EDITOR' S NOTE: The information contained here was excerpted; from a story written for the Minneapolis Tribune in 1953 By Bob Murphy. The story was given to the Dispatch by James Alderman whose late wife spent a life-time studying Chief Hole-in-the-Day and on whose property on Round Lake the Chippewa Chief is said to have camped.
On an August afternoon 103 years ago two Indians were driving in a buggy drawn by two ponies on what is now the southern tip of Cass County on a rutted trail between the Gull and Crow Wing rivers.
What they didn't know and what few people since seem to know, is that 11 other Indians were hidden beside the trail, planted in an ill-fated ambush. They arose suddenly with a war whoop and two of them leveled rifles at one of the Indians in the buggy. The ponies bolted in fright, the buggy overturned, and the marked man shouted in the Chippewa tongue: "You have caught me in a bad moment. I am unarmed." Two shots rang out. Then the marauding party ran forward and clubbed the stricken man to death. The other Indian in the buggy was grabbed and roughly handled, while he watched the man for whom he was bodyguard die.
In this fashion occurred the death of Joseph Hole-In-The-Day, head chief of the upper Mississippi bands of Chippewa Indians. A shrewd, intelligent, dignified, proud and affable man and still a young one -- he was probably but 41 when he was assassinated.
The pockets of the dead man were rifled, his money and his gold watch taken. His body-guard, Ojibwa, was captured and the murder party, members of the Pillager band of Chippewa, returned to the farm home of Hole-In-The-Day on the Gull River, below where it flows from Gull Lake, to carry out the custom of plundering.
In the house or near it were five wives of Hole-In-The-Day four of them Indian -- and two of them sisters -- but one white.
The white was an Irish girl whom Hole-In-The-Day had met in Washington, on one of his several trips to the national capital. He had married her in a white man's ceremony, and she bore him a son. Her presence in the house probably pre- vented complete wreckage of Hole-In-The-Day's estate.
Ojibwa told his captors that to molest a white woman would bring down the wrath of military authorities and the tribal lands might be overrun with troops. The party heeded the warning and left.
+ Battle Point on Bay Lake was the scene of an encounter between the Sioux and Chippewa. The invading Sioux were prevented in ambushing the Chippewa quite by accident. An Indian maid came to the lake for water, saw the approaching Sioux, screamed a warning in good time. Because of excellent hunting in the region the Sioux attempted to drive out the Chippewa.|
+ Early Sioux and Dakotah Indians built mounds east of Jenkins from 300 to 1,000 years ago. Mounds are still visible.
+ Early Indians had queer ideas on hospitality, drawn by smell of food, it was not uncommon to walk right in to a home, sit on the floor and wait for food. To get rid of him it was best to feed him.
Hole-In-The-Day's body was brought from the scene of the murder back to his house, then taken to the old village of Crow Wing for burial in a grave now unmarked.
And the Rev. C. H. Beaulieu, members of whose family had been the first settlers at Crow Wing, wrote later: 'AII the cunning savagery and self-interested diplomacy were forgotten, only the excellent and urbane ways remembers, only the word of praise uttered in his behalf. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery, since it was understood he was about to become a convert.
Murphys story goes on to say that the story is a reconstruction, as close as he could make it, of what may have been one of the more direful murders in Minnesota history. Within a few years -- within lifetimes of his children and grandchildren -- Hole-In-The-Day was a legend and the accounts of his death were embroidered and re-embroidered to make of the case a fascinating mystery.
Joseph Hole-In-The-Day was a remarkable man and, had he lived, he might have had a much greater impact on the history of the state and of his own people.
For his murder no one was ever punished -- and to understand that, one must engage in more reconstruction, to rebuild the attitude of the public toward Indians in that day. An Indian killing was simply an Indian killing.
The old village of Crow Wing was located on the Mississippi where the Crow Wing River flows into it, with a sweep which to the Indians seemed like the bend in the wing of a crow. In the 1860s it was a bustling community of 600 or more -- but it began to die when the old Red River trail which went through it fell into disuse.
The site is now deserted as a community and is preserved as a state park. It is located off a side road a short distance from Highway 371, south of Brainerd. The crumbled foundations of fallen buildings are marked by the state Conservation Department. Beside the river is a clearing which now holds picnic tables and fireplaces.
Up a hill are two old cemeteries nearly hidden by underbrush, their crosses fallen, their headstones shattered. The Benedictine brothers at St. John's university say the records show Hole-In-The-Day was buried just outside the line of the Catholic cemetery at Crow Wing.
The old site was purchased by the Catholic diocese of St. Cloud from Lawrence Koering, who owned the land and farmed the adjacent ground. It is a spot redolent with history where the very shadows seem to hold mysteries,,where the imagination can run riot.
And imaginations must have run riot after news of the death of Hole-In-The-Day got around. There were many reports of his murder in newspapers of that period, and there are many accounts in the records of historical societies at many points.
The most notable thing about all of them is in the way they differ -- even the most straight-forward accounts leave details up in the air, or are conflicted by other straightforward accounts.
One is in a letter from John G. Morrison, with the White Earth Indian agency, to scouts at old Crow Wing, and a good friend of Hole-In-The-Day. He wrote: "Yours bearing the date on Nov. 23 came to hand and contents noted. As to your inquiries regarding the death of Hole-In-The-Day, and the causes of his death, and as to the way he died and where, I will say and am ready to prove my assertions in this statement, that said Hole-In-The-Day was killed Aug. 17, 1868, by two young Pillager Indians of Leech Lake, Minn. -- May-T w a y-G a h-No- N i n d and Pay-Way-We-Dung, the former firing the first shot. There were 11 Indians in the assassinating party.
"This event took place between the Gull River and the Crow Wing River. Myself and Mrs. Robert Fairbanks and others buried his remains at the Catholic buying grounds at Crow Wing, Aug. 19, 1868. As to this Mr. MeCue, he is laboring under a mistake. He has reference to a Sioux Indian known as Other Day, who had married a white woman in Washington.
"I was with Hole-In-The-Day when he married his white wife in Washington, and said woman is now living in Minneapolis married to a white man. The watch I gave you was taken from the body of the deceased chief after he was murdered, and was his property. I got the watch from his murderers. The cause of his murder was jealousy toward him, owing to his drawings by stipulation $1,000 a year for 20 years, this was to himself only and family -- John G. Morrison, judge court, 'Indian offices."
Even that record may have touches of error, Morrison's son also John G. Morrison, retired from his post as a field supervisor for the Indian office, talked to Ojibwa, the bodyguard with the unfortunate chief at the time of his murder.
The killers, he believes, were not those named by his father He named one as 0 Dish Quay Keshig, whose English name was Ben King; and the other as either May Dway No Nind, mentioned by the elder Morrison, or May Dway We Nind.
Morrison talked to Mrs. Julia Selkirk, who as a child was playing with Hole-In-The-Day's children at the time the body was brought home. She told him that only one of the two shots took effect -- there was but one bullet wound. His head, however, was broken open by clubbing.
Morrison's memoranda seems to be the most credible in a large collection of written accounts, yellowed news paper clips and word-of-mouth stories.
Hole-In-The-Day was a man who excited the imagination. Feared by many who did not know him, he was a man of influence whose mistake may have been that he sought to reconcile two different civilizations.
His very name aroused curiosity. The most popular English spelling of its Indian version is Bug-O-Nay-Geshig, although Morrison said a more accurate rendering is Puk-O-Nay-Keshig.
It has been given many translations, one of them "an opening in the sky through which the light streams down." The most logical explanation, however seems to be that Hole-In-The-Day's father, from whom he took the name, was born during an eclipse of the sun.
When the chieftainship of the Chippewas fell to a woman, the story has it, the elder Hole-In-The-Day simply took over, and began to lead war parties against the old enemy, often with success, sometimes with failure. He died in 1847, fatally injured in a crossing of the Platte River, and was buried at his own wish, on a high bluff a short distance north of Little Falls, where he could look out over the broad, peaceful Mississippi Valley.
Joseph Hole-In-The-Day was born about 1827. He must have succeeded to the chieftainship at about the age of 20, and was called upon immediately to demonstrate his ability at statesmanship. In July 1847 he went to a Chippewa conference at Fond du Lac, Wis., where the older chiefs of the Lake Superior bands refused to accept him because of his youth.
Hole-In-The-Day made a stirring speech in which he dared the elders to remove him. It worked. He became head chief of the eight upper Mississippi bands without question -- and also began to be a man of influence among the whites, many of whom became his trusted friends.
Some of them described him later, as having an extraordinary understanding of white customs, but electing to follow his own. This awareness of the differences between two worlds which must get along together made him something of a man of mystery even then.
How did he look and act, and feel? Beaulieu described h i m thus: "He was a man of native talent and shrewdness. His complexion and hair were typical of Indian coloring, his features racial but not pronounced Thought and reflection seemed to have toned down the ruggedness and given him an intellectual countenance.
"His eye was bright and more than intelligent, showing shrewdness and deep thinking were part of his nature. Ambitious and restless, he saw that he must shine in war, Indian war, was predatory and opportunistic, and there had to be a master hand to lay plans, conduct advances and order retreats.
"Hole-In-The-Day was equal to all of this. His forays were always successful."
Man of Contrasts
He kept his hair long and plaited, Beaulieu wrote, and wore a soft hat or a high silk, immaculate white shirts, a Prince Albert coat, and a gold watch chain -- then with this, breechelout, leggings and moccasins.
He had a coach and an Irish coachman, and would drive in state into Old Crow Wing. Beaulieu said he was illiterate and unable to speak English correctly or fluently -- but other accounts describe Hole-In-The-Day as well-educated for an Indian. He is reported to have had an interpreter read newspapers to him daily, so he might keep abreast of events.
His plans included the betterment of his tribe, but did not neglect his own interests. Politically, he was a Democrat except when he espoused the Republican candidacy of Gov. Ramsey.
And Beaulieu said that his harem had been reduced to two favorite Indian wives at the time married his white wife, a point of variation from the Morrison account.
(Murphy, the author of this article, says that nowhere could he find the name of his white wife -- except that in the records of Father Pierz at Crow Wing, listed as godparents for Jean Evegul and Susan MacFarlen on July 27, 1868 -- less than a month before his death -- are Joseph Hole-In-The-Day described as Indian chief, and Helen Kater, described as "Irish girl from Washington.")
His harem gave him seven children, said Morrison -- Ignatius, Julia, Adeline, Louisa, Rose, Belle and Joseph, the last the son of his white wife, known as Joseph Woodbury, the half-white son was called Hole-In-The-Day 3rd and served as a corporal in the Spanish-American war. He was reported found dead in Chicago in 1898.
The name was extinguished with the death of Joseph Woodbury's son, known sometimes as Hole-In-The-Day 4th, shortly after World War I.
Descendants of H oIe-In-The Day still survived in Minnesota in 1953 -- granddaughter, Mrs. Carrie Fairbanks of St. Cloud, the daughter of Adeline, still living at White Earth, Minn.
Hole-In-The-Day's travels were not restricted to his own Indian country. Some of his daughters were educated in St. Paul, and he visited the Twin Cities frequently.
As early as 1850, he spoke before the Minnesota Legislature, seeking a better shake for his tribes. He was instrumental in negotiating a new Sioux-Chippewa treaty in 1854. He was in Washington several times.
His maneuvering resulted, finally, in 1867, in reestablishment of the White Earth reservation of 86 townships in a beautiful section of country. The treaty also guaranteed him $1,000 a year in cash for 20 years.
The Gull Lake area is rife with Hole-In-The-Day stories -- a stately tree on Round Lake is fabled as that beneath which he held some of his councils. The site of old St. Columba mission of Gull Lake, where Hole-In-The-Day often visited, is well marked.
There are excellent Hole-In-The-Day photographs remaining. One of these, snapped in the old Whitney galleries in St. Paul, shows a dignified man with reflective eyes and a prominent scar on the left side of his chin, dressed in a formal coat, a feathered turban, and a blanket. A painting of him, commissioned by the late T. B. Walker, also exists.
Hole-In-The-Day was described by several writers as the match for any white politician on record, wise to tricks, and capable of developing his own strategies.
A Great Chief
Hole-In-The-Day was the last of the great Chippewa chiefs, the last of the warrior leaders. He was, in his day, a compelling, even a romantic figure.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).