions in the Up-
per Country drew them from their fastnesses and gave them a.
prominent part in the drama of Western history.

The era of pristine discovery was over, Xicolet and Radis-
son, Marquette and Jolliet, La Salle and Hennepin, Duluth
and Perrot, had threaded the streams that unite the Great
Lakes with the Mississippi, and explored the latter to the Gulf.
The age of exploitation had begun. To the remoter tribes the
coureurs des bois had penetrated. It remained to organize the
trade, to colonize the strategic points, to secure the savages' al-
legiance. That master-merchant, Robert Cavelier de la Salle,
supported by favor at Versailles and Quebec, secured a monop-
oly of the Illinois country, built his fort on the river of that
name, planned an establishment at the mouth of the Wiscon-
sin, and sought a new adjustment of tribal geography.
The Illinois were clustered around his central fortification, the

29 Ibid., p. 70.

[ 150 ]

Fox Indian Wars

Miami were tempted southward, and settled in two great divi-
sions, one on the St. Josephs River, Michigan, and one in
northeastern Illinois, near a place called Marameg. 30 With
them, went the allied tribes of the Mascoutin and Kickapoo, the
latter giving its name to Rock River, on whose upper branches
it settled. On their part, the Foxes, abandoning their village
site upon the upper Wolf, removed to the river which now
bears their name.

This river had until then without exception been called
"Riviere des Puants," from the Winnebago tribe inhabiting
its banks, and from the name of the bay into which it dis-
charges. The earliest mention of the river by its new name,
is on Hennepin's map in his edition of La Louisiana, where he
uses the term "R. et L. Outagamis." Perrot, in his minutes
of taking possession of the country of the upper Mississippi
(1689), annexes the "Baye des Puants, the lake and rivers of
the Outagamis and Maskoutins." 31 Lahontan, who journeyed
by the Fox- Wisconsin waterway in 1G88, speaks of two vil-
lages of the Outagami on the upper Fox. 32 La Salle, who
calls the river Kakaling, locates the Fox village near Lake
Petit Butte des Morts, where it is likewise found on Fran-
quelin's map of 1684. 33 Allouez's last mention of the mission

so This place has usually been identified with the Marameg River
in Michigan. Franquelin's map of 1684 places it upon the upper Fox
River of Illinois. Perrot was stationed there in 1692, and later a Fox
village was built in this neighborhood, and left its name to the river;
see Wis. Hist. Colls., xvii, pp. 129, 173; J. F. Steward, Lost Maramech
and Earliest Chicago (Chicago, 1903). On Franquelin's map the Miami
are scattered through the northern Illinois region. He places one vil-
lage of 1300 population upon a branch of the Kankakee; the Pianke-
shaw, Ouiatanon, and other Miami tribes are located on branches of the
Illinois. Later (1692) the tribe seems to have been collected at Mara-
meg, Chicago, and St. Joseph — this before the migration towards

si Wis. Hist. Colls., xi, p. 35.

32 Thwaites, Lahontan: s Voyages (New York, 1903), i, p. 175.

S3 Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, p. 106.


Wisconsin Historical Society

of St. Marc, on Wolf River, is in 1678. La Salle's letter
locating the Fox village, is dated 1682, therefore their migra-
tion must have occurred between these two dates, probably
about 1680.

The Foxes were thus brought prominently into the arena of
action during a troubled period for the colony of New
France. For twenty years the war with the Iroquois raged.
In the West, confusion reigned. The attempt of La Salle to
concentrate the tribes at his Illinois establishment had been
but partially successful, and during his ill-fated Louisiana
expedition and after his death, Tonty commanded at Fort St.
Louis. He built a secondary establishment at Chicago, and
shipped peltry through Lake Michigan and Mackinac. 34 Du-
luth founded (1686) a post on the Detroit River, which was
abandoned two years later by the profligate Baron Lahon-
tan. 85

At Green Bay matters were in great disorder. The Indians
were mutinous and insolent ; even the docile Potawatomi, thor-
oughly wedded to French interest, in which they saw their
own as middlemen for intertribal trade, required to be hum-
bled. 36 The Menominee murdered some of the Jesuits' serv-
ants, 37 and pillage and rapine spread abroad.

The one man capable of coping with these fierce spirits waa
Daniel Graysolon Duluth. In Lake Superior he even ven-
tured to put to death a powerful Chippewa chief for the mur-
der of some Frenchmen. 38 To Green Bay he sent his ablest
lieutenant, in the person of Nicolas Perrot. In 1682 a Sau-
teur-Outagami war had broken out, in the course of which
captives had been taken, among whom w r as the daughter of a
powerful Ottawa chief at Mackinac. The affair threatened to
embroil all the Wisconsin tribes ; vain attempts had been mad©

si Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, xxxiii, p. 75.

35 Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, p. 125; Lahontan's Voyages, i, p. 163.

36 Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, pp. 110, 111.

37 ibid., pp. 99-102.

38 Ibid., pp. 114-125.


Fox Indian Wars

to secure this captive maiden. The Foxes, haughty in their
success, refused to listen to any envoys, and threatened with
death all who approached their village. Duluth persuaded
Perrot to put his head within this lion's jaws. With a
bravado which charmed the savage spirit, Perrot suddenly ap-
peared in their midst, and baring his chest exclaimed: "Listen,
Outagamis, to what I am going to say. I have learned that you
are very anxious to eat the flesh of the French; I have come
with these young men whom you see, in order to satisfy you.
Put us into your kettles, and satiate yourselves with the flesh
you have wanted." Then with a dramatic gesture of his sword,
he continued, "My flesh is white and savory, but it is quite
salt; if you eat it, I do not think that you can swallow it with-
out vomiting." Having by much diplomacy secured the Ottawa
maiden, lie hastened to Green Bay, where the chiefs were aston-
ished at his success. His empire over their spirits increased,
he secured satisfaction for the murdered Jesuit servants, and
reached Mackinac in time to arrest an Ottawa war-party just
setting forth. 39

Perrot was next commissioned (1684) to take a reinforce-
ment of Western tribes to La Barre's aid in the latter' s foray
into Iroquois territory. A few Outagami accompanied this
war-party, whose failure alienated the Western tribesmen. 40

In consequence of this abortive expedition, the Outagami,
when enlisted for Denonville's enterprise three years later,
were easily turned back by a party of Loup (Mahican) In-
dians, whom they met on their way to Detroit. 41 Returning to
Green Bay, during Perrot's absence on this expedition, their
mischievous tendencies soon appeared. At the point of the
sword they forced the Jesuits' blacksmith to sharpen their

39 La Potherie relates this episode twice — Hist, ii, pp. 148-157,
167-177. The former account is translated in Wis. Hist. Colls., xvi, pp.
99-103. I have combined the two narratives, each having its dramatic
features, and setting forth the astuteness of Perrot.

40 Lahontan's Voyages, i, p. 73.

*' La Potherie, Hist., ii, pp. 193-199.

[ 153 1

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knives and axes, 1 - which they proceeded to employ in a raid
upon the Chippewa. At this time the church and mission
house were burned, and the inference is that the fire, by which
Perrot lost a large amount of peltry, was of incendiary origin.
Upon his return Perrot once more subdued the Renards to his
will, but secured no satisfaction for his vanished furs. Indeed,
he but narrowly escaped personal violence at the hands of the
Poxes. 43

During all the years of Frontenac's second administration
(1689-98), the Renards were in secret or open rebellion.
After the Laehine massacre (1689), in common with the other
Western tribesmen, 44 they openly sent envoys to the Iroquois ; ts

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