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Largest Mass Execution of Indigenous People Simultaneously Hung By The US Government

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A lithograph from 1883 depicting the execution of the 38 Dakota Indians at Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862.

More than 150 years ago, just after Christmas Day, 38 Native American men were hung by the government in the largest mass execution in US history. During the Dakota War of 1862, many Dakota peoples started fighting due to broken land treaties & late annuity payments. It was also a question of survival; there was little food and families were starving to death. 

Dakota had become a state only four years earlier, but the Natives felt they needed to take up arms. The killing lasted six weeks with a death toll of 500 white settlers and 60 natives killed. The fighting was officially over on December 26, 1862.

The mass execution took place in Mankato, Minnesota. State Governor Alexander Ramsey had originally sentenced over 300 to be hung, but in a last-minute reprieve the number was reduced when civil war President Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to the governor, listing 39 names to be hanged instead. One was later granted a reprieve. This was an attempt by Washington to control an explosive situation in the West. The remaining natives’ tribes were forced into exile and to leave Minnesota. They were first held in a concentration camp and then sent out of the state further west. 

The war in Minnesota did not immediately lead to more killings because the American Civil War was raging. Once the civil war was over, the American state restarted the mass settlement of the West. This eventually led to the showdown with Sitting Bull, the Wounded Knee Massacre and the final Indian Wars.