Sac & Fox Nation

The tribe that is now know as the Sac and Fox Tribe was once two separate tribes: the Sauk  and Fox (also known as Meskwaki) tribes.

Under US government recognition treaties, officials treat the Sac (anglicized Sauk term) and Meskwaki (Fox) as a single political unit, despite their distinct identities.

The name Fox originated from a French mistake of applying a clan “fox” name to the entire tribe. Their real name is derived from the Meskwaki creation myth, in which their culture hero, Wisaka, created the first humans out of red clay. Meskwaki means “red clay people.”

The Sauk call themselves Thakiwaki or Sa ki wa ki, which means “people coming forth from the water.”

The Sac and Fox Nation is the largest of three federally recognized tribes of Sauk and Meskwaki(Fox) Native Americans. They are located in Oklahoma and are predominantly Sauk.

The two other Sac and Fox tribes are the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa and the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska.

The Sac and Fox tribes were always closely allied and speak very similar Algonquian languages, sometimes considered two dialects, instead of two languages.

Sak & Fox Migrations

According to archeologists, about ten thousand years ago, peoples from the Eurasian landmass migrated to modern-day North America via the Bering Strait land bridge. Approximately seven thousand years ago, groups of these earlier migrants reached and settled in what is now known as Ontario in Central Canada.

Around the turn of the 1st century, the “Great Drought” took place. The lands which the ancestors of the Meskwaki inhabited did not receive enough rain to sustain their population, and the group lost about 98% of its members.

The Meskwaki are of Algonquian origin from the prehistoric Woodland period culture area. The Meskwaki lived along the Saint Lawrence River in present day Ontario, east of Michigan.

The tribe may have numbered as many as 10,000, but years of war with the Huron, whom the French colonial agents supplied with arms, and exposure to European infectious diseases reduced their numbers.

In response to these pressures, the Meskwaki migrated west, first to the area between Saginaw Bay and Detroit west of Lake Huron in present-day eastern Michigan. Later they moved further west into Wisconsin.

The Meskwaki gained control of the Fox River system in eastern and central Wisconsin.

This river became vital for the colonial New France fur trade through the interior of North America between northern French Canada to the French ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of the Fox–Wisconsin Waterway, the Fox River allowed travel from Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes via Green Bay to the Mississippi River system.

At first European contact in 1698, the French estimated the number of Meskwaki as about 6,500. By 1712, the Meskwaki were down to 3,500.
Members of the Meskwaki tribe spread through southern Wisconsin, and along the present day Iowa-Illinois border.

In 1829 the US government estimated there were 1,500 Meskwaki (along with 5,500 Sac, or Sauk). Both tribes relocated southward from Wisconsin into Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. There are accounts of Meskwaki as far south as Pike County, Illinois.

By 1910, the Sac and Meskwaki together totaled only about 1,000 people.

By the year 2000, their numbers had increased to nearly 4,000.

The Sacs or Sauks are a group of Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands culture group.  The Sauk are believed to have had their original territory along the St. Lawrence River.

They were driven by pressure from other tribes, especially the Iroquois, to migrate to Michigan, where they settled around Saginaw Bay.

An Anishinaabe expansion and the Huron attempt to gain regional stability drove the Sac out of their territory. The Huron were armed with French weapons.

The Sac moved south to territory in parts of what are now northern Illinois and Wisconsin.

Sauk and Fox History

A closely allied tribe, the Meskwaki (Fox), were noted for their hostility toward the French, having fought two wars against them in the early 18th century. After the second war, Fox refugees took shelter with the Sac, making them subject to French attack.

The Sac continued moving west to Iowa and Kansas. Two important leaders arose among the Sac: Keokuk and Black Hawk.

At first Keokuk accepted the loss of land as inevitable in the face of the vast numbers of white soldiers and settlers coming west. He tried to preserve tribal land and to keep the peace.

This “ceremonial” chief of the Sac tribe wanted to make peace with the white men and signed a treaty on behalf of his tribe which gave away most of their lands to the white men.

Having failed to receive expected supplies from the Americans on credit, Black Hawk wanted to fight, saying his people were “forced into war by being deceived.” Black Hawk became a “war” chief and was against the treaty. 

Eventually there was a war with the United States that was lead by Chief Black Hawk called the Black Hawk War.  The followers of Chief Black Hawk were called “Black Hawks” but were acutally members of the Sac tribe.

Led by Black Hawk in 1832, the mainly Sac band resisted the continued loss of lands (in western Illinois, this time.) Their warfare with United States forces resulted in defeat at the hands of General Edmund P. Gaines in the Blackhawk War.

In spite of losing this war, both Black Hawk and Keokuk remain folk heroes in this tribe.

About this  time, one group of Sac moved into Missouri, and later to Kansas and Nebraska.

In 1869 the larger group of Sac moved into reservations in Oklahoma, where they merged with the Meskwaki as the federally recognized Sac and Fox Nation.

A smaller number returned to the Midwest from Oklahoma (or did not go) and became the Mesquakie tribe in Iowa.

The Meskwaki and Sac were forced to leave their territory by land-hungry American settlers, and President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, authorizing removal of eastern American Indians to lands west of the Mississippi River.

Some Meskwaki were involved with Sac members in the Black Hawk War over homelands in Illinois.

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 their lands.

Soon after, the U.S. government forced the Sauk to a reservation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

The Dakota Sioux called the Meskwaki who successfully fled west of the Mississippi River the “lost people”.

The United States persuaded the Sauk and Meskwaki to sell all their claims to land in Iowa in a treaty of October 1842. They moved to land west of a temporary line (Red Rock Line) in 1843.

They 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 1851 the Iowa legislature passed an unprecedented act allowing the Meskwaki to purchase land and stay in the state. American Indians had not generally been permitted to do so in the U.S.

Government officials had said that the Meskwaki could not own land because legally Indians were not US citizens.

In 1857, the Meskwaki purchased the first 80 acres (320,000 m2) in Tama County; Tama was named for Taimah, a Meskwaki chief of the early 19th century.

Many Meskwaki later moved to the Meskwaki Settlement near Tama, which was started in 1857.

The U.S. government tried to force the tribe back to the Kansas reservation by withholding treaty-right annuities. Ten years later, the U.S. finally began paying annuities to the Meskwaki in Iowa. They recognized the Meskwaki as the Sac and Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa.

The jurisdictional status was unclear. The tribe 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.

Sac and Fox Code Talkers and other notable people

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.

Quashquame is best known as the leader of the 1804 delegation to St. Louis that ceded lands in western Illinois and northeast Missouri to the U.S. government under the supervision of William Henry Harrison.

This treaty was disputed, as the Sauk argued the delegation was not authorized to sign treaties and the delegates did not understand what they were signing.

Quashquame was a Sauk representative on a number of treaties after the war. In 1815 Quashquame was part of a large delegation that signed a treaty confirming a split between the Sauk along the Missouri River with the Sauk that lived along the Rock River at Saukenuk.

The Rock River group of Sauk was commonly known as the British Band, which formed the core of Indians participating in the Black Hawk War.

Among other treaties, in 1825 Quashquame signed the Treaty of Prairie du Chien, which established boundaries between rival tribes.

Famous Sac & Fox