The younger Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk (the one who is generally meant by writers who refer to Hole in the Day) lived in a time when traditional customs and rules were changing. In 1847 he succeeded his father, who was also named Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk, as chief or ogema of one of the bands of Mississippi Ojibwe. Two years later in 1849 Minnesota was organized as a United States territory, and white settlers began pouring into the country. Bravery in battle, which had served the Ojibwe well against other enemies, was of no use in fighting the legal manipulation and economic aggression of white society.
Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk inherited from his father a position of influence and leadership. He was also the grandson of Chief Ka-ta-wa-be-da, "emperor of Sandy Lake". Unlike many other Ojibwe, he was willing to learn and use the ways of the European. He understood English, and although he himself had not been taught to read, he found others who could, and he made himself familiar with the newspapers and the politics of the new territory.
He was a handsome man with polished manners. Usually he dressed in fashionable European-style clothes, and he mingled easily in white society during his many trips to Washington, D. C., and St. Paul. But he always kept his long braid of glossy black hair and a blanket, which he wore draped gracefully across one shoulder. He was popular with both men and women, and he was a spell-binding public speaker. Soon white men in both the nation's capital and the territorial capital began to look upon him as a spokesman for all his people.
In 1862, when the Dakota made a last desperate effort to regain their lands in southern Minnesota, the Ojibwe found themselves in a key position. they occupied all of northern Minnesota, and their numbers were greater than those of the Dakota. Had they joined their former enemies in attacking white settlements, the war would have been far longer and more deadly for both sides --- though there is little reason to think that it would have ended differently. In this situation Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk boldly engaged in what today might be called "brinkmanship."
With news of the Dakota uprising, fear, tension, and anti-Indian hysteria increased among settlers and government officials throughout the state. The Indian agent at Gull Lake was disliked by the Ojibwe and had already been officially charged by Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk with fraud and corruption. The killing of two government-owned cattle gave the agent an excuse to move against his accuser, and he sent a detachment of soldiers to arrest the chief. Warned of their coming, Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk fled with his family in a canoe. The soldiers fired at them but missed.
Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk was deeply angered by the unjustified attack. He appealed for support to the Pillagers of Leech Lake and to other bands of Mississippi Ojibwe. Soon a large force had collected at Gull Lake. Meanwhile the terrified government agent had fled south to St. Cloud, declaring that the Ojibwe had joined with the Dakota and would soon attack the white settlements. At St. Cloud he met none other than the commissioner of Indian affairs, who had come from Washington to negotiate a treaty for the purchase of the Red River Valley. The Dakota uprising had made that impossible, so the commissioner undertook instead to talk with the angry Ojibwe of the upper Mississippi.
First he sent a local settler to call Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk to a council. Alone and unarmed, the man walked into the chief's camp at Gull Lake, where he was treated courteously. Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk agreed to talk with the commissioner and released a number of white prisoners who were held in the camp. He made only one condition: After the agent's attempt to arrest him without cause, he did not trust the government, and he insisted that the commissioner come to him if he wanted to talk.
The commissioner was afraid to do so, but after two weeks of negotiating, he finally agreed to meet Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk at the village of Crow Wing. Thinking to outwit the Ojibwe, he sent ahead of him a force of nearly a hundred soldiers, but he had no sooner reached Crow Wing than he found himself quietly surrounded by three times that number of Indians. A man who was there described the scene as follows:
"Both parties suspected treachery; both were ready for battle. The slightest spark would have fired the powder magazine. There was no hurry, no confusion, no excitement; a holiday gathering could not have shown more apparent carelessness. Quietly, and with scarce audible commands, the soldiers were instructed and posted in the most advantageous positions for defense.... Two backwoodsmen were stationed within a few paces of Hole in the Day, with orders, at the first signs of a conflict, to make him their special mark. Every nerve was tense, every hilt and trigger within instant grasp. Nor were the Indians less alert; not a motion escaped their keen notice. Sitting and lying about in motley groups,...they smoked, chatted, and laughed with each other, feeling of the sharp points of their new, bright arrow-heads, and showing one another the fashion, weight, and convenience of their war clubs."
Fortunately, no spark set off an explosion. In his discussion with the commissioner Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk firmly demanded correction of the wrongs done by the agent and payment of money which he claimed the government owed him and his people. But the weakness of his own position soon began to show. Other more cautious Ojibwe leaders disliked the risks he was taking and distrusted his reasons for bringing them to the brink of war. They asked to talk separately with the commissioner and agreed to go back to their homes.
This distrust of Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk increased as he became more wealthy and took up even more of the white men's ways. By 1867 he owned two farms and a large tract of forest land; to handle legal matters for him he hired a St. Paul lawyer; and he had enough political influence in the Crow Wing area to arouse the jealousy of white politicians and businessmen. There were rumors of attempts to kill him.
Still he claimed to represent the Mississippi bands, and government officials seem to have accepted his word for it. There were whispers that he used his influence to collect money for himself, but the record shows that on treaty matters he never hesitated to speak out strongly in behalf of his people.
On the afternoon of August 17, 1868, Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk and a man who was employed by him as both interpreter and bodyguard were riding in the chief's buggy between his home and the Indian agency. Along the way they were attacked from ambush by a party of Ojibwe, and Bug-o-na-ghe-zhisk was killed. It is reasonably certain the assailants were Pillagers from Leech Lake who were hired by the mixed bloods from Crow Wing: Clement Beaulieu, John Morrison, and Charles Ruffee. But the full truth may never be known, for there was no legal investigation. The murder of an Indian was not then under the jurisdiction of the white men's courts.