The Fox’s Demise

March 18, 2010

Ah, the weather is so fine,…just like summer! I do so want it to continue. But, alas I heard rumblings about a chance of wet flurries next week. Oh well, back to reality and back to our story.

We left the Fox and Mascoutin chiefs being escorted back to their fort after their First Nation adversaries rejected their peace plan. When they were returned safely the firing recommenced. For four days they fired upon each other without a word being spoken.

The Fox shot flaming arrows at the French fort hoping it would catch fire and burn down. Sometimes these flaming missiles flew three or four hundred at a time. It was a good plan because the buildings inside Fort Ponchartrain had thatched roofs. Some of them did catch fire and the French panicked but Dubuisson reassured them. They replaced the thatch with bear and deer skins, filled large pirogues with water and fashioned large poles with mops on the ends to extinguish any skins that might start to smolder.  This sufficed in handling the matter.

Now Dubuisson had another problem. He heard rumours that some of his First Nation allies want to quit the fight and leave. Others heard the same rumours and again the Frenchmen began to panic. They told Dubuisson they thought they should retire to Michilimackinac as quickly as possible. He rejected that idea immediately and called the plan cowardly. Then he called a council with the war chiefs.

When they were all gathered he started an harangue to encourage them to remain and fight to the end. But in the middle of his discourse the chiefs interrupted him. They told him they never would quit the fight and that some liar had started these bad rumours. They got so riled up that they all sang the war song, did the war dance then with a loud war cry rushed out of the fort to attack the Fox.

Every day a few Sauk who were with the Fox would abandon them and come over to the French side. They brought intelligence with them on the condition of the enemy. By this point in the war they reported that the Fox were in very poor condition. They said that over 80 women and children had died from lack of food and water. They were unable to intern them along with the warriors being killed daily because of being continually fired upon. This in turn caused disease to break out in their fort. They were indeed in bad shape, so bad that they had no other choice but to try again to sue for peace.

They demanded permission to speak to their adversaries and permission was granted. The Fox’s two greatest chiefs, Pemoussa the war chief and Allamina the civil chief came along with Kuit and Onabimaniton the two greatest Mascoutin chiefs. Pemoussa was dressed in his finest carrying wampum belts and painted green. He was supported by seven female captives who were also painted adorned with their finest beadwork also carrying wampum belts. Pemoussa led the procession.

The other three chiefs each carried a chickikoue, a small drum used to enlist spiritual assistance. They proceeded in the French fort in single file the three chiefs beating their chickikouies and all singing the song of it. When they had entered the fort they ceased the song and Pemoussa spoke.

Pemoussa conceded defeat and offered the seven women captives as payment for his life. He said he was not afraid to die but conceded for the lives of their women and children. He offered six wampum belts to tie the Fox and Mascoutin to the French and their allies in friendship and asked for a good word with which he could return to his village. Dubuisson again acquiesced to the war chiefs to give the Fox an answer. 

The chiefs and their warriors were so enraged at the Fox they refused to give them any answer but instead asked to speak with Dubuisson in private. They wanted to kill the four head chiefs on the spot so the Fox would be leaderless and surrender without condition. Dubuisson dismissed this idea out of hand. Besides, if he agreed to such a dishonorable plan the Governor General would not forgive him. The chiefs agreed and the Fox delegation was returned to their fort safely but without a treaty.

The firing recommenced once again and on the nineteenth day of the seige the Fox and Mascoutin decamped about midnight and their escape was not discovered until the next morning. The Ottawa, Wyandotte and the rest of their allies went off in hot pursuit. De Vincennes and a few Frenchmen went with them.

The Fox and their Mascoutin allies knew they would be pursued so they stopped at what today is Grosse Pointe, Michigan on Lake St. Clair and made an entrenchment there. They built very good ramparts which enabled them to kill 20 of the pursuers. Another siege ensured that lasted four days.

Dubuisson had sent word to the Ojibway on the St. Clair River and the Mississauga on Lake St. Clair to come to their aid when the war first broke out. They couldn’t because all their young men were gone on their winter hunt. But now they had returned and they began to show up at the rate of 100 canoes a day for the four days. Then they stormed the Fox entrenchment and slaughtered all but 100. Then they returned to Fort Ponchartrain with their 100 captives which they killed about five a day until they were all dead.

The Fox and Mascoutin who were invited to de troit were totally annihilated.They lost 1,000 men, women and children in the war. The Ottawa, Wyandotte and their allies, including 25 Iroquois from Fond du Lac, suffered 60 men killed and wounded and the French had one killed and several wounded. This tragedy at de troit would commence a period of about 25 years known in history as the Fox Wars.

NEXT WEEK: The Fox Wars

The Beginning of the Fox Wars

March 10, 2010

The weather is great as I sit to write this week’s post. The sun is shining and it’s warming up. However, it still could get a little warmer…no, a lot warmer! I am so looking forward to summer.

We last left the Fox and Mascoutin hunkered down in their fort surrounded by hostile First Nations less than 100 yards from the French fort. The French erected two 20 foot scaffolds in order to shoot down on their villages. All Dubuisson’s allies left Fort Ponchartrain and fanned out to the edge of the forest surrounding the settlement. They had the Fox pinned down and they couldn’t go out for food or water. This siege lasted 19 days. 

During this time the French fired upon the Fox fort continually night and day. Their allies kept returning to the fort with prisoners they had captured in the woods. These were Fox and Mascoutin kinsmen coming to join them not knowing they were besieged. Their sport was to kill them with arrows and them burn them. Meanwhile the Fox in their fort were becoming exhausted with thirst and hunger. They hoisted twelve red flags in their villages and called out to the French they had no father but the English and called out to the Ottawa and their allies they would do better to change sides. Their attempt at intimidation failed.

Finally, the Potawatomi war chief Makisabie mounted one of the French scaffolds and called out to the Fox. He entered into a long harangue chastising them and their British “masters”. He didn’t get too far along when Dubuisson broke in stopping him. The Fox had asked for this interlude only so they could sneak out for water. The French recommenced their firing killing 30 Fox including some women who had gone for water. The fox returned fire killing 12 Frenchmen.

The Fox had taken a French house that was outside their fort and it had a mound of earth on the gabled side of it. They erected a scaffold behind it on which to stand and fire upon the French. The French bullets would not penetrate this defence so they hauled one of their small cannons up on their scaffold, aimed it at the Fox scaffold and fired. Upon the first two discharges the Fox scaffold fell killing some of them. They were so frighted they called out for a meeting with the French and their allies.

Dubuisson held a council with all the war chiefs and they decided to hear them out thinking they may still be able to extract the three women prisoners, including Sahgimah’s wife, the Fox had taken.

The next morning the Fox war chief Pemoussa came out of his fort with two others and a white flag. They also had with them two captives who had been living with them for a long time. Dubuisson sent an armed escort to bring him to the fort and also to protect him from the insults of some of the young warriors. The council was held in the parade grounds of Fort Ponchartrain with the Fox delegation surrounded by their enemies’ war chiefs.

Pemoussa asked for a two-day cease-fire so their elders could determine in council a way to turn aside their enemies wrath. He also offered up the two captives as partial payment for the blood they had spilt.

Dubuisson told Pemoussa that if his heart was right he would have brought the three women hostages instead of the two strangers they offered. If they really wanted peace they could begin by bringing the three women otherwise the war would continue. All the war chiefs concurred saying they had nothing to say to Pemoussa and that if he wanted to live let him turn over the three women. Pemoussa and his delegation including the two strange captives were escorted back to their fort. 

Two hours later a Fox chief along with two Mascoutin chiefs returned to the French fort under a white flag. The had the three women with them. The three chiefs spoke to Dubuisson and all the war chiefs asking that the Ottawa, Potawatomi and others retire and the French cease firing for two days in order that they may go for food and water. They explained their people were dying inside their fort for lack of provisions. Dubuisson deferred their answer to the war chiefs.

They chose the Illinois war chief Makouandeby to be their speaker. He then told the Fox and Mascoutin chiefs that they were not to be trusted. They knew of their commitment to the British to kill the French and burn their fort. Because of their bad hearts they would not retire leaving the French alone to be killed and as soon as the Fox and Mascoutin chiefs reentered their fort they would be fired upon and the war would recommence.

NEXT WEEK:  The Fox’s Demise

Now it’s the Fox’s Turn

March 3, 2010

The Olympics are over but tax season is just getting underway. I’m still finding it hard to find the time to post here but I’ll do my best.

Cadillac had managed to smooth thing over by 1708 but Vaudreuil came up with another plan to rid himself of the thorn in his side. He couldn’t seem to discredit Cadillac to the powers that be back in France so he thought a promotion might do the trick. In 1711 he recommended to the King and Minister Ponchartrain that Cadillac be named to the vacant position of Governor of Louisiana. He was and ordered to leave for his new post immediately.

Monsieur Jacque Charles Dubuisson was appointed new commandant of Fort Ponchartrain at de troit (the strait…between Lake Huron and Lake Erie). He was an able administrator but no Cadillac. He commanded neither the strength of resolve when dealing with the First Nations nor the respect they had for the former commander. He was there but a year when crisis broke out again. This time it was with the Fox and Mascoutin nations and would spiral into all-out war ending in disaster.

Before Cadillac left for Louisiana he invited the Fox and Mascoutin to settle at de troit. About 1000 came from Wisconsin along with a few Sauk. They settled on land assigned to them but built a fort of their own within a pistol’s shot of the French Fort. The next summer a disagreement arose between them and the French. Dubuisson accused them of conspiring under British influence to destroy Fort Ponchartrain but the Fox said it was the French that started the war for reasons unknown to them.

Apparently Dubuisson complained about the nearness of the Fox fort and ordered them to remove themselves. Some of the Fox’s young men under their great chiefs Lamima and Pemoussa shouted out insults to the French saying they were the owners of all the surrounding country. Actually they were the owners a century earlier.

Dubuisson was in a precarious position. The Wyandotte and Ottawa warriors had not returned from their winter hunt and Dubuisson had only about 30 Frenchmen at the fort. So he had to endure all of the escalating aggravation from the Fox and Mascoutin. He sent word to his allies at their hunting grounds to return as soon as possible.

The Fox were awaiting the arrival of their allies the Kickapoo when they received alarming news. The great Ottawa war chief Sahgimah had gone off in pursuit of a band of Mascoutin. He had the Potawatomi war chief Makisabi with him and about 100 warriors. Some the Mascoutin men had insulted Sahgimah by calling him a coward so they were out to avenge the insult. They came upon the Mascoutin wintering on the St. Joseph River where they attacked and killed 200. About 50 survivors fled to their kinsmen at de troit for protection. When they heard the news they immediately determined to burn an Ottawa lodge. Then they pillaged the crops growing outside the French fort. A Fox spy named Joseph had warned Dubuisson of their plans so he had time to save most of their wheat by bringing it into the fort.

Dubuisson was bracing himself for disaster when the Wyandotte and the Ottawa arrived from their hunting grounds. The Wyandotte met with Monsieur de Vincennes at their fort and insisted that the Fox and Mascoutin be annihilated according to the governor’s wishes. They claimed to know this from a previous council in Montreal.

Two hours later Sahgimah and Makisabi arrived. Not only their own warriors with them but also some Missouri, Illinois, Osage and other more remote nations that Dubuisson did not recognize. They picked up these other warriors as they returned from the St. Joseph and now had about 600 with them. They were in a highly agitated state. To make thing worse they discovered that the Fox had taken some hostages and among them was Sahgimah’s wife!

This multitude of nations let out a loud war cry and the Fox returned in kind.  Then they rushed the Fox fort with the Wyandotte and Ottawa at their head. About 40 Fox and Mascoutin warriors rushed out to meet them but immediately retreated back into their fort. Dubuisson’s allies requested permission to enter the French fort, which they did and he gave them supplies including ball and shot. After speeches from their war chiefs and harangues from their old men they all raised the war cry. Guns discharged from both sides and balls flew like hail. The war had begun!

NEXT WEEK: The Beginning of the Fox Wars