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Remembering the largest mass execution in US history

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The day after Christmas is the anniversary of the largest mass execution in the United States: 38 Dakota warriors were hanged by order of President Abraham Lincoln. 

The mass hanging on Dec. 26, marked the end of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a six-week conflict in southwestern Minnesota that left more than 700 people dead

The war started after the U.S. government reneged on land treaties made with the Dakota and delayed payments to the starving tribes. When it ended, a military tribunal sentenced 303 Dakota warriors to death. President Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38.

In 2012, a memorial to the 38 men killed in 1862 was unveiled in Reconciliation Park in downtown Mankato, Minn., the site of the execution. And since 2008, both Native American and other people have taken part in the “Dakota 38 + 2 Wokiksuye Ride”, a horseback ride from the Land of Memories Park by the Minnesota River to Reconciliation Park. The ride honors the 38 Dakota warriors as well as two Dakota chiefs who were kidnapped from Canada in 1865, brought back to the U.S. and then executed. 

This year, the Free Press reports riders were joined by a group of Dakota runners who started running on Christmas from Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minn., as well as a group of people participating in the Dakota Prayer Ride and Water Walk. They left Sisseton, S.D., on foot and horseback on Dec. 10 and were pushing a large sculpture of a Native American woman with a baby on her back, designed by Dakota artist Graci Horne. The sculpture was accompanied by a sign that read “Colonial Genocide of Indigenous Women & Children Since 1862.” 

Jim Hallum, who took part in the ride, told the Free Press the group is working to raise awareness of the historical abuse of indigenous women. Today, a record number of indigenous women are missing. In the United States — where the murder rate for indigenous women is up to 10 times the national average — the situation has reached crisis levels

“That’s why we do that ride. It was very emotional the first year we did it. I think of my kids and grandkids,” he said to the Free Press. 

After the War of 1862, thousands of Dakota were either forced onto reservations or forced to assimilate after their land was opened to settlement. In the 157 years since then, a small fraction of the Dakota population has returned to Minnesota. 

Loren Goodlow, of the Lower Brule Indian Reservation in South Dakota, spoke to the Free Press in 2018, the third year he participated. 

“I meet a lot of good people, a lot of family. I get a lot of teaching. It’s always sad at the end [of the ride], but it’s always good to be here,” Goodlow told the Free Press. “A lot of young boys rode. It inspires me — a new generation is learning about it.”



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