"Outagamie" redirects here. For the Wisconsin county, see Outagamie County, Wisconsin.The Fox tribe of Native Americans—or Meskwaki—are an Algonquian language-speaking group that are now merged with the allied Sac tribe as the Sac and Fox Nation. The Fox called themselves Meshkwahkihaki formerly transcribed as Mesquakie or Meskwahki, but the tribe now uses Meskwaki. The name Fox originated in a French mistake applying a clan name to the entire tribe and was perpetuated by the United States government.
The Fox originally lived east of Michigan along the Saint Lawrence River. The tribe may have numbered as many as 10,000, but years of war with the French-supplied Hurons and exposure to infectious disease reduced their numbers and forced them west, first to the area between Saginaw Bay and Detroit in Michigan. Later they went to Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin the Fox gained control of the Fox River system. This river was vital for fur trade between French Canada and the interior of North America, because it allowed travel from Green Bay in Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. At first contact, the French estimated the number of Fox as about 6,500. By 1712, the Fox were down to 3,500. The First Fox War with the French lasted from 1712-1714. After the Second Fox War of 1728, the remaining 1,500 Fox were reduced to 500. They found shelter with the Sac, but French competition carried to that tribe. The First Fox War was purely economic in nature. The French wanted rights to use the river system to gain access to the Mississippi. The Second Fox War was genocidal because the Mesquakie continually refused to allow traders onto the Fox and Wolf Rivers.
Members of the Fox tribe spread through southern Wisconsin, and along the Iowa-Illinois border. In 1829 the US government estimated there were 1,500 Fox (along with 5,500 Sac). Some were involved with Sac members in the Blackhawk War over lands in Illinois.
The Sauk and Mesquaki (Fox) were induced to sell all their claims to land in Iowa in a treaty of October 1842. They moved west of a temporary line (Red Rock Line) in 1843 and to land in Kansas in 1845.
Many Meskwaki later moved to the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama, Iowa, that was started about 1856. The Iowa Legislature passed an unprecedented act allowing them to purchase the land; Indians were not usually permitted to do so. Soon after, the US government forced the Sauk to a reservation in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. By 1910, there were only about 1,000 Sac and Fox altogether. In the year 2000, their total number was less than 4,000.
Meskwaki means "the people of red earth". The Meskwaki are of Algonquian origin from the Eastern Woodland Culture areas. The language is a dialect of the larger language spoken by the Sauk and Kickapoo. Historically the tribe was located in the St. Lawrence River Valley, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Meskwaki were called Renards (the Foxes) by the French, with whom they had their first European contact in 1698. Tribe members have always called themselves as “Meskwaki”.
Meskwaki and Sauk are two distinct tribal groups. Linguistic and cultural linkages between the two tribes have made them often associated in history. Under US government recognition treaties, officials treat the Sac and Fox as a single political unit despite their separate identities.
Meskwaki fought against the French in what is called the Fox Wars (1701-1742). The Meskwaki resistance of French rule was so effective that the King of France signed a decree commanding the complete extermination of the Meskwaki -- the only edict of its kind in history of a Major and full standing army on one particular Native American tribe. The Sauk and Meskwaki allied in 1735 to fend off Europeans and other Indian tribes. Both tribes moved southward from Wisconsin into Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. The Anishinaabe peoples called the Meskwaki Odagaamii, meaning “people on the other shore,” which the French also adopted as “Outagamie” as a name for the Meskwaki. This name survives today for Outagamie County of Wisconsin.
After the Black Hawk War of 1832, the United States officially combined the two tribes into a single group known as the Sac & Fox Confederacy for treaty-making purposes. Through a series of land cessions under the name of “Sac & Fox”, the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes lost all lands and were removed to a reservation in east central Kansas in 1845 via the Dragoon Trace.
Some Meskwaki remained hidden in Iowa, with others returning within a few years. In 1856 the Iowa legislature passed a law allowing the Meskwaki to stay. The U.S. government, however, tried to force the tribe back to the Kansas reservation by withholding treaty-right annuities. Government officials declared that the Meskwaki could not own land because legally Indians were not US citizens.
In 1857, the Meskwaki purchased the first 80acres in Tama County; Tama was named for Taimah, a Meskwaki leader of the early 19th century. Ten years later, the U.S. finally began paying annuities to the Meskwaki in Iowa, an act that gave the Meskwaki a formal identity as the Sac & Fox of Iowa. The jurisdictional status was unclear. The tribe then had formal federal recognition with eligibility for Bureau of Indian Affairs services. It also had a continuing relationship with the State of Iowa due to the tribe’s private ownership of land, which was held in trust by the governor.
For the next 30 years, the Meskwaki were virtually ignored by federal as well as state policies. Subsequently, they lived more independently than tribes confined to regular reservations which were regulated by federal authority. To resolve this jurisdictional ambiguity, in 1896 the State of Iowa ceded to the Federal Government all jurisdiction over the Meskwaki.
In World War II, the Meskwaki were engaged not only as fighters but code talkers, along with Navajo and some other speakers of uncommon languages. Meskwaki men used their language against the Germans in North Africa. Twenty-seven Meskwaki, then 16% of Iowa's Meskwaki population, enlisted together in the U.S. Army in January 1941.
The modern Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County maintains tribal schools, a public works department, and tribal courts and police.