150 years ago today, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Minnesota for actions during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. It was the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Of the 392 prisoners of war who went to trial, 303 were sentenced to hanging. President Lincoln commuted all but 39 of the sentences, and one man got a last-minute reprieve.
At 10:00 am on December 26, 38 Dakota prisoners were led to a scaffold specially constructed for their execution. One had been given a reprieve at the last minute. An estimated 4,000 spectators crammed the streets of Mankato and surrounding land. Col. Stephen Miller, charged with keeping the peace in the days leading up to the hangings, had declared martial law and had banned the sale and consumption of alcohol within a ten-mile radius of the town.
As the men took their assigned places on the scaffold, they sang a Dakota song as white muslin coverings were pulled over their faces. Drumbeats signalled the start of the execution. The men grasped each others’ hands. With a single blow from an ax, the rope that held the platform was cut. Capt. William Duley, who had lost several members of his family in the attack on the Lake Shetek settlement, cut the rope.
After dangling from the scaffold for a half hour, the men’s bodies were cut down and hauled to a shallow mass grave on a sandbar between Mankato’s main street and the Minnesota River. Before morning, most of the bodies had been dug up and taken by physicians for use as medical cadavers.
The war between the Dakota Indians and white settlers is one rarely covered in U.S. history classes. Read the story of the executions at the Minnesota Historical Society. Link -via Metafilter, where you'll find more resources.