That was their last song

Ms. Swenson talks about a song her grandfather relayed to her.

Audio Chapters

DL: What did you learn about Dakota history when you were growing up? Did your grandma ever talk to you about the history of the people as a whole? Or your grandpa, or anyone?

LS: No, I think they tried to, like even from the boarding schools, I don’t think those were happy times and they didn’t talk much about them. If they did, they’d talk in the Dakota language.

DL: So you couldn’t understand them.

LS: Yes. I know my grandpa would be singing Indian songs in the back, and there was one song that we sing in church, that they sang at the hanging when they were going to get hung in 1862. We still sing that song.

DL: How does that song go?

LS: It goes – it’s got about seven verses, and it’s got a kind of a – it’s not an upbeat tune: It goes: “Many and great, oh God, are your works, maker of heaven and earth.” And it talks about all things good: “Thanks for giving us this day,” and it’s beautiful.

DL: How does the melody go, can you hum just a little of it?

LS: “Many and great, oh God, are your works, maker of heaven and earth.” Then it goes real high. [Humming] You gotta sing it loud to bring out the… I’m going to have to get you those words. It’s all written in Dakota, but somebody translated it. So we’ll be singing one verse in English, one verse of Dakota, and then another verse of English.

DL: And the prayer is for what?

LS: It’s giving thanks for their lives and all the blessings that were given to them. It’s about now that they’re going to be going to see their maker – I guess they were holding hands when they were singing this – and that was their last song. But they were happy to be going and to take care of those left behind.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator LaVonne Swenson Interviewer Deborah Locke made in Morton, Lower Sioux Community, MN | Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. That was their last song June 13, 2024.

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