Authorities in Minnesota asked President Lincoln to order the immediate execution of all 303 Indian males found guilty. Lincoln was concerned with how this would play with the Europeans, whom he was afraid were about to enter the war on the side of the South. He offered the following compromise to the politicians of Minnesota: They would pare the list of those to be hung down to 39. In return, Lincoln promised to kill or remove every Indian from the state and provide Minnesota with 2 million dollars in federal funds. Remember, he only owed the Sioux 1.4 million for the land.
So, on December 26, 1862, the Great Emancipator ordered the largest mass execution in American History, where the guilt of those to be executed was entirely in doubt. Regardless of how Lincoln defenders seek to play this, it was nothing more than murder to obtain the land of the Santee Sioux and to appease his political cronies in Minnesota.
“Ordered that of the Indians and Half-breeds sentenced to be hanged by the military commission, composed of Colonel Crooks, Lt. Colonel Marshall, Captain Grant, Captain Bailey, and Lieutenant Olin, and lately sitting in Minnesota, you cause to be executed on Friday the nineteenth day of December, instant, the following names, to wit [39 names listed by case number of record: cases 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 19, 22, 24, 35, 67, 68, 69, 70, 96, 115, 121, 138, 155, 170, 175, 178, 210, 225, 254, 264, 279, 318, 327, 333, 342, 359, 373, 377, 382, 383]. The other condemned prisoners you will hold subject to further orders, taking care that they neither escape, nor are subjected to any unlawful violence.
President of the United States”
“On December 6 (1862) President Lincoln notified Sibley that he should “cause to be executed” thirty-nine of the 303 convicted Santees, Execution date was the 26th of December. At the last minute, one Indian was given a reprieve. About ten o’clock the thirty-eight condemned men were marched from the prison to the scaffold. They sang the Sioux death song until soldiers pulled white caps over their heads and placed nooses around their necks. At a signal from an army officer, the control rope was cut and thirty-eight Santee Sioux dangled lifeless in the air.
SAINT PAUL, December 27, 1862. The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have the honor to inform you that the thirty-eight Indians and half-breeds ordered by you for execution were hung yesterday at Mankato at 10 a.m. Everything went off quietly and the other prisoners are well secured. Respectfully, H. H. SIBLEY, Brigadier-General.
Governor Alexander Ramsey had declared on September 9, 1862 that “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.” The treatment of Dakota people, including the hanging in Mankato and the forced removal of Dakota people from Minnesota, were the first phases of Ramsey’s plan.
His plan was further implemented when bounties were placed on the scalps of Dakota people which eventually reached $200. Punitive expeditions were then sent out over the next few years to hunt down those Dakota who had not surrendered and to ensure they would not return. After 38 of the condemned men were hanged the day after Christmas in 1862 in what remains the largest mass hanging in United States history, the other prisoners continued to suffer in the concentration camps through the winter of 1862-63.
In late April of 1863 the remaining condemned men, along with the survivors of the Fort Snelling concentration camp, were forcibly removed from their beloved homeland in May of 1863. They were placed on boats which transported the men from Mankato to Davenport, Iowa where they were imprisoned for an additional three years. Those from Fort Snelling were shipped down the Mississippi River to St. Louis and then up the Missouri River to the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.
WHAT WAS THE REAL CRIME ?
One version of the truth is they were ordered to be executed by Abraham Lincoln for treaty violations (hunting off of their assigned reservation). Their people were starving on the reservation and they went hunting for food in violation of the treaty.
The Second Version is , the Dakota men were hanged after a bloody conflict with white settlers. The Dakota were frustrated with late annuity payments for land, with corrupt traders and government officials, and with not having a way for their complaints to be heard, according to records kept by the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Then, in August of 1862, it boiled over when four young Dakota men killed five white people, including a 14-year-old girl. The Dakota men got into an argument about stealing chicken eggs from a white farmer, and the killings were to prove to each other that they weren’t afraid of white men.
That led to a bloody conflict between the Dakota and the white settlers of Minnesota over the next couple months. There were as many as 600 white people killed and hundreds more Dakota. More than a thousand Dakota were taken prisoner and Colonel Henry Sibley — who had been appointed by Minnesota’s governor to handle the conflict — set up a military commission to try the prisoners for “murders and outrages” committed against Americans, according to historical accounts of the trials: “The trials were elaborately conducted until the commission became acquainted with the details of the different outrages and battles, and then, the only point being the connection of the prisoner with them, five minutes would dispose of a case.
“If witnesses testified, or the prisoner admitted, that he was a participant, sufficient was established. As many as 40 were sometimes tried in a day. Those convicted of plundering were condemned to imprisonment; those engaged in individual massacres and in battles, to death.”
The commission had sentenced 307 Dakota to death by the end of the trials. A list of Dakota men who were to be executed was sent to Abraham Lincoln for approval. Lincoln’s action to pardon most of the men infuriated Minnesotans and has been viewed by many as an example of Lincoln’s “Solomon-like wisdom,”. According to the Johns Hopkins University Press:
“Lincoln willfully ordered this mass hanging in order to appease a Minnesota settler populace threatening riots and anarchy, perhaps even secession, if he did not do as they demanded.
“During the war trials that followed the 1862 conflict, President Lincoln was made aware of the conditions on the Dakota reservations, particularly at Lower Sioux, in addition to Minnesotans’ clarion call for the Dakotas’ extermination. With this in mind, the process through which Lincoln decided to reduce the number of condemned from three hundred and three to thirty-nine (with the thirty-ninth acquitted at the last moment) is seen by some as another example of this president’s Solomon-like wisdom. In other words, Lincoln is credited with having drawn a difficult compromise between a vengeful populace and a defeated Indian nation reduced to being prisoners of war. Even Dakota writer and activist Charles Alexander Eastman, whose father and uncles fought against the United States in 1862, expressed his gratitude for Lincoln’s magnanimity, when he stated in his 1915 book ‘The Indian To-Day’ that a ‘new Indian policy’ emerged when Lincoln refused ‘to order the execution of three hundred Sioux braves, whom a military court had, in less than two days, convicted of murder and condemned to be hung, in order to satisfy the clamor of the citizens of Minnesota.’”
It’s true that actions taken by Congress forced the Dakota from Minnesota after the executions were carried out on December 26, 1862 — but it’s not fair to place all the blame for that on Lincoln, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council reports:
“The original Dakota Community was established by treaty in 1851. The treaty set aside a 10-mile wide strip of land on both sides of the Minnesota River as the permanent home of the Dakota. However, in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862, Congress abrogated all treaties made with them and the Dakota were forced from their homes in the state. The four communities were reestablished in their current localities by acts of Congress in 1886. The four Dakota Communities today represent small segments of the original reservation that were restored to the Dakota by Acts of Congress or Proclamations of the Secretary of Interior.”
Lastly, the photo of men hanging from a gallows is likely not a photo of the actual Dakota execution. The photo doesn’t exist in the Minnesota Historical Society’s archive, and the men in the photo are dressed like Europeans, not Dakota. It’s highly unlikely that Minnesotans would have given Dakota men new pants, vests and coats before their execution.
In the end, a lot of factors led to the Dakota conflict and the fallout that followed it. Arguments can be made that the Dakota were treated unfairly.
Source: Truth or Fiction.Com and other articles