The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 22, 2014

Presidential pardon sought for Dakota 38

Online petition unlikely to reach the president


"I realized it isn't the Dakota people who need to be pardoned, in the largest sense of the word," Westerman said.

Rather than well-intentioned gestures that effectively admit guilt on the part of the Dakota, Westerman thinks a deeper understanding of history would be more beneficial.

"It's a matter of ongoing learning and understanding. The people need to know the history and not the urban legends associated with the war in 1862."

Regardless of anyone's position on a pardon, the petition is not going to rise to the level of presidential attention, barring an astounding viral campaign in the next week.

Under rules of the site, petitions don't get reviewed by the president unless they get at least 100,000 signatures.

The Dakota pardon petition is nearly 99,500 short of that goal, a goal that must be reached by the end of the month.

(To find the petition go to: — then click on "open Petitions," then near the top center-right of the page click "search" and type in "Dakota 38.")

Still, Considine said the petition gets support when word gets out about it. Signers of the petition include St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and other elected officials around the state.

On Sept. 28, 1862, two days after the surrender at Camp Release, a commission of military officers established by Henry Sibley began trying Dakota men accused of participating in the war. Several weeks later the trials were moved to the Lower Agency.

As weeks passed, cases were handled with increasing speed. On Nov. 5, the commission completed its work: 392 prisoners were tried, 303 were sentenced to death, and 16 were given prison terms.

President Lincoln and government lawyers then reviewed the trial transcripts of all 303 men.

When only two men were found guilty of rape, Lincoln expanded the criteria to include those who had participated in “massacres” of civilians rather than just “battles.” He then made his final decision, and forwarded a list of 39 names to Sibley.

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