In the mid-seventeenth century, the Iroquois positioned themselves to expand their territory and monopolize the fur trade as well as the trade between European markets and the tribes of the western Great Lakes region. In pursuit of this goal, a series of brutal conflicts erupted between the Iroquois Confederation, largely Mohawk (one of the five core tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy founded between 1450 and 1600), and the majority of the Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Great Lakes region.

Known as “Beaver Wars” (a.k.a. French and Iroquois Wars) they were extremely brutal and are still considered one of the bloodiest series of conflicts in the history of North America. The tribal geography of North America was realigned because of the enlargement of the Iroquois territory, which destroyed several large tribal confederacies.  These included the Hurons, Neutrals, Eries, and Susquehannocks.  Many other eastern tribes were pushed west of the Mississippi River.

The Algonquian and Iroquoian societies were both greatly disturbed by these wars. To avoid the battles, the Potawatomi moved northward into Wisconsin through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula around 1670. The tribe adapted well by growing corn, gathering wild rice, and harvesting fish and waterfowl from the western waters of Lake Michigan.

The French were dependent upon the fur trade and welcomed the delivery of pelts to Montreal. When the Wyandot and Ottawa used Chippewa warriors to assist them in their journey to the French, the Iroquois responded by going to the source. They attacked any tribe in Wisconsin and upper Michigan that were learned to be supplying fur to the Algonquin middlemen. The resulting conflicts forced more than 20,000 refugees into space much too small to support them; the region surrounding the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin. These tribes suffered epidemics and starvation and eventually began fighting among themselves for hunting grounds.

The Potawatomi were more fortunate; their villages were located directly on the Door Peninsula, which was insulated from the surrounding tribes.  This peninsula, which has some of the best soil in the region, juts out into Lake Michigan. Protected from the epidemics, starvation, and fighting their neighboring tribes were experiencing, tribal unity was more easily maintained; while the larger surrounding tribes (Wyandot, Ottawa, Illinois, Miami, Nipissing, Noquet, Menominee, Winnebago, Mascouten, Sauk Fox, Kickapoo, and several bands of Chippewa) separated into mixed villages. The result was that the Potawatomi became the dominant tribe in the area.

References:

“Expansion of Five Nations Territory During the Beaver Wars.” Native Americans Of The Eastern Ohio Country, The Brookline Connection: A Look Back in Time at Our Community, http://www.brooklineconnection.com/history/Facts/Indians.html.

Potawatomi. (2018, October 25). New World Encyclopedia, . Retrieved 14:38, April 23, 2019 from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Potawatomi&oldid=1015500.

University, Oxford. “Forced Migration by Iroquois Nation During the Beaver Wars.” Indian Villages, Reservations, and Removal, Detroit Urbanism, 7 Mar. 2016, detroiturbanism.blogspot.com/2016/03/indian-villages-reservations-and-removal.html.