Origin and History
The Mascouten people are an Algonquian-speaking group of Native Americans. They initially inhabited a region in what is now southern Michigan. Their way of life has been described as being virtually identical to that of the Kickapoo and Fox peoples.
Around the mid-17th century, they were driven out of their territory by attacks by the Iroquois Confederacy from the east and the Winnebago to the west and migrated along the Mississippi River on the border of present-day Wisconsin and Illinois.
In 1666 a year after the resumption of the fur trade from the Upper Lakes, the Mascouten with Kickapoo, Miami and some Illinois made up a large village about 70 miles from Green Bay near the Fox people. From 1670 the Mascouten and some Miami (mostly Crane clan) were living in a palisaded village on the upper Fox River, southeast of present-day Berlin. Winter hunting camps were scattered over a large part of what is now southern Wisconsin. In 1670, the French estimated that there were around 2,000 Mascouten.
After 1679 a group of Mascouten with Miami and Wea settled on the St Joseph River near present-day South Bend, Indiana. However, a rift between the Mascouten and Miami left the main part of the Mascouten on the Fox River in association with the Fox and Kickapoo. In 1680 there were some Mascouten and Fox on the Milwaukee River.
In 1682 the St Joseph group retreated westward in fear of the Iroquois settling about 19 miles north-west of the Chicago portage between the Des Plaines and Fox Rivers. In 1683, 60 Mascouten were killed by the Iroquois. In 1684 the French, at the peace of La Famine, got the Iroquois to declare their peaceful intentions toward the Mascouten and Miami.
At the beginning of the 18th century the Mascouten with the Wea were reported living near present day Chicago. Between 1702 and 1705, 80 lodges of Mascouten were persuaded by the French to settle at a short-lived tannery on the lower Ohio (in present-day Pulaskie Co., Illinois) but more than half were killed by an epidemic. The survivors withdrew to the Wabash River area in northern Indiana.
In the meantime, the main body of Mascoutens were near the upper Mississippi though there was still a village on the upper Fox River in 1689. They were still closely associated with the Kickapoo and together with the Fox were in fairly constant conflict with the Dakota and Iowa. Their intermittent contacts with the Miami were strained after the murder of three Miami women, and their annoyance with the French trading with the Dakota leading them to attack and plunder coureurs de bois on occasion.
In 1712, antagonism with French came to head when some Potawatomi and Odawa killed or captured some 50 Mascoutens in a winter encampment on the upper St. Joseph. After the Mascouten and Fox retaliated against the Odawa at Détroit, the French and their allies dealt the two nations a crushing defeat in which over 800 were killed. The Mascouten and Fox who survived went west and joined the Kickapoo continuing the war against the French. The Mascouten and Kickapoo lived together on the Rock River and nearby along the Mississippi and constantly raided the Illinois
By 1720 French military pressure on the Fox forced their two allies to disassociate themselves from the campaign. Some Mascoutens settled on the St. Joseph near the Potawatomi to get away from the hostilities in 1720 and 1721.
In October 1728 the Mascouten and Kickapoo captured 12 Frenchmen but resisted the urgings of the Fox to execute them. The Fox left in anger, killed and scalped a Kickapoo and a Mascouten out hunting. This persuaded the Mascouten and Kickapoo to turn against them and subsequently the Mascouten aided in attacks on the Fox.
In 1735 the main body of Mascouten and Kickapoo settled near the Wea Post (present-day Lafayette, Indiana). A final contingent of eight lodges of Mascouten arrived in 1741 unifying the bands.
In 1747 the Mascouten sent war parties against the Chickasaw with the support of the French. From 1751 to at least 1754 they were allied with the Kickapoo, Potawatomi and others in hostilities against the Peoria band of the Illinois Confederacy. As late as 1788 a Mascouten leader claimed to have raided the Illinois annually to avenge harm done to the French.
In July and August 1754, the Odawa brought together 1,200 delegates, including from the Mascouten, at Michilimackinac to discuss the impending conflict and to hold formal talks with the French.
Role during the War
During the war the Mascouten supported the French cause but were not involved in the fighting in the east. The Mascouten continued to raid the British allied Chickasaw throughout the war.
In 1760 the British occupied Ouiatenon forcing the Mascouten to trade with them instead of the French. The Mascouten tried to make the best of the situation but the British military commander, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, ordered an increase in the price of trade goods, restricted their supply (especially gunpowder), and ended annual presents to leaders and diplomats.
The Mascouten were to become participants in the war of 1763 to free allied nations from British occupation of their territories in the Ohio catchment (the so-called Pontiac’s War).
At the time of writing there is no specific written description of Mascouten dress known to the author from the mid-18th century. They are described as being similar to the Kickapoo culturally. The following is surmised:
Around 1720 Mascouten men’s hair was described as being cut to within one inch of the head and left hanging only one little tress about a foot long either on the right or left side. It is possible subsequently that some Mascouten men left a large patch of hair at the back and crown of the head, similar to a style of the Meskwaki People, with a braid on the crown of the head, a scalplock, which was plaited and wrapped to stand upright.
It is likely that feathers and other items were worn in the scalplock according to the man’s spiritual experiences.
A circular roach of red dyed deer hair sewed around a woven base secured with a bone spreader may have been worn. It is fixed to the head by passing a scalp braid through the spreader and secured with a wooden pin to the head. Mounted in on the spreader was a bone or wood socket into which a single eagle feather was fixed so that it could revolve with the wearer’s movement.
Tattoo and Paint
Tattooing of the face and body was likely to have been practiced by Mascouten men as an alternative to painting. Tattoos in the form of some animal, such as an eagle, a snake or other figure were likely to have been ingrained with powdered charcoal. Linear patterns were also probably used extensively.
It is likely that warriors painted their faces and bodies with personal, predominately red and black paint prior to entering combat.
Ears and Nose
Mascouten men are likely to have pierced ears. However, there is no evidence that they detached the helix of the ear as did those men of nations to the east of them. Even so, some may have. Earrings were made of silver, brass and sometimes tin. These could have pendant solid silver ball and cones or thin sheets of brass cut into triangles for example.
It is likely that some Mascouten men pierced the septum of the nose and wore a silver ring through it, which itself could have a silver or tin pendant dangling from it.
Ornaments and Necklaces
Necklaces of wampum, imitation wampum or glass beads were likely to have been worn. Pendants could have consisted of large shells and silver disc. As allies of the French silver officer’s gorgets were also likely to have been issued to war leaders.
Silver bracelets and armbands were probably worn.
Breechclout and Apron
The primary item of dress for Mascouten men was the breechclout. J. C. Bonin recorded of Native American men in the Ohio catchment although likely to be applicable to the Mascouten that ‘The loincloth is made of deerskin or cloth obtained from Europeans. It is a quarter or third cloth that the men wind between their legs. The piece of cloth is held in place around the hips with a cord. The two ends of the loincloth are folded over in front and in the back, with the end in front longer than the one in the back.’
Mascouten men are likely to have followed the fashion for half leggings, fitted tightly to the leg with double flaps or wings hanging freely down the outside. Some had a single flap at the back with the front stitched on the inside forming the outer seam of the legging. Each flap may have been decorated with ribbon, edge beading, broaches and braid. Obviously, these were for best wear and that on the trail plain half or full leggings of blue or red cloth, or buckskin could be worn.
Garters were worn below the knee. Garters were made of woven bison hair or probably from woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave of or of deerskin. The porcupine was absent from Mascouten territory so it is likely that garters or other items were less often decorated with quillwork. The Mascouten are likely to have obtained porcupine quills in trade.
Mascouten moccasins were made of smoked buckskin. These probably had a puckered centre seam along the instep and vamp.
A European shirt of linen or cotton, cut in contemporary European fashion, obtained from French traders, were popular and could be daubed with vermillion and grease to waterproof it over the shoulders.
Broaches of silver, replacing those of copper or brass, became increasingly abundant through the 18th century in adorning clothing and also came to be used as money. There several designs of broach. The simplest and most numerous was a ring across which a tongue extended like a buckle. This is affixed to cloth by pinching the material up so that the tongue penetrates it twice and when drawn back holds it firmly in place. Smaller ones can often line the edges of breechclouts, etc. whilst those of larger diameter decorated the upper body of shirts. Another very common broach fixed in the same manner is a circular ornate disc perforated with punched out or embossed regular patterns which can have embossed or crenulated edges sometimes known as a round buckle.
Blankets and Robes
Trade blankets, usually of blue or red woollen cloth, which could be decorated with bands of ribbon, and skin robes were worn for warmth.
Mascouten warriors are likely to have hung from the belt holding the breechclout their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which could be the skin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel.
By the beginning of the Seven Years War the standard trade musket that armed the Mascouten was manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal either obtained in trade. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE.
A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of the deerskin probably with a rounded bottom, from animal skins with the hair left on, otter or badger for example, or perhaps of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads. Straps were likely to have been made of deerskin, or woven fibre. A knife was carried in a sheaf (which, rarely may have been decorated with quillwork) hung around the neck.
A tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt on the hip.
Goddard, Ives, Mascouten: in Trigger, Bruce G. and Sturtevant, W. C. (eds), Handbook of the North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast, Washington: Smithsonian Institute, 1978, pp. 668-672.
Kinietz, W. Vernon, Indians of the Western Great Lakes 1615-1760, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1977, pp 169.
McDonnell, Michael A, Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America, New York: Hill and Wang, 2015, p 165.
Stevens, Sylvester, Donald Kent & Emma Woods (eds), Travels in New France by J C B, Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1941,
Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the entire article