Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Documentary Remembers the Mankato 38

December 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the mass hanging — the largest in United States history — of thirty-eight Dakota warriors in Mankato, Minnesota. Chances are excellent that this event is unknown to you, unless you have read deeply in Native American history. Certainly, it was never mentioned in any of my American history texts; the books from my elementary and high school years reduced much of such history to portrayals of Native peoples as "savages" and the federal government as the necessary club wielded to bring"the red men" into line. 

The 38 condemned Native Americans, along with 265 others, had been adjudged guilty for their part in the Dakota Conflict (also known as the Sioux Uprising), a war with the U.S. over harsh treatment of, all-too-frequent broken treaties with, and empty promises of land and food made to those whose rights were held in contempt at best. Begun in August 1862, the conflict resulted in the deaths of scores of Native Americans (Dakota and Ojibwe), settlers, and soldiers. 

According to this post* by The Rev. Canon Robert Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota Oyate), Episcopalian Henry Benjamin Whipple, the first Bishop of Minnesota, intervened on behalf of the 303 convicted, requesting that President Abraham Lincoln review the evidence and commute the death sentences to "right the wrongs committed against the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples." Lincoln signed an execution order originally listing 39 names by case number of record (one was granted reprieve before the hanging took place). Of the 38 sent to their deaths, 37 were Christians (some had been baptized into the Episcopal Church). They went to the gallows, Robert Two Bulls says, singing in their language a Christian hymn. (The account of Robert Two Bulls differs from that reported here, which is quoted as stating that the condemned sang "Dakota death songs".)

The Mass Execution in Mankato [Harper's Weekly, January 1863]

A new documentary, Dakota 38 (Smooth Feather Productions, Washington, D.C.), directed by Silas Hagerty with Sarah Weston of the Fandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, seeks to relate the story of the Mankato 38 through Lakota spiritual leader Jim Miller, who tells of a vision he had in 2005 of having ridden on horseback 330 miles, beginning in Crow Creek, South Dakota, and stopping, finally, at the place where he saw his ancestors' hanging. In 2008, in a gesture of healing and reconciliation, he retraced the journey that ended at the hanging site in Mankato. 

Here is a video about Jim Miller's stirring spiritual ride that Hagety and co-director Weston filmed:

The documentary's trailer is here.

Dakota 38 Kickstarter Project

Smooth Feature Productions Blog

* Also see: Pat McCaughan, "Minnesota: Priest's Pop Art Challenges Contemporary Stereotypes, Recalls Church History", Episcopal News Service, January 8, 2010

Of Interest 

Mark Steil, "New Documentary Remembers Largest Mass Execution in U.S. History", MPRNews, December 23, 2010 (This article includes links to audio of the MPR program.) Also see "Pardon Sought for Dakota Warrior Hanged in Mankato", December 4, 2010.

Douglas O. Linder's The Dakota Conflict Trials (This account links to Bishop Whipple's discussion of the the war's causes.) 

You'll find in the Library of Congress archives various documents about the Dakota Indian Wars of 1862-1865 and Lincoln papers detailing the events in Minnesota. The Archives and Special Collections at F&M College Library include a colored print of the "Execution of the Thirty-eight Sioux Indians" at Mankato.

Internet Archive, Full Text of "History of the Sioux War and Massacres of 1862 and 1863"


Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you.

YOu have touched my heart and stirred my spirit this morning.

You have inspired me with this post.

raybeckerman said...

Thank you so much, Maureen, for letting us know about this important film, and the missing history.

It infuriates how our history books and newspapers are silent on these things.

raybeckerman said...

Maureen, thank you so much for telling us about this important film, and missing history.

It infuriates me how our history books and newspapers steal from us the true history of this nation.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Thank you for this post, Maureen. I wasn't aware of the story and it touched me deeply ... for our past and for our present and future ... may we become aware of our madness before it reaches such a level ever again.

Sue Ann Bowling said...

I think our PBS station broadcast this, at any rate I know I've seen something about it before. But it is one of the more unfortunate aspects of humanity that we tend to divide ourselves into "Like us" and "Others" and all too often see the group we label as "others" as not worth being considered human. This led to the Holocaust (Jews, gipsies, homosexuals are "not human,")the settlement of the Americas by Europeans (Native Americans) segregation (African Americans) and the Reformation (Catholics or Protestants, depending which side you were on.) It is behind a lot of the wars and conflicts today, including the Israli-Arab and Christian-Muslim conflicts.

Maureen said...


Yes, there was a public radio broadcast. I mention it in the section titled "Of Interest" and provide the link, along with a second link to an update.

Anonymous said...

mankato spoon

(your post is history that i did not know about.)

Liz said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was shocked to see that Lincoln signed the order. It is shameful that our history books are silent on Native American history.