This Day in History: Battle of Sugar Point; The Bizarre Seal of the Village of Whitesboro New York

On this day in history, Oct. 5, 1898, the Battle of Sugar Point was fought (also called The Battle of Leech Lake). It is often referred to as the “last Indian uprising” in the United States, according to Wikipedia.

Not that different from some contemporary Native issues, the conflict centered on how Native peoples were treated by the criminal justice system of that day. In the 1898 context, the Indian Service would frequently arrest Ojibwe tribal members on minor charges, then transport them long distances from the reservation for trials in federal courts.

The central figure in the Battle of Sugar Point was a Pillager man named Hole in the Day, known for “protesting the unscrupulous business practices of white loggers,” Wikipedia says. Indian agents tried to arrest him, not because he had broken a law but because they wanted him as a witness in a Duluth bootlegging trial. Hole in the Day escaped arrest when his fellow villagers attacked the agents.

The Indian agents asked for help. Fort Snelling sent 77 troops north. The troops arrested two of the men who had helped Hole in the Day’s escape. They also looked to arrest any other Ojibwe with an outstanding warrant, but most men already had fled to the woods.

According to Wikipedia.

The exact circumstances as to which side fired the first shot are disputed. General Bacon claimed that one of the soldier’s rifles accidentally discharged causing the Pillagers hiding in the woods to think that they were being attacked while the Pillagers said the battle started when several soldiers were seen firing at an Indian canoe carrying several women as their steamship approached Sugar Point. In the ensuing battle, six soldiers were killed, including Maj. Melville Wilkinson. The troops eventually withdrew. Hole in the Day was never captured.

Read the Wikipedia entry for more details. Minnesota Public Radio also wrote a piece on the battle.

Indians in Public Art: The Village of Whitesboro New York’s Seal

Here’s another example of ongoing debates about how Native Americans are depicted in public art. Check out this image of the Village Seal of Whitesboro, New York, by all appearances, a pioneer choking an Indian.

The Village’s website says the pioneer is Village founder Hugh White, who lived among the Oneida Indians. The Village Seal “depicts a friendly wrestling match [that actually took place] and helped foster good relations between White and the Indians.”

A website called “Weird Universe

Unfortunately, some people think the seal looks more like Hugh White choking an Indian. In fact, in 1977 a complaint was filed with the Village Board arguing that the seal “demeans, disgraces and creates prejudice and distrust of Indian people.” The Village was asked to stop displaying the seal. However, the villagers felt that the wrestling match was an important event in the history of their town, so instead they redesigned the seal so that Hugh White’s hands were placed on the Indian’s shoulders and not so close to his neck.

But it still looks like White is choking the Oneida chief and remains controversial today. The New York Daily News and the Village Voice have written about the issue as recently as this summer. The article in the Voice includes a quote from the Patrick O’Connor, the mayor of Whitesboro. He said he is aware that people are upset by the Seal, but that “it’s actually a very accurate depiction of friendly wrestling matches that took place back in those days.”

The article also quotes Cliff Matias, director of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council in Brooklyn.

Let’s take off all the whitewash and get down to the nitty-gritty of this thing. We know, they know, and everyone else knows that this symbol is absolutely preposterous. It’s racist in every sense of its form, and the use of it is ridiculous.

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