MANKATO — The coldest Dec. 26 in more than 20 years didn't stop Dakota riders and runners and a large crowd of onlookers from memorializing the 38 Dakota executed in Mankato in 1862 and continuing the reconciliation effort of today.
"We're here for the dream, the message — healing, reconciliation, cultural diversity," said Wilford Keeble, who for the third year was the staff carrier. He and other Dakota spoke in Dakota and English at Reconciliation Park on Tuesday morning in downtown Mankato.
Around them were dozens of riders on horseback, many of whom set out two weeks ago from South Dakota for a journey of more than 300 miles. A large crowd of onlookers filled the street and park as temperatures hovered just above zero. A group of Dakota runners also arrived, having started out on Christmas Day from Fort Snelling in St. Paul.
Keeble said many people know little or nothing about the U.S.-Dakota War and the devastating aftermath for the Dakota and other tribes.
"The untold chapter in American history, the dark history no one wants to talk about."
The Dakota 38 + 2 Wokiksuye Ride honors the 38 Dakota warriors who were hanged in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862, as well as two additional chiefs who were kidnapped from Canada three years later, brought back to the United States and then executed.
The riders and others started gathering in Land of Memories Park on Monday with more arriving Tuesday morning.
In an open area where the annual powwow is held, a group tended to a large fire that was kept burning from the time the group of runners left Fort Snelling Monday. Among them was Ned Reese who was placing 40 twig markers with red ribbons in a circle around the fire.
A retired professor from La Crosse, Reese is married to a Ho-Chunk and has been coming to the commemorative event in Mankato for several years. He was friends with the late Bud Lawrence and tribal elder Amos Owen, who started the powwow together. Reese said their work created the reconciliation that has grown stronger over the years.
"The people who came before us gave us a lot so we can enjoy the rewards of it today," Reese said.
Carol Charging Thunder, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux who lives in St. Paul, has been coming to the Dec. 26 event for a few years . "It means a lot to me. I always knew about this but I just started coming."
She said that while it is important to honor the men who were hanged in Mankato, she grieves for many Native American men today.
"We remember the men in the prison system who will never come home," she said.
"I have struggles with my own sons and I feel helpless. It's the system and it just keeps going on and on. I try to protect my sons as much as I can but I can't."
The Wokiksuye Ride came in a dream in 2005 to Jim Miller, an elder from Cheyenne River and a Vietnam veteran. A few years later, in 2008 the ride began and has continued since.
The execution in Mankato was held in the area of what is now Reconciliation Park.
In 1862, the Dakota were spurred to action against the U.S. after government officials went back on previously agreed land treaties and delayed payments to the starving tribes.
Decreasing resources and no aid sparked a series of battles between Dakota and settlers after they rejected the tribes' offer to buy food on credit.
The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 lasted fewer than two months and ended that September with the Dakota surrendering to the U.S. Army. Three hundred and three Dakota men were tried and sentenced to be executed for their part in the war, but many objected to the court proceedings —some were convicted after only a few minutes, among other issues.
President Abraham Lincoln reviewed each case and ultimately pardoned 265 men. That left 38, who were executed at 10 a.m. on Dec. 26, 1862.