Let’s not forget this event. Minnesota. December, 1862. The largest mass execution in American history. These are all Dakota Indians.
The Dakota had been reduced to starvation and dependence on government traders who exploited the native population shamelessly; as the Civil War bled government resources, there were desperate fears among the Indians that they would not receive the subsidies necessary for their survival, and they erupted into the Dakota War of 1862. The Dakota lost. The US Army then herded together hundreds of men and put them on “trial”.
Sibley ordered a commission of five military officers to try the prisoners summarily and “pass judgment upon them, if found guilty of murders or other outrages upon the Whites, during the present State of hostilities of the Indians. Major General John Pope, recently banished to Minnesota by President Lincoln after Pope’s humiliating defeat at the Civil War’s Battle of Second Bull Run, saw an opportunity to redeem himself at the Dakota’s expense. He immediately approved Sibley’s plans. “The horrible massacres of women and children and the outrageous abuse of female prisoners, still alive, call for punishment far beyond human power to inflict, Pope wrote. “It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so… They are to be treated as maniacs and wild beasts.”
The commission began the hearings on the reservation on September 28 and tried 16 men that day alone. This breakneck pace continued, and by November 3—a mere five weeks later—the commission had conducted 392 trials, including an astonishing 40 in one day. Observer Reverend J.P. Williamson noted that the trials took less time than the state courts required to try a single murder defendant. The accused were hauled before the commission, sometimes manacled together in groups, and were arraigned through an interpreter. The charges ranged from rape to murder to theft, although most Dakota were accused of merely participating in battles. The defendants entered a plea, and those who pleaded not guilty had an opportunity to speak. The commission then called and examined its own witnesses, but it did not permit the Dakota to have counsel for their defense. As one man who assisted in gathering evidence against the Indians noted, “[T]he plan was adopted to subject all the grown men, with a few exceptions to an investigation of the commission, trusting that the innocent would make their innocence appear.”
Over 300 were condemned to death. This was a degree of vicious retribution that would not be visited upon the Confederacy after their defeat, but then…these were “maniacs and wild beasts”. All those death sentences required review by Lincoln, who spared 265 of them, but 38 had to be sacrificed in a public hanging to appease the bloodlust of the white Minnesotans.
Afterwards, the bodies served science and local tourism.
After the execution in which all 38 were hanged simultaneously, he [Dr Sheardown] and the assistant surgeons stepped forward to examine the bodies and make the pronouncements of death. The bodies were taken away in mule-drawn wagons and buried in a long trench that had been dug in the sandy bank of the Minnesota River. Some historical accounts mention “a Dr. Sheardown” or “an unknown Dr. Sheardown” who removed some of the skin from the bodies before they were buried. Some of these pieces of skin later turned up in Mankato for sale as “souvenirs”. It is unknown with certainty whether Dr. Samuel B. Sheardown removed the skin, or a souvenir hunter who was impersonating him and using his name. Other accounts state that several doctors who attended the hanging, or that local physicians, asked for permission to dig up the bodies for use as cadavers in their anatomical studies. Permission was granted, and over the next few days, bodies were removed.
The difference between the North and the South seems to be that we carry out our lynchings on a large scale, and with Yankee efficiency.
Mankato, Minnesota, where the execution took place, has no memorials to the executed. The state of Minnesota honored several of the leaders of the US side by naming counties after them.