06 - Old Bug

It is very important to note, that "Old Bug" as he was called, is not the same person as Hole-in-the-day I or II. Although his name is the same, this sub-chief of Leech Lake was not related to the first great “Bug-o-nay-ge-shig" of Gull Lake, nor to his son.

The 1890s was a time of deep resentment for Ojibwe people. Timber barons, and crooked government agents had cheated Ojibwe people so badly that it had prompted a federal investigation.

About this time, a sub-chieftain of the Bear Island Ojibwe, with a cabin on Sugar Point across the way, obtained a substantial supply of whiskey from one of these new installations, and brought it back to his comrades. The result was that one of them was shot and killed. This sub-chief was Begona-geshig, a namesake of the first great chieftain by that name on the lower Mississippi, as we have discussed elsewhere. Since the "p" and the "b" in Ojibwe are indistinguishable, this Leech Laker was commonly known as "Old Bug." He was arrested and sent to Duluth for six months in the St. Louis County jail. When his term ended in February, the authorities merely dismissed him - turned him out into mid-winter weather with no money for food, no fare to get back home. Sugar Point was a long ways off and Bugona-geshig was no longer a young man. The census in 1898 showed his age as 60. Worse, he had come to Duluth mid-summer, in mid-summer clothes. He tried to board a train; the conductor put him off. After hiking awhile along the bleak snowswept tracks, he tried to board another at the next stop out of Duluth. The conductor again put him off.

Photos courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Ojibwe patriot, Bug-o-nay-ge-shig [left, in the beaver pelt hat, holding the pistol, poses with two of his band members from Leech Lake. Taken 1897 at Bear Island.

Photos courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Soldiers and weaponry used against Bug-o-nay-ge-shig at Sugar Point 1898. Part of Col. Harbach's command stationed at Walker, Minnesota.

Photos courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Mock battle staged at White Earth Reservation 1910.

By the time "Old Bug" made Sugar Point, he was a very sick Indian. He nearly lost his life. Meantime, the authorities had moved against the White man who sold the liquor. They brought him to court. But when they came to get "Old Bug" to serve as a witness against him, he would have nothing to do with it - quite understandably. He simply hid out in the woods and refused to come in. Never again would he expose himself to the complex crudities of the white man and to find an Indian in the woods is not an easy matter. The situation was about to resolve itself when the annual payment became due at the Old Agency in Trader Bay. Though a mere pittance of some few dollars and a bit of merchandise, Bug-o-nay-ge-shig could not resist calling for that which was his own; whereupon he was promptly clamped in irons.

"Where are my young men?" he dramatically shouted toward a group of youthful Ojibwe as the two marshals were hustling him toward the boat. This touched a tender cord; for it was ever the honor and the glory of the young male Indian to serve as the battle arm for the helpless, the replacement for the old warrior, and the standard bearer for everything held dear in tribal tradition.

Within moments a score of them had Old Bug properly freed, and the two marshals effectively roughed up. But the aging Indian was not able to run quite fast enough particularly when manacled, and others aiding the marshals soon caught him. This infuriated a bunch of bystanding women who now got into the act and really put an end to it. Old Bug made it to the woods and all the way to Stony Point. There his friends filed off his handcuffs.

He was free and with nothing less than an official war with the United States Army on his hands. This was the famous Sugar Point Battle of 1898, begun on October 5 and finished on the 7th, with six Army men killed and no known dead Indians. For sometime all of Minnesota was under a renewed scare of an Indian uprising.

Old Bug escaped to live out his years in peace. He was rarely photographed and is today very well known for soundly leading his warriors in the victory of Sugar Point in one of the last Indian-White battles of this country.

Standing on the left is none other than the Leech Lake Buipo-nay-ge-shig or "Old Bug", who Instigated the Sugar Point Battle of 1898, then escaped Into the deep woods to wear to this dying day the proud title of "Unconquered Indian." Very few photographs of him are known. To the left of "Old Bug" is the Leech Lake Chief, Jim Goose, second only to Chief Flat Mouth in rank. Seated is John Smith who lived to the ripe age of 138 years before passing on.


Last modified: Monday, July 23, 2018, 8:09 AM