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What is the Fox Tribe?

By Morgan H.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Fox tribe is a Native American tribe that originally lived along the Saint Lawrence river, east of Michigan. The tribe gradually migrated during the 1600s and the mid-1800s due to tribal skirmishes, wars with the French, and conflicts with the United States Army and state militias. The modern Fox tribe is located in Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, and currently has a population of around 3,500 members. The tribe is also known as Meskwaki, "the people of the red earth." The name Fox originated from the French, who called the tribe "Renards," literally translated to "the fox."

Culturally, the Fox were a migratory tribe of farmers, producing corn and wild rice in the summer, and hunting for wild game in the winter. They lived in cabin-like lodges in the winter, and villages of bark houses during the summer season. The Fox were excellent craftsmen and courageous warriors. They had three tribal leaders, each overseeing a different aspect of life. The ceremonial chief was the spiritual leader of the tribe, leading shamanistic rituals. The war chief was a position chosen by council based on skills in battle, and the peace chief was a patrilineal position, serving as the leader of the village council.

Historically, the Fox tribe numbered more than 10,000 members, living east of Michigan. The Fox warred for years with the Huron tribe, and eventually, as their numbers diminished, constant skirmishes forced them west into what is now Wisconsin. The tribe gained control of the Fox River system there, which was a necessary means of transportation for the fur trade in the 1600s and 1700s. The French first made contact with the Fox tribe in the mid 1600s, at which point, the tribe numbered around 6,500 members. The French brought war to the Fox tribe when they sought rights to use the Fox river system.

In the Second Fox War, the French diminished the numbers of the Fox tribe to less than 500. The tribe spread south across Wisconsin and along the border between Iowa and Illinois and joined with the Sauk tribe, carrying the French animosity to them. By the 1800s, the Fox tribe population had rebounded to around 1,500.

In 1832, the Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo Native Americans united under Chief Black Hawk, and fought against the United States Army for possession of lands in what is present day Wisconsin. The Black Hawk War lead to the United States combining the Fox and Sauk tribe into the Sac & Fox Confederacy, and after a series of treaties and land cessions, the tribes lost all lands they held and were moved to a reservation in Kansas. After the land cessions, some of the Fox moved from the reservation back into Iowa, and eventually purchased and held land there. The modern Fox tribe has reservations in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.

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