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Dec. 26, 1862: 38 Dakota men executed in Mankato

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Minnesota governor Updated: December 26, 2013 - 4:45 PM
 
The New York Times published this chilling account of the execution of 38 Dakota men convicted of "murder and other outrages" against settlers during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.  
 

THE INDIAN EXECUTIONS

An Interesting Account, from our Special Correspondent.

MANKATO, BLUE EARTH COUNTY, Minn., Friday, Dec. 26, 1862.
 
 
  The Rev. Stephen Riggs
To-day has been an eventful one for this hitherto quiet little town; and a scene has been here enacted the like of which, those of us who witnessed it, desire to see again nevermore. I allude to the execution of thirty-eight of the condemned Indians, ordered by President LINCOLN to be executed for participation in the late massacres in this State.
 
Soon after noon on the 22d instant, Col. MILLER, of the Seventh Regiment Minnesota Volunteers, together with his Staff, some clergymen, and a few citizens of this place, visited the condemned in their cells, and informed them of their fate. Rev. Mr. RIGGS (well known to the Indians in his missionary capacity) interpreted Col. MILLER's remarks, and told the miserable men that their Great Father at Washington had ratified the action of the Military Court, and sentenced them to be hung on the following Friday, Dec. 26. They were informed that spiritual advisers, both Protestant and Catholic, were present, and would do all in their power to minister to their comfort during the few days of life still remaining for them. The letter of the President, ordering their execution, was then read in English by Adjt. ARNOLD, and repeated in the Sioux or Dacotah language by Rev. Mr. RIGGS. These communications were received with a grunt of approval, and most of the party to whom they were addressed manifested little or no interest in the matter; the half breeds gave some indications of emotion, but so slight as scarcely to be noticed. With few exceptions the whole party continued their smoking, or rubbed their killikinick between their palms, as a preparatory exercise to inserting it into their little red clay pipes. It is presumed by many that the condemned had been previously informed of the fate awaiting them, and this may, in a measure, account for their unconcern at the official announcement.
 
INTERVIEWS BETWEEN THE CONDEMNED AND THEIR RELATIVES.
 
Wednesday, the 24th, was set apart for the last meeting between the condemned and those of their relatives who were confined in the adjoining and main prison. These belonged to the original 304, found guilty, upon trial by the Military Court, and were of the number from which the President had selected thirty-nine to be executed. These latter had been selected out, and kept in separate and more secure quarters from the time when the order came for their execution. I was not present at this interview, but am informed that it was very affecting. Each Indian sent some parting word or blessing to his friends or family, and bequeathed to each some little memento, as his pipe, a little tobacco, or a lock of hair; generally much feeling was exhibited in these leave-takings, although one or two seemed perfectly hardened and indifferent. On Christmas Day another scene was enacted, similar to the one just related. The cooks and others employed to provide for the prisoners during their confinement, came to say their last "good-by" to them. Here again parting words were said, and blankets and trinkets were once more sent to relatives, overlooked in the hurry and excitement of the day before. In the evening the sacrament of baptism was solemnized by Rev. Father RAVOUX, and the other priests in change. Many of the Indians availed themselves of the opportunity to receive this Christian rite.
 
INTERVIEW WITH THE CONDEMNED.
 
On Friday morning we were permitted to visit the condemned. They were lying around the floor chained together in pairs, and as some suspicions had been aroused in the minds of the keepers, by reason of certain singular movements on Thursday night, each pair had been firmly chained to the floor. Consequently there was no moving about, their locomotion being entirely obstructed. It was a sad, a sickening sight, to see that group of miserable dirty savages, chained to the floor, and awaiting with apparent unconcern the terrible fate toward which they were then so rapidly approaching. As the hour appointed for the execution drew near, the clergymen in attendance addressed the prisoners in feeling and eloquent terms. They bade them nerve themselves for the terrible ordeal through which in a few brief hours they were to pass, and looking to the Great Spirit for aid to make a firm resolve to be brave and die nobly, like men. 
 
In the midst of the remark of Father RAVOUX, old PTAN-DOO-TAH broke out in a most lamentable and unearthly wail; one by one took up the lay, and ere long the walls resounded with the mournful "death-song." The song seemed to quiet and soothe them, and, resuming their pipes, they all sat in sullen silence awhile, until Rev. Mr. WILLIAMSON began his address, upon which came another outburst of passionate feeling, vented in a style it has not been my lot to hear before, and to which it is impossible to do justice on paper. Soon after the addresses were concluded, the irons were removed from the limbs of the prisoners, and their arms tied behind them -- previous to which they expressed a wish (which we all gratified) to shake hands with the clergy and reporters present. The white caps were then placed upon their heads and pulled down over their faces, after which they were rolled up again so as to leave the face exposed, and now the culprits stand nervously awaiting the moment of their removal to the scaffold.
 
THE SCAFFOLD.
 
The instrument upon which the extreme sentence of the law was to be performed, was constructed in a very simple yet most ingenious manner. It was erected upon the main street, directly opposite the jail, and between it and the river. The shape of this structure was a perfect square, and not, as has been stated, a diamond. The cause of this latter error being made was because the sides of the structure was not parallel with the front line of the jail; but being built on an oblique across the roadway presented a point or angle to both the river and jail. The base of the gallows consisted of a square formed by four rough logs, one foot each in diameter, and twenty feet long. From each corner of this square rose a heavy round pole, running up to a height of twenty feet, while from the centre came another but heavier timber, rising to about the same height. At an elevation of six feet from the ground was a platform, so constructed as to slide easily up and down the corner pillars, and with a large opening in the centre around the middle mast or post. From each corner of this platform a rope or cable was fastened to a movable iron ring that slid up and down middle mast by means of a rope fastened to one of its sides. This rope was taken to the top of the mast, run through a pulley, and returned to a point between the ground and the second frame or platform, and made fast. The mechanism of the whole thing consisted in raking the platform by means of the pulley, and then making the rope fast, when by a blow from an ax by a man standing in the centre of the square, the platform falls; the large opening in its centre protects the executioner from being crushed by the fall. About eight feet above the platform, when in its raised position, was another frame similar to the ground square, morticed into the corner pillars. Into these timbers were cut notches, ten on each side of the frame, at equal distances, and a short piece of rope was passed around the beam of each notch, and tied securely. Depending from this again was the fatal noose. And now having described the scaffold as it appeared when ready for its victims, we pass to.
 
THE EXECUTION. 
 
 
  Te-he-do-ne-cha (One Who Forbids His House) was among the Dakota condemned to hang. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)
At the appointed time for the execution, there were more people congregated at Mankato than ever were there before at one time. Every convenient place from which to view the tragic scene, was soon appropriated. The street was full, the house tops were literally crowded, and every available place was occupied. There were from three to five thousand persons present. The reports of a probable attempt by a mob to take possession of the remaining prisoners and inflict summary punishment upon them, induced the authorities to provide a large military force for protection. Accordingly the Sixth Minnesota, Col. AVERILL, the Seventh, Col. MILLER, and Ninth, Col. WILKIN, in all about 1,500 men, were detailed for special duty at the execution. Maj. BUELL, with a company of cavalry, did efficient service in keeping the crowd back from too close proximity to the awful scene. The infantry formed three sides of a hollow square, starting from each side of the jail, and inclosing the scaffold, the front of the jail thus forming the fourth side of the square. From the door at the extreme northern entrance to the place where the culprits were confined -- to the steps at the foot of the gallows, two companies were drawn up, one on either side, forming a gradual path through which the prisoners must pass to the scaffold. Precisely at the time announced -- 10 A.M. -- a company, without arms, entered the prisoners' quarters, to escort them to their doom. Instead of any shrinking or resistance, all were ready, and even seemed eager to meet their fate. Rudely they jostled against each other, as they rushed from the doorway, ran the gauntlet of the troops, and clambered up the steps to the treacherous drop. As they came up and reached the platform, they filed right and left, and each one took his position as though they had rehearsed the programme. Standing round the platform, they formed a square, and each one was directly under the fatal noose. Their caps were now drawn over their eyes, and the halter placed about their necks. Several of them feeling uncomfortable, made severe efforts to loosen the rope, and some, after the most dreadful contortions, partially succeeded. The signal to cut the rope was three taps of the drum. All things being ready, the first tap was given, when the poor wretches made such frantic efforts to grasp each other's hands, that it was agony to behold them. Each one shouted out his name, that his comrades might know he was there. The second tap resounded on the air. The vast multitude were breathless with the awful surroundings of this solemn occasion. Again the doleful tap breaks on the stillness of the scene. Click! goes the sharp ax, and the descending platform leaves the bodies of thirty-eight human beings dangling in the air. The greater part died instantly; some few struggled violently, and one of the ropes broke, and sent its burden with a heavy, dull crash, to the platform beneath. A new rope was procured, and the body again swung up to its place. It was an awful sight to behold. Thirty-eight human beings suspended in the air, on the bank of the beautiful Minnesota; above, the smiling, clear, blue sky; beneath and around, the silent thousands, hushed to a deathly silence by the chilling scene before them, while the bayonets bristling in the sunlight added to the importance of the occasion.
 
AFTER THE SHOCK.
 
At first every one seemed stupified by the sight before them, but only a moment elapsed before a low murmur ran through the crowd, and culminated in a few cheers, in which many participated whose cheeks were blanched, and eyes strained with terror; but it was the cheer of victory with them, for the murderers of their fathers, and mothers and children had received their merited punishment. One little Hungarian boy, by the gallows, had lost his father and mother at the hands of the savages, and he shouted aloud "Hurrah, hurrah!" for he saw the murderer among the prisoners, and rejoiced in his fate.
 
I neglected to say that nearly all these Indians were painted up in war style, and were hung in their blankets. The half-breeds wore citizens' dress. As they marched from the prison to the scaffold all joined in wailing and singing, and hopped along on one foot. Those professing to be Christianized sang:
 
"I'm on the iron road to the spirit land," while the "bucks" sang a war song.
 
THE BURIAL. 
 
The physicians having announced life extinct, the bodies were roughly cut down, and all buried in one large hole in a sand-bar in the river.
 
REPRIEVE.
 
The order of the President condemned thirty-nine Indians to suffer the death penalty. Just previous to the execution, however, Gen. SIBLEY reprieved, or rather respited the sentence of TA-TAY-ME-MA, for the following reasons: He was very old, and was convicted on the evidence of two German boys, one of whom said the Indian shot his mother, and the other that he killed a German at Beaver Creek while he was on his knees in the act of prayer. It has since been proven to the General's satisfaction that the man who committed these acts has not been captured, but is now with LITTLE CROW at Devil's Lake.
 
 NAMES OF THE EXECUTED INDIANS.
 
 
  Ta-ta-ka-gay (Wind Maker) was implicated in the death of Amos W. Huggins, a teacher at La Qui Parle. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)
1. Ta-he-do-ne-cha, (One who forbids his house.)
2. Plan-doo-ta, (Red Otter.)
3. Wy-a-tah-ta-wa, (His People.)
4. Hin-hau-shoon-ko-yag-ma-ne, (One who walks clothed in an Owl's Tail.)
5. Ma-za-bom-doo, (Iron Blower.)
6. Wak-pa-doo-ta, (Red Leaf.)
7. Wa-he-hua, _____.
8. Sua-ma-ne, (Tinkling Walker.)
9. Ta-tay-me-ma, (Round Wind) -- respited.
10. Rda-in-yan-ka, (Rattling Runner.)
11. Doo-wau-sa, (The Singer.)
12. Ha-pau, (Second child of a son.)
13. Shoon-ka-ska, (White Dog.)
14. Toon-kau-e-cha-tag-ma-ne, (One who walks by his Grandfather.)
15. E-tay-doo-tay, (Red Face.)
16. Am-da-cha, (Broken to Pieces.)
17. Hay-pe-pau, (Third child of a son.)
18. Mah-pe-o-ke-na-jui, (Who stands on the Clouds.)
19. Harry Milord, (Half Breed.)
20. Chas-kay-dau, (First born of a son.)
21. Baptiste Campbell, _____.
22. Ta-ta-ka-gay, (Wind Maker.)
23. Hay-pin-kpa, (The Tips of the Horn.)
24. Hypolite Auge, (Half-breed.)
25. Ka-pay-shue, (One who does not Flee.)
26. Wa-kau-tau-ka, (Great Spirit.)
27. Toon-kau-ko-yag-e-na-jui, (One who stands clothed with his Grandfather.)
28. Wa-ka-ta-e-na-jui, (One who stands on the earth.)
29. Pa-za-koo-tay-ma-ne, (One who walks prepared to shoot.)
30. Ta-tay-hde-dau, (Wind comes home.)
31. Wa-she-choon, (Frenchman.)
32. A-c-cha-ga, (To grow upon.)
33. Ho-tan-in-koo, (Voice that appears coming.)
34. Khay-tan-hoon-ka, (The Parent Hawk.)
35. Chau-ka-hda, (Near the Wood.)
36 Hda-hin-hday, (To make a rattling voice.)
37. O-ya-tay-a-kee, (The Coming People.)
38. Ma-hoo-way-ma, (He comes for me.)
39. Wa-kin-yan-wa, (Little Thunder.)
 
This sketch by W.H. Childs, which appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in January 1863, shows the scene of the hangings. It's unclear whether Childs witnessed the event.
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