Remembrance Comes for 38 Executed Dakota Indians, and One Who Shouldn't Have Been

Through the cold and snow last week, members Crow Creek tribal council and other local Dakota tribes gathered on horseback for a ride in eastern South Dakota in remembrance of the largest execution in U.S. history.

As the Daily Republic of Mitchell, SD reports, Jim Miller first started the ride in 2005 after he dreamt of riding 330 miles on horseback to a river in Mankato, Minn. where 38 Dakota warriors were hanged for their part in the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862. The violence had left around 500 white settlers and soldiers dead before numerous Dakota forces surrendered after the Battle of Wood Lake.

Initially, military tribunals had sentenced 303 Dakota tribesmen to death before President Lincoln intervened and had the sentences of 265 commuted. A massive scaffold was constructed in Mankato for the 38 who were to be hanged at one Dec. 26, 1862.

On the ride this year Peter Lengkeek said the pain from that day still runs deep.

You've heard Yosemite Sam say 'I'll hit you so hard your grandchildren will feel it'," he said. "That's what happened to us."

Yet he also carries an air of reconciliation. ""Let's move forward and come together and embrace each other."

While there may be a tone of among some of the riders, the execution has all but been forgotten by many people in the area.

A statue of a Dakota warrior and a plaque outside the Mankato library are the only reminders of the largest execution in U.S. history. The site where the scaffold stood is now known as Reconciliation Park.

One person in particular is now believed to have been forgotten as well. As the New York Times reports, records show a Dakota warrior named We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee, but known as Chaska, had had his sentence commuted by President Lincoln, but was executed with the other on Dec. 26.

With the 150th anniversary of the execution coming in 2012, movements going all the way up to Capitol Hill are taking hold to award Chaska (unlike the city, pronounced chas-KAY) a posthumous pardon.

Representative James Oberstar, before his defeat in November, had supported a federal pardon, calling it, "a grand gesture and one I think our Congressional delegation should support."

Sen. Al Franken issued a statement last week indicating he might move the matter forward in the next Congress.

Why Chaska was executed has brought about two theories: one is that he was mistaken for another convicted Dakota with a similar name.

The other sounds like the stuff of lusty romance novels. Chaska had taken a woman, Sarah Wakefield, and her son captive, however, at Chaska's trial Wakefield defended her captor, saying he protected her and her son from death at the hands of other tribesmen.

Her vehement defense of Chaska lead to rumors that the two had been lovers, with Col. Sibley even referring to Chaska as Wakefield's "dusky paramour."

Either way, Leonard Wabasha, a local Dakota leader, believes granting the pardon is the right thing for the federal government to do

"It would cause people to read and research into it a little deeper," Wabasha said. "It would be a step in the right direction."

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This page contains a single entry by shee0161 published on December 16, 2010 11:15 PM.

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