Fox Wars Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

For almost three decades, the Fox Indians waged war against French settlers and against other Native American tribes, greatly destabilizing the Great Lakes region and hampering trade and diplomacy for all of that region’s other inhabitants.

Summary of Event

Although the Fox people trace their own origins to the northeastern seaboard, they clearly emerged in Native American history in the late seventeenth century in the western Great Lakes region. Great Lakes region, North America First known under their Algonquian name, Mesquakis (People of the Red Earth), they are referred to in the journals of early French explorers as renards, or foxes, a name that persists in the literature. Most of what is known about the Fox tribe and its often hostile relations with a number of its neighboring tribes comes from the eighteenth century Québécois (New France colonial) archives. Hardly a year passed between 1699 and 1742 without some reference to relations between the Foxes and representatives of Onontia, the natives’ name for the French governor general of New France. [kw]Fox Wars (Summer, 1714-1741) [kw]Wars, Fox (Summer, 1714-1741) Fox Indians Intertribal warfare, colonial America French-American Indian conflicts[French American Indian conflicts] American Indian-French conflicts[American Indian French conflicts] Fox Wars (1714-1741) [g]American colonies;Summer, 1714-1741: Fox Wars[0470] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Summer, 1714-1741: Fox Wars[0470] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Summer, 1714-1741: Fox Wars[0470] Kiala Mekaga Charles de Beauharnois Vaudreuil, marquis de

In 1699, Governor General Louis-Hector de Callières made diplomatic overtures in an attempt to make peace not only between France and the tribes of the western Great Lakes region but also among the tribes themselves. His goal was to increase profitable trade in a vast region that remained unpredictable because of recurring intertribal strife. The natives invited to Montreal were well-known tribes associated with the Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois Five Nations (including the Senecas) and lesser-known tribes along the western shore of Lake Michigan, including the Sacs, Winnebagos, Kickapoos, Menominees, and Foxes. In September, 1700, a peace treaty was signed by several important tribes, but many, including the Foxes, held back.

Although the Foxes and Chippewas agreed to cease fighting each other in the Wisconsin area, Fox hostilities with neighboring Sioux Sioux still raged, disrupting fur trading as far as Sioux territory in Minnesota. In their attempt to stop these conflicts, the French invited Fox chieftains Noro and Miskousouath to Montreal. There the chiefs were assured that, if they remained peaceful in their newly fortified villages at the portage point between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, they would have their share of French Trade;fur fur trade in Sioux territory.

The shortcomings of these agreements were particularly evident to Cadillac, sieur de Antoine de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, commander of the strategic post at Michilimackinac on the straits between Lakes Michigan and Huron. Cadillac’s goal was to develop another, eventually much better-known, post at Detroit into a major trading center for various tribes. In 1710, he invited a number of Algonquians Algonquian tribes located in the area from the Green Bay to the Wisconsin River, including Sacs, Foxes, Mascoutens, and Kickapoos, to move to eastern Michigan.

Some Foxes, together with members of other Wisconsin tribes, did go to the Detroit, Michigan Detroit area, but the venture soon was reversed by Montreal’s governor general, the Marquis de Vaudreuil. Not only did the Foxes expect that their cooperation with the resettlement scheme should be rewarded, but they also became entangled in skirmishes with other tribes, especially Hurons Hurons and members of the Illinois Confederacy Illinois Confederacy. They even raided French colonial farms, stealing food and livestock. When the French American Indian-French conflicts[American Indian French conflicts] issued orders in 1711 for them to return to Wisconsin, the Foxes became even more belligerent, proceeding to build a fort near Fort Pontchartrain on the Detroit River. It took more than a year for the French, taking advantage of alliances with Huron and Illinois Confederacy tribes, to expel the Foxes by force.

Most of the Foxes besieged in their fort on the Detroit River were massacred brutally by French-allied American Indians, despite the French commander’s assurance of safe passage upon surrender. Those who escaped sought refuge among the Seneca Iroquois. These violent events on the Detroit River were bound to have repercussions among the Fox tribes that had stayed behind in Wisconsin alongside their allies, the Sacs and Winnebagos. When the defeated Foxes returned to Wisconsin, new alliances were built. In the summer of 1714, they began to attack French traders passing from Detroit to Michilimackinac. These attacks were the opening salvos of wars that were to last for twenty-seven years.

In this first stage of the Fox Wars, some Wisconsin natives hoped that the French would seek an accommodation with the Foxes. As the situation deteriorated and trade became paralyzed, many American Indians began to call for a strong French military campaign against the Foxes. Before long, it appeared that the Foxes had long-distance ties with other allies in British territory, especially the Senecas. This complicated French strategy considerably, forcing the French to try diplomatic intervention far to the east of Wisconsin. Vaudreuil was unable to report any progress for at least three years.

Although Fox chieftains Okimaoussen and Ouchala agreed to de-escalate the conflict, warfare against the Foxes by their inveterate enemies, the Chippewas and Potawatomis, caused strife to spread into Illinois tribal areas in 1719. By 1721, the Foxes had even sealed peace with their former enemies, the Sioux, to have an ally against the Illinois. In 1725, the French reported that their own hopes to tap the Sioux fur market were seriously hampered by the Sioux-Fox alliance.

By the time of Vaudreuil’s death in October, 1725, King Louis XV himself sent orders to replace the French commander at Green Bay, Amariton, François François Amariton, suspected of encouraging Fox raids into Illinois territory, and to step up activities against the Foxes. This task, which would lead to disastrous consequences for the Fox tribe, fell to Charles de Beauharnois, governor general of New France from 1726 to 1747.

A major campaign was set for 1728. French forces of four hundred soldiers were joined by coureurs de bois (freelance French fur trappers and traders) and hundreds of western natives. The French claimed success, but in reality the Foxes had withdrawn into Iowa rather than risk a battle.

The next stage of conflict came when Fox chief Kansekoe Kansekoe tried to force his Kickapoo allies to hand over a dozen French traders who were being held as hostages. Kickapoo refusals incited younger Fox warriors to break away from Kansekoe and attack both Kickapoo and Mascouten hunters. Both tribes soon asked for French alliance status. Then, some Winnebagos Winnebagos and Menominees Menominees also joined attacks against the Foxes. Declining chances for a victory again divided the Foxes. Some factions favored a peace, while more hostile tribesmen decided to leave Wisconsin and seek asylum, preferably among the Senecas Senecas. The attempted migration left them open to reprisal attacks, especially by members of the Illinois Confederacy, supported by the Foxes’ former neighbors, the Potawatomis Potawatomis, Kickapoos Kickapoos, and Mascoutens Mascoutens. A major siege of Fox fortifications on the Illinois prairie in 1730 involved French relief forces, who joined in a general massacre of more than five hundred Foxes, including women and children.

Governor General Beauharnois reported that the remaining Foxes no longer could consider resistance. Continuing reprisals caused Foxes under Chief Kiala to try to resettle peacefully on the north bank of the Wisconsin River and to send emissaries to Montreal. Kiala’s apparent failure to meet French terms tempted Beauharnois to allow Huron the Iroquois “volunteers” to pursue the refugee Foxes spread out in areas of Iowa and Illinois. Intertribal fighting continued until 1735, when two refugee groups separated, one going to the Rock River in Illinois and the other to the mouth of the Wisconsin. In 1736, White Cat, a friendly Sac chief, asked Beauharnois to grant a pardon. Beauharnois tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Sacs to gain peace by allowing the French to disperse the Foxes among other American Indian nations. Finally, in 1741, unable to hold out in the Rock River Valley against other Indians’ attacks, and fearful of massive French reprisals for Fox assistance to Sioux warriors near Lake Peoria who had killed French travelers in the area, Fox chief Mekaga agreed to accept French terms of forced relocation.


By the fall of 1741, the Foxes and Sacs were trekking to new settlements: Ten lodges moved to the Chicago River, three traveled to Milwaukee, and the rest made their way to their old homeland village on the Fox River in Wisconsin. The dispersal of the Foxes made them weaker, but it also made them more difficult both to protect and to control. Indeed, although the formal Fox War was over in 1741, their settlements still suffered from attacks by their Chippewa, Menominee, and Ottawa neighbors. In 1743, Beauharnois himself had to intercede to gain another joint pledge of peace.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edmunds, R. David, and Joseph L. Peyser. The Fox Wars: The Mesquaki Challenge to New France. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993. The most complete study to date of the specific events of the Fox Wars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hagen, William T. The Sac and Fox Indians. 2d ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. A general history, including cultural and religious topics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphy, Lucy Eldersveld. A Gathering of Rivers: Indians, Metis, and Mining in the Western Great Lakes, 1737-1832. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. A history of the Fox and other Indian communities, as well as multiracial and mining communities, in the Western Great Lakes region in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Includes information about the Fox Wars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parkman, Francis. Count Frontenac and New France Under Louis XIV. 1877. Reprint. New York: Library of America, 1983. A pioneering work providing background on French interests in the Great Lakes area just before dealings with the Foxes became focal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Places the Fox Wars in a wider chronological and geographical context of French, British, and American Indian relations.

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