Today, December 26, 2012, marks the 150th year since the largest mass execution in United States history took place in Mankato, Minnesota. This execution has been remembered and suppressed for a variety of reasons, but it seemed reasonable to post and pass on at least two pieces of public history. The first is a story put together by This American Life, entitled, “Little War on the Prairie.” Here is a link to the transcript, and another link to the recorded radio program here. It aired on November 23, 2012, and I first heard it while driving back to Fargo from having Thanksgiving in Bismarck and Valley City.
What is often missing from stories such as these is a kind of non-discussion about what followed this hanging. For example, it wasn’t just as though the hanging happened, and Governor Ramsey clapped his hands together and said, “Well, that’s taken care of…” Instead, it marked the beginning of annual punitive campaigns that the United States Government launched against the Sioux — against every combatant and non-combatant, or every man, woman, elder and child — throughout Dakota Territory. When we look back on it, the 19th century kind of looks like a racist primer for the industrial genocide that characterized much of the 20th century, at least the first half. The world eventually had a post-WWII convention to consider all of this. It’s sobering to think about.
In the 1860s, Total War campaigns against the Sioux were organized by General John Pope, and he in turn charged generals Henry Sibley and Alfred Sully with carrying them out. Today there are namesakes of “Sibley” and “Sully” scattered all throughout North Dakota. These names were ascribed to the landscape, and they resulted from that earlier US-Dakota War that roared up and down the Minnesota River Valley in August-September of 1862. Below is another piece of public history called “Dakota 38 [+2].” It is excellent, and the documentary was put together in 2008.
This year’s riders are just getting to Mankato, as they do every year. Here is another piece on this from the Mankato Free Press.