The Sac and Fox Nation is an almost unknown Native American tribe with a painful history, a dying present, and a very uncertain future. Today there are fewer than 5500 registered members; the nation voted only in the last few years to lower the bloodline to 1/8th Sac and Fox blood in order to gain membership to the tribe. The number of full-blooded members is under 100, and the majority of them are too old to produce more children. Within perhaps one or two generations, it is likely there will no longer be a single full-blooded member.

Why then, would anyone bother to document the history of this tribe? Because for some of us, it is the story of our ancestors and heritage.

The Sac and Fox Nation, originally Great Lakes peoples closely related to the Kickapoo, consisted of two seperate Algonquin-speaking tribes, the Meshkwahkihaki (meaning "people of the red earth", later shortened to Meskwaki, and later still known as the Fox tribe) and the Asakiwaki (meaning "people of the yellow earth", later known as the Sac tribe). The two tribes were always fairly close, but entered into an official alliance in 1734. Their language is Mesquakie-Sauk, an Algonquin tongue consisting of three dialects: Mesquakie (Fox), Sauk (Sac) and perhaps Kickapoo, though this dialect is actually a seperate but similar language of a Great Lakes tribe by the same name.

Oral tradition holds that both tribes originated in the Saint Lawrence Seaway in Canada until a great flood caused them to settle on an island near Saginaw Bay, Michigan, and surrounding areas. This was to be their home, the Meshkwahkihaki tribe living mainly within the forests, while the Asakiwaki lived nearer to the shores and open areas. During this time, not much is known, except that the Asakiwaki, for the most part farmers, had developed an exceptionally complex style of threading beadwork that was unmatched by any other tribe in North America, and the Meshkwahkihaki, mostly hunters, produced most of the leather goods. The two tribes were so closely united as to be nearly indestinguishable from one another by outsiders. For a while, they lived in peace, until the Huron, armed with French weapons, along with the Iroquois confederacy, drove them from their homelands and scattered the tribe as far east as New York and southeast Canada, and as far Midwest as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. The majority, however, settled down near present day Wood River, Illinois after defeating and displacing the Illini tribe in 1769. For a little over 30 years, the tribe had a good run. The white man didn't even know they existed (which has historically been a good thing for any indigenous people). Then one day, two explorers changed their lives forever.

During their return trip, on a stay in Camp Dubois (present-day Wood River, near Alton, Illinois) from December, 1803 to May 14, 1804, Lewis and Clark discovered the allied Meshkwahkihaki and Asakiwaki tribes living in the area. They had previously thought the area to be mostly uninhabited, and since both tribes were not distinguishable from one another to the unfamiliar explorers, they were simply refered to as the Sac tribe. Both parties had entirely different takes on those fateful few weeks.

A former chief of the tribe relates:
"Our people were the first to greet Lewis and Clark as they came up the river in their canoes. They were starved and in need of aid. They happily accepted our charity. If they had died on their return home, no one would ever know of the wonders and peoples they had discovered. Had we known then what we know now, we would have opened fire on them without hesitation."

From Clark's Journal:
"Sunday 25th - 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."

Regardless of whose recollection was more accurate, Clark officially met with one of the Chiefs on April 5th, 1804, who stayed at their camp for the entire night. It is likely that none present could ever predict the repurcussions of this meeting. When the Lewis and Clark Expedition finally reached home Sept. 23, 1806 and the results spread, the white man began to settle the areas with big dreams and few manners. Fights with the French and American settlers became more and more common. Over the next three decades, they were forced from one place to the next, the majority settling in Saukenuk, Illinois and considered it their sovereign homeland. Yet this did not last long, and soon great pressure was placed upon the tribe to move westward.

For perhaps the first time since their alliance, there was a split in the unity of the tribe. Sensing the end of their ways, Chief Keokuk led most of the tribe westward, into what he thought would be a peaceful compromise. One band, under the 64 year-old Chief, Black Hawk, refused, and decided to stay and fight for what was left of their once great expanse of land in 1832. The Black Hawk War was short, and bloody. Nearly all of Black Hawk's band were killed by large numbers of regulars and militia. Those that survived were forced to join Keokuk's people, and share in the grim fate that awaited their more pacifistic brothers.

What Keokuk had hoped for was a common misconception in the waning days of American Indian Nations. They were relocated under pretense that they would have a new home, peace, and be able to retain their old ways. Not so. Again and again they were relocated, only to find that in each new location, a few months or years later, that they would have to move again, sometimes to an entirely different state or territory. When they were forced to move across state lines, the receiving state, in a fashion typical of the day, would assemble a militia at the Governor's orders and attempt to kill as many of the pilgrimage as possible before they reached their destination. The same events would happen even if they were only crossing through a state to reach their newer land. One such slaughter was at the hands of Wisconsin, who slew thousands and only in the late 1990's finally issued an official apology. The apology consisted of a framed sheet of paper, on which were written a few trite sentances, and a gold memorial coin. Such was the value of those innocents who were slain. The other states have yet to apologize.

Further and further the tribe was pushed from their homeland, to less and less desirable terrain. From Iowa to Kansas, and still later from Kansas to Oklahoma. In November of 1869 that the first Sac and Fox Indians arrived in Indian Territory in what is now called Lincoln County, Oklahoma. The group traveled for 19 days from Osage County, Kansas, in 17 government wagons where they finally were placed at a reservation near Stroud, Oklahoma. Yet more bitter irony; they had to purchase their land, and the county was named after one of the most horrific figures to them, Abraham Lincoln, a well-known hater of the American Indian, who ordered the deaths of some 5,000 Sac and Fox on the same day he signed The Emancipation Proclamation. By the time they reached the 750,000 acres their meager funds afforded them, a mere 418 surviving Sac & Fox remained. 220 males and 228 females.

Once at their final destination, the US Government sought to civilize the Sac and Fox by establishing the Sac and Fox Agency in charge of the land, placing Christian mission schools to educate the members, forbidding them to speak their native language, and condemning their traditional religious practices. Originally, the Sac and Fox were governed by a clan system, but historical clan leadership was replaced with a constitutional government in 1885. Today's surviving clans are Fish, Ocean, Thunder, Bear, Fox, Bear, Potato, Deer, Beaver (originally the Underwater Panther Clan), Snow, and Wolf. As nearly all of their traditions, folklore, and history were passed down in an oral fashion, the tribe lost nearly all of its roots. Yet a devoted few suffered the punishments for maintaining the old ways. It is from them that any history outside of archeology and government records has been saved.

One would think that here the story would end, that it is from those few remaining souls, the traditions of the tribe were revitalized, and that they finally had peace in a land that, if they could not call home, they could at least call their own.

Such was not to be the case.

Around 1870, there is evidence in files of the Oklahoma Historical Society that the tribe had to move twice because the government surveyors had marked the eastern and southern boundaries incorrectly. Once again, the white man wanted their land. Pressured by the Sac and Fox Agency, the tribe was made to sign an agreement in 1890, turning over half of their land to the US Government. roughly 385,000 of their 750,000 acres were claimed in a white settlement run on September 22, 1891. Still later, for reasons unknown, the Federal Government then decided to abolish the elected tribal council Jul 17, 1909.

One discontented group of Sac and Fox returned to the Tama, Iowa area where they purchased land and remained as a separate tribe. The Sac and Fox of Iowa, who call themselves Mesquakie, list a about 700 on their tribal roles. There is also a Sac and Fox of Kansas and a Sac and Fox of Missouri, each tribe with fewer than 200 members. The Sac and Fox of Oklahoma is by far the largest of the four and lists around 2300 persons on the tribal roll.

Today the Sac and Fox Nation is in a desperate struggle to retain what few shreds of identity the ravages of history and violence have left them. Active members number only in the hundreds. The annual powows are a conglomerate of several tribes, and generally visiting tribes outnumber the Sac and Fox by as many as three or four to one. Dancing and Regalia contests are held at the Pow Wows, but one will not find traditional garb of the Sac and Fox anyplace but the libraries, and the dances are long forgotten. The tribe itself is predominantly Christian, most have long forgotten even the folklore of their old traditions, much less the ceremonies. Only the elders of the tribe maintain any sense of the Old Ways, and the younger generations more often than not have little interest in learning them. The land surrounding them is dying, and the tiny town of Stroud has barely changed since my Grandmother was born there in 1922. Most of the tribe members do not even live upon the reservation anymore; the permanent population ranges somewhere in the low double-digits on a good year, single-digits on a bad year.

I am not full-blooded Sac and Fox, but still take great pride in what my heritage once was. This has been the story of a once proud and noble people, my ancestors, my people...

Jim Thorpe - Olympic Gold Medallist
Chief Black Hawk

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