U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, Part X
In December of 1862, 303 Dakota prisoners were convicted by military tribunal of murder and rape. More than 600 white people had been killed during the war, of which 70 were soldiers and 50 armed civilians. The remainder killed were unarmed, with many being women and children.
Minnesota politicians and settlers wanted to see all 303 prisoners executed, but there were calls for leniency, notably from the Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple, who went to Washington DC to plead for leniency from President Lincoln. Whipple argued that many of the trials lasted only 5 minutes, and that none of the Dakota prisoners had legal council.
Lincoln reviewed the trial records personally, trying to distinguish between those who fought against U.S. troops and those who murdered and raped citizens. When it was all said and done, the President commuted the sentences of all but 38 prisoners.
When the Republicans did not fare well in Minnesota in the 1964 election cycle, Minnesota Senator Alexander Ramsey, the former governor, told Lincoln that “more hangings would have brought more votes”. President Lincoln replied, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”
At 10am on 26 December 1862, the 38 Dakota prisoners were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota. It remains to this day, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. They were buried en masse in a trench along the riverbank. Within days, many bodies were taken out of the grave and distributed to area doctors to be used as cadavers.
The rest of the convicted prisoners were taken to Camp McClennan in Iowa, where they were held prisoner for the next four years. One third had died by the time of release.
By April of 1863, the U.S. Congress had declared all treaties with the Dakota null and void. The systematic removal of the remaining Dakota people from Minnesota had begun. A bounty of $25 was placed on the scalp of any Dakota found within the State.
After the Battle of Wood Lake, Little Crow and many of his warriors went west. By spring of 1863, they were camped near the Canadian/US border. Having lost the war and his native land, Little Crow realized that his people would have to live a mobile existence to survive. Looking to steal horses, Little Crow and his son Wowinapa returned to southern Minnesota.
On the evening of 3 July 1863, Little Crow and Wowinapa were spotted picking strawberries (or raspberries) by Nathan Lamson and his son Chauncey. After a brief gunfight, Nathan Lamson was wounded, Little Crow was dead and Wowinapa had escaped.
First Little Crow’s scalp was brought back to the town of Hutchinson, and eventually his body was dragged down main street, with firecrackers placed in his ears and nose. His beheaded body was thrown into a pit at the slaughter house.
It was not until Wowinapa was captured in the Dakota Territory in late July of 1863 that authorities learned that the dead Dakota in Hutchinson was Little Crow. The body was exhumed, and it was confirmed to be the body of the Dakota chief. Nathan Lamson received $500 for “rendering great service to the State”, and Chauncey received $75 for the scalp.
The Minnesota Historical Society received Little Crow’s scalp, skull and other bones over the years. In 1971, they were given over to Little Crow’s grandson (Wowinapa’s son) for burial.