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4.9: War in the Pays d'en Haut

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  • The French enjoyed the support of most of the Aboriginal nations in the Ohio, Great Lakes, Mississippi, and Illinois territories for several reasons. They did not demand concessions of land, they arrived as (and generally behaved as) guests, they regularly and systematically gave gifts of various kinds to maintain alliances, and they engaged in a fur trade that was lucrative for most of the Aboriginal participants. However, the French record in the Pays d’en Haut was not unblemished.


    Figure 4.19 Detail from a map of the Pays d’en Haut in 1718. The Meskwaki and their allies, the Mascouten and the Kickapoo controlled much of the rivers system to the south and west of Lake Michigan.

    The Fox Wars

    From about 1700 the French were at odds with the Meskwaki (a.k.a. Fox) who controlled the river corridor that connects Lake Michigan to the upper Mississippi valley. The Meskwaki sought to hold their position as intermediaries in trade between the Council of Three Fires (the Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Anishinaabe/Ojibwa) and their French partners and the Sioux nations to the west. The Meskwaki had little reason to love the French; it is likely that the Wendat — armed by the French — displaced them from southern Ontario in the early 17th century. The French, for their part, wanted unfettered access to the Sioux and the Plains. The Meskwaki held certain advantages at the beginning of the conflict but the tide quickly turned badly against them.

    Two major conflicts erupted between the French and their allies and the Meskwaki in the 18th century in what became known as the “Fox Wars.” The first occurred in 1701 at Fort Pontchartrain (Detroit), after which a lively traffic in Meskwaki slaves opened between Green Bay and New France. War picked up again in 1712 and was more or less continuous into the late 1720s, at which point it became a genocidal campaign with even the smallest numbers of refugees from devastating battles being hunted down and executed. From 1728 to 1732 the governor of New France, Beauharnois, punished the Meskwaki. The governor’s biographer attests that he

    encouraged post commanders, western allies, and mission Indians to fall upon the remaining Foxes at every opportunity, until “that damned nation shall be entirely extinguished.” In 1733 the principal Fox chief, Kiala, begged for mercy. Beauharnois sent him to Martinique in slavery. If the remaining Foxes would not be dispersed among the missions within the colony, they were to be killed. [1]