|Chief Hole in the Day|
|Sunset on Leech Lake, MN|
Five months later on September 5,1898, they attempted to seize the chief again. This time he managed to escape and fled to his home at Sugar Point, a small peninsula in the northeast corner of the expansive Leech Lake. The U.S. Indian Agent, Arthur Tinker requested aid from Fort Snelling and twenty regular army troops were dispatched to the reservation. When Hole in the Day refused to surrender, seventy-seven additional troops, commanded by Brevet Major Melville C. Wilkinson were sent as reinforcements. With larger numbers, the army invaded Sugar Point, but was unable to find the chief, who apparently fled. Soldiers began searching the surrounding woods and neighboring villages to arrest any tribesmen with outstanding warrants. Finding only a few old men, women, and children, they noted it was strange there were no young, able men in the area.
Who fired the first shot is still in dispute. According in one account a soldier’s rifle accidentally discharged and was answered by gunfire from Indians hiding in the forest. Indian accounts say soldiers fired at a canoe on Leech Lake carrying several women. Regardless of how it started, gunfire from the woods surrounding Sandy Point erupted around 11:30 am. The soldiers could only hunker down and retreat to a lakeside cabin for cover. Major Wilkinson lost several men and was wounded in the leg. He took another bullet to his abdomen at the cabin and died shortly after. Gunfire slowly decreased as evening fell. By morning the Indians seemed to have dispersed, but took one more life when a soldier was killed trying to dig up potatoes from a garden.
The soldiers, devastated by a mere force of eighteen Indians, marched to Walker, Minnesota with seven dead, and fourteen wounded. Not one Pillager was killed or wounded (on record). Chief Hole in the Day was never captured. The skirmish raised fears of an uprising. Minnesota’s National Guard was mobilized in response, but the Indians dispersed into the deep forests of northern Minnesota. The day after the battle, the Cass County Pioneer newspaper published this letter received from the chiefs of the Pillager Band.
“We, the undersigned chiefs and headmen of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians of Minnesota …respectfully represent that our people are carrying a heavy burden, and in order that they may not be crushed by it, we humbly petition you to send a commission, consisting of men who are honest and cannot be controlled by lumbermen, to investigate the existing troubles here… We now have only the pinelands of our reservation for our future subsistence and support, but the manner in which we are being defrauded out of these has alarmed us. The lands are now, as hereto fore, being underestimated by the appraisers, the pine thereon is being destroyed by fires in order to create the class of timber known as dead or down timber, so as to enable others to cut and sell the same for their own benefit.”
Several days after the incident the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, William A. Jones negotiated with the Pillager leaders at a tribal council. Afterward he criticized local officials for “frequent arrests for trivial causes, often for no cause at all, and taking them to Duluth or Minneapolis for trials, two hundred miles away from their agency.” I cannot help but think that this well-written, civilized, logical letter sent to the Cass County Pioneer newspaper helped defuse the issue. Still, there is a note of humility and sadness in the letter that moved me.