An artist's rendering of the execution of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota.

An artist's rendering of the execution of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota.

The Traumatic True History and Name List of the Dakota 38

The Dakota 38 execution was the largest mass execution in the United States and took place on December 26, 1862

On the day after Christmas in 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged under order of President Abraham Lincoln. The hangings and convictions of the Dakota 38 resulted from the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 in southwest Minnesota.

In addition to the 38 men hanged the day after Christmas, there were terrible injustices committed against 265 others in the form of military convictions and inhuman injustices to more than 3,000 Dakota people who were held captive, then forced to march west out of Minnesota.

How It All Started

The conflict erupted when treaties restricted the lands of the Dakota people to an area that could no longer sustain them. Promised compensations were slow or non-existent and the Dakota people feared starvation heading into a brutal Minnesota winter.

The Dakota also faced terrible racism, one white settler historically quoting,  “Let them eat grass.”

As skirmishes and interactions between whites and Native people heightened on August 17, 1862, four young Dakota hunters were credited with killing five settlers. A war council was held that evening and a decision was made to go to war. Taoyateduta, Little Crow, supported the decision as is part of the council process, but he was apprehensive as were other Dakota leaders.

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 encompassed 37 days of fighting. The aftermath of the war fatality estimates included 77 American soldiers, 29 citizen-soldiers, 358 settlers and 29 Dakota warriors.

U.S. Colonel Henry H. Sibley contacted Taoyateduta in an attempt to stop the fighting but Sibley’s requests, which included taking hostages, were denied.

In September of 1862, some Dakota left with their families. Other Dakota leaders surrendered to Sibley, who said he would only punish those who attacked the settlers. Sibley took more than 2,000 into custody.

The Military Commission That Sentenced Hundreds to Death

An immediate court of inquiry and military commission was created. The panel then sentenced 20 Dakota to prison and 303 Dakota were sentenced to death. The time for the trials took 42 days between September 28 and November 8, 1862.

In the years since the convictions, historians often question whether a military commission was legitimate in cases where the main charges were murder, rape and robbery. Additionally, all of those appointed to the commission had fought in the war, which brings to question the bias of those handing out convictions.

Another point to consider is that most of the Dakota did not speak English, did not know that they were being tried for crimes and most did not have counsel defending them.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Decision

The largest mass execution in American history occurred under Abraham Lincoln’s watch. On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota warriors were publicly hanged after being convicted of war crimes. The Dakota 38

The largest mass execution in American history occurred under Abraham Lincoln’s watch. On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota warriors were publicly hanged after being convicted of war crimes.

Since the war commission was a military proceeding, President Abraham Lincoln had the ultimate say on the punishment, and asked to review all 303 execution convictions.

Initially, Lincoln considered approving execution where rape had been proven, but only two men would be executed. Lincoln decided on those convicted of participating in civilian massacres and approved 39 executions, though one was later suspended.

Lincoln had made a decision based on convictions that were based on witnesses, who testified in multiple trials, many of whom were also facing charges and possible execution. One witness gave evidence in 55 cases, who was later sentenced to hang (he was not part of the Dakota 38).

One of the condemned men, Hdainyanka, Rattling Runner, sent an angry letter to his father-in-law. “I have not killed, wounded or injured a white man or any white persons… and yet today I am set apart for execution.”

Angelique EagleWoman, a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota professor of law at the University of Idaho College of Law criticized the actions of Lincoln. She previously told Indian Country Today, “I think he should have followed general military practice at the time. They should have been released. He made a political decision, made based on the racial hatred… Lincoln was a lawyer, knew that this was improper.”

The Execution 

The 38 executions were originally scheduled for December 19, but were delayed for fear of mob retaliation. It was not until December 22 that the prisoners learned of their executions. On the 23rd, the condemned men danced and sang and were permitted visits with family to say goodbye.

At the same time as convictions were being doled out, a massive wagon train of approximately 3,000 Dakota tribal members and prisoners moved out to Fort Snelling. A crowd attacked the Dakota community on their way out; one baby was pulled from its mother’s arms and beaten to death.

As the prisoners made their way to Mankato–the location of the hanging scaffold created for the occasion– a crowd of men, women, and children threw bricks and stones, seriously injuring prisoners and guards. The hangings took place December 26, 1862.

It is believed that at least two men were executed at the mass hanging by mistake—one man answered to a name “Chaske” or “first son” that was misidentified and another young white man, raised by the Dakota, who had been acquitted but was hanged.

More than 4,000 people crowded the square. They cheered when the hanging was done.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s U.S.-Dakota War website describes the execution and the aftermath:

“After dangling from the scaffold for a half hour, the men’s bodies were cut down and hauled to a shallow mass grave on a sandbar between Mankato’s main street and the Minnesota River. Before morning, most of the bodies had been dug up and taken by physicians for use as medical cadavers.”

In the days that followed, several prisoners were given pardons due to lack of evidence. Others were taken to a prison camp in Iowa.

More than 25% of the thousands who surrendered to Sibley would be dead before the end of 1863. Thousands were exiled to the Dakotas, Montana or as far as Manitoba.

The List of Those Who Were Executed

The following is a list from Marion Satterlee’s “A Detailed Account of the Massacre by the Dakota Indians of Minnesota in 1862,” published in 1923. The spellings and translations are as Satterlee recorded them.

A photocopy of her list and the hand-written list from Abraham Lincoln of those to be executed is found on a page of Minnesota Historical Society’s U.S.-Dakota War website.

Tipi-hdo-niche, Forbids His Dwelling

Wyata-tonwan, His People

Taju-xa, Red Otter

Hinhan-shoon-koyag-mani, Walks Clothed in an Owl’s Tail

Maza-bomidu, Iron Blower

Wapa-duta, Scarlet Leaf

Wahena, translation unknown

Sna-mani, Tinkling Walker

Radapinyanke, Rattling Runner

Dowan niye, The Singer

Xunka ska, White Dog

Hepan, family name for a second son

Tunkan icha ta mani, Walks With His Grandfather

Ite duta, Scarlet Face

Amdacha, Broken to Pieces

Hepidan, family name for a third son

Marpiya te najin, Stands on a Cloud (Cut Nose)

Henry Milord (French mixed-blood)

Dan Little, Chaska dan, family name for a first son (this may be We-chank-wash-ta-don-pee, who had been pardoned and was mistakenly executed when he answered to a call for “Chaska,” reference to a first son; fabric artist Gwen Westerman did a quilt called “Caske’s Pardon” based on him.

Baptiste Campbell, (French mixed-blood)

Tate kage, Wind Maker

Hapinkpa, Tip of the Horn

Hypolite Auge (French mixed-blood)

Nape shuha, Does Not Flee

Wakan tanka, Great Spirit

Tunkan koyag I najin, Stands Clothed with His Grandfather

Maka te najin, Stands Upon Earth

Pazi kuta mani, Walks Prepared to Shoot

Tate hdo dan, Wind Comes Back

Waxicun na, Little Whiteman (this young white man, adopted by the Dakota at an early age and who was acquitted, was hanged, according to the Minnesota Historical Society U.S.-Dakota War website).

Aichaga, To Grow Upon

Ho tan inku, Voice Heard in Returning

Cetan hunka, The Parent Hawk

Had hin hda, To Make a Rattling Noise

Chanka hdo, Near the Woods

Oyate tonwan, The Coming People

Mehu we mea, He Comes for Me

Wakinyan na, Little Thunder

Wakanozanzan and Shakopee:

These two chiefs who fled north after the war, were kidnapped from Canada in January 1864 and were tried and convicted in November that year and their executions were approved by President Andrew Johnson (after Lincoln’s assassination) and they were hanged November 11, 1865.


Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter

  • NO you don’t have to put my viewpoint in your comments – they are too real for the weak and those that do not know! If we continue to only have a defensive game plan and only react to attacks, we have no chance of being in a winning position. The world has been mislead for 500 years with a one sided, brainwash, onslaught of propaganda. We have been suffered an invasion of spies and terrorists, genocide of unthinkable proportions, suffered successions of ethnic cleansing, had our land stolen, had our land militarily invaded and occupied. But the world does not know this because, we as victims of mass slaughter, have been hidden, relocated, silenced, censored from being heard by the humanity of this planet.

    The world must be reeducated – loudly, profusely, with unstoppable determination. Never do we want to do anything but use words, pictures, facts, memorials, articles, books, true history, just to spread the evil that has been practiced on us for 500 years. Only peaceful means! We have been ethnically cleansed from our own history as indigenous to the Americas! The world believes Americans are blond and light eyed. Indigenous peoples of Americas are dark haired and beautiful not European looking at all and not immigrants or foreigners.

    Yes, there will be opposition, hate, jealousy, and denial but there is that already. The sooner we began, the less our children, our future, will have to do to expose what evil has been done and continues to be done to hide the truth. The need to teach our children to document and record in detail what has been done, and what is being done now. Our children need to learn to be aware of the insatiable greed that fuels the evils against us and prevent as much as is possible to them as we struggle continually against this horror.

    We need to put up memorials along both borders to show the deaths suffered and the terrorists actions even today. For example: How the Kickapoo tribes were constantly tormented and terrorized by the military and had to seek refuge fleeing into Mexican territory after the illegal border was established. While that border was being established there were many deaths, forced re locations, and many indigenous put on railroads to the furthest reaches of the rail lines. Many memorials should be put up showing the suffering and deaths of Kickapoo women and children slaughtered. This was not the only tribe terrorized in this manner. We need a memorial for the little Mexican girl killed by a European group of men and women invading the girl’s home. We need memorials all along the northern boarder depicting suffering and deaths due to greed and wanting of our land.

    We, urgently must educate the world by going outside and into other countries to change the way American History is lied about by Europeans. It was very easy to occupy our land after the genocide, ethnic cleansing, relocation when you have over thirteen countries, lead by the English, collaborating and volunteering human bodies, with the promise of free land to occupy so that the indigenous peoples would not come back. We were demonized so that those Europeans coming would easily kill without remorse or threat of punishment. We are still being demonized and have a dyer need to make things right – those good people of the earth will assist our endeavor but those that suffer the evil of their forefathers will continue to cause great harm to us, the earth and any and all in between.

    We need to witness to these crimes, we need to name names, give witness to the countries involved and how they were involved in the most horrific crime against humanity of all time! Is there a memorial for these indigenous 38? I’m so sure this was not the largest execution of indigenous but it was recorded and not hidden because the Europeans of that time believed their genocide, ethnic cleansing, land theft was well hidden by European “history” writers and the world would not ever be the wiser.

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The Traumatic True History and Name List of the Dakota 38