[I wish to thank Reverend C. H. Beaulieu of Le Soeur,
Minnesota, for much of the material used in this chapter.]
In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Indian nations of
the Northwest first experienced the pressure of civilization. At
this period there were among them some brilliant leaders unknown to
history, for the curious reason that they cordially received and
welcomed the newcomers rather than opposed them. The only
difficulties were those arising among the European nations
themselves, and often involving the native tribes. Thus new
environments brought new motives, and our temptations were
increased manyfold with the new weapons, new goods, and above all
the subtly destructive "spirit water."
Gradually it became known that the new race had a definite
purpose, and that purpose was to chart and possess the whole
country, regardless of the rights of its earlier inhabitants. Still
the old chiefs cautioned their people to be patient, for, said
they, the land is vast, both races can live on it, each in their
own way. Let us therefore befriend them and trust to their
friendship. While they reasoned thus, the temptations of graft and
self-aggrandizement overtook some of the leaders.
Hole-in-the-Day (or Bug-o-nay-ki-shig) was born in the opening
days of this era. The word "ki-shig" means either "day"
and the name is perhaps more correctly translated Hole-in-the-Sky.
This gifted man inherited his name and much of his ability from his
father, who was a war chief among the Ojibways, a Napoleon of the
common people, and who carried on a relentless warfare against the
Sioux. And yet, as was our custom at the time, peaceful meetings
were held every summer, at which representatives of the two tribes
would recount to one another all the events that had come to pass
during the preceding year.
Hole-in-the-Day the younger was a handsome man, tall and
symmetrically formed, with much grace of manner and natural
refinement. He was an astute student of diplomacy. The Ojibways
allowed polygamy, and whether or not he approved the principle, he
made political use of it by marrying the daughter of a chief in
nearly every band. Through these alliances he held a controlling
influence over the whole Ojibway nation. Reverend Claude H.
Beaulieu says of him:
"Hole-in-the-Day was a man of distinguished appearance and
native courtliness of manner. His voice was musical and magnetic,
and with these qualities he had a subtle brain, a logical mind, and
quite a remarkable gift of oratory. In speech he was not
impassioned, but clear and convincing, and held fast the attention
of his hearers."
It is of interest to note that his everyday name among his
tribesmen was "The Boy." What a boy he must have been! I wonder
if the name had the same significance as with the Sioux, who
applied it to any man who performs a difficult duty with alertness,
dash, and natural courage. "The Man" applies to one who adds to
these qualities wisdom and maturity of judgment.
The Sioux tell many stories of both the elder and the younger
Hole-in-the-Day. Once when The Boy was still under ten years of
age, he was fishing on Gull Lake in a leaky birch-bark canoe.
Presently there came such a burst of frantic warwhoops that his
father was startled. He could not think of anything but an attack
by the dreaded Sioux. Seizing his weapons, he ran to the rescue of
his son, only to find that the little fellow had caught a fish so
large that it was pulling his canoe all over the lake. "Ugh,"
exclaimed the father, "if a mere fish scares you so badly, I fear
you will never make a warrior!
It is told of him that when he was very small, the father once
brought home two bear cubs and gave them to him for pets. The Boy
was feeding and getting acquainted with them outside his mother's
birch-bark teepee, when suddenly he was heard to yell for help.
The two little bears had treed The Boy and were waltzing around the
tree. His mother scared them off, but again the father laughed at
him for thinking that he could climb trees better than a bear.
The elder Hole-in-the-Day was a daring warrior and once
attacked and scalped a Sioux who was carrying his pelts to the
trading post, in full sight of his friends. Of course he was
instantly pursued, and he leaped into a canoe which was lying near
by and crossed to an island in the Mississippi River near Fort
Snelling. When almost surrounded by Sioux warriors, he left the
canoe and swam along the shore with only his nose above water, but
as they were about to head him off he landed and hid behind the
falling sheet of water known as Minnehaha Falls, thus saving his life.
It often happens that one who offers his life freely will
after all die a natural death. The elder Hole-in-the-Day so died
when The Boy was still a youth. Like Philip of Massachusetts,
Chief Joseph the younger, and the brilliant Osceola, the mantle
fell gracefully upon his shoulders, and he wore it during a short
but eventful term of chieftainship. It was his to see the end of
the original democracy on this continent. The clouds were fast
thickening on the eastern horizon. The day of individualism and
equity between man and man must yield to the terrific forces of
civilization, the mass play of materialism, the cupidity of
commerce with its twin brother politics. Under such conditions the
younger Hole-in-the-Day undertook to guide his tribesmen. At first
they were inclined to doubt the wisdom of so young a leader, but he
soon proved a ready student of his people's traditions, and yet,
like Spotted Tail and Little Crow, he adopted too willingly the
white man's politics. He maintained the territory won from the
Sioux by his predecessors. He negotiated treaties with the ability
of a born diplomat, with one exception, and that exception cost him
Like other able Indians who foresaw the inevitable downfall of
their race, he favored a gradual change of customs leading to
complete adoption of the white man's ways. In order to accustom
the people to a new standard, he held that the chiefs must have
authority and must be given compensation for their services. This
was a serious departure from the old rule but was tacitly accepted,
and in every treaty he made there was provision for himself in the
way of a land grant or a cash payment. He early departed from the
old idea of joint ownership with the Lake Superior Ojibways,
because he foresaw that it would cause no end of trouble for the
Mississippi River branch of which he was then the recognized head.
But there were difficulties to come with the Leech Lake and Red
Lake bands, who held aloof from his policy, and the question of
boundaries began to arise.
In the first treaty negotiated with the government by young
Hole-in-the-Day in 1855, a "surplus" was provided for the chiefs
aside from the regular per capita payment, and this surplus was to
be distributed in proportion to the number of Indians under each.
Hole-in-the-Day had by far the largest enrollment, therefore he got
the lion's share of this fund. Furthermore he received another sum
set apart for the use of the "head chief", and these things did
look right to the tribe. In the very next treaty he provided
himself with an annuity of one thousand dollars for twenty years,
beside a section of land near the village of Crow Wing, and the
government was induced to build him a good house upon this land.
In his home he had many white servants and henchmen and really
lived like a lord. He dressed well in native style with a touch
of civilized elegance, wearing coat and leggings of fine
broadcloth, linen shirt with collar, and, topping all, a handsome
black or blue blanket. His moccasins were of the finest deerskin
and beautifully worked. His long beautiful hair added much to his
personal appearance. He was fond of entertaining and being
entertained and was a favorite both among army officers and
civilians. He was especially popular with the ladies, and this
fact will appear later in the story.
At about this time, the United States government took it upon
itself to put an end to warfare between the Sioux and Ojibways. A
peace meeting was arranged at Fort Snelling, with the United States
as mediator. When the representatives of the two nations met at
this grand council, Hole-in-the-Day came as the head chief of his
people, and with the other chiefs appeared in considerable pomp and
dignity. The wives of the government officials were eager for
admission to this unusual gathering, but when they arrived there
was hardly any space left except next to the Sioux chiefs, and the
white ladies soon crowded this space to overflowing. One of the
Sioux remarked: "I thought this was to be a council of chiefs and
braves, but I see many women among us." Thereupon the Ojibway
arose and spoke in his courtliest manner. "The Ojibway chiefs will
feel highly honored," said he, "if the ladies will consent to
on our side."
Another sign of his alertness to gain favor among the whites
was seen in the fact that he took part in the territorial
campaigns, a most unusual thing for an Indian of that day. Being
a man of means and influence, he was listened to with respect by
the scattered white settlers in his vicinity. He would make a
political speech through an interpreter, but would occasionally
break loose in his broken English, and wind up with an invitation
to drink in the following words: "Chentimen, you Pemicans
(Republicans), come out and drink!"
From 1855 to 1864 Hole-in-the-Day was a well-known figure in
Minnesota, and scarcely less so in Washington, for he visited the
capital quite often on tribal affairs. As I have said before, he
was an unusually handsome man, and was not unresponsive to flattery
and the attentions of women. At the time of this incident he was
perhaps thirty-five years old, but looked younger. He had called
upon the President and was on his way back to his hotel, when he
happened to pass the Treasury building just as the clerks were
leaving for the day. He was immediately surrounded by an
inquisitive throng. Among them was a handsome young woman who
asked through the interpreter if the chief would consent to an
interview about his people, to aid her in a paper she had promised
Hole-in-the-Day replied: "If the beautiful lady is willing to
risk calling on the chief at his hotel, her request will be
granted." The lady went, and the result was so sudden and strong
an attachment that both forgot all racial biases and differences of
language and custom. She followed him as far as Minneapolis, and
there the chief advised her to remain, for he feared the jealousy
of some of his many wives. She died there, soon after giving birth
to a son, who was brought up by a family named Woodbury; and some
fifteen years ago I met the young man in Washington and was taken
by him to call upon certain of his mother's relatives.
The ascendancy of Hole-in-the-Day was not gained entirely
through the consent of his people, but largely by government favor,
therefore there was strong suppressed resentment among his
associate chiefs, and the Red Lake and Leech Lake bands in fact
never acknowledged him as their head, while they suspected him of
making treaties which involved some of their land. He was in
personal danger from this source, and his life was twice attempted,
but, though wounded, in each case he recovered. His popularity
with Indian agents and officers lasted till the Republicans came
into power in the sixties and there was a new deal. The chief no
longer received the favors and tips to which he was accustomed; in
fact he was in want of luxuries, and worse still, his pride was
hurt by neglect. The new party had promised Christian treatment to
the Indians, but it appeared that they were greater grafters than
their predecessors, and unlike them kept everything for themselves,
allowing no perquisites to any Indian chief.
In his indignation at this treatment, Hole-in-the-Day began
exposing the frauds on his people, and so at a late day was
converted to their defense. Perhaps he had not fully understood
the nature of graft until he was in a position to view it from the
outside. After all, he was excusable in seeking to maintain the
dignity of his office, but he had departed from one of the
fundamental rules of the race, namely: "Let no material gain be the
motive or reward of public duty." He had wounded the ideals of his
people beyond forgiveness, and he suffered the penalty; yet his
courage was not diminished by the mistakes of his past. Like the
Sioux chief Little Crow, he was called "the betrayer of his
people", and like him he made a desperate effort to regain lost
prestige, and turned savagely against the original betrayers of his
confidence, the agents and Indian traders.
When the Sioux finally broke out in 1862, the first thought of
the local politicians was to humiliate Hole-in-the-Day by arresting
him and proclaiming some other "head chief" in his stead. In so
doing they almost forced the Ojibways to fight under his
leadership. The chief had no thought of alliance with the Sioux,
and was wholly unaware of the proposed action of the military on
pretense of such a conspiracy on his part. He was on his way to
the agency in his own carriage when a runner warned him of his
danger. He thereupon jumped down and instructed the driver to
proceed. His coachman was arrested by a file of soldiers, who when
they discovered their mistake went to his residence in search of
him, but meanwhile he had sent runners in every direction to notify
his warriors, and had moved his family across the Mississippi.
When the military reached the river bank he was still in sight, and
the lieutenant called upon him to surrender. When he refused, the
soldiers were ordered to fire upon him, but he replied with his own
rifle, and with a whoop disappeared among the pine groves.
It was remarkable how the whole tribe now rallied to the call
of Hole-in-the-Day. He allowed no depredations to the young men
under his leadership, but camped openly near the agency and awaited
an explanation. Presently Judge Cooper of St. Paul, a personal
friend of the chief, appeared, and later on the Assistant Secretary
of the Interior, accompanied by Mr. Nicolay, private secretary of
President Lincoln. Apparently that great humanitarian President
saw the whole injustice of the proceeding against a loyal nation,
and the difficulty was at an end.
Through the treaties of 1864, 1867, and 1868 was accomplished
the final destiny of the Mississippi River Ojibways.
Hole-in-the-Day was against their removal to what is now White
Earth reservation, but he was defeated in this and realized that
the new turn of events meant the downfall of his race. He declared
that he would never go on the new reservation, and he kept his
word. He remained on one of his land grants near Crow Wing. As
the other chiefs assumed more power, the old feeling of suspicion
and hatred became stronger, especially among the Pillager and Red
Lake bands. One day he was waylaid and shot by a party of these
disaffected Indians. He uttered a whoop and fell dead from his buggy.
Thus died one of the most brilliant chiefs of the Northwest,
who never defended his birthright by force of arms, although almost
compelled to do so. He succeeded in diplomacy so long as he was
the recognized head of his people. Since we have not passed over
his weaknesses, he should be given credit for much insight in
causing the article prohibiting the introduction of liquor into the
Indian country to be inserted into the treaty of 1858. I think it
was in 1910 that this forgotten provision was discovered and again
enforced over a large expanse of territory occupied by whites, it
being found that the provision had never been repealed.
Although he left many children, none seem to have made their
mark, yet it may be that in one of his descendants that undaunted
spirit will rise again.
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Heroes And Great Chieftains