In memory of the largest execution in US history, Dakota riders travel to Mankato

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One hundred and fifty two years ago today, 38 Dakota people were hanged in Mankato as punishment for crimes U.S. authorities said they committed during the Dakota War.

It remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Friday morning, on the 152nd anniversary of the killings, dozens of runners and horseback riders arrived at the site of the tragedy to remember those lives lost.

Riders from SD, runners from Fort Snelling

Two groups arrived at Reconciliation Park Friday morning, the Mankato Free Press says.

One is a group of memorial riders, on horseback, who left the Lower Brule Indian Reservation in South Dakota on Dec. 9, Native News Online reports. The journey took them more than 300 miles, and in the front row is a riderless black "spirit horse," who represents those who have died – both in the past year, and during the 1862 hangings.

The journey is known as the Dakota Wokiksuye Memorial Ride, but is also referred to as the Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride. It began in 2005.

During this year's trip, a woman died after falling off her mule and hitting her head, KEYC reports. Her cause of death was listed as epilepsy.

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The other group is a collection of dozens of runners, who left Fort Snelling at midnight and traveled the 100-mile journey to Mankato in relay fashion, MPR reports.

The executions

The Dakota were hanged after a monthslong review process by Col. Henry Sibley, who was tasked with tracking down those who killed or assaulted civilians during the summer of 1862 and the U.S.-Dakota War, Fort Snelling says.

Sibley, at the end of his operation, actually recommended 303 Dakota people be executed. But President Abraham Lincoln reviewed the cases and cut the number to 39. One more was saved prior to the hangings because of "questionable testimony," Fort Snelling explains.

The New York Times reported on the event in the lead-up, writing about the "Sioux Indian murderers" set to be hanged at 10 a.m. At the time, officials in Minnesota were worried that white settlers in the Mankato area – many of whom were expected to gather to watch the executions – would form a mob and try to kill the "wretched savages" themselves.

They wrote about the aftermath as well, which the Star Tribune published for reading last year.

The names of those who were killed are written on a 12-foot-high monument at Reconciliation Park. It was dedicated two years ago, the Mankato Free Press says, and at the ceremony Dakota/Lakota leader Looking Horse said, “Today, being here to witness a great gathering, we have peace in our hearts — a new beginning of healing.”

You can read more about the killings, and look at official documents, at the U.S.-Dakota War website.

MPR News produced a documentary about the U.S.-Dakota War on its 150th anniversary in 2012, called "Little War on the Prairie."

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