By Robert K. Elder
An engraving depicting the scene of the mass execution of 38 Dakota Indians on Dec. 26, 1862.
“It seemed that the purpose of the singing and dancing was only to sustain each other in their last ordeal,” a witness observed. “As the last moment rapidly approached, they each called out their name and shouted in their native language: ‘I’m here! I’m here!’”
Thirty-seven of the men were among the “most ferocious” followers of the Dakota leader Little Crow, according to the federal government. They stood accused of killing approximately 490 settlers, including women and children, in raids along the Minnesota frontier.
But one man, historians say, did not belong there. A captured Dakota named We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee, often called Chaska, had had his sentence commuted by President Abraham Lincoln days earlier. Yet on the day after Christmas 1862, Chaska died with the others.
It was a case of wrongful execution, Gary C. Anderson, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma and Little Crow biographer, said last week in an interview. “These soldiers just grabbed the wrong guy,” he said.
Although the story of the mass execution in Mankato is well-known locally, scholars say the case of Chaska—spared by Lincoln, then wrongfully executed—has been long overlooked by the federal government and all but forgotten even by the Dakota.
Now, an effort to keep the story alive is taking root on campuses and even on Capitol Hill as the 150th anniversary of the execution, in 2012, approaches. Commemorative events will include symposiums, museum exhibits, monument re-dedications, book publications and an original symphony and choral production.
Below a website discusses the problems with their convictions, including the most obvious one: whether the Dakota were members of a sovereign nation fighting a war against the US.
How Fair Were the Dakota Conflict Trials?
Below: "An engraving depicting the scene of the mass execution of 38 Dakota Indians on Dec. 26, 1862."