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 many fold 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" or "sky", 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 Ojibway, 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 Ojibway 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
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
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 his life.
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 Ojibway, 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
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 not 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 Ojibway. 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 sit 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 to prepare.
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
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
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 Ojibway. 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.
[I wish to thank Reverend C. H. Beaulieu of Le Soeur, Minnesota, for much of the
material used in this chapter.]
Sioux Indian Chiefs |
Siouan Family History |
Oglala Teton Sioux
Indian Heroes and
Native American Nations