Prairiefire: The Illinois Country Before 1818
Fox Wars and Aftermath, 1712-1754
by James E. Lewis Jr., Ph. D., Kalamazoo College
Even in the period of the greatest French influence in the Great Lakes region, however, partnership with France did not necessarily insure success for individual Indian groups. Of all of the western tribes, the Illinois had some of the earliest and strongest connections with the French. It was among the Illinois that the French had established missions and erected forts in the 1670s and 1680s. They had suffered attacks by the Iroquois as a result, but the French had helped the Illinois to recover their lands by the end of the seventeenth century. Their loyalty to the French made the Illinois a target again during the Fox Wars of 1712 to the late 1730s. Over the course of this war, the Foxes (Mesquakies) and their Sauk, Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Dakota (Sioux) allies frequently attacked Illinois villages. In time, the French ultimately defeated, and nearly destroyed, the Foxes. But most of the Foxes' allies used their wartime victories to make new land claims at the expense of the Illinois. The Kickapoos and Mascoutens established villages on the prairies of northern Illinois. The Sauks and the remaining Foxes settled at Saukenuk at the mouth of the Rock River. For the Illinois, the long-term results of their close cooperation with the French were shrinking lands and massive population loss, from eight thousand or more in 1680 to around three thousand in 1760. Disease and alcohol took their toll. But the most significant factor may have been the near-constant warfare with tribes who were primarily the enemies of the French, whether Iroquois from the east, Foxes, Sauks, and Dakotas from the north and west, or Chickasaws from the south.