38 Nooses

38 Nooses

Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End

Book - 2012
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In August 1862, after decades of broken treaties, increasing hardship, and relentless encroachment on their lands, a group of Dakota warriors convened a council at the tepee of their leader, Little Crow. Knowing the strength and resilience of the young American nation, Little Crow counseled caution, but anger won the day. Forced to either lead his warriors in a war he knew they could not win or leave them to their fates, he declared, "[Little Crow] is not a coward: he will die with you."

So began six weeks of intense conflict along the Minnesota frontier as the Dakotas clashed with settlers and federal troops, all the while searching for allies in their struggle. Once the uprising was smashed and the Dakotas captured, a military commission was convened, which quickly found more than three hundred Indians guilty of murder. President Lincoln, embroiled in the most devastating period of the Civil War, personally intervened in order to spare the lives of 265 of the condemned men, but the toll on the Dakota nation was still staggering: a way of life destroyed, a tribe forcibly relocated to barren and unfamiliar territory, and 38 Dakota warriors hanged--the largest government-sanctioned execution in American history.

Scott W. Berg recounts the conflict through the stories of several remarkable characters, including Little Crow, who foresaw how ruinous the conflict would be for his tribe; Sarah Wakefield, who had been captured by the Dakotas, then vilified as an "Indian lover" when she defended them; Minnesota bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, who was a tireless advocate for the Indians' cause; and Lincoln, who transcended his own family history to pursue justice.

Written with uncommon immediacy and insight, 38 Nooses details these events within the larger context of the Civil War, the history of the Dakota people, and the subsequent United States-Indian wars. It is a revelation of an overlooked but seminal moment in American history.

Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, c2012.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780307377241
Characteristics: xiii, 363 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
Alternative Title: Thirty-eight nooses


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In 1862, on a frigid December morning in Mankato, Minnesota, more than 4,000 spectators witnessed the United States government conduct the largest execution in American history. Thirty-eight men, white muslin covering their faces and singing a death song in their native Dakota tongue, dropped through the wooden scaffold's opened platform and dangled for over a half hour. Eventually their bodies were cut down and buried in a shallow mass grave on a sandbar along the Minnesota River - ending an uprising that began in August with the killing of five settlers by four Dakota hunters filled with frustration, whiskey and stolen eggs.  

In 38 Nooses, Scott Berg examines the motives and consequences of this conflict (referred to as the Dakota War of 1862) through the eyes of regional residents and national figures such as the Dakota leader Little Crow (who strongly opposed the initial attracts) and Abraham Lincoln.  Certainly too complicated and extensive to detail here, the short facts are that 600 whites - most unarmed civilians - and approximately 100 Dakota warriors died during the initial conflict. In mock trials, 303 captured warriors were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. In part through the persistence of the Reservation's physician's wife, Lincoln - though embroiled in the Civil War - intervened and pardoned all but 38 men. Close to 2000 Dakotas were forcibly relocated outside of the state and approximately one-quarter of those people died in the following year.

Berg documents these within the framework of state and national events and chronicles an intimate study of individual experiences that were repeated throughout the nation until the end of the United States-Indian wars. 

Oct 08, 2015

I found this book interesting and informative, but I was saddened by -- and ashamed of -- the treachery of the traders and U.S. government. The Dakota were taken advantage of in so many ways. Still, I'm glad I chose to read this account of the Dakota conflict of 1862.


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