The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 29, 2012

Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 2: U.S.-Dakota War anniversary renewed debate

— It was a year of somber reflection, pageantry, learning and emotions as the state marked the 150th anniversary of one of Minnesota's darkest chapters -- the U.S.-Dakota War and its aftermath.

The war began Aug. 17, 1862, after young Dakota men killed settlers during a hunting foray. The Dakota living on reservation along the Minnesota River valley were hungry and feeling betrayed by broken promises and lack of treaty payments.

In the coming weeks, the Dakota swept across the prairie, killing settlers and attacking Fort Ridgely and laying siege to New Ulm for two days.

By the time fighting ended in late September, some 500 settlers and soldiers had been killed along with a small number of Dakota.

Some 300 Dakota men were sentenced to death but President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of most. On Dec. 26, 38 Dakota men were led from a prison in Mankato to a gallows where they were hanged in the largest mass execution in the nation's history.

Over the past year, the war and its aftermath were the subject of numerous events, exhibits, documentaries and lectures, bringing prominence to an event that many people had little knowledge of.

 It was also a time for people to get a more balanced view of the conflict and about the atrocities and bravery exhibited by both sides before and during the war. And, for non-Native Americans, there was a better understanding of the devastating consequences for Native Americans following the war, when ongoing fighting and squalid conditions decimated and dispersed Indians.

"The consequences for the Dakota didn't end on Dec. 26, 1862. They didn't end in 1863. I'm not sure they've ended yet for them," said Ben Leonard, director of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

Events culminated on Dec. 26 with a large gathering of Dakota riders and runners and some 500 people who came to watch a ceremony at Reconciliation Park in Mankato, site of the hangings.

The ceremony, which also marked the dedication of a new memorial listing the names of the 38 Dakota men who were executed, was filled with words of forgiveness and understanding.

Arvol Looking Horse, a Dakota/Lakota leader, told the crowd the event marked a new era.

"Today, being here to witness a great gathering, we have peace in our hearts -- a new beginning of healing," Looking Horse said.

Dakota riders come to Reconciliation Park on the day after Christmas for a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of 38 Dakota men who were executed in Mankato following the U.S.-Dakota War.


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