Mankato: Stories and Reflections





Clifford Canku: “What would you do if you were promised thousands of dollars? If you moved to a smaller portion of land and the United States said: 'We'll feed you, we'll give you implements so you can be farmers.' Bu,t when you did move onto those small pockets of land, you were starving. Your children were starving, I would fight. I would fight today even though I knew it would be futile. Because you're going to die anyway. You're going to starve.”

Narrator: The Dakota did fight in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Even with casualties on both sides at the end of the war, the Dakota were outnumbered.

John LaBatte: “Originally three hundred and three were sentenced to hang. President Lincoln had his people narrow it down to thirty-eight.”

Narrator: On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, in the largest mass execution in United States history.

Perspectives on the Mankato Hanging

Byron White: “All I could think of when we were standing there was that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and hung us.”

Narrator: The hanging in Mankato, left scars on both Dakota and settler descendants.

Sandee Geshick: “The first time that I found out where the actual site was when I went there, it was emotional. But when you think of our warriors that were hung there and the sacrifice that they made for me and all my people, it makes it a little bit easier to know that they sacrificed so we can have what we have today.”

Fred Juni: "I think it's a blemish on our history. I think it's terrible. There was hardship, and grief and agony on both sides of the issue. It still seems that it was hanging for the sake of hanging. It was to show that the whites were here to stay and that they were the dominant society and that the Indians were on the way out, so to speak.”

Sandee Geshick: “You can almost put yourself back in time and wonder, 'what they were they actually thinking?' And they were brave to go, walk up there, knowing that they were facing death. They were going to meet their Creator. And I’m sure they knew that they’d be seeing their relatives that went before them.”

Peter Lengkeek: “There are families of Minnesota, their ancestors settled here. Their ancestors were killed by my ancestors. They need that healing also.”

How the Dakota Commemorate the Mankato Hanging

Narrator: For many years the site of the hanging in Reconciliation Park was marked by a bison statue.

Grace Goldtooth: “I’m assuming that there’s a lot of residents within even Mankato that aren’t even aware of what that is. It's not just this big buffalo just there, and everyone’s just like, ‘Oh that’s just an Indian buffalo’ whatever. It’s really hard to capture what exactly took place right there in that place, and how to really make sure that everybody’s aware of that."

Dallas Goldtooth: “People in American society have short term memory loss. If there’s not a physical monument, if there’s not a granite plaque or whatever may be there, they lose all sort of personal connection to that history. That’s something that happened to their great-grandparents or their great-great-grandparents.”

Grace Goldtooth: “This is really something that people really need to take serious and look at and really pay attention to it.”

Gabrielle Tateyuskanskan: “Public acknowledgement is really important, and it’s a critical piece I think that's missing. So that people will never forget who the 38 were and the sacrifice that they made so that Dakota people could survive.”

Narrator: In 2013 a new monument was erected adjacent to the bison statue to commemorate the 38 men executed there. Each year, they are also remembered during an annual horse ride from the Lower Brule Indian reservation in South Dakota to Mankato, Minnesota.

Tamara St John: “The whole Dakota 38 Ride isn't just about remembering or honoring the Dakota 38, or those that were hung. It’s really about healing. We have to educate our young people and ourselves that we are not the places that we’ve been exiled to. We are one people, the Dakota Oyate, a part of the Tatanka Oyate.”