ST PETER — As Robert Two Bulls began handmaking 38 nooses, he started to wonder.
“Being a student of history,” said the Oglala Lakota artist who is also an ordained Episcopal minister. “I tried to think of who would’ve fashioned the nooses back then.”
What were they thinking while tying the nooses for 38 Dakota necks? What were they feeling? Were they paid for the grisly work, or did they volunteer? Were they recalcitrant and sorrowful? Or, did they burn with hot vengeance after the battles between white settlers and Dakota natives that served as a precursor to the largest mass execution in United States history?
“Who knows?” said Two Bulls, whose painting of Bishop Henry Whipple catching 38 noose-encased raindrops from the sky is one of the most striking images in the exhibit that opens Monday at Gustavus Adolphus College’s Hillstrom Museum of Art.
“It’s a morbid thing to think about. But that’s what the nooses were designed to do -- snap the necks of the executed.”
And so it happened.
On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato for their supposed roles in the U.S.-Dakota War. Now, as a culminating event in Gustavus’ series of commemorative events, Hillstrom is hosting “Hena Unkiksuyapi,” a collection of works that explore the impact of that event 150 years after its occurrence.
The exhibit remains on display through Feb. 8 -- save the stretch between Thursday and Jan. 6 when Gustavus is closed for winter break. The exhibit will also be held in conjunction with a slate of related events, including a roundtable discussion on Jan. 20 and a Jan. 27 lecture from Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.
“Hena unkiksuyapi means ‘we remember those’ -- those events and stories,” wrote Gwen Westerman, co-curator of the exhibit and an English instructor at Minnesota State University who is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota and a frequently sought commentator on the events of 1862.