Minnesota February 20, 2017
This Park In Minnesota Has A Dark History That Will Never Be Forgotten
Overall, Minnesota is pretty great. We have stunning natural beauty, great people, and a healthy economy. But even the Land of 10,000 Lakes has a dark side. There are few places in Minnesota with a dark history due to horrible events that happened there. Today we go back to December 26, 1862, to the largest mass execution in American history. This event was the result of an ongoing conflict between the U.S. government and Native American people that still affects the country today.
By the mid-1800s, white settlers had laid claim to much of Minnesota. The area around the Twin Cities was quickly settled for its access to the Mississippi River. To the west, land along the Minnesota River was also valued by settlers. The settlements nearby displaced several bands of Dakota Sioux Indians, many of whom ended up on a nearby reservation. A treaty with the United States was meant to ensure payment from the government for the land.
However, payments often failed to meet the Sioux. The U.S. government sometimes paid directly to traders to settle Sioux debt. Other times, the payments were stolen by corrupt officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Civil War further complicated matters, causing the government to be distracted from its obligation.
Because of the missed payments, supplies for the Sioux ran low. The reservation land was difficult to farm, and the settlers' growing population wiped out much of the wild game. Unsurprisingly, this caused unrest and resentment towards the settlers. On August 17, 1862, a group of Dakota Sioux killed five settlers. That night, several settlements were attacked to drive settlers out. Many left as tensions continued to rise over the next few months.
In the following months, more battles between the Sioux and the settlers broke out. The conflict ended with the surrender of the Sioux in 1862. Hundreds were arrested and tried, with 303 ultimately convicted of murder or rape. Many of the trials were only minutes long, and none of the Sioux received legal counsel. Regardless, they were sentenced to death.
At the urging of an advocate for better relations with the Indians, President Lincoln reviewed the court records. He granted leniency to all but a few of those convicted. On December 26, 1862, 38 Sioux prisoners were publicly executed by hanging in Mankato. It still remains the largest mass execution in American history.
After the executions, the remaining prisoners were held for several years. Other Sioux women, children, and elderly men were held in an internment camp near Fort Snelling. Hundreds from both groups died due to poor conditions. Many later moved to a reservation in Nebraska.
In Mankato, a monument to the executions went up in 1912. It was later removed, then lost. But the city of Mankato bought the site of the executions, which has been named Reconciliation Park. It's a memorial to the 1862 conflict and its aftermath, meant to acknowledge the events and reconcile both sides. While there's no sign of the execution, it's still chilling to know that when you stand in the park, you are standing in the same spot where so many were executed.
Though nothing remains of the execution today, its location serves as a reminder of a dark part of Minnesota – and American – history that we would do well to remember. If you’re interested in even more Minnesota history, take a look at these
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