The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 18, 2013

Film aims to inspire discussion of U.S.-Dakota War

Dakota featured in documentary to appear at screening

By Amanda Dyslin
The Mankato Free Press

---- — “Dakota 38” will make the viewer ask tough questions. And that's the point.

The 78-minute film tells the story of a 16-day, 330-mile trip by horseback from Lower Brule, S.D., to Mankato in 2008. (The annual ride began in 2005.) The documentary remembers the 38 Dakota who were hanged Dec. 26, 1862, as well as a group of Dakota who ride horseback each year to Mankato to commemorate the mass hanging.

The New Ulm Public Library will be screening the documentary Monday at the Wittenberg Collegiate Center Auditorium on the Martin Luther College campus. And afterward, several people featured in the film will be there to answer those tough questions.

Peter Lengkeek of Crow Creek, S.D., will be one of them. One of the riders from Crow Creek, S.D., Lengkeek said he's done numerous appearances promoting the film, but he's never actually seen it all the way through.

“It's just powerful. … It's hard for me to sit through it,” he said. “I really get a lump in my throat and start to cry.”

Lengkeek didn't even know he had a role in the film, and that role surprisingly turned out to be quite a big one, he said. He and other riders had stopped in Madison, S.D., at a college to speak to the American Indian Studies program and have lunch.

He was filmed while speaking with students about the ride, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and the hangings.

“It ended up being one of the major parts of the film,” he said. “I was kind of upset at first. I didn't know what was going on.”

But in the end he's been happy with the result. Having the opportunity to educate the public — especially those who have little knowledge of that time period and those who harbor negative feelings for Native Americans — has been life-changing.

“It really touches a lot of people,” he said. “It really opens a lot of minds and a lot of hearts and really shows people the truth.”

Lengkeek and the others who will be in New Ulm — Franky Jackson, director of the Renville County Historical Society and Museum, and James Weston of Flandreau, S.D. — will lead a discussion with those in attendance about the film. And they welcome tough questions.

Along the way Lengkeek said he's had “healing” conversations with descendants of settlers killed during the war and even descendants of President Abraham Lincoln.

“It's not only for Dakota people. This film can be applied to everything, everyone,” he said. “We all have healing to do. … Let's just get it out there, and let's quit carrying these things.”

The film was initially inspired by a dream that Indian spiritual leader Jim Miller had. In the spring of 2005, Miller was dreaming he was on horseback across the great plains of South Dakota, and before he woke up, he arrived in Minnesota and saw 38 of his Dakota ancestors hanged, according to the film's website.

“At the time, Jim knew nothing of the largest mass execution in United States history, ordered by Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 26, 1862,” the site says.

New Ulm historian John LaBatte has seen the film, as he has a deep interest in the history of the Dakota and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. He has reviewed more than 200 projects related to the war and writes essays and reviews at

LaBatte had two grandfathers who were sent to hang, but Lincoln commuted their sentences and they were “saved from the gallows” but sent to prison in Davenport, Iowa. With a personal connection to the events, LaBatte said he's most interested in “accuracy, balance and respect” when it comes to essays, films and reports of the war and hanging.

LaBatte said he plans to attend the screening to see what the men featured have to say about a couple of questions he has, including why they believe apologies need to be exchanged between white and Native Americans for healing or reconciliation to take place.

“One part that concerns me is I cannot determine if they are connecting their misfortunes today to the Dakota War of 1862,” he said, noting one boy in the film who talks about drug abuse.

LaBatte said the film is beautifully shot.

“I think the scenery is beautiful — good scenery, good filming,” he said.

If You Go What "Dakota 38" film screening and discussion, sponsored by the New Ulm Public Library When 6-8:30 p.m. Monday at Martin Luther College, Wittenberg Collegiate Center Auditorium Admission Free Info, 507-359-8334 or