To add to Walt’s mention of the anniversary in his post, I wanted to share part of this lengthy article that appeared in the Grand Forks Herald yesterday (Dec. 26). It is particularly interesting to me, both as it occurred in Minnesota, and related to the larger conflict between the Dakota and the Federal government, which included the siege of Fort Abercrombie, which was commemorated this past September, including participation by several reenactors (myself included).
Today marks anniversary of Dakota War hangings
MITCHELL, S.D. — They were Dakota warriors. They met their fates with courage 150 years ago. The 38 condemned men, their hands bound behind them, rushed to the gallows that had been specially built for them on the edge of the Minnesota River in Mankato, Minn. They danced in place as the rough-hewn nooses were pulled over their heads. All wore white muslin caps with flaps on them, pulled down to obscure faces adorned with ceremonial paint.
The 1862 Dakota War was coming to a deadly climax.
According to an eyewitness report in The New York Times of the largest mass execution in American history, most of the men on the scaffold sang a slow Indian death song. Some of the condemned, including a few of mixed blood who had embraced Christianity, sang a song of their faith. Several had worked their hands free, and clasped a final grip with the man next to them.
Meanwhile, about 4,000 people watched. They were being monitored by more than 1,400 uniformed soldiers in the Minnesota Sixth, Eighth and Ninth regiments, there to ensure the warriors died of hanging and not of a mob attack.
Just after 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 26, 1862 — 150 years ago Wednesday — a drum was sounded three times. Capt. William Duley stood ready with a knife at the base of the platform.
Duley had been wounded, had lost three children during the conflict, and his pregnant wife and two other children had been taken hostage. Laura Duley later said she was repeatedly assaulted and lost the child she was carrying during captivity, he would learn when they were reunited.
As the final drumbeat echoed, Duley severed the heavy rope on his second try, releasing the traps beneath the warriors’ feet. All plunged down from the 20-foot-high platform.
Some died instantly, their necks snapped. Others writhed in agony as they choked to death. One man, known as Rattling Runner, plummeted to the ground, the rope around his neck having broken.
As he was brought back to the platform and a second rope placed around his neck, the crowd — and the soldiers — cheered long and loud when they saw all 38 bodies swinging in the frigid morning air.
One little boy, who reportedly had lost his parents in the 1862 Dakota War, was heard to shout, “Hurrah! Hurrah!” according to The New York Times report.
That mass hanging was the culmination of the 1862 Dakota War, also known as the Dakota Conflict, the Sioux Uprising of 1862, and Little Crow’s War, among other names. The executions were held after weeks of attacks, skirmishes and battles between white settlers and soldiers and Indians angry about the loss of their homeland and being denied access to food.
Hundreds, many of them settlers who were surprised by sudden attacks, died in August and September 1862. The Mankato hangings were intended to put the war to rest, but it has remained a heated topic among many Indians and some whites for 150 years, while others, even some who live in the region, are completely unaware of the bloody late summer of 1862.
Lyle W. Miller Sr., a Crow Creek teacher and 1993 Dakota Wesleyan University graduate, spoke on the 1862 Dakota War during a Dec. 14 presentation at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.
“When I think about that time in 1862, and I think about the reasons why it started — it had to happen,” Miller said. “A lot of people think war isn’t ever supposed to happen, but at this time, let’s put it this way: There’s no good about a war, but sometimes it has to happen. The little ones were starving. What do you do when you’re faced with a position like that?”