- Historic Sites
Minnesota’s Sioux uprising began with senseless murder on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. Before it ended, the smell of death was everywhere
April 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 3
Minnesotans as a whole were determined to exact the harshest vengeance. One of the rare exceptions was Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple, who went directly to President Lincoln with a plea for a measure of Christian forbearance. Many easterners, their own Indian wars long past, also cried out against the mass execution. Lincoln called for the trial records, found that many convictions were based on pretty thin evidence, and made a distinction between those guilty of murder and rape, and those who had only fought in a battle. The latter were to be treated as prisoners of war. On this basis, only thirty-eight remained on the condemned list.
Those thirty-eight died on the day after Christmas, on a huge scaffold. In traditional Indian fashion they sang death songs; their only display of emotion came when hoods were drawn over their heads, something which they considered degrading. All dropped at the same instant when the traps were sprung by cutting a single large rope. It was the largest legal group-execution in American history.
It would be gratifying to note that all of the thirty-eight who died that December day deserved their fate. Most did, but the records of Sibley’s court were sketchy and many Indian names were very similar and confusing; at least one or two of those executed were the wrong men.
Those who had been reprieved, almost 300, were kept in the Mankato prison through the winter, during which time many became converts to Christianity. In the spring they were taken down the Mississippi to Rock Island, where they led an anomalous existence for three years, not quite prisoners but not quite free, working when they could and causing no trouble. Then they were allowed to join their families on the Niobrara in Nebraska.
Meanwhile, Little Crow tried to continue his war from the west, and did his best to arouse the western Siouan tribes. He failed. He also crossed into Canada to ask for help from the British. There was a legend among the Sioux that, in gratitude for the help they had given to Britain in the War of 1812, the British had promised to return the favor if help was ever needed, but it turned out to be only a legend.
A number of Indians drifted back into Minnesota the next summer and resumed attacks on a very reduced scale. Thirty settlers were killed. One of those who came back was Little Crow, although apparently only to steal horses. While picking berries in a clearing near Hutchinson, he and his son were surprised by a settler and his young boy. The chief was killed, but his son escaped. Little Crow’s body was taken to the village, but no one could identify it and it was thrown into the offal pit of a slaughterhouse. Only when his son was captured later did the identity of the dead Indian become known.
Hutchinson had no reason to love Little Crow or any of the Sioux. During the uprising a war party had raided the town. The inhabitants had built a stockade or fort in the center of the village and easily defended themselves, but the Sioux burned the buildings outside the stockade, including Hutchinson Academy, a frontier citadel of learning. But such are the mellowing effects of time that today a statue of Little Crow stands in Hutchinson, gazing out upon the small waters of the Little Crow River.