The aftermath: military tribunals, Abraham Lincoln’s role, the largest mass execution in United States history, and death camps.
⁓The Voice before the Void
“Dakota War of 1862”
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In early December, 303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunals and sentenced to death. Some trials lasted less than 5 minutes. No one explained the proceedings to the defendants, nor were the Sioux represented by a defense in court. President Abraham Lincoln personally reviewed the trial records to distinguish between those who had engaged in warfare against the U.S., versus those who had committed crimes of rape and murder against civilians.
Henry Whipple, the Episcopal bishop of Minnesota and a reformer of U.S. policies toward Native Americans, first wrote an open letter and then went to Washington DC in the Fall of 1862 to urge Lincoln to proceed with leniency. On the other hand, General Pope and Minnesota Senator Morton S. Wilkinson told him that leniency would not be received well by the white population. Governor Ramsey warned Lincoln that, unless all 303 Sioux were executed, “[P]rivate revenge would on all this border take the place of official judgment on these Indians.” In the end, Lincoln commuted the death sentences of 264 prisoners, but he allowed the execution of 38 men.
This clemency resulted in protests from Minnesota, which persisted until the Secretary of the Interior offered white Minnesotans “reasonable compensation for the depredations committed.” Republicans did not fare as well in Minnesota in the 1864 election as they had before. Ramsey (by then a senator) informed Lincoln that more hangings would have resulted in a larger electoral majority. The President reportedly replied, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”
One of the 39 condemned prisoners was granted a reprieve. The Army executed the 38 remaining prisoners by hanging on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. It remains the largest mass execution in American history.
The mass execution was performed publicly on a single scaffold platform. After regimental surgeons pronounced the prisoners dead, they were buried en masse in a trench in the sand of the riverbank. Before they were buried, an unknown person nicknamed “Dr. Sheardown” possibly removed some of the prisoners’ skin. Small boxes purportedly containing the skin later were sold in Mankato.
At least two Sioux leaders, Little Six and Medicine Bottle, escaped to Canada. They were captured, drugged and returned to the United States. They were hanged at Fort Snelling in 1865.
Because of high demand for cadavers for anatomical study, several doctors wanted to obtain the bodies after the execution. The grave was reopened in the night and the bodies were distributed among the doctors, a practice common in the era. The doctor who received the body of Mahpiya Okinajin (He Who Stands in Clouds), also known as “Cut Nose”, was William Worrall Mayo.
Mayo brought the body of Mahpiya Okinajin to Le Sueur, Minnesota, where he dissected it in the presence of medical colleagues. Afterward, he had the skeleton cleaned, dried and varnished. Mayo kept it in an iron kettle in his home office. His sons received their first lessons in osteology from this skeleton. In the late 20th century, the identifiable remains of Mahpiya Okinajin and other Native Americans were returned by the Mayo Clinic to a Dakota tribe for reburial per the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The remaining convicted Indians stayed in prison that winter. The following spring they were transferred to Camp McClellan in Davenport, Iowa, where they were held in prison for almost four years. By the time of their release, one third of the prisoners had died of disease. The survivors were sent with their families to Nebraska. Their families had already been expelled from Minnesota.
Pike Island internment
During this time, more than 1600 Dakota women, children and old men were held in an internment camp on Pike Island, near Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Living conditions and sanitation were poor, and infectious disease struck the camp, killing more than three hundred. In April 1863 the U.S. Congress abolished the reservation, declared all previous treaties with the Dakota null and void, and undertook proceedings to expel the Dakota people entirely from Minnesota. To this end, a bounty of $25 per scalp was placed on any Dakota found free within the boundaries of the state. The only exception to this legislation applied to 208 Mdewakanton, who remained neutral or assisted white settlers in the conflict.
In May 1863 Dakota survivors were forced aboard steamboats and relocated to the Crow Creek Reservation, in the southeastern Dakota Territory, a place stricken by drought at the time. Many of the survivors of Crow Creek moved three years later to the Niobrara Reservation in Nebraska.
There are numerous firsthand accounts of the wars and raids. For example, the compilation by Charles Bryant, titled Indian Massacre in Minnesota, included these graphic descriptions of events, taken from an interview with Mrs. Justina Krieger:
“Mr. Massipost had two daughters, young ladies, intelligent and accomplished. These the savages murdered most brutally. The head of one of them was afterward found, severed from the body, attached to a fish-hook, and hung upon a nail. His son, a young man of twenty-four years, was also killed. Mr. Massipost and a son of eight years escaped to New Ulm.
“The daughter of Mr. Schwandt, enceinte [pregnant], was cut open, as was learned afterward, the child taken alive from the mother, and nailed to a tree. The son of Mr. Schwandt, aged thirteen years, who had been beaten by the Indians, until dead, as was supposed, was present, and saw the entire tragedy. He saw the child taken alive from the body of his sister, Mrs. Waltz, and nailed to a tree in the yard. It struggled some time after the nails were driven through it! This occurred in the forenoon of Monday, 18th of August, 1862.”
After the expulsion of the Dakota, some refugees and warriors made their way to Lakota lands. Battles continued between the forces of the Department of the Northwest and combined Lakota and Dakota forces through 1864. Col. Henry Sibley with 2,000 men pursued the Sioux into Dakota Territory. Sibley’s army defeated the Lakota and Dakota in four major battles in 1863: the Battle of Big Mound on July 24, the Battle of Dead Buffalo Lake on July 26, the Battle of Stony Lake on July 28, and the Battle of Whitestone Hill on September 3. The Sioux retreated further, but faced a United States army again in 1864. General Alfred Sully led a force from near Fort Pierre, South Dakota, and decisively defeated the Sioux at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain on July 28, 1864.
Conflicts continued. Within two years settlers’ encroachment on Lakota land sparked Red Cloud’s War; the US desire for control of the Black Hills in South Dakota prompted the government to authorize an offensive in 1876 in what would be called the Black Hills War. By 1881, the majority of the Sioux had surrendered to American military forces. In 1890, the Wounded Knee Massacre ended all effective Sioux resistance. It was the last major armed engagement between the United States and the Sioux.
Minnesota after the war
The Minnesota River valley and surrounding upland prairie areas were abandoned by most settlers during the war. Many of the families who fled their farms and homes as refugees never returned. Following the American Civil War, however, the area was resettled. By the mid-1870s, it was again being used for agriculture.
The Lower Sioux Indian Reservation was reestablished at the site of the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton. It was not until the 1930s that the US created the smaller Upper Sioux Indian Reservation near Granite Falls.
Although some Dakota opposed the war, most were expelled from Minnesota, including those who attempted to assist settlers. The Yankton Sioux Chief Struck by the Ree deployed some of his warriors to this effect, but was not judged friendly enough to be allowed to remain in the state immediately after the war. By the 1880s, a number of Dakota had moved back to the Minnesota River valley, notably the Goodthunder, Wabasha, Bluestone and Lawrence families. They were joined by Dakota families who had been living under the protection of Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple and the trader Alexander Faribault.
By the late 1920s, the conflict began to pass into the realm of oral tradition in Minnesota. Eyewitness accounts were communicated first-hand to individuals who survived into the 1970s and early 1980s. The stories of innocent individuals and families of struggling pioneer farmers being killed by Dakota have remained in the consciousness of the prairie communities of southcentral Minnesota.
Monuments and memorials
The Camp Release State Monument commemorates the release of 269 captives at the end of the conflict and the four faces of the 51-foot granite monument are inscribed with information about the battles that took place along the Minnesota River during the conflict, the Dakota’s surrender, and the creation of the monument.
Large stone monuments at the Wood Lake Battlefield and in the parade ground of Fort Ridgely commemorate the battles and members of the military killed in action.
Located at Center and State Streets, Defender’s Monument was erected in 1891 by the State of Minnesota to honor the memory of the defenders who aided New Ulm during the Dakota War of 1862. The artwork at the base was created by New Ulm artist Anton Gag. Except for being moved to the middle of the block, the monument has not been changed since its completion.
In 1972, the City of Mankato, Minnesota removed a plaque that had commemorated the mass execution of the thirty-eight Dakota from the site where the hanging occurred. In 1992, the City purchased the site and created Reconciliation Park. There is purposely no mention of the execution, but several stone statues in and around the park serve as a memorial. The annual Mankato Pow-wow, held in September, commemorates the lives of the executed men, but also seeks to reconcile the European American and Dakota communities. The Birch Coulee Pow-wow, held on Labor Day weekend, honors the lives of those who were hanged.
A number of local monuments honor white civilians killed during the war. These include the: Acton, Minnesota monument to those killed in the attack on the Howard Baker farm; Guri Endreson monument in the Vikor Lutheran Cemetery near Willmar, Minnesota; and Brownton, Minnesota monument to the White family, and the Lake Shetek State Park monument to 15 white settlers killed there and at nearby Slaughter Slough on August 20, 1862.