Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dakota Indians Mark Hangings of 1862 with 300 mile Horseback Ride

I just read a really good Reuters article published on Yahoo by David Bailey. Below is an excerpt from that article. It would be worth reading the entire article - just click on the Reuters article link.

Today, the day after Christmas, will be somber for Dakota Indians marking what they consider a travesty of justice 150 years ago, when 38 of their ancestors were executed in the biggest mass hanging in U.S. history.

Overshadowed by the Civil War raging in the East, the hangings in Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862, followed the often overlooked six-week U.S.-Dakota war earlier that year -- a war that marked the start of three decades of fighting between Native Americans and the U.S. government across the Plains.

Over the next three years, Americans will commemorate the 150th anniversary of a host of Civil War battles. Almost forgotten are the conflicts with Native Americans that occurred in the second half of the 19th century as the United States rapidly expanded west.

Few of those conflicts are well known, with the exception of "Custer's Last Stand" -- when flamboyant officer George Armstrong Custer and his men were killed by Sioux leader Crazy Horse and his warriors in 1876 -- and the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, which many historians consider a massacre and the end of the Indian wars.

Thousands of Native Americans, white settlers and U.S. soldiers were killed in the Indian wars. Native Americans were coerced to cede their lands and then forced onto reservations. In the Upper Plains, that included members of the Great Sioux Nation, which comprises Lakota to the west, Nakota in the middle and Dakota to the east around Minnesota.

Under treaties in 1851, the four main Dakota bands ceded about 35 million acres of what is now southern Minnesota, parts of Iowa and South Dakota. In exchange, the U.S. pledged payments and allowed the Dakota a narrow tract of land about 10 miles wide on either side of the Minnesota River. Settlers swarmed onto the newly opened lands.

In 1858, just after Minnesota became a state, Dakota chiefs were summoned to Washington, D.C., and told they would have to give up the northern half of that narrow reserve, said St. Cloud State University historian Mary Wingerd.

By summer 1862, the Dakota, now largely dependent on government treaty payments that were long delayed, were starving. On August 17, young Dakota men out hunting killed five white settlers. The hunters pressed Chief Taoyateduta, known as Little Crow, to back a war. Some Dakota, but not all, fought soldiers and settlers in the short, bloody war in August and September 1862.

Hundreds of settlers were killed and hundreds more taken hostage in the war during attacks on forts, federal Indian agencies, cities and farms around southwestern Minnesota. Thousands of settlers fled east, fueling a statewide panic, and federal troops marched in to quell the Dakota fighters.

The U.S. was victorious on September 23, 1862, and Little Crow left Minnesota. Afterward, more than 2,000 Dakota were rounded up, whether they fought or not. Almost 400 men faced military trials, which often lasted just a few minutes, and 303 were sentenced to die.

President Lincoln demanded a review limiting the death sentences to those Dakota who raped or killed settlers. The number sentenced to hang was reduced to 38, but even in these cases the evidence was scanty, said Dan Stock, history center director at the Minnesota Historical Society.

The 38 condemned men stood on a large square gallows surrounded by soldiers. Thousands watched as a single blow with an ax cut a rope and dropped the scaffolding.

This month, in an annual event that started in 2005, some Dakota are making a 300 + mile trek on horseback in frigid winter temperatures to revive the memory of this footnote in U.S. history.

This all started in the spring of 2005, when Jim Miller, a Native spiritual leader and Vietnam veteran, found himself in a dream riding on horseback across the great plains of South Dakota. Just before he awoke, he arrived at a riverbank in Minnesota and saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged. At the time, Jim knew nothing of the largest mass execution in United States history,...... "When you have dreams, you know when they come from the creator... As any recovered alcoholic, I made believe that I didn't get it. I tried to put it out of my mind, yet it's one of those dreams that bothers you night and day."

This year's ride began on December 10 in Crow Creek, South Dakota, the reservation the Dakota were exiled to from Minnesota after the executions. It ends on December 26 in Mankato, where riders will attend a ceremony to remember the hangings.

Riders travel east across South Dakota, crossing the border into Minnesota and heading southeast to Mankato. Some ride the entire route, others join as their schedules permit. Support vehicles follow them.

The ride was captured in the documentary film "Dakota 38," which won a special jury award this year at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Festival. Take an hour out of your day and watch the video application of "Dakota 38", I don't think you'll regret it.

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