Do you think they would have stopped to have trials?

Mr. LaBatte talks about the aftermath of the U.S-Dakota War.

Audio Chapters

JL: I think part of the problem was 1862 Dakota people fled into Canada. Dakota people fled west. The government moved a good number down to Crow Creek and then to Santee, formed Sisseton Wahpeton Reservation, the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota. Today there are at least sixteen Dakota communities, and they try to unify but they just can't seem to get together. There is no central Dakota language repository--whatever the word for that would be. A person who lives in Granite Falls speaks a different dialect than somebody who lives in Sisseton. They're too spread out, I think.

DL: The war led to a tremendous scattering of Dakota people.

JL: Yes and then there's a great number of Dakota people who have left the reservations, living among the whites. Like me. Well, I was never on a reservation, but my grandfather was.

DL: What is your opinion of President Lincoln's decision to pardon the vast majority of Dakota but to go forward with the hanging of thirty-eight? And then two later at Fort Snelling?

JL: And then one later at Mankato. People forget the one at Mankato. A white family was killed down there and I think it was a Campbell hanged at Mankato. They blamed him and some others for that. Originally three hundred and three were sentenced to hang. They didn't know when they convened that military trial what the terms were. They didn't know what constituted a hanging. And I believe the system worked when President Lincoln asked to see the trial transcripts and had his people narrow it down to thirty-eight. I believe it worked. And I think there was still some who were hanged at Mankato that should not have been. I think the punishment did not fit the crime. At first, Stephen Riggs -- the secretary at the trials – said, "I grew tired of writing the sentence to hang by the neck until dead.” But after he had seen and talked to people who were affected by the war, he said that maybe Mankato was necessary. That maybe there was some closure to hanging. So I think the system worked, but I will also say to you, what do you think would have happened? I do a speech at Fort Ridgely, a battlefield tour. New Ulm and Fort Ridgely were similar. Within a week each was attacked twice by Dakota Indians. The second attack [included] large numbers. What do you think would have happened to the citizens of New Ulm if the Indians had broken through the barricades? Do you think they would have stopped to have trials? They would have killed everybody. Maybe they would have seen a child or a woman who struck their fancy, as in other places, and taken them prisoner. But they would have went about killing everyone. Why do we judge Lincoln or whether the trials were fair and not judge the Dakota Indian trial system?

Oral History- Interview | Narrator John LaBatte Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Do you think they would have stopped to have trials? June 15, 2024.

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.