A Wisconsin tribe of Algonquian stock of considerable missionary importance in the seventeenth century, but long since entirely extinct. Their language was a dialect of that common to the Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo, with whom, as also with the Miami, they were usually in close alliance, while maintaining hereditary warfare with the Iroquois and the Sioux. The Algonquian name by which they are generally known signifies "People of the little prarie". In the earlier french records they are know as the "Fire Nation" ( Gens de Feu ) from the Huron name Asistazeronon (people of the fireplace), properly a rendering of the tribal name of the Potawatomi. The mistake arose from the fact of the close proximity of the two tribes, and the further fact of the resemblance of the Algonquian roots for fire ( ishkoté ) and prairie ( mashkoté ). It is certain, as shown by Hewitt, that the fire nation of some of the earliest notices are the Potawatomi. The confusion persisted until the western tribes became better known. The Mascoutens were first visited by Champlain's venturesome interpreter, Jean Nicolet, in 1634, at their town on upper Fox River. In 1654-55, the explorers Radisson and Groseilliers also stopped at the same town, which, as later, the Mascoutens occupied jointly with the Miami. The location of the town is a matter of dispute, but it is generally agreed to have been near the Fox River, within the present limits of Green Lake County, or the northern parts of Columbia county.
In 1669, the pioneer Jesuit explorer, Father Claude Allouez, established the mission of Saint-François-Xavier, at the rapids of the Fox River, about the present Depere, Wisconsin, as a central station for the evangelization of the tribes between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi. In the spring of the next year, 1670, with two French companions, he visited the "Mahoutensak", partly to compose some differences which the tribe already had with the French traders. He was received as an actual manitou, with cere monial feats, anointing the limbs of himself and his companions, and "a veritable sacrifice like that which they made to their false gods", being invoked at the same time to give them victory against their enemies, abundant crops, and immunity from disease and famine. The missionary at once let them know that he was not a god, but a servant of the True God, proceeding with an explanation of the Christian doctrine , to which they listened with reverence. In September of the same year, in company with the Jesuit Father Claude Deblon, he made a second missionary visit to the town, preaching to the Indians, who crowded to hear them both day and night, with the greatest eagerness and attention. The teaching was given in the Miami language.
The town was a frequent rendezvous for several tribes, and on some occasion must have had several thousand Indians assembled in its neighbourhood. Its regular occupants were the Mascoutens, and a part of the Miami, estimated by Dablon, in 1670, at about three or four hundred warriors each, or as he says, over three thousand souls. He describes the town as beautifully situated on a small hill in the midst of extensive prairies, interspersed with groves and abounding in herds of buffalo. It was palisaded for defence against the Iroquois, who carried their destructive raids even to the Mississippi. Besides the buffalo, there were fields of corn, squashes, and tobacco, with an abundance of wild grapes, and plums, and probably also stores of wild rice. Notwithstanding all this, their natural improvidence made life an alternation of feasting and famine. Of the two tribes the Miami were the more polished. The houses were light structures covered with mats of woven rushes. The people were given to heathenism, offering almost daily sacrifices to the sun, the thunder, the buffalo, the bear, and to the special manitou which came to them in dreams. Sickness was attributed to evil spirits or witchcraft, to be exorcised by their medicine men. In their cabins they kept buffalo skins to which they made sacrifice, and sometimes the stuffed skin of a bear erected upon a pole. Like the other tribes of the region, they sometimes ate prisoners of war.
In 1672, Allouez established in the town a regular mission which he named Saint-Jacques, building a special cabin for a chapel, and setting up two large crosses, which the Indians decorated with offerings of dressed skins and beaded belts. For lack of missionaries, however, he was only able to serve it through occasional visits from Saint-François-Xavier near Green Bay, in consequence of which its growth was slow. In the next year Marquette and Joliet stopped there and procured guides for their voyage of discovery. In 1678, Allouez was transferred to the Joliet mission, while his assistant, Father Antoine Silvey, was recalled to Canada, his place being filled by Father André Bonnault. Up to this time there had been over five hundred baptisms of various tribes at the Mascoutens mission. In 1692, the heroic Father Sebastian Rasles also stopped on his way to the Illinois station, and reported the mission still dependent on occasional visits from Green Bay. This is apparently the last notice of the Mascoutens mission, which seems to have dwindled out from neglect, and from the growing hostility manifested to the French by the Sauk, Foxes, and Kickapoo, with whom the Mascoutens were so closely connected. In 1702, a band of the tribe had drifted down into Southern Illinois, and had their village on the Ohio near the French post of Fort Massac. Here Father Jean Mermet, stationed at the post, attempted to minister to them, but found them entirely under the influence of their medicine men, and opposed to Christianity. In the meantime an epidemic visited the village, killing many daily. The missionary did what he could to relieve the sick, even baptizing some of the dying at their own request, his only reward being abuse and attempts upon his life. To appease the disease-spirit, the Indians organized dances at which they sacrificed some forty dogs, carrying them at the ends of polls while dancing. They were finally driven to ask the aid and prayers of the priest, but in spite of all more than half the band perished.
In 1712, the Mascoutens, with the Kickapoo and Sauk, joined the Foxes in the war which the latter inaugurated against the French, and continued in desultory fashion for some thirty years. In 1728 Father Michel (or Louis-Ignace) Guignas, while descending the Mississippi, was taken near the mouth of the Wisconsin by a party of Mascoutens and Kickapoo, held for several months, and finally condemned to be burnt, but rescued by being adopted by an old man. Through his mediation they made peace with the French, and afterwards took him to spend the winter of 1729-30 with them (Le Petit). It is evident that by this time the Mascoutens were near their end, reduced partly by wars, but more by the great epidemics which wiped out the tribes of the Illinois country. In 1736 they are officially reported by Chauvignerie as eighty warriors, about three hundred souls, still on the Fox River, in connection with the Kickapoo and Foxes, with whom they were probably finally incorporated. They are not named in Sir William Johnson's list of Western tribes in 1763, and are last mentioned by Hutchins in 1778, as living on the Wabash in company with the Kickapoo, Miami, and Piankishaw.
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