Information on the Sac and Fox Indians
Recorded by Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition1804
The following excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and their men present a picture of the Sac and Fox people as the Anglo-Americans saw them. The modern reader must be careful to understand that what these white men saw and recorded was not necessarily correct from the Indian perspective. At the time of Lewis and Clark, the Sac (sometimes spelled Sauk) and Fox Indians were so closely allied that they appeared to outsiders to be virtually one tribe. The Fox tribe, who called themselves Mesquakie or "red earth people," entered into an alliance with the Sac, or "yellow earth people" in 1734. They were originally Great Lakes tribes closely related to the Kickapoo, but by 1804 had moved south from their homelands in what is today Michigan and Wisconsin and lived on both sides of the Mississippi in Iowa, Wisconsin, and northwestern Illinois. The Sac and Fox were invaders in this country, defeating and displacing the Illini in 1769. The tribes lived in villages of large, bark-covered wigwams. Life revolved around farming in the summer months and roving bands of hunters in the cold months.
As more and more Anglos moved into the region, great pressure was placed on the Sac and Fox to move westward. Most, under the leadership of Keokuk, did so. One band, however, refused. A leader named Black Hawk, outraged at the conduct of the Anglos toward his people, decided to fight for their land. Black Hawk, far from being a young hothead, was probably about 63 years old at the time of the "war" which has come to bear his name. The Black Hawk War of 1832 was a one-sided affair, with large numbers of regular army and militia troops raised to fight a small band of Sac and Fox. Black Hawk's people were forced, at great cost of human life and blood spilled within their tribe (as many as 300 men, women and children died), to move to Iowa with the Keokuk band. Later, Keokuk was forced to move from Iowa to Kansas, and still later the Sac and Fox were once more displaced from Kansas to Oklahoma. Today, tribal groups own land and have reservations in Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa. The sports legend Jim Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox tribe.
The following passages have been freely adapted and excerpted from the original texts, and the spelling has been corrected to make them easier to read. For students wishing to quote these passages, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the recommended source. For those who wish more in-depth information about Lewis and Clark's relations with various Indian tribes, including background from the Indian perspective, the best book is James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. The very best way to obtain accurate information from the tribal perspective is to contact tribal councils for individual tribes - in other words, to consult the people themselves.
Principal Chief, Sac & Fox of Oklahoma Business Committee
Route 2, Box 246
Stroud, Oklahoma 74079
Chief, Sac & Fox Tribal Council
Route 2, Box 56C
Tama, Iowa 52339
[Clark, writing from the Wood River, Illinois camp in March 1804]
At 11 o'clock 24 Sacs came past from St. Louis, and asked for provisions. I ordered them 75 lbs. beef, 25 lbs. flour, & 50 lbs. Meal.
Monday the 26th of March 1804
I visited the Indian camps. In one camp found 3 squaws & 3 young ones, another 1 girl & a boy, in a 3rd Simon Girty & two other families. Girty has the rheumatism very bad. Those Indians visited me in their turn, & as usual asked for something. I gave them flour &c.
[Simon Girty was one of the most hated Americans of his day. As a Loyalist in the American Revolution, he led Indian war parties against the settlements of the Ohio Valley and continued the same activity for many years as a British Indian agent. He may not have been any more active than other British agents, but he acquired among the Americans a special reputation for malice and cruelty. From the 1790s on, Girty made his home in Canada, and he believed, probably correctly, that his life would not be safe in the United States. There is no other record of his having crossed the border, except with the British forces in the War of 1812. Apparently he judged that a visit to the sparsely settled Illinois region with a party of peaceful Indians would be safe enough. Clark is remarkably matter-of-fact about this encounter with a man who must have been one of the prime villains of his boyhood].
A Sac Chief with 8 or 10 arrived & stayed all night.