While we’re condemning the confederate flag…

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.


  1. anthrosciguy says

    I remember seeing that picture as a youth in Minnesota (and I was born in DC in Sibley Hospital; they didn’t pick that name out of the phone book at random. It was an important reminder that nowhere had an unblemished last, and a corrective balance for my love of the good things about Minnesota.

    I like that you to it as lynching. Sardonically, perhaps. But true. We should remember that killings and other brutality are often done after some sort of trial. This was true of many of the killings in 1965 in Indonesia; in the USSR they did the same. Even local McCarthyism committees in the 1950s made sure their victims faced a sort of trial. There’s often a veneer of justice rather sloppily glued onto vigilantism and it’s near relatives (I’d probably call this stuff government vigilantism).

  2. says

    Fucking A!
    I never knew about this PZ. Thanks for posting this.

    White supremacy is a vicious ideology that poisons the minds of all its adherents and brutalizes everyone else. And there seems to be no end in sight.

  3. says

    if found guilty of murders or other outrages upon the Whites

    … “being on land we want” being one of the worst of said ‘outrages’

  4. unclefrogy says

    you are sullying the american dream
    what about the future
    the good people who now live and work on the good land and make their fortunes on the good land
    we took from all those who were already here.
    uncle frogy

  5. says

    what about the future

    If you let me loot your savings and loan, I promise I will reinvent my life, be a good person, a “self-made man” and leave my money to good causes after I’ve enjoyed a life being productive and helpful to myself. It’s easy to be a pillar of the community when your foundation is blood meal and bones.

  6. microraptor says

    I was just watching Ken Burns: The Civil War recently and I remember it mentioning that Pope was sent to Minnesota, but it didn’t say anything about what actually occurred there.

  7. brett says

    There’s not much to be said in response. It’s got almost all of the elements of brutal US policy towards the indigenous population: land theft, broken financial promises, predatory government and private agents, and savage reprisals against the natives when they revolt against this. And then after all that, at the end of the 19th century when all native resistance was crushed, they still couldn’t leave them be.

  8. samihawkins says

    Did the author seriously use the phrase ‘breakneck pace’ to describe a mass hanging?

    I like wordplay as much as the next person, but that seems disrespectful.

  9. Crimson Clupeidae says

    FYI, not much has changed. The government is still taking native lands and simply giving it to mining companies. We are trying to stop one of these ‘deals’ here in Az.

  10. Tethys says

    This is a horrible event in Minnesota history, but there are a few important details that should be mentioned. in 1862 the Dakota were limited to small reservations that simply could not support their hunting and food requirements. They were supposed to get regular monetary and basic food rations as part of their treaty agreements, but they were late and the Dakota were starving. When they asked the trader Andrew Myrick what they were supposed to eat, his response was

    “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.

    a small group of young Dakota men declared war, and began an aggressive attack on the settlers and forts in an attempt to take back their land.

    Within days, the U.S. Dakota War began, leading to hundreds of deaths across southwest Minnesota. Myrick was killed on the first day of the War at the Battle of Lower Sioux Agency as Dakota warriors took revenge at the agency settlement. When his body was found days later, it was discovered that grass had been stuffed in his mouth.

    The reluctant leader of the Dakota was Taoyateduta aka Little Crow. There is a photograph of him at the link, and also this quote.

    After intense debate, Taoyateduta reluctantly agreed, even though he feared the war would end disastrously for their nation. “You will die like rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon,” he is quoted as having said, but added “Taoyateduta is not a coward: he will die with you.”

    The following day a group of Dakota under the command of Taoyateduta attacked the Lower Sioux Agency, killing many of the civilians there. Over the next several weeks, groups of Dakota soldiers attacked European American communities throughout the Minnesota River Valley, including New Ulm, as well as launching attacks on U.S. military posts. The war lasted nearly six weeks, during which more than 600 civilians and U.S. soldiers, as well as an unknown number of Dakota, lost their lives.

    There are more details at the link about the executions, and the internment Camp Release, and the subsequent further deaths of Dakota and “mixed-blood” civilians.

    PZ ~ 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.

    Leaving aside that the name of the town itself is a Dakota appellation meaning either river of the blue earth (referring to clay deposits) or a Dakota Chief of the same name and his village, there are two memorials and a park.

    Two commemorative statues are located on the site of the hangings (now home to the Blue Earth County Library and Reconciliation Park).

    there is a long article in indiancountry from 2012 when they were installed for the 150th anniversary.

    On December 26, a memorial was dedicated in Mankato, Minnesota’s Reconciliation Park near a white limestone buffalo that marks the spot where 38 Dakota men were hanged the day after Christmas 150 years ago. On a 10-by-4 foot leather-looking scroll will be listed the names of those men next to another scroll with a poem about the hangings and encircled by the phrase “forgive everyone everything.”

  11. says

    “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.”

    Not a hell of lot has changed, and there are still plenty of white people who wouldn’t have the slightest problem exterminating the rest of us.

    As for Mahkato (Mankato), wacipi has been held there for 43 years, always in honor of the 38 Dakota. Most Minnesotans may not know about that, but there’s always an opportunity for them to educate themselves. The Mdewakanton host it – this year it’s September 18th – 20th. http://www.mahkatowacipi.org/

  12. Tethys says

    There is a documentary that was made about the 2012 memorial ride from South Dakota to Mankato. It is available at the bottom of this article Dakota 38.

  13. says

    danielag1 @ 17:

    Who was Sibley?

    If you had clicked both links in the original post, you’d have your answer. Henry Hastings Sibley. I trust you can manage a search engine on your own.

  14. Tethys says

    Who was Sibley

    Henry Hasting Sibley was the Governor of MN, and had a daughter Helen in 1941 by his first wife Red Blanket Woman, a granddaughter of the Mdewakanton Dakota Chief. Red Blanket left him, and died in 1943. He then married Sarah Jane Steele, daughter of General James Steele, who also was the commander of Fort Snelling. according to wiki;

    For her part, Helen was eventually placed with a missionary family and grew up acculturated to white society in St. Paul; Sibley maintained a congenial and public relationship with Helen until her death in 1859, although this reportedly upset Sarah

    My gast, it is completely flabbered. :(

  15. chrislawson says

    Giliell@16 — except it’s worse than that. The US and its Indian agents didn’t just leave the Dakota to starve, they forced them to starve in the first place. If the US had allowed the Dakota to live on sustainable reservations or provided the food and aid promised in treaty, then there never would have been a Dakota War of 1862.

  16. says

    slithey tove @ 20:

    Trump to the Rescue

    Why, it’s a miracle, that makes everything just fanfucktingtastic! Jesus Fuck. Thanks ever for the asshole moment.

  17. says

    @Caine #22
    Seems to me that slithey tove is making the point that if the American Indians had treated the settlers the same way Trump proposes to treat immigrants, there’d be no United States.
    I.e. this attitude is hypocritical and nasty. It’s criticizing current immigrants for what is actually the crimes of your own ancestors. It’s the equivalent of “a thief thinks everyone steals”.

    Am I missing something?

  18. says

    LykeX @ 23:

    Am I missing something?

    Oh yes. I got the point of the fucking cartoon just fine, thanks. I did not see it being terribly appropriate for this thread, which is about a travesty of so-called justice, and that barely touches all the wrongs. A travesty which most people are blithely unaware of, but apparently, hey, there’s a ‘toon to the rescue, so no worries. Of course, it’s much better to toss such things out, rather than address the actions of people, the complexity of it all, and how those past actions still affect attitudes and actions today.

    Perhaps instead of tossing out a fucking cartoon, someone could possibly show the slightest bit of awareness of how travesties of so-called justice are still happening, every fucking day, where indigenous peoples are concerned, and this affects all Indian Nations, not just those in the States.

  19. chrislawson says

    Caine — I think you’ve read far too much into slithy love’s post. At worst you could say it was a little off-topic as it’s about Trump’s attitudes being hypocritical and doesn’t really address the issue of atrocities against native Americans — but to be honest, even atrocities against native Americans are slightly off-topic since PZ’s original post was an argument that we can’t condemn the Confederate flag and what it stood for without acknowledging the awful things done in Yankee states (and by extension, any other state in the world — I’m Australian and we have exactly the same issues with wilful historical blindness here). I’m sure he intended to raise some much-needed awareness of the judicial mass murder of Dakota people, but that wasn’t the specific purpose of the post — the point was to address a terrible human rights atrocity committed in his home state. If he’d lived in Utah, he would have chosen a different event.

    The cartoon certainly wasn’t intended as an “all we have to do is post a cartoon and everything is OK” moment.

  20. ricko says

    Move to Wisconsin. We’ve got troubles, like the current Governor and his handmaidens in both houses of the legislature, but we’ve never had one where we killed people… Always been against capital punishment from day one. Longer than anyplace else in the world.

  21. says

    chrislawson @ 25:

    but to be honest, even atrocities against native Americans are slightly off-topic since PZ’s original post was an argument that we can’t condemn the Confederate flag and what it stood for without acknowledging the awful things done in Yankee states

    Oh, yes, of course. Silly of me to think that Indians were any part of the discussion. I’ll just go back to being erased. Thanks ever.

  22. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    For those interested in learning more about the first nations, there is a network:
    In Chicago, it is available on air from WYCC 20-2, or here in Chiwaukee from Comcast on channel 373. The WYCC web site can tell you where it is on your Chicago area cable.

  23. se habla espol says

    anthrosciguy, 19 July 2015 at 12:40 pm:

    I was born in DC in Sibley Hospital;

    Gee, so I’m not the only survivor of Sibley Memorial’s ob department. My two older sisters didn’t survive it.

    they didn’t pick that name out of the phone book at random.

    Caine, 19 July 2015 at 4:19 pm:

    danielag1 @ 17:

    Who was Sibley?

    If you had clicked both links in the original post, you’d have your answer. Henry Hastings Sibley.

    Sibley Memorial begs to differ, Caine, stating that its founding was enabled, in about 1890, by:

    William J. Sibley, a member of the Foundry Methodist Church, [who] donated $10,000 for the construction of a hospital in memory of his wife, Dorothea Lowndes Sibley.

    So far as I can find, H. H. Sibley had no male offspring.

  24. says

    se habla espol @ 32:

    Sibley Memorial begs to differ, Caine, stating that its founding was enabled, in about 1890, by:

    I assumed the Sibley under discussion was the one actually pertinent to the article in question [OP]. Danielag1 did not specify the hospital, you see.

  25. says


    That guy is responsible for a genocide.

    It’s not a competition. As usual, however, any post about Indians ends up with people who will talk about anything but, so I’ll excuse myself and let you all get on with ignoring anything to do with Indians.

  26. Tethys says

    Sibley Memorial begs to differ, Caine,

    Sibley memorial hospital is irrelevant to the discussion. Henry Hastings Sibley is the man who was appointed military leader of the suppression of the Dakota conflict, and ordered the military tribunals that sentenced over 300 Dakota to death. He had two sons Alfred Brush, and Charles Frederick. source

  27. echidna says

    Caine, for what it’s worth, I was living in California when Cathy Freeman (Australian Aboriginal) excelled, and was honoured, in the Sydney Olympics. Progressive Californians kept telling me how great it was that a black person was recognised in such a prominent way, past slavery and all that. I replied that that was the wrong analogy, a better analogy would be with Native Americans, displacement and genocide. They just could not see it. Invisible.

  28. says

    Echidna @ 37:

    They just could not see it. Invisible.

    I know. To most people, Indians are invisible, and of little import. Your post was worth a lot, thank you.

  29. sempercogitans says

    @25 chrislawson,

    but to be honest, even atrocities against native Americans are slightly off-topic since PZ’s original post was an argument that we can’t condemn the Confederate flag and what it stood for without acknowledging the awful things done in Yankee states

    Why on earth would discussion of a thing that was done be on-topic, but discussion of the human beings that it was done to and the many other forms of oppression everyone of their race faces be off-topic?

    In fact, I think it’s very much on-topic, because this is an event that a lot of people don’t know about or acknowledge, and there are many, many more events like that in our country’s history. The ways that those events and even people are constantly erased is something we should all be talking about.

  30. roachiesmom says

    Caine, years ago, I read Michener’s Centennial. My take-away from it was the beginning of my understanding of how rotten to the core the United States really is, and exactly how much of that the ‘average’ American is wantonly ignorant about — and how much they want to stay that way. The description of treatment of the Native Americans in that was horrifying. I know it’s novelized history, and I am not trying to trivialize anything with this. I remember being absolutely outraged by the book in many places, and when I attempted to discuss it with people, they laughed and were dismissive. And then when I researched it to show them evidence, they were more dismissive or got mad at me. I admit I lack a lot of traditional empathy, but that book — and the research path it led me down — really stayed with me.

  31. peterh says

    White supremacy is a vicious ideology…”

    Read Hanta Yo, Ruth Beebe Hill, Warner Books, 1997, ISBN 0-446-96298-8 for an accurately rendered tale of the Lakotas’ culture and values from early encroachments from the East till nearly total annihilation of the indigenous Sioux way of life.

    Also Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee< Dee Brown, Holt & Co., 1970, ISBN 0-8050-6634-9 for a detailed and documented history of the systematic betrayal of and disembowelment of all indigenous cultures which stood in the way of Manifest Destiny – with voluminous references and notes.

    Additionally, Black Elk Speaks, via John Neihardt, U. of Nebraska Press, 1979, ISBN 0-8032-8359-8 for reminiscences of one Lakota Sioux, important to his people nearing the time illustrated above, who concluded his dictated autobiography by saying, “There is no center anymore, and the sacred tree is dead.”

  32. chrislawson says

    My apologies for my poor expression. The point I was trying to make was not “the details of the Dakota killings should not be talked about” but that the Bors cartoon linked to was also reasonable to bring up.

  33. says

    @peterh, 41

    White supremacy is a vicious ideology…

    What’s with the strikeout? This is most definitely about white supremacy. From the article:

    “pass judgment upon them, if found guilty of murders or other outrages upon the Whites, during the present State of hostilities of the Indians

    Yes, all supremacist ideologies are vicious, but let’s not erase the details of any one group’s suffering, K?

  34. says

    Well, we can’t be having a conversation that does not revolve about white people, can we?
    I accept that for most people it’S not conscious racism that motivates them, but a life’s worth of unexamined assumptions that everything is, in the end, about white people.

  35. brucegee1962 says

    @27 ricko

    There is no way that you can claim that Wisconsin didn’t claim its full share of Native blood. Didn’t they teach you about the Black Hawk “war” in school? No hangings, but shooting unarmed women and children trying to swim to safety hardly gives you any moral high ground.

  36. esmith4102 says

    America’s institutional racism has never been limited to only blacks. Our Nation’s Fathers recognized for the most part, the incredible injustice done to blacks, through slavery, and Indians, through theft. Recognized it as a problem, but, because of all the bad eggs surrounding them, found they could do nothing and committed the worst sin a man/woman could do – accepted the judgement of the majority!

  37. says

    @48 esmith4102,
    Really? They recognised slavery as a problem, but the “bad eggs surrounding them” somehow prevented either Washington or Jefferson from, you know, giving their own personal slaves their freedom? Cool story bro…

  38. dannysichel says

    @49 gondwanarama – as I understand it, Washington was legally barred from freeing his slaves, because they technically were Martha’s slaves (a disgusting technicality).

    Also, Jefferson may have been reluctant to manumit at least Sally Hemmings because — as I understand it — Virginia law at the time was such that manumitted slaves had 30 days to leave the state or face death.

  39. cicely says

    It never ceases to amaze me that so very many Good Americans who have no trouble recognizing genocide wrt to Armenia, or the Holocaust, or Rwanda, or the Kurds, cannot recognize it where Native Americans are concerned, even when it’s exhaustively and documentedly it’s pointed out.
    ‘Cause we don’t do such things!
    Our Sacred Forebears didn’t do such things!
    The denial runs deep.

  40. treefrogdundee says

    Nothing like closing one’s eyes and thinking Disney thoughts to sooth that national conscious. One of our nastier habits that can’t be expunged soon enough.

  41. says

    @50, dannysichel

    And as president of the nation, and/or signatory to the consitution, neither of them had any possible way of influencing such a law? No platform to clearly and unambiguously call for the end of all such technicalities?

    The had the greatest possible opportunity to put their nobler ideals into practice: they chose not to take it.

  42. Tethys says

    I am about as white, Minnesotan, descended from European settlers as one can be, and my forebears were living on a completely different continent when this happened, but that does not prevent me from empathizing with the Indians, because all of them were treated as vermin to be exterminated because of the violent but completely understandable actions of a few. I do have friends who are descended from some of the original Norwegian settlers. They have heart wrenching family stories of bringing food to some of their Indian neighbors who refused to live on the reservation, and hiding multiple Indian families and their horses in the barn for several weeks as they escaped to Canada.

    Caine ~ I know. To most people, Indians are invisible, and of little import.

    I’m so sorry that yet another thread about Indians is full of stupid comments that erase you. (especially that bit about a hospital in DC. So. much. derp!) I also get so frustrated with people who speak about Indians as if they are mystical magical unicorns that don’t even exist anymore. Native tribes of Dakota and Ojibwe account for 10 percent of the population here. Just yesterday I saw a young man on a bicycle who was the spitting image of Taoyateduta. I wish I had taken his picture, the resemblance was so striking. ———————————————————————————————————————- For anyone who wants to read some contemporary Indian literature that deals with what it was like to have your ancestral home stolen and exploited by lumber barons and railroad tycoons, I recommend the novels of Louise Erdich. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe/ Chippewa, and also the proprietor of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that focuses on Native American literature and the Native community in the Twin Cities.