Monday, December 26, 2011
The largest mass execution in American history took place on this date in 1862 when thirty-eight Dakota Sioux prisoners who had taken part in the Dakota War of 1862 were hung in Mankato, Minnesota. “The mass hanging was the concluding scene in the opening chapter of a story of American-Sioux conflict that would not end until the Seventh Cavalry completed its massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota…” in 1890.
The Dakota War, or Little Crow’s War, began in August of 1862, in southwestern Minnesota when four Dakota men killed five settlers while on a hunting party. Upon hearing of the murders, a council of Dakota was called to decide on a course of action. At the time, many of the Dakota tribes were starving and facing extreme hardships because of the U.S. Government’s failure to provide annuities promised in previous treaties. Knowing that the murders would inevitably lead to retribution, and believing that the treaty violations of the government would continue, the council of Dakota elders decided to try to drive the white settlers from their lands. This included much of Minnesota and Dakota Territories. The Dakota tribes began to attack white settlements along the Red and Minnesota Rivers, killing as many as 800 settlers and taking dozens more captive. Although attacks continued for months, U.S. soldiers eventually captured most of the Dakota warriors involved. Over one thousand Dakota were imprisoned by December, when most Dakota bands surrendered. Trials began in November, and over a period of six weeks, a government commission conducted 393 trials. Among the sentences handed out, 303 men were sentenced to death by hanging. President Abraham Lincoln intervened, however, and pardoned 265 of the men for lesser sentences. Although his pardons proved unpopular at the time, President Lincoln believed that the newspaper sensationalism of the atrocities had unfairly condemned the men even before their hasty trials; he hoped justice would prevail despite popular sentiment. On December 26, 1862, the remaining thirty-eight prisoners were hung at ten o’clock in the morning, singing a “Native death song.”
Four months later, the remaining Dakota were expelled from Minnesota and their reservations abolished. Most were ordered to new reservations in Dakota Territory or Nebraska.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job