Before they met their first European, the Kickapoo felt the changes he had brought. It started during the 1640s when the Beaver Wars moved into the Great Lakes. Seeking new hunting territory for fur to trade to the French, Tionontati, Ottawa and Neutrals warriors attacked the Kickapoo and their neighbors.
A full-scale invasion by the Iroquois followed during the 1650s, which forced the Kickapoo to abandon their homeland and retreat west around the south end of Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin.
The Kickapoo was not the only tribe displaced. Thousands of Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, Mascouten, and Miami also arrived from the east at the same time, overwhelming the resident Winnebago and Menominee and occupying their lands. However, the powerful Dakota (Sioux) were not so accommodating, and fighting erupted across western Wisconsin.
Corn did not grow well in northern Wisconsin, and the refugees were forced to rely more heavily on hunting than before. This quickly exhausted the available resources leaving the refugees fighting among themselves over what little there was.
The new arrival had also brought some of the new European epidemics with them, and as if there was not enough misery, Iroquois war parties roamed through the area striking without warning.
During the spring of 1649, the Iroquois overran and destroyed the Huron Confederation in southeastern Ontario.
In rapid succession, the League defeated the Tionontati, Neutrals, and Erie and absorbed a large part of their captured populations. With this new man-power, they embarked on a war of conquest which swept across the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.
Since the Iroquois had destroyed most of their native trading partners, the French had tried to maintain their crippled fur trade by encouraging their former trading partners to bring their furs to Montreal, but Iroquois war parties along the Ottawa River (the main trade route) had made this dangerous. Only a few Ottawa and Ojibwe tried by organizing large canoe convoys to fight their way past the Iroquois.
To protect a truce they had signed with the Iroquois in 1653, the French had prohibited all travel by themselves to the Great Lakes. However, with the resumption of war in 1658, two French fur traders decided to ignore the ban.
Accompanied by the old Jesuit missionary Réné Ménard, Pierre Radisson and Médart Chouart des Groseilliers joined a group of Wyandot (mixed Huron and Tionontati who had escaped capture by the Iroquois) traders on their return journey to the west. At Mackinac (near Sault Ste. Marie), the French first heard of the Kickapoo, but an actual meeting did not not occur until 1665.
That year, Nicolas Perrot, Jesuit Claude-Jean Allouez, and six other Frenchmen joined a large party of Wyandot and Ottawa to fight their way past the Iroquois blockade on the Ottawa River. In September, they reached Green Bay where they spent the winter.
Wishing to re-establish contact with the Wyandot and Ottawa converts which the Jesuits had made prior to 1649, Allouez went on to their village of Chequamegon (Ashland, Wisconsin) on the south shore of Lake Superior. The population at Chequamegon was mixed – Wyandot, Ottawa, and Ojibwe – but also included a few Potawatomi and Kickapoo.
However, it was not until 1667 that Allouez made contact with a large group of Kickapoo.
This occurred at another mixed village (Kickapoo/Miami/Mascouten) at the Fox River portage in central Wisconsin.
Although most were living in southwestern Wisconsin at the time, the Kickapoo were obviously scattered all over Wisconsin.
Father Allouez did not find the Kickapoo receptive to Christianity, and even French fur traders found them aloof and distant. Nicolas Perrot, however, was the exception, and he was able to win their trust and friendship after establishing a trading post in 1685 on the Mississippi River near present-day Dubuque, Iowa.
The same year that Allouez had met the Kickapoo at the Fox Portage (1667), the French made peace with the Iroquois which, for the first time, also extended to French allies and trading partners in the western Great Lakes.
During the next ten years, the French went west and rebuilt their fur trade.
By mediating the disputes between the refugee tribes in Wisconsin, they were able bring some order to the region and establish the relationships for a future alliance to defend the area from the Iroquois.
Meanwhile, the attention of the Iroquois had been focused on their war with the Susquehannock in Pennsylvania. It took them until 1675 to defeat the Susquehannock, but by 1680 they were looking west again and found that Illinois hunters were invading the lands they had conquered during the 1650s. Their protests resulted in the murder of a Seneca sachem during a meeting with the Illinois.
The second phase of the Beaver Wars began that year, when the Seneca retaliated and attacked the Illinois Confederation. The second attack was made the following year, but in 1684 the Iroquois failed in their attempt to take Fort St. Louis on the upper Illinois River.
This is generally regarded as the turning point in the Beaver Wars. The initial attempt to organize an alliance to fight the Iroquois failed miserably, but by 1687 the French had created a formidable alliance.
They took the offensive against the Iroquois in 1687, a date coinciding roughly with the outbreak of the King William’s War (1688-97) between Britain and France. More out of their strong friendship with Perrot than their general appreciation of the French, the Kickapoo joined this alliance.
By the 1690s the Iroquois were retreating back across the Great Lakes towards New York.
At the same time, the Iroquois homeland was under attack from the east by French soldiers and native allies from Quebec. War between Britain and France ended in 1697 with the Treaty of Ryswick which had placed the Iroquois League under British protection.
Fearing the British would intervene, the French tried to stop their allies’ war with the Iroquois, but this was not easy. Not only did the Algonquin sense the Iroquois were near collapse, but they were also suspicious that the French would desert them and make a separate peace with the Iroquois. It took four years for the French to get them to agree to the peace signed in 1701.
However, an even more important reason was that the French had embarked on a trade policy designed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Despite the warfare, the amount of beaver reaching Montreal had increased dramatically during the war.
This created a glut of beaver fur on the European market followed by a drop in the price. Finally listening to Jesuit complaints about the corruption which the fur trade was causing among native peoples, Louis XIV in 1696 had issued a royal degree suspending the fur trade in the western Great Lakes.
All trading licenses, including Perrot’s, were revoked. What seemed to be sound economic policy in Paris was a disaster for the French in Canada. Trade was what held their alliance together, and without it, they did not have any native allies to defend Canada from the British. Governor Frontenac delayed the implementation of the decree to the extent that he was replaced.
Without trade goods, the hard-won alliance which the French had created among the Great Lakes Algonquin unravelled much faster than it had been created.
This was apparent in the difficulty the French had in getting their allies to agree to peace with the Iroquois, but it had fatal consequences for several French traders in the western Great Lakes.
The drop in the European price meant native hunters suddenly received less trade goods for the same amount of fur. Not having any understanding of the laws of supply and demand, this was perceived as French greed and selfishness.
Meanwhile, the French had begun trading with the Dakota in 1680, a source of considerable irritation to the refugee tribes in Wisconsin who regarded them as enemies.
During the 1690s, war had erupted over hunting territory along the upper Mississippi between the refugees and the Dakota.
Trading with both sides, the French were caught in the middle, but with the drop in price and the trade restrictions, they could do little to stop it.
They also became targets, since the Fox, Sauk, Mascouten, Miami, and Kickapoo were no longer willing to tolerate French trade with their enemies. Traders were robbed and murdered, and even the highly respected Perrot found himself tied to a Mascouten torture stake about to be burned alive.
However, his friends among the Kickapoo intervened and saved his life, Discouraged and his trade permit revoked, Perrot left soon afterwards and went back to Quebec taking his secret of how to win the friendship of the Kickapoo with him.
Meanwhile, the Iroquois had seen their opportunity to reverse their military defeat through economic warfare and were offering French allies access to the British traders at Albany. With the approach of the Queen Anne’s War (1701-13), the French government relented and allowed the establishment of a single new trading post to retain the loyalty of the Great Lakes Algonquin.
Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac built Fort Pontchartrain near Detroit in 1701 and invited the Ottawa and Huron to move nearby. With only a single trading post to compete with the British and Iroquois, Cadillac was soon forced to invite nearly every tribe in the Great Lakes to settle in the area.
Rather than strengthening the alliance, the crowded conditions soon had their allies competing with each other for land and hunting territory.
Ignoring the warning signs, Cadillac in 1710 extended an invitation to the Fox. More than 1,000 Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten arrived at Detroit. The Fox were returning to what had been their homeland before the Beaver Wars.
The Fox were not shy about informing other tribes in the area of this fact and claiming special privileges. In short order, the other French allies were demanding they be sent back to Wisconsin. Cadillac, however, chose to ignore them.
It was rumored that the Fox were making secret overtures to the Iroquois for trade.
The other tribes near Detroit made certain this secret found its way to the French.
In 1712 a Mascouten hunting party was attacked in southern Michigan by Potawatomi and Ottawa and fled east to their Fox and Kickapoo allies near Detroit.
As the Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten prepared to retaliate, the French at Fort Pontchartrain attempted to stop them. This was too much, and the Fox and Kickapoo attacked Fort Ponchartrain starting the first Fox War (1712-16). The first assault failed and was followed by a siege.
In the midst of this, the Fox were nearly annihilated when they were attacked from the rear by a relief force of Huron, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi. Over 1,000 Fox were massacred in the slaughter which followed.
The Fox and Kickapoo back in Wisconsin retaliated by killing French traders and attacking French allies. After three years of this, the other tribes of the alliance demanded that the French do something, but the French were ineffective until the trade restrictions were lifted after the death of Louis XIV in 1715.
This allowed the French to reconcile disputes between the Miami and Illinois, and the Ojibwe and Green Bay Potawatomi. Their alliance repaired, the French were better prepared to deal with the Fox.
A combined French and Potawatomi expedition attacked the Kickapoo and Mascouten villages in southern Wisconsin in 1715 forcing the Kickapoo and Mascouten to make a separate peace.
Although isolated, the Fox drew themselves together into a fortified village and kept fighting. After an unsuccessful attempt to take the fort, the frustrated French offered peace. The Fox, battered but undaunted, agreed.
Hostilities between the Fox and Peoria (Illinois) continued.
The Peoria had tortured the Fox prisoners they had taken at Detroit in 1712. The Fox apparently had returned the compliment by torturing Peoria prisoners, and after the war, the Peoria refused out of pure spite to return the Fox prisoners they were holding.
The Illinois were not well-liked, so the Fox had little trouble finding allies to fight them. By 1724 they had enlisted the Kickapoo, Mascouten, Dakota, and Winnebago into an alliance which was basically hostile to the interests of the French.
At the same time west of the Mississippi, the Fox and their allies were engaged in a second war with the Osage who were disrupting French fur trade along the Missouri River. After several unsuccessful attempts to mediate a truce, the French became convinced the Fox were part of a British plot.
The French decided to destroy the Fox but first took the precaution of using diplomacy and treaties to isolate them from their allies. By the time the Second Fox War began (1728-37), only the Kickapoo and Mascouten still stood beside the Fox.
Striking quickly, the French and their allies first attacked the Kickapoo and Winnebago and forced them west of the Mississippi. At this point, the Fox proved to be their own worst enemies.
At a meeting, an argument over the refusal of the Kickapoo to kill some of their French prisoners caused the Fox to stalk out of the meeting and on their way home murder a Kickapoo and Mascouten who were unfortunate enough to cross their path. Furious, the Kickapoo and Mascouten switched sides in 1729 and joined the French.
The following year Kickapoo and Mascouten warriors helped the French and their allies surround the Fox in northern Illinois when they were trying to flee east to the Seneca. Over 600 Fox were killed in this battle leaving only the 600 Fox who had found refuge with the Sauk in northern Wisconsin.
By 1732 the French had decided to exterminate the Fox.
Those not killed were to be sold as slaves to the West Indies. This proved too much for the Kickapoo, and when a French expedition was sent after the Fox and Sauk in Iowa during 1736, the Kickapoo guides are believed to have deliberately led it in circles through every swamp in western Wisconsin.
At this point other tribes also began to have doubts, and faced with a revolt of their allies, the French were forced to make peace with the Fox and Sauk in 1737. During the years of warfare between the Fox and Peoria, the Kickapoo were able to expand south, and during the 1720s, some groups had relocated along the Milwaukee River in southern Wisconsin.
Taking advantage of the epidemics which decimated the Illinois and Miami populations between 1718 and 1736, the Kickapoo left Wisconsin entirely and pushed south into the buffalo prairies of northern Illinois and Indiana.
Besides better hunting and richer farm land, there was the added attraction of better access to British and Iroquois traders. For the most part, the Kickapoo still remained aloof from Europeans in general and were content to allow other tribes (Miami, Fox, Sauk, and Illinois) to handle their diplomatic and trade relations with them – even the French.
Throughout the 1700s, the Kickapoo’s loyalty appears to have been more with the tribes of the French alliance than the French themselves. For this reason, Kickapoo warriors participated in the French war with the Chickasaw between 1732 and 1752, not for the sake of the French, but as allies of the Miami and Illinois.
When British traders began visiting Ohio for direct trade during the 1740s, the Kickapoo were interested in the trade goods which where usually cheaper and of higher quality than what the French could offer. Even then, the Kickapoo traded mainly through the Miami, and there was little direct contact.
Although the Kickapoo had switched sides in 1729 and helped the French destroy the Fox, their southward movement brought conflict with another French ally, the Illinois.
During the next 20 years, the Kickapoo gradually separated into two distinct groups.
The two groups were not always on the best of terms with each other. The western group in northern Illinois became known as the Prairie Band and continued to be allied with the Fox and Sauk in their war west of the Mississippi with the Osage.
The second Kickapoo group, the future Vermillion band grew closer to the Miami. As a general rule, the Vermillion were friendlier with the Illinois and frequently intermarried with them. However, the Prairie Band remained hostile to the Illinois, especially the Peoria who by this time were a separate tribe from the rest of the Illinois Confederation.
During 1752 the Prairie Band of Kickapoo joined the Fox and Sauk in yet another war against the Illinois.
As allies of the Miami and Detroit tribes, the Vermillion Kickapoo fought for the French during the French and Indian War (1755-63). However, the contribution of the Great Lakes tribes was cut-short during the winter of 1757-58 when their warriors contracted smallpox during the siege of Fort William Henry in New York and brought it back to their villages.
By the time they had recovered, the tide had turned in favor of the British. After the British capture of Quebec and Fort Niagara in 1759, the war for North America was over.
Montreal and Detroit were occupied in 1760, with only Louisiana, Fort de Chartres and the Illinois country remaining under French control. The British then proceeded to make the same error the French had in 1701 and instituted policies designed to undermine their victory.
The British military commander, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, considered the Great Lakes tribes as conquered enemies. He ended annual gifts, restricted trade goods (especially gunpowder), and raised prices.
The effect was catastrophic. About the only thing readily available was rum from unlicensed white traders. Attempting to repair the damage, Sir William Johnson, the British Indian commissioner, met with the tribes of the French alliance at Detroit in 1761. All attended except the Illinois and Mackinac Ojibwe who were still hostile.
The Wabash Kickapoo also went but, in their usual fashion, allowed the Miami to speak for them. Actually, there was little Johnson could do but talk and promise, but he did discover that the Seneca were calling for a general uprising because of the trade restrictions. Only the Delaware and Shawnee responded, but unrest continued to build lacking only the right leader.
During 1762 there were widespread crop failures and epidemics.
At this moment, a native prophet, Neolin (Enlightened), arose among the Delaware villages near the Ohio River. His message – return to traditional ways and reject the white man’s trade goods, especially rum.
His teachings not only won wide acceptance among the Delaware, but spread to other tribes. To the Kickapoo, nothing could have made more sense, and they became some of his strongest supporters.
However, as newcomers to the Ohio Valley, the Delaware did not have enough influence at this time to lead a revolt. This role fell to Pontiac, a chief of the Detroit Ottawa, one of the most important members of the old French alliance.
After embracing the Neolin’s teachings, Pontiac gave them an anti-British tone and began to secretly organize a general uprising. When it struck in May of 1763, the Pontiac Rebellion captured nine of the twelve British forts west of the Appalachians.
One which survived was Detroit, a critical objective Pontiac had taken upon himself.
As the British held at Forts Detroit, Niagara, and Pitt, the uprising began to collapse. In October, Pontiac was forced to sign a truce with the British commander at Detroit and withdraw west into northern Indiana.
Throughout the winter, he planned ways to salvage the situation, but the British were already making adjustments to deal with the situation. The Proclamation of 1763 halted all new settlement west of the Appalachians, and Amherst was replaced in November by General Thomas Gage. William Johnson regained his influence, and Gage restored the supply of trade goods to their previous levels.
The following summer British columns began to advance west, and most of Pontiac’s allies began to desert and make peace. Peace treaties were signed at Niagara, Presque Isle, Detroit, and Coshocton. However, the Kickapoo were an exception and forced a British expedition, dispatched to take the surrender of the Fort de Chartres (Kaskaskia, Illinois) and the Illinois country, to turn back.
By the fall of 1764, the only allies Pontiac had left, besides his own Ottawa, were the Kickapoo, Illinois, and the Mackinac Ojibwe. However, he refused to quit and went to Fort de Chartres to ask for French help and supplies. Unfortunately, the garrison had already been evacuated, and the commander had nothing to give him. Instead, Pontiac was urged to make peace.
In May of 1765, a second British expedition, commanded by George Croghan, was sent to take control of the Illinois country.
It was attacked near the Wabash River by Kickapoo and Mascouten warriors. Croghan was captured alive, but three Shawnee chiefs in his escort were killed. The Kickapoo were embarrassed, not because a British official had been attacked, but the death of the chiefs would probably bring war with the Shawnee.
They took Croghan to Fort Ouiatenon (Lafayette, Indiana) and turned him over to the Miami. Still refusing to deal directly with the British, the Kickapoo then asked the Miami to ask the British to “cover the dead” for them with the Shawnee.
The British did this, avoiding a Shawnee-Kickapoo war, but the Kickapoo remained aloof and continued to resist their authority until 1771. There was one other important outcome from this incident.
While at Ouiatenon, the Miami arranged a meeting between Croghan and Pontiac. Croghan was able to convince Pontiac to agree to a peace and accompany him to Detroit in October to sign a treaty.
That same month, Fort de Chartres surrendered to a British detachment commanded by Captain Thomas Sterling, and the Kickapoo officially became part of the British empire. After his failure to take Detroit and his subsequent capitulation, Pontiac’s reputation suffered, and at an Ontario meeting in 1765, his own Ottawa warriors openly defied him. At the same meeting, Pontiac got into an argument with and stabbed a Peoria chief.
He left Detroit shortly afterwards and moved west to northern Illinois near the Kickapoo. Feelings remained strong, and in April, 1769 he was murdered by a Peoria warrior at Cahokia, Illinois.
The French buried him across the river at St. Louis. Rumors flew that his assassination was part of a British plot, and the Ojibwe chief from Mackinac arrived at Cahokia shortly afterwards and killed two employees of the British trader. British responsibility was uncertain, but there was no doubt about the role of the Illinois. In death, Pontiac commanded more love within the old French alliance than he had in life.
The Ojibwe, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Ottawa, Winnebago, and Potawatomi united against the Illinois to avenge his death. The resulting war almost exterminated the Illinois. The Peoria retreated to their stronghold at Starved Rock, but were surrounded and starved to death during the siege.
Only 300 of them managed to reach safety in the south at the French settlement of Kaskaskia. The victors then proceeded to divide the lands of the defeated Illinois among themselves.
The Prairie Band of the Kickapoo moved into central Illinois near present-day Peoria and established themselves along the Sangamon River. The Vermilion Kickapoo settled to the southeast between the headwaters of the Vermilion and the mouth of the Wabash.
The main purpose of the alliance between the Prairie Kickapoo and the Fox and Sauk
Since 1724 the main purpose of the alliance between the Prairie Kickapoo and the Fox and Sauk had been their war west of the Mississippi with the Osage. Instead of slackening, this conflict had grown in intensity over the years until the Osage were being forced to retreat south across northern Missouri beyond the Missouri River.
Still unfriendly with the British, the Kickapoo had maintained their ties with the French traders who were located west of the Mississippi in Spanish Missouri, Louisiana having been given to Spain in 1763. Competition between rival traders meant, however, that the Kickapoo and their allies would be well-armed, and neither the French, Spanish, nor British could cut the trade to stop the warfare.
In 1763, a group of Kickapoo moved across the Mississippi and established a village just north of St. Louis. Supported by their relatives in Illinois, the Kickapoo used this as a base to attack the Osage villages in central Missouri.
During one raid in 1800, the Kickapoo destroyed a village of the Little Osage on the Missouri River and killed 50 of their warriors.
Meanwhile, the “Long Knives” had made their first appearance in the Ohio Valley. American frontiersmen ignored the Proclamation of 1763 and came west. They were usually armed with, among other weapons, large knives – hence the name given them by the tribes of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.
Respecting no authority (especially British), the Long Knives first came to hunt and then to stay. The British military could not keep them out. Faced with the possibility of revolution, the British gave way to American demands to open more land for settlement, and in 1768 William Johnson began negotiations with the Iroquois for cession of the Ohio Valley.
Treaty of Fort Stanwix
The resulting Treaty of Fort Stanwix was an agreement where the Iroquois sold the lands of the Ohio tribes (who the Iroquois could not control) to the British to give to the Americans (who the British could not control). The British then closed all their forts in the Ohio Valley except Detroit and Kaskaskia.
The Shawnee protested the treaty to the Iroquois, but they were ignored except for a threat of annihilation if they dared to oppose it. They took matters into their own hands and, in what proved to be the opening moves towards the formation of the Western Alliance, made overtures of alliance during 1769 to the Illinois, Wea, Piankashaw, Miami, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, Ojibwe, Delaware, Mascouten, Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw.
Meetings were held at the Shawnee villages on Ohio’s Scioto River in 1770 and 1771, but William Johnson was able to prevent an alliance by threatening war with the Iroquois. Both Virginia and Pennsylvania claimed the area near Pittsburgh where the initial settlement took place.
Virginia also claimed Kentucky and negotiated treaties with the Cherokee to extinguish their title. In 1773 Virginia sent survey teams into Kentucky to prepare for settlement. While the Shawnee had tolerated settlement near Pittsburgh, they were determined to keep their hunting territory in Kentucky.
Clashes occurred between the survey crews and Shawnee. The following spring, Virginia frontiersmen massacred a group of peaceful Mingo at Yellow Creek (Stuebenville, Ohio), and retaliation by the Mingo and Shawnee touched off Lord Dunmore’s (Cresap’s) War (1774).
With the Delaware remaining neutral, the Shawnee sent a war belt to the Detroit tribes, but it was refused when William Johnson once again used threats of Iroquois intervention.
The same message was sent to the Wabash tribes (Kickapoo and Miami living along the lower Wabash River in Indiana), but the British “sweetened the pot” in this case by invalidating the claims of the Wabash Land Company to the lands between the Wabash and Illinois Rivers.
This left the Shawnee and Mingo alone against the Virginia militia brought west that summer by Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia. The Virginians burned several Shawnee villages and were gathering on the Ohio River for a second offensive when the Shawnee hit them at Point Pleasant (West Virginia) that fall.
After a hard-fought battle, the Shawnee withdrew.
Afterwards, they signed a treaty at Camp Charlotte agreeing to remain north of the Ohio River. In the spring of 1775, Daniel Boone arrived in Kentucky with the first white settlers just as the first shots of the American Revolution were being fired in Massachusetts.
Americans are taught that the revolution was fought over “no taxation without representation,” but the British would say it started on the western frontier when the “Long Knives” started moving into Ohio and Kentucky and began taking native land.
With the onset of war, the British urged the Ohio tribes to attack American settlements. Unlike their situation in 1774, the Shawnee suddenly had help from the Mingo, Detroit tribes, St Joseph Potawatomi, Saginaw and Mackinac Ojibwe, and Chickamauga Cherokee. The Kickapoo and Miami, however, remained neutral at first.
Fighting west of the Appalachians was almost a entirely separate war from the struggle in the east and turned into a brutal exchange of raids between the Ohio tribes and Kentucky settlements.
Enter George Rogers Clark, Indian hater, fighter, and land speculator
Clark’s feelings about Native Americans were obvious when he said “for his part he would never spare man, woman, or child of them on whom he could lay his hands.”
As both native and “Long Knife” were exchanging mutual atrocities along the Ohio, Clark learned the British had reduced their garrisons in the Illinois country. After passing this information to Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia, he received secret orders in 1778 to take Illinois.
With the aid of local French settlers, Clark and his small army of 175 frontiersmen captured Kaskaskia, Cahokia and Vincennes without firing a shot. He might also have taken Detroit had he not spurned offers of assistance from the Kickapoo, Kaskaskia (Illinois), and Piankashaw (Miami).
After taking Fort Sackville at Vincennes, Clark went back to Illinois, and Colonel Henry Hamilton, the British commander at Detroit (known as the “hair buyer” in Kentucky because he paid for American scalps), recaptured it in December with a force of French and Detroit warriors.
Clark made a daring mid-winter trek to Vincennes, and after a brief siege, Hamilton surrendered in February, 1779. The British and French were spared, but Clark and his men killed the native prisoners and did not use any bullets in the process. This brutal act turned the Kickapoo and other tribes in the area against the Americans.
Clark returned to Kentucky, where the war continued in full fury during 1780. By 1781 there were few neutrals among the tribes in the Ohio Valley. Despite the allegiance of the French settlers to the Americans, by 1782 the Wabash tribes and Peoria had gone over to the British.
Because of Clark, the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War in 1783 gave the Ohio Valley to the Americans. The British urged their allies to stop fighting, but they also continued to occupy Detroit and other forts in the region until the Americans paid the claims of British loyalists as required by the treaty.
Congress sold land rights in Ohio to speculators
The new United States was destitute, and to pay debts from the war, Congress sold the land rights in Ohio to speculators. Settlers flooded across the Ohio River and in many cases took native lands by squatting.
The general feeling on the frontier was that peace with the British did not extend to their native allies. George Rogers Clark offered to lead a war of conquest. Congress rewarded him with a large land grant in southern Indiana for past services but politely declined his offer to start a war for them.
The government instead tried to settle the problem by treaty: Fort Stanwix (1784 – Iroquois confirm cession of Ohio made in 1768); Fort McIntosh (1785 – Delaware and Wyandot) and Fort Finney (1786 – Shawnee). However, these agreements were meaningless.
Badly mauled by the Americans during the war, the Iroquois no longer controlled Ohio, and the Ohio chiefs who signed at McIntosh and Finney did not represent the real power in the region – the western alliance. Formed during a meeting at the Wyandot villages on the upper Sandusky (northwest Ohio) in 1783, the alliance intended to fight for Ohio.
The British did not attend but, through the Mohawk Joseph Brant, made clear their intention to support the alliance against the Americans. The first council fire of the alliance was at the Shawnee village of Wakatomica, but in 1787 it was moved to Brownstown, a Wyandot village just south of Detroit.
Members included: Mingo, Wyandot, Miami, Kickapoo, Fox, Sauk, Mascouten, Delaware, Shawnee, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Chickamauga (Cherokee).
War with the Americans
By the spring of 1786, almost 400 Americans were living in southern Indiana scattered among the French near Vincennes on the lower Wabash. After increasing tension and several confrontations, a large war party of 400-700 Kickapoo and Miami arrived at Vincennes in July and announced to the French they had come to kill all the Americans.
The French stalled and finally managed to get them to arrange a truce. The Kickapoo and Miami left, but the Americans forted-up under the leadership of Daniel Sullivan and sent south to Kentucky for help.
George Rogers Clark arrived in fall with a relief force of Kentucky militia, half of whom promptly deserted when there was no immediate fight. Clark still managed to garrison Vincennes and send a detachment to Kaskaskia to arrest a British trader and three frenchmen as “Spanish agents.”
Just as Clark was about to start a really big war, the American military commander in the region, Josiah Harmar, ordered him to disband and return to Kentucky.
Meanwhile, with continuing American encroachment and dissatisfaction with the agreements signed at Forts McIntosh and Finney, raids had resumed against the Kentucky settlements during 1786.
Meeting at Brownstown in November, the alliance council decided on the Ohio River as the frontier and ordered a truce until the following spring to allow its demand to reach Congress.
Unfortunately, the message did not reach Philadelphia until July, and by this time the fighting had resumed. After a summer of raids, Benjamin Logan’s Kentuckians invaded Ohio and attacked the Shawnee.
That December the Americans made a final attempt to settle the dispute through treaty and called for a meeting at Fort Harmar at the falls of Ohio’s Muskingum River.
The alliance agreed to attend but was badly divided. A war party of 300 Kickapoo warriors attacked an army convoy near the mouth of the Wabash and inflicted heavy casualties.
In Ohio, soldiers building a council house for the treaty meeting were attacked during July. When the Treaty of Fort Harmar was finally signed in January, 1789, it placed the boundary on the Muskingum.
The agreement was worthless. It did not represent the consensus of the alliance, nor the desires of the frontiersmen who would not be satisfied until they had the entire Ohio Valley.
Encroachment continued and raids resumed south of the Ohio.
That summer Patrick Brown’s Kentucky militia retaliated by attacking the Kickapoo and Miami villages along the lower Wabash.
The fighting spread to the Illinois country when the Kickapoo and Piankashaw moved west to the vicinity of Kaskaskia and began raiding American settlements in the area. With the renewal of warfare, the militant Miami and Shawnee began to dominate the meetings of the alliance.
The Kickapoo, Wia, and Piankashaw supported this and deferred to the leadership of the Miami war chief Little Turtle. At this point, the Americans decided to use force. At the beginning of Little Turtle’s War (1790-94), Major John Hamtramck attacked the Wabash villages, but Josiah Harmar’s army was soundly defeated (200 casualties) by Little Turtle and the alliance in October, 1790.
The following year Little Turtle led the alliance to its greatest victory when they nearly annihilated Arthur St. Clair’s expedition in western Ohio – the greatest Native American victory over an American army (600 killed, 400 wounded).
In spite of this, two good things happened for the Americans in 1791: George Washington sent Anthony (Mad Anthony) Wayne to take command in Ohio; and during General Charles Scott’s offensive against the Miami and Kickapoo villages along the Wabash, Colonel John Hardin captured 52 of their women and children.
Anxious for the return of their women and children being held prisoner in Kentucky, the Wabash tribes made peace in 1792 and withdrew from the alliance. While Wayne trained his Legion (regulars to back the skittish frontier militia) he built a line of forts aimed directly at the alliance villages in northwest Ohio.
Two American peace overtures made at the same time further divided the alliance. Wayne began to advance north in 1793, and the British had decided to resolve its differences with the United States and end their support of the alliance. By the time they faced Wayne’s Legion at Fallen Timbers in August, 1794 the alliance had fewer than 800 warriors.
Peace came the following year with the signing of the Treaty of Fort Greenville (1795).
With the other tribes of the alliance, the Kickapoo signed and ceded all of Ohio except the northwest.
Defeat was followed by disillusionment, social disintegration, and breakdown of tribal authority. The last groups of Mascouten disappeared about this time and apparently were absorbed by the Kickapoo.
The “peace chiefs” (Little Turtle of Miami was the most important) tried to maintain control and reach an accommodation with the “Long Knives” – a thankless job. Not only did this place them in danger of being killed by their own people, but the Americans were soon pressuring them to cede more land.
In 1801 the Shawnee chief Blue Jacket tried, but failed, to revive the alliance at Brownstown. As in 1763, the time was ripe for a prophet, and in 1805 one arose among the Shawnee. His name was Tenskwatawa (The Open Door). Americans found it easier to call him “The Prophet.”
His message was essentially the same as the Delaware prophet Neolin’s 40 years before: return to the traditional ways and abandon the white man’s goods and whiskey.
However, unlike Neolin, Tenskwatawa did not have to wait for a Pontiac – his brother was Tecumseh! Perhaps the greatest Native American of the historical period, Tecumseh was a respected war leader, a skilled politician, and spell-binding speaker with a clear vision that native peoples must unite to save themselves.
Tenskwatawa’s movement got off to a rocky start in 1806 with witch hunts which turned many of the Delaware and Wyandot against him, but following his prediction of a solar eclipse, his following grew. To this Tecumseh added a political element: united resistance by all tribes to further land cessions to the Americans.
By 1808 Tecumseh had gained British support but also the active opposition of the peace chiefs. The dislike between Tecumseh and the peace chiefs was mutual, and it was no accident that, at the invitation of the Kickapoo and Potawatomi, the location Tecumseh chose in 1809 for Prophetstown (his new capital) was on Tippecanoe Creek in western Indiana on land also claimed by Little Turtle’s Miami.
When Governor William Henry Harrison in 1809 succeeded in getting the peace chiefs to sign a treaty at Fort Wayne ceding most of southern Indiana and Illinois, Tecumseh was not only outraged, but turned violent.
A Wyandot peace chief was assassinated in 1810
In response, the Brownstown council condemned Tenskawatawa as a witch. Despite this, Tecumseh’s Wyandot followers brought the wampum belts of the old western alliance to Tippecanoe. However, because of the opposition of the peace chiefs, Tecumseh received little support from the important tribes of the old alliance (including his own Shawnee), and the core of his followers were in the west among the tribes fighting the Osage.
This was especially true of the Kickapoo. Among his earliest supporters, their support became even stronger after the Kickapoo peace chiefs had ceded large parts of their lands at Fort Wayne and Vincennes. The Kickapoo lost heavily against Harrison’s army at the Battle of Tippecanoe in November, 1811 but remained loyal to Tecumseh until he was killed at the Battle of the Thames (October, 1813).
Scattered resistance and skirmishes continued during the next two years, but it was over. The War of 1812 has been described as having ended in a stalemate between Britain and the United States, but for the tribes of the Ohio Valley tribes, it was a total victory for the Americans.
Two treaties signed by the Kickapoo in 1815 and 1816 were essentially “forgive-and-forget” agreements confirming earlier land cessions. It was not until 1819 that the Americans got down to the real business of taking the Kickapoo’s land and moving them west of the Mississippi. In the treaties signed at Edwardsville and Fort Harrison that year, the Kickapoo ceded all their lands in Illinois and Indiana and agreed to move to Missouri.
Once again the price of defeat was not only land, but further collapse of the Kickapoo’s tribal authority and social disintegration. With their leadership discredited for surrendering their land, they separated into independent bands, each with its own opinion of how to abide with the treaties, if at all.
The Kickapoo did not leave Indiana and Illinois quietly, perhaps because in its infinite wisdom the government had assigned them lands in southern Missouri adjacent to the Osage, a tribe the Kickapoo had been fighting for a century. The five years following the treaties have been been called the Kickapoo Resistance (1819-24).
Lacking the tribal authority necessary to enforce the agreements, individual bands of Kickapoo protested removal either by not moving and/or stealing and destroying the property of settlers foolish enough to occupy Kickapoo lands before they had left.
Eventually, federal soldiers and state militia were needed to prevent bloodshed and enforce the removal. The Kickapoo were evicted piece-by-piece and sent west to Missouri. Even force was not completely effective. Some Kickapoo passively resisted removal by stalling and delaying their departure.
Some were so successful in this that in 1829 there was a group of over 200 Kickapoo on the Mackinac River in central Illinois ignoring all orders to leave.
There were still some Kickapoo in Illinois in 1832
Some of them are believed to have helped the Sauk during the Blackhawk War. It was not until 1834, that the army was finally able to remove the last groups of Kickapoo. However, they never found all of them. Individual Kickapoo were still living in Illinois until the 1880s.
So between 1819 and 1824, most Kickapoo were sent to south-central Missouri. As could have been predicted, there were problems with the Osage to the south and west.
At the same time, white squatters simply moved onto the Kickapoo’s lands refusing to leave, and since Missouri was a state, federal Indian agents did not feel they had the authority to evict them.
Actually, less than a third of the Kickapoo stayed on their assigned lands. Most left the area in small bands for the plains of Oklahoma and Texas. By that time, some groups of Kickapoo had been living in Texas for 50 years.
In 1775 the Spanish had encouraged the Missouri Kickapoo to relocate in Texas to secure its frontiers against the Apache and Comanche.
When an American revolution separated Texas from Mexico in 1836, some Texas Kickapoo moved south of the Rio Grande and settled in northern Mexico. After more fighting with white Texans during the next two years, the remaining Kickapoo in Texas either joined their group in Mexico or moved north to Oklahoma.
By 1832 only 600 of the estimated 2,000 Kickapoo were actually in Missouri. With continuous problems with the Osage and white squatters, they petitioned the government to sell their Missouri lands and move them to Kansas.
In October near St. Louis, the Kickapoo signed the Treaty of Castor Hill ceding their Missouri lands in exchange for 1200 square miles in northeast Kansas, $50,000 in goods, and services, and an annual annuity of $5,000.
This time it did not take the army to make the Kickapoo move. Of the 800 Kickapoo who moved to Kansas, almost 100 volunteered in 1837 to serve as army scouts against the Seminole in Florida – one of the few times Kickapoo actually cooperated with the Long Knives.
During the 1830s factionalism continued to plague the Kickapoo, while whiskey and disease continued to take a heavy toll. American missionaries during this period got a chilly reception, exactly the same as French Jesuits had received from the Kickapoo two centuries earlier.
While the Kickapoo did not accept Christianity outright, they adapted some of it to their own ways.
The Kickapoo Prophet, Kenekuk (Keeannehuh), adopted many Christian teachings he had learned from American missionaries and built a large following among the Kickapoo. Kenekuk was never a force towards accommodation, but since he opposed the use of alcohol, his religion had the support of the Indian agents. Even this moderate accommodation was distasteful to many Kickapoo.
As they had done earlier in Missouri, most Kickapoo chose not to stay on the Kansas reserve and moved out onto the plains with some groups being encountered as far west as Colorado during the late 1840s. From their earlier experience on the prairies of northern Illinois, the Kickapoo were already skilled horsemen and buffalo hunters and adapted easily to the lifestyle of the plains.
Several bands of Kickapoo also moved south into Oklahoma during this time. Unlike many of the eastern tribes, the Kickapoo were generally accepted by the plains tribes.
The exception, of course, was the Osage, but the Kickapoo were not the only ones with this problem. In 1845 Oklahoma Kickapoo attended a meeting at Deep Creek with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Caddo, Quapaw, Shawnee, and Peoria to deal with their common problem of Osage aggression.
The Comanche and Kiowa were also enemies of the Osage, and for this reason, Kickapoo usually got along well with them. The three tribes often visited and hunted together. The Kickapoo never hesitated to warn the Comanche, or anyone else who would listen, that one day the Americans would take their land.
Meanwhile, the Kickapoo living in northern Mexico had proven an effective defense at a time when northern Mexico was suffering from Comanche and Apache raids.
In 1849 the Mexican government offered land in eastern Coahuila to Kickapoo willing to settle and fight the Comanche and Apache. One band of Kickapoo under Papiquan accepted and moved south in 1850.
While, strangely enough, the Kickapoo in the Kansas and Oklahoma were generally friendly with the Comanche, their relatives in northern Mexico were taking Apache and Comanche scalps for the bounties offered by Durango and Chihuahua.
They were joined in 1852 by a large group of Kickapoo from Kansas and Oklahoma (also some Potawatomi). With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, white settlement poured into Kansas. The Kansas Kickapoo signed a treaty in May selling their excess lands (600,000 acres) for $300,000.
They also agreed to accept either allotment or relocation to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). This decision was unpopular with many Kickapoo, and in 1857 another group left for Mexico picking up dissatisfied Potawatomi and Seminole along the way.
By this time, the number of Mexican Kickapoo had grown to more than 1,000, while there were only 300 Kickapoo in Kansas. Remembering their expulsion from Texas in 1838, Mexican Kickapoo began crossing the Rio Grande upon occasion during the 1850s to help themselves to Texas horses and cattle.
Increasingly, these forays involved fighting with Texans and the American army.
Rather than agreeing to move into the middle of the vicious battles being fought in Oklahoma during the American Civil War, the 300 Kansas Kickapoo sold another 150,000 acres to the United States in 1862 and agreed to allotment.
Their land was purchased for $1.25/acre by the Atkinson and Pike’s Peak Railroad. However, the Kansas Kickapoo fought hard to maintain their tribal government and managed to delay the implementation of allotment until 1908.
Since then, they have only managed to keep 19,200 acres. Oklahoma was a grim place for Native Americans during the Civil War. Rather than join the Kansas Kickapoo who had agreed to allotment and become too acculturated, the Oklahoma Kickapoo decided to join their relatives in northern Mexico but, while crossing Texas in 1863, they were attacked by Confederate cavalry.
Mexican Kickapoo raided southern Texas afterwards in retaliation. These raids continued after the Civil War, and by 1873, they had grown from occasional skirmishes along the Rio Grande to full-scale raids into central Texas north of the Nueces River. Kickapoo raiders found they could easily elude army pursuit by crossing the Rio Grande back into Mexico.
This ended when Colonel Ranald Mackenzie was authorized to make a secret (and illegal) cross-border raid against Nacimiento in 1873. Taken by surprise, Mackenzie’s troopers killed many of the Kickapoo raiders and captured 40 Kickapoo women and children. This attack ended most of the Kickapoo raids.
The army moved their prisoners to Fort Gibson in Oklahoma. During the next five years, 800 Mexican Kickapoo and black Seminole returned to United States so they could be reunited with their captured families.
At first they settled near the border, which was a matter of concern. During the 1880s some agreed to relocate to Oklahoma, and the others eventually followed. Meanwhile, nearly half of the Mexican Kickapoo were still in Mexico and were given a 17,000 acre reservation in Santa Rosa Mountains of Coahuila by the Mexican government.
In 1876 they took in some Kwahada Comanche who refused to surrender to the Americans following the Buffalo War (1874-75). The Mexican Kickapoo have remained in Coahuila, and since the 1940s, many have traditionally worked as migrant farm workers in the United States.
Most have dual citizenship based on military passes issued in the late 1800s and commute regularly between their reservations in Mexico and Texas. The 650 member Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas was federally recognized in 1983.
The Kickapoo in Oklahoma were assigned 22,000 acres in central Oklahoma near McLoud. This was broken into individual allotments in 1891. The federal Indian agent in charge at the time was later implicated in the fraudulent sale of the Kickapoo allotments.
Considering the amount of allotment fraud which went unpunished during this period, he must have been either very dumb or very greedy to have been caught.
Corruption was so bad, that roughly half of the Oklahoma Kickapoo left in 1905 and returned to Mexico.
There are no reservations in Oklahoma, but the Kickapoo still have 6,200 acres of which 17 acres are tribally owned. They were organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act in 1936 and received a federal charter in 1938. The Kickapoo of Kansas have about 500 members and still live on the lands from the 1832 treaty.
Only 19,200 acres in a checkerboard pattern remain of their original 768,000 acres, and most of this has been leased to whites. The Kansas Kickapoo still control 3,800 acres, 1,200 acres communally. Tribal government is located in Horton, Kansas and was organized under the Indian Reorganization Act (1934), and was approved in 1937. In 1951, they barely managed to avoid a government attempt to terminate their tribal status.