Identification. The Fox were a hunting and agricultural society whose name for themselves was "Meskwahki-haki," meaning "Red earths" or "People of the red earth." Their identity is often confused with the Sauk. But even after the development of a close alliance between the two groups in the eighteenth century, the Fox have remained a single, clearly defined group.
Location. In aboriginal times the Fox were located in Present-day southern Michigan or northwestern Ohio. Prior to European contact they were driven by the Iroquois into Wisconsin, where they were located at the time of first direct Contact with Europeans in the mid-seventeenth century. Their territory at that time centered on the Wolf River and spread from Lake Superior south to the Chicago River and from Lake Michigan west to the Mississippi River.
Demography. In 1650 the Fox numbered approximately 2,500, and in the early nineteenth century, between 1,600 and 2,000. By 1867 the Fox population had declined to but 264 persons. In 1932 they numbered 403, and in 1955, 653. In the 1980s the Fox numbered about 1,000, with some 500 on the Sac and Fox Reservation in Tama County, Iowa.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Fox spoke an Algonkian Language, which those in Iowa still speak.
History and Cultural Relations
In the mid to late seventeenth century the establishment of a French trading post at Green Bay drew the Fox to the Wolf River area. Almost from the start, tension and conflict characterized Fox-French relations. This stemmed in part from Fox opposition to the French extending the fur trade to their traditional enemies, the Dakota. In 1712, twenty-five years of continuous warfare were initiated when the Fox who had moved to Detroit and were presumed by the French post there to be planning an assault were attacked by a coalition of tribes organized and incited by the French commander. During this period the Fox were nearly wiped out by warfare and disease. In 1733 they took refuge with the Sauk at Green Bay and soon thereafter both tribes fled to Iowa. Shortly after the cessation of hostilities in 1737 the Fox returned to Wisconsin, but by the late eighteenth century they were living on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River.
Between 1832 and 1842, Fox and Sauk ceded their lands to the United States and moved to a reservation in Kansas. On the Kansas reservation, relations between the two groups were marked by tension, and between 1856 and 1859 the Fox returned to Iowa and settled near Tama. The federal government opposed this move, but was unsuccessful in returning them to Kansas.
The descendants of the Fox have maintained many elements of the traditional culture, including their language and clan-organized ritual activities. An important factor in this process has been tribal ownership of land and resistance to land allotment.
In the early nineteenth century, the Fox settlement pattern alternated between large semipermanent villages occupied during the summer planting and fall harvesting seasons and small dispersed camps used during the winter and early spring hunting seasons. The semipermanent villages were located in river bottoms near agricultural fields and moved periodically as firewood resources were depleted. Generally, fewer than twenty dwellings or lodges made up a village, with the lodges aligned in parallel rows along an east-west axis. A typical summer lodge consisted of an elm-bark-covered pole scaffolding measuring forty to sixty feet long and twenty feet wide. Winter camps varied in size from one to a few extended families, with dwellings consisting of dome-shaped, poleframed structures covered with cattail mats. On the 3,476-acre reservation, the Fox now live in scattered modern housing.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Fox were hunter-farmers whose subsistence focused on deer, bison, maize, squash, beans, and pumpkins. Trapping and hunting for the fur trade became an important part of the economic pattern very soon after European contact. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the seasonal pattern of economic activities included planting crops in May and June and harvesting in the early autumn, after which the summer villages dispersed and the people journeyed to their hunting grounds. Hunts were also carried out during the summer growing season. Midwinter was spent in temporary camps in sheltered river bottoms where the people remained until hunting activities were renewed in the early spring. In April the dispersed families returned to their summer village and initiated a new cycle of agricultural activities.
Since the 1950s, commuting to work in nearby cities has been an important part of the economic pattern of Fox living near Tama, Iowa. Tribal income is derived from renting tribal lands to local farmers.
Industrial Arts. The Fox displayed a typical Woodland pattern, relying on the bow and arrow for hunting and warfare. Clothes were made from deerskin. Aboriginal manufactures were quickly replaced with items obtained from Europeans.
Trade. Apart from furs taken to obtain European trade goods, hides and tallow, a by-product of deer hunting, and lead ore obtained through surface mining were important trade items for the Fox during the historic period.
Division of Labor. Traditionally men hunted, and women were responsible for growing crops and gathering roots, nuts, berries, and animal by-products such as honey and beeswax.
Land Tenure. When they settled near Tama, Iowa, in 1857, the Fox purchased 80 acres of land; since that time additional land purchases have brought tribal holdings to 3,476 acres.