December 26, 1862 – Largest Mass Execution in U.S. History

On this date, 38 Dakota Indians were hanged in Minnesota in reprisal for the killing of white settlers in a war variously known as the Dakota War of 1862, the Sioux Uprising, the Dakota Uprising, the Sioux Outbreak of 1862, the Dakota Conflict, the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862 and Little Crow’s War.

Chief Little Crow

Chief Little Crow

Throughout the late 1850s, treaty violations by the United States and the corrupt and racist behavior of Indian agents caused increasing hardship, hunger, and anger among the Dakota. In August of 1862, the Dakota began attacking settlements throughout the Minnesota River valley to try to drive whites out of the area.

In September, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Gen. John Pope to quell the violence. The Dakota were overwhelmingly defeated, and in early December, 303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunals and sentenced to death. Some trials lasted less than 5 minutes. No one explained the proceedings to the defendants, nor were the Sioux represented by a defense in court.

President Lincoln did not share General Pope’s goal to “utterly to exterminate the Sioux” and carefully reviewed the trial records. He commuted the sentences of 265 of the Indians — a politically unpopular move. But, he said, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.” Nevertheless, the remaining Sioux and Winnebago were subsequently removed from their lands in Minnesota, with Congress abolishing their reservations.

General John Pope

General John Pope

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