Depicted is Shaynowishkung, a Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe leader also known as Chief Bemidji, celebrated for his role as a peacekeeper and charismatic, kind and gentle leader. Born around 1834, the 70 years of Shaynowishkung’s life spanned decades of great change and harm to the Ojibwe people during the removal and assimilation eras. Despite tensions, Shaynowishkung built relationships with the white settlers, and during the 1898 Battle of Sugar Point, he warned people to keep safe. For years he lived in the Bemidji area, but when the railroad came to town, surveyors claimed Shaynowishkung’s land and house. He was forced to take allotment land in Rice Lake, where he died in 1904.
The artist, a Norwegian immigrant who settled permanently in Minneapolis in 1905, painted a remarkable record of prominent American Indians and figures of the day including naturalist John Burroughs, lumber magnate T.B. Walker and his wife Harriet, and President William McKinley who posed for the artist in St. Paul while serving as governor of Ohio.