Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Historic Day: The Last Armed Conflict Between Native Americans and the U.S. Government (until Wounded Knee in 1973)

From "The Minnesota Book of Days":

On October 5th, 1898, The Battle of Sugar Point occurred on Leech Lake. Soldiers from the Third Infantry had accompanied U.S. Marshal R. T. O'Connor to arrest Bugonaygeshig, of the Bear Island Pillager Indians. Bugonaygeshig had protested practices of lumber companies on the reservation, and he was in turn accused of illegal liquor sales. When O'Connor came to arrest him, Bugonaygeshig was rescued by a group of Ojibwe. O'Connor then requested assistance from General John M. Bacon at Fort Snelling, who traveled with eighty soldiers on a steamer to Sugar Point on Leech Lake, where Bugonaygeshig and his friends were living. Six soldiers are killed in the ensuing battle, while Bugonaygeshig escaped and was never arrested.

Here's more background on the causes of the battle from Wikipedia sources:

The main issues between the Pillagers and local officials whose mistreatment included the frequent arrests of tribal members on trivial charges and transporting them far from the Leech Lake Reservation for trial. This was often the case of members who had witnessed criminal acts.
During the 1880s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers began building dams in the Mississippi Headwaters. One of the dams was built on Leech Lake flooding parts of the Pillager reservation and causing the displacement of villages and ruining the soil. However, it was nearby logging companies which caused considerable resentment. Although the logging companies agreed to annuity payments in exchange for harvesting dead and fallen timber on the reservation, the value was often underestimated and payments were frequently late. Some loggers set fire to the foundation of living trees in order to pass off as dead timber.

Bugonaygeshig started protesting against business practices of the lumber companies on the reservation in early 1898. However, when he and Sha-Boon-Day-Shkong traveled to Onigum on September 15, they were seized by U.S. Deputy Marshal Robert Morrison and U.S. Indian Agent Arthur M. Tinker as witnesses to a bootlegging operation and were going to be transported to Duluth (Bugonaygeshig had previously testified at another bootlegging trial in the port city on Lake Superior five months earlier). As the two were being led away, several Pillagers attacked Morrison and Tinker allowing Bugonaygeshig and Sha-Boon-Day-Shkong to escape custody.

Following the battle on October 5th...
The Pillagers finally dispersed early the next day and the soldiers headed back to St. Paul. Although there was initial panic among the neighboring settlements of attacks against Deer River, Grand Rapids, Bemidji and Aitkin, public fears of another Indian uprising subsided after newspapers began reporting the circumstances of the attack. The day after the battle, the Cass County Pioneer published a letter by the Pillagers which said the following,
We, the undersigned chiefs and headmen of the Pillager band of Chippewa [Ojibwe] 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 pine lands 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 heretofore, 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.[2]

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