On this dayDec 26, 1862

U.S. Government Hangs Thirty-Eight Dakota Men in Minnesota

W.H. Childs

On December 26, 1862, U.S. forces hanged thirty-eight Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota. President Abraham Lincoln ordered the executions following the Dakota War of 1862, a six-week uprising of Dakota people against white settlers after the United States broke its promise to deliver food and supplies to local tribes in exchange for the surrender of tribal land. Commenting on the starving Native Americans, a white trader named Andrew Myrick reportedly said, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.”

Following the uprising, 2000 Dakota people were captured and several hundred were sentenced to death. President Lincoln pardoned all but thirty-eight men, leaving them to be executed. An onlooker wrote about the mass execution in the St. Paul Pioneer:

“They still kept up a mournful wail, and occasionally there would be a piercing scream. The ropes were soon arranged around their necks, not the least resistance being offered…. Then ensued a scene that can hardly be described, and which can never be forgotten. All joined in shouting and singing, as it appeared to those who were ignorant of the language. The tones seemed somewhat discordant, and yet there was harmony in it…."

The most touching scene on the drop was their attempts to grasp each other’s hands, fettered as they were. They were very close together, as many succeeded. Three or four in a row were hand in hand, and all hands swaying up and down with the rise and fall of their voices…We were informed by those who understood the language that their singing and shouting was only to sustain each other; that there was nothing defiant in their last moments, and that no ‘death-song,’ strictly speaking, was shouted on the gallows. Each one shouted his own name, and called on the name of his friend, saying, in substance, ‘I’m here! I’m here!’”

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