MANKATO, Minn. - Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday for the unveiling of a memorial to 38 Dakota men who were hanged 150 years ago to the day in what is the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
About 60 horse riders, including some tribe members who rode for 16 days from South Dakota, were among the roughly 500 people on hand for the dedication of the "Dakota 38" memorial, which marks a dark chapter in the history of the region and country. Dakota runners who departed from Fort Snelling also made it to the ceremony, which took place in Reconciliation Park in downtown Mankato, which is about 65 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
"Today, being here to witness a great gathering, we have peace in our hearts - a new beginning of healing," said Arvol Looking Horse, the leader of the Dakota/Lakota tribe, according to The Free Press of Mankato.
Dakota riders make their way down Riverfront Drive toward Reconciliation Park before a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato, Minn., Wednesday. About 150 Native Americans were expected in Mankato to honor the 38 Dakota men who were hanged in 1862.
The Dec. 26, 1862, mass hanging marked the end of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which took place along the Minnesota River valley that fall. Following the war, 1,600 Dakota were held at a camp at Fort Snelling until being sent out of state, and virtually all other Dakota fled Minnesota.
Originally, 303 men were sentenced to be hanged. President Abraham Lincoln was aware of injustices in the men's trials, and also was urged to show compassion by Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple. Lincoln reviewed all the cases and wrote a letter to Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey, listing 39 men who should be hanged, including one who was later given a reprieve. Some Native Americans today feel Lincoln was wrong to order any of the hangings and that several of the men were innocent of any wrongdoing.
In August, Gov. Mark Dayton marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the war by asking Minnesotans to "remember the dark past" and by repudiating the actions of Ramsey, Minnesota's second governor, who said after the war that the Dakota should be exterminated or driven from the state.