[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" 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 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 his life.