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Column: A day that will live in infamy -- an 1862 version

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Column: A day that will live in infamy -- an 1862 version
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- This is the day some remember as "the most significant" in Minnesota history. Other remember it as Minnesota's most infamous day.

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It was 147 year ago, on this day after Christmas, 1862, that U.S. soldiers looped ropes around the necks of 38 Dakota warriors on a large, specially-built platform near the Minnesota River at Mankato. Shortly after 10 o'clock that morning, platforms were sprung and the warriors plunged to their deaths by hanging.

Authorities believed it would have offended some people if the hangings had taken place during the Christian church's Advent season. It would have been especially offensive to hang the Dakota men on Christmas Day. Anyway, officers and soldiers had plans for Christmas celebrations. So it was, Dec. 26 was chosen for the executions.

The officer in charge on that fateful hour -- the man who gave the signal to spring the trap doors -- was Stephen Miller, whose polished granite monument at the north entrance to Worthington Cemetery remains the most prominent marker in the cemetery. The Miller monument is surrounded by a low, wrought iron fence. In some recent years, someone has taken to bringing flowers to Gov. Miller's grave -- for Stephen Miller became Minnesota's fourth governor, elected less than a year after the Mankato hangings.

There are many and many stories told of the events in Minnesota in 1862, the year of the Sioux Uprising, or the Sioux War or the Minnesota Uprising. 

The Santee people had ceded nine-tenths of all the lands on which historically they lived and roamed and hunted. Nobles County, Jackson County, Rock County -- all of southwest Minnesota was a part of this land deed.

The problem came when the United States failed even to provide food for the Indian people -- only one of the violations of the treaty signed with the Sioux. The frontier was erupted in August. A great deal of blood was shed at Lake Shetek, among many sites.

The conflict was brief. The Santee people surrendered in September. 

It is for the winners of every war to decide who was guilty; the losers are the guilty ones.

U.S. Army military tribunals said 303 of the Dakota warriors committed war crimes. President Lincoln would not accept this. He ordered each case reviewed individually and, at last, he judged 39 of the 303 were criminals. As things worked out, 38 were hanged.

There is a story told rather widely 80/75 years ago. Dr. E.L. Boothby of Hammond, Wis., said he and several other men stopped at Worthington one night (in fact, before there was a Worthington). Boothby said the men were eating at a Worthington restaurant when Gov. Miller entered. Miller lived along Third Avenue in downtown Worthington at the time.

"He told us of the life of Little Crow..." Boothby said. Little Crow was chief among the Santee people in southwest Minnesota. The most familiar story is that Little Crow was picking berries with his son near Hutchinson, after the war, when he was seen by a farmer and shot for the reward offered for Little Crow's capture or death.

"This is not really true," Boothby says Miller says. 

Boothby says Miller says Little Crow was 60 miles beyond the Dakota Territory border in Canada. Boothby says Miller says he sent two men to capture Little Crow, which they did. The Indian leader was bound, forced from Canada and taken to Gen. Miller at Mankato.

"Well," Boothby says Miller says, "there was at that time a fear England would enter America's Civil War on the side of the South. Kidnapping a native American in Canada and executing him could tip the British scales against the Union."

"So," Boothby says Miller says additionally:

"I hanged Little Crow at Mankato, the people not knowing the identity of the condemned man."

The Boothby story is not generally believed. It is not accepted by the Minnesota Historical Society. At one time it was told widely and prominently. One full page of the Minneapolis Journal for Sept. 26, 1920, reviews Dr. Boothby's account of what (Boothby said) Gov. Miller said.

There are no officials records anywhere to support the Boothby account. But then, Boothby said Miller said, "All this had to be kept on the hush-hush."

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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