MANKATO — Standing in Reconciliation Park, site of the hanging of 38 Dakota men, Arvol Looking Horse spoke of a long journey coming to an end.
The Dakota/Lakota leader was speaking of the 150 years since the largest mass execution in American history and about the 16-day horse ride many Dakota made from South Dakota to Mankato to commemorate the event.
“Today, being here to witness a great gathering, we have peace in our hearts — a new beginning of healing,” Looking Horse said.
Under clear skies with temperatures just above zero, 400 to 500 people packed the area around the downtown park as about 60 riders rode in for the nearly two-hour ceremony, which also dedicated a new “Dakota 38” memorial. A group of Dakota runners, who started at Fort Snelling, also arrived during the ceremony.
“This is a great day, not only for the Dakota but for the city of Mankato,” said Bud Lawrence, a Mankato resident who helped establish the first pow-wow and the start of a reconciliation effort in the 1970s.
The hangings on Dec. 26, 1862, marked the end of the U.S.-Dakota War that took place along the Minnesota River valley that fall. Following the war, 1,600 Dakota were held at a camp at Fort Snelling until being sent out of state and virtually all other Dakota fled Minnesota.
The new memorial contains the names of the 38 Dakota along with a poem and prayer.
Sidney Byrd, Dakota/Lakota elder from Flandreau, S.D., read the names of the 38 men in the Dakota language. “I’m proud to be with you today. My great-grandfather was one of those who paid the supreme price for our freedom,” he said.
Byrd’s great-grandfather was among the 265 Dakota originally sentenced to death who were given reprieves by Abraham Lincoln. The men were sent from a prison in Mankato to one in Davenport, Iowa, where many died from squalid conditions.