On this dayNov 05, 1862

U.S. Government Sentences Over 300 Dakota Men to Death

On November 5, 1862, a five-man territorial commission representing the U.S. government sentenced 303 Dakota men to death for their participation in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

In the early 1800s, white settlers increasingly encroached upon the land of the Dakota people in Minnesota. To maintain peace, the Dakota agreed to a series of treaties, the first of which was signed in 1805, exchanging their land for the promise of financial payments and goods.

After the American Civil War began in 1861, the U.S. government failed to pay the money promised to the Dakota. This monetary deficit, coupled with further settler incursion onto Dakota hunting and farming lands, pushed the Dakota to the brink of starvation, prompting Dakota men to begin making incursions into white settlements for food in the summer of 1862.

In response, the U.S. organized a military force composed of federal troops and local militia, and the conflict escalated. Outnumbered, the Dakota forces surrendered in September of 1862. Over 2,000 Dakota were taken into custody.

On November 5, 1862, a territorial commission composed of five military officers sentenced the captured Dakota men accused of participating in the war. Of the nearly 500 Dakota tried, 303 were sentenced to be executed. These men had no access to lawyers, and some of the trials lasted fewer than five minutes. After ordering a review of the trial records, President Abraham Lincoln commuted all but 39 of the death sentences; the execution of the condemned Dakota men on December 26, 1862, remains the largest single mass execution in American history.

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