Published on March 11, 2013 by Carol
The Battle of Sugar Point, or the Battle of Leech Lake, was fought on October 5, 1898 between the 3rd U.S. Infantry and members of the Pillager Band of Chippewa Indians in a failed attempt to apprehend Pillager Ojibwe Bugonaygeshig (“Old Bug” or “Hole-In-The-Day”), as the result of a dispute with Indian Service officials on the Leech Lake Reservation in Cass County, Minnesota.
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Often referred to as “the last Indian Uprising in the United States”, the engagement is also the first battle to be fought in the Northwest United States since the Winnebago War in 1827. It is considered to be the last battle fought between Native Americans and the U.S. Army.
The last Medal of Honor issued during the Indian Wars was awarded to Private Oscar Burkard of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment
The main issue between the Pillagers and Indian Service officials was the frequent arrest of tribal members on minor charges and transporting them to federal courts far from the reservation for trial. Frequently, these charges involved the sale and consumption of alcohol on the reservation, banned by federal law. Witnesses to criminal acts were also transported.
Harvesting of dead-and-down timber by local logging companies also caused considerable resentment. Although the logging companies paid for the timber they harvested, the value was often underestimated and payments were frequently late. In addition, some unscrupulous loggers purposely set fire to healthy trees in order to damage them and pass them off as dead timber.
A Pillager, Bugonaygeshig, was among those protesting the business practices of the logging companies on the reservation in early 1898. However, when he and Sha-Boon-Day-Shkong traveled to the nearby Indian village of 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 and return to their homes on Sugar Point.
After Bugonaygeshig’s escape, Tinker requested military assistance from Fort Snelling. A small force of 20 soldiers from the 3rd Regiment United States Infantry under Lieutenant Chauncey B. Humphreys were dispatched to Onigum. When his scouts reported Bugonaygeshig was refusing to surrender, Humphreys decided to send for additional reinforcements.
A larger force was soon raised and included 77 soldiers under Brevet Major Melville C. Wilkinson who was also accompanied by General John M. Bacon. Others who took part in the expedition included U.S. Marshals and deputy marshals, Indian Police officers and several reporters.
The small force had boarded two small steamships, the Flora and the Chief of Duluth, and sailed from Walker, Minnesota across Leech Lake until they reached Sugar Point, a small peninsula located in the northeast section of the lake.