In 1862, on a frigid December morning in Mankato, Minnesota, more than 4,000 spectators witnessed the United States government conduct the largest execution in American history. Thirty-eight men, white muslin covering their faces and singing a death song in their native Dakota tongue, dropped through the wooden scaffold's opened platform and dangled for over a half hour. Eventually their bodies were cut down and buried in a shallow mass grave on a sandbar along the Minnesota River - ending an uprising that began in August with the killing of five settlers by four Dakota hunters filled with frustration, whiskey and stolen eggs.
In 38 Nooses, Scott Berg examines the motives and consequences of this conflict (referred to as the Dakota War of 1862) through the eyes of regional residents and national figures such as the Dakota leader Little Crow (who strongly opposed the initial attracts) and Abraham Lincoln. Certainly too complicated and extensive to detail here, the short facts are that 600 whites - most unarmed civilians - and approximately 100 Dakota warriors died during the initial conflict. In mock trials, 303 captured warriors were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. In part through the persistence of the Reservation's physician's wife, Lincoln - though embroiled in the Civil War - intervened and pardoned all but 38 men. Close to 2000 Dakotas were forcibly relocated outside of the state and approximately one-quarter of those people died in the following year.
Berg documents these within the framework of state and national events and chronicles an intimate study of individual experiences that were repeated throughout the nation until the end of the United States-Indian wars.
I found this book interesting and informative, but I was saddened by -- and ashamed of -- the treachery of the traders and U.S. government. The Dakota were taken advantage of in so many ways. Still, I'm glad I chose to read this account of the Dakota conflict of 1862.
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