Meskwaki Beseiged

The Fox Wars

"Ahhh...Where are the French, they use to come visit us all the time. Maybe we should send them a present." -Old Meskwaki saying.

Two hundred and eighty-seven years ago in 1716, the Meskwaki were besieged at their village in Wisconsin. This was only one of many times the Meskwaki have been surrounded by some enemy.

The Meskwaki fought a war against the French in what is called the Fox Wars (1701-1742). The main cause of this war was control over all trade traffic on the Fox-Wisconsin river system. The French wanted to control it for their western fur trade but the Meskwaki refused to relinquish. This was clearly an economic war against the Meskwaki. By 1714, with the perceived idea to deal effectively and decisively with the Meskwaki, the French began to plan for military expeditions against the Meskwaki. During the debates over the course of the war the French King Louis XV warned, "There is the uncertainty of success and consequences of failure might be frightful."

The first French Expedition in 1716 was of an 800 man army consisting of French soldiers and their Indian Allies - the Winnebago, Chippewa and Menominee. The Expedition began by surrounding the village with trenches and settled down to start the besiegement of the Meskwaki. The French employed the best weapons of the day such as cannon, mortar and classic European siege warfare techniques.

The first day began with the French bombardment with their cannons and mortars. After a few hours of constant fire, they stopped to examine the damage they had done. When the smoke cleared, the cannon balls had done no damage to the three rows of oak palisades. The next day, a few hundred Meskwaki warriors came out to engage the enemy and just as they were being pushed back toward the gate, three-thousand Meskwaki women came out of the gate armed with axes, knives and garden hoes and fought off the enemy. A French commander looking on said, "If even the women can fight like that maybe its best we leave these people alone." After their failure to take the fort by storm, the French began to dig trenches to landmine the walls with kegs of powder. On the 4th day both sides called for a cease-fire in this particular battle. However, the Fox Wars contines for another 26 years.

"That haughty nation which terrified and ravaged all the upper country has been reduced to submit to all these conditions, although they had 500 warriors and 3,000 women, who on these occasion fight desperately, and although their fort was fortified by three rows of palisades." -French Governor de Vandreuil, 1716.

In 1721, the French King signed a decree commanding the complete extermination of the Meskwaki. Nevertheless, in the year 2003, the Meskwaki remain. Neither "New France" nor its French monarchy exist anymore. (JLB)