Archived Story

Editorial: Think back on the Dakota hangings

Published 9:20am Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It’s not something we like to think about. It’s easy to turn our eyes and ears away from news coverage of it. But we ought not forget that today, in Mankato, 150 years ago, 38 Dakota men, whose only true crime was wanting to remain on their rightful land and with a kangaroo court for a trial, stepped to the gallows and were hung until they were dead.

It was the largest mass execution in American history. And the injustice happened here in southern Minnesota, right up the road. It was the culmination of the 1862 Dakota War.

We even have a school in Albert Lea named for Henry Sibley, the first Minnesota governor. He was no longer governor in 1862, but he served as commander of the American volunteers in the Dakota War. After his victory, he took action against the Dakota Sioux, setting up the kangaroo court to try 393 Indians for “murder and other outrages.”

It was Sibley’s court that wanted to hang 303 Indians. President Abraham Lincoln narrowed it to 39, much to the outcry of white Minnesotans, and 38 ended up at the gallows.

The bodies were buried in a shallow grave, then dug up for doctors to use for anatomy lessons. That included Dr. William “W.W.” Mayo, whose family founded the famed Mayo Clinic.

On this 150th anniversary, we suggest a moment of silence to reflect on the tragedy. Perhaps it is a reminder of how a rush to justice can hurt us all and make society lose its sensibilities and priorities.