"We start for home to-morrow morning," were the gladsome words passed
around the camp-fire on the evening of the 22d of October. The nights
were getting chilly, and the shortening days indicated that the autumn
was fast passing away, and that warmer quarters than our tents would
soon be an absolute necessity. The contemplation of the homeward march
was a pleasure, for there were ties of friendship there that forbade
procrastination. A sad thought came over us as we remembered the poor
fellows who had given up their lives - their waiting ones at home would
wait in vain.
Reveille sounded early one morning, and after a hurried breakfast of
coffee and hard tack, the headquarters bugle sounded "strike tents," and
the city of canvas was soon razed to the ground. With the captives and
prisoners we took up our line of march for Yellow Medicine, where the
commission appointed by the General tried and condemned 305 Indians to
The morning we left Camp Release the sun shone brightly, the sky was
clear, but there was frost in the air; and, as we were on very short
rations and only one blanket each, we were in high glee as we marched out
to the music of the band. I think our steps were more than the regulation
twenty-eight inches, for we were headed towards God's country - home.
About four p. m. the fierce fall wind veered around in our faces, and
coming as it did off the burnt prairie, our faces soon presented the
appearance of men from the interior of Africa. We were black in the
face. At five o'clock we went into camp. It was pitch dark, with the
wind blowing a hurricane, and in the darkness, infantry, cavalry, and
artillery were one interminable mass of troops and order was impossible.
So the orders were: "By company, left wheel, halt;" "stack arms;" "break
ranks," with orders to pitch tents and get under cover. To make fires and
cook supper was impossible, so we supped on raw salt pork, hard tack,
and cold water. The Sibley tents blew down as fast as put up, and in
this condition we crawled under them to get the best protection possible
from the fierce northern blast. Some of the men had found potato cellars
that had been dug in the hillside by the Indians, and taking possession
of them were thus afforded good, warm quarters and plenty of potatoes to
eat. In this respect they were much more fortunate than the rest of us
who were on the outside and had all we could do to keep from freezing to
death. The storm abated somewhat by morning, so we could make our fires,
which we did, and availed ourselves of the Indian potatoes, and with salt
pork, hard tack and coffee made a hearty breakfast and were soon on the
The exposure of that night gave many of us the rheumatism, and it took
several hours' march to get ourselves limbered up, but the day was bright
and we were homeward bound. We made a good day's march, and pitched our
tents in the valley of the Red Wood.
The Indian camp, consisting principally of women and children, had
been previously removed to this place from Yellow Medicine, where the
quartermaster had erected a large board prison to hold the captive red
men, who had all been condemned by the Commission. The papers had been
sent on to President Lincoln for his final decision, and we were here
The condemned Indians were sent under strong guard to Camp Sibley, on the
banks of the Red Wood River. They were chained together and kept in a
structure built for the purpose, and their squaws, who were camped on the
outside, were allowed to cook for them under the supervision of a guard,
to prevent them from smuggling knives or a weapon of any kind on the
inside of the enclosure.
[Illustration: CAMP LINCOLN.]
After a week or ten days we again took up the line of march to a
destination known only to the General and his Staff, but which proved
to be that the Seventh Minnesota, under Colonel William R. Marshall,
should proceed with the prisoners to Mankato, and the Sixth Minnesota,
under Colonel Crooks, should report at Fort Snelling for further orders.
The two regiments marched together until we reached a point some way
below New Ulm. Nothing of importance took place until we reached this
place. The General having heard that the citizens had determined to kill
every redskin regardless of consequences if they could possibly get
hold of them, took precaution against it. It was said that every house
was supplied with hot water, hot soft soap and anything and everything
that ingenuity could invent to inflict sudden and sure punishment, and
death if possible, to those that had brought such woe to them. For this
reason the General changed his course somewhat, and making a detour to
the right, escaped the necessity or perhaps bloodshed, in trying to save
his captives from the hands of this justly furious people. Men and women
turned out en masse and hurling imprecations, flourishing butcher knives,
table knives, and even scissors, axes, pitchforks - in fact, every sort of
weapon - seemed determined to get at them, and abused soldiers and Indians
alike because they were held at bay. They followed us for two or three
miles before they became convinced that the General was determined at all
hazards to uphold the supremacy of the government in protecting these
blood-stained captives from the furies of a people who had suffered so
much at the hands of some of their tribes in the murder of their innocent
women and children.
At a point below New Ulm the command was divided, a portion taking all
the condemned men to Mankato, and the balance of the command proceeding
to Fort Snelling.
At Mankato, as the days wore away and there was some doubt as to what the
final decision of President Lincoln would be, great fear was entertained
that there would be a general uprising of the people, and an attempt
made to override military and civil law by wresting the Indians from
the soldiers and instituting a general massacre of them, irrespective of
their guilt or innocence, but Colonel Stephen Miller, the post commander,
having determined that law and not lawlessness should prevail, used the
utmost vigilance to defeat any such undertaking.
PROTESTS - PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S ORDER FOR THE EXECUTION.
The Indians did not seem to feel cast down; some in fact appeared
rather to enjoy the situation; others, again, were more serious, and
were probably speculating as to the probable outcome of the unfortunate
condition of affairs. The soldiers did not relish the idea of guarding
them, and one night a conspiracy, which I overheard, was formed to create
a false alarm in the camp and in the excitement fall on the Indians
and murder them. The plot leaked out and the plan miscarried, as it
should, for it would have been rank murder to have executed it. Among
the prisoners there were many who really were not guilty, but had been
caught in bad company. The prisoners were arraigned upon written charges
specifying the criminating acts, and these charges were signed by General
Sibley, and with but few exceptions were based on information furnished
by Rev. S. R. Riggs, who had long been a missionary among them. The
majority of the prisoners were condemned to death, and the news reaching
the East, far away from the scene of the outrages, petitions went in from
many New England cities, imploring the President to exercise clemency
toward this unfortunate people. He yielded to the clamor in so far as
only to include the very worst characters among them.
Bishop Whipple said: "There are times when the Christian laborer has
a right to ask for the sympathy, the prayers and the co-operation
of our fellow-citizens, and to make a strong appeal in behalf of
this most wretched race of heathen men on the face of the earth. The
responsibility," he says, "is great, the fearful issues are upon us, and
as we are to settle them justly or unjustly we shall receive the blessing
or curse of Almighty God. Many of these victims of savage ferocity were
my friends. They had mingled their voices with mine in prayer; they had
given to me such hospitality as can only be found in the log cabin of
the frontier; and it fills my heart with grief, and blinds my eyes with
tears, when I think of their nameless graves. It is because I love them
and would save others from their fate that I ask that the people shall
lay the blame of this great crime where it belongs, and rise up with one
voice to demand the reform of the atrocious Indian system, which has
always garnered for us the same fruit of anguish and blood."
Thousands of miles away from the scene of the outrages perpetrated
against the inoffensive white settlers, protests were sent in to the
President from all sorts of humanitarians, imploring him to stay the
sentence that condemned to death so many human beings. The provocation
to indiscriminately condemn and hang was very great, for thousands of
innocents had been ruthlessly murdered; no moments of warning were given
them; no former kindnesses seemed to be remembered by the Indians, and
their hands were steeped in their friends' blood, and there seemed no
palliating circumstances. The enormity of the outbreak and the fiendish
cruelty of the redskins were appalling; the people were paralyzed
with astonishment and fear, and the witnesses, no doubt mistaken and
prejudiced, gave such positive testimony that the commission felt
satisfied in pronouncing them guilty of murder in the first degree; but
would this have been the case if these prisoners had been white instead
[Illustration: INTERIOR OF INDIAN JAIL.]
No doubt General Sibley himself was surprised when he learned of the
indiscriminate condemnation of these prisoners, and was glad not to be
held responsible for their hanging.
It is a fact that there were Indians found with arms in their hands in
nearly all the battles, but their object was to protect the women and
children prisoners, and they said they must make a show of fighting
whether they did or not in order to accomplish this. It would have
been a great stain on the fair name of our country if this wholesale
hanging had occurred, and President Lincoln acted wisely in overruling
the recommendation of the commission, which he did to such an extent
as to sanction the execution of thirty-nine of the condemned men, and
the balance to be further held as prisoners until he should designate
a reservation to which they should be sent. During the time the
preparations were being made to carry out the President's order the
people were clamorous. They were not satisfied with the modification of
the President's order, and grave rumors were abroad that there would be
a vigorous effort made to take the Indians from the soldiers and have a
wholesale execution, but the military authorities prevented it.
The President acted wisely in this matter. In fact, the state of the
public mind was such and the pressure within our lines was exercised
to such a degree that the President could do nothing less. If all the
condemned Indians had been executed the impression would have gone
abroad that the great government of the United States was putting to
death its prisoners of war, and this would have done much toward bringing
about a recognition of the Southern Confederacy.
The President's order was as follows:
Washington, December 6, 1862.
Brigadier-General H. H. Sibley, St. Paul, Minn.:
Ordered, that the Indians and half-breeds sentenced to be
hanged by the military commission, composed of Colonel Crooks,
Lieutenant-Colonel Marshall, Captain Grant, Captain Bailey and
Lieutenant Olin, and lately sitting in Minnesota, you cause to be
executed on Friday, the 19th day of December, instant.
The other condemned prisoners you will hold subject to further
orders, taking care that they neither escape nor are subjected to any
President of United States."
The execution was carried out on the 26th of December, 1862. Thirty-eight
THE EXECUTION - THE NIGHT BEFORE.
The date of the execution was fixed for December 26, 1862. On the 22d
instant the condemned prisoners were separated from the others, and
on the same day Colonel Stephen Miller (afterwards Governor), who was
in command, through the interpreter, Rev. Mr. Riggs, called upon the
condemned and announced the decision of the Great Father at Washington.
Tell these thirty-nine condemned men that the commanding officer of
this place has called to speak to them on a serious subject this
afternoon. Their Great Father at Washington, after carefully reading
what the witnesses testified to in their several trials, has come
to the conclusion that they have been guilty of murdering his white
children; and, for this reason, has directed that each be hanged by
the neck until dead next Friday at ten a. m.
That good ministers, both Catholic and Protestant, are here, and can
commune with them for the remaining four days they have to live.
That I will now cause to be read the letter from their Great Father
at Washington, first in English and then in their own language.
Say to them, now, that they have so sinned against their fellow-men,
that there is no hope for clemency except in the mercy of God,
through the merits of the blessed Redeemer; and that I earnestly
exhort them to apply to that, as their only remaining source of
comfort and consolation.
Rev. Mr. Riggs, the interpreter, had been a missionary among them for
twenty-five years, and he had known them intimately, and it pained him
sorely to be obliged to convey to them as an interpreter the words that
were to condemn them to death. In so doing he said:
I have known you for many years; I have pointed you to the cross;
endeavored to prayerfully convince you that allegiance to God, and
the Great Father at Washington, was your duty. I have with a broken
heart witnessed your cruelty to inoffensive men, women and children;
cruelty to your best friends. You have stained your hands in innocent
blood, and now the law holds you to strict accountability. It pains
me to inform you that your Great Father in Washington says you must
die for your cruelty and murders, and I am directed to inform you
that on the 26th day of February you will be hanged by the neck until
you are dead, and may God have mercy on your souls.
The prisoners received the sentence rather coolly; some smoking their
pipes composedly during its reading, one of them knocking the ashes out
of his pipe, and another putting in his a fresh supply of kinnikinnick.
On Tuesday evening they held a death dance, accompanied by wild Indian
songs, and there were some fears that the excitement might cause an
attempt to make an escape or create a panic; so, precautionary measures
were taken. The Indians' friends and families were permitted to visit
them and take a last farewell. It was a solemn time even to the white
soldiers, for it was plainly evident that while there was a lack of
such demonstration as would be witnessed among the whites under similar
circumstances, yet to the observant eye only, it was plain to be seen
that deep, deep grief had taken possession of their hearts. There
were few tears; no hysterics, but profound sorrow was depicted on the
countenances as the parting word was said, and messages sent to children
and friends. Some were completely overcome; others in bravado laughed and
joked as if it were an every-day occurrence. One said: "Yes, tell our
friends that we are being removed from this world over the same path they
must shortly travel. We go first."
Many spoke in a mournful tone; in fact, the majority of them desired to
say something, and with one or two exceptions they seemed to be penitent.
Why should they not? Their white brethren under like circumstances are
accorded religious privileges. They repent and accept the invitation,
"Come unto Me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you
rest." The thief on the cross repented. Could not an ignorant, misguided
Indian under religious instruction receive light and repent?
The night before the execution Colonel Miller received a stay for one of
the condemned, as strong doubt existed as to his participation in the
murders, and he was finally pardoned.
It has been said that in the excitement of the preparations for the
execution that the wrong man was pardoned. He was guilty, but the
innocent man suffered in his stead. The last night was spent by the
prisoners in quite a jolly camp-fire, chatting merrily and smoking to
their hearts' content.
Father Ravoux, a Catholic priest from St. Paul, remained with them all
night administering consolation and communion, and the more serious of
them listened attentively to his words of comfort. In the morning, as
the hour for the execution approached, and while Father Ravoux was
speaking to the Indians, the provost marshal entered and whispered
something to the good priest, who in turn spoke in French to one of the
half-breeds, and he repeated it in Dakota to the Indians, who were all
lying down around the prison. The information he gave was that the hour
had arrived when they were to march to the gallows. In a moment every
Indian stood erect, and as the provost marshal opened the door they fell
in behind him with the greatest alacrity. Indeed, a notice of release,
pardon or reprieve could not have induced them to leave their cells with
more apparent willingness than this call to death. At the foot of the
steps there was no delay. Captain Redfield mounted the drop, at the head,
and the Indians crowded after him, as if it were a race to see who would
get there first. They actually crowded on each other's heels, and as they
got to the top, each took his position, without any assistance from those
who were detailed for that purpose. They still kept up a mournful wail,
and occasionally there would be a piercing scream. The ropes were soon
arranged around their necks without the least opposition being offered.
The white caps, which had been placed on the tops of their heads, were
now drawn down over their faces, shutting out forever the light of day
from their eyes. Then ensued a scene that can hardly be described and can
never be forgotten. All joined in shouting and singing, as it appeared
to those who were ignorant of the language. The tones seemed somewhat
discordant, and yet there was harmony in it. It was not their voices
alone, but their bodies swayed to and fro, and their every limb seemed to
be keeping time. The drop trembled and shook as if all were dancing. The
most touching scene on the drop was their attempt to grasp each other's
hands, fettered as they were. They were very close to each other, and
many succeeded. Three or four in a row were hand in hand, and all hands
swaying up and down with the rise and fall of their voices. One old man
reached out on each side, but could not grasp a hand; his struggles were
piteous and affected many beholders.
Those who understood their manners and language said that their singing
and shouting was necessary to sustain each other. Each one shouted his
own name and called on the name of his friend, saying in substance: "I am
here! I am here!"
The supreme moment arrived, and amid an immense concourse of citizens and
soldiers the drop fell, and thirty-eight human beings, whose hands were
steeped in innocent blood and who had spread such desolation and sorrow
to thousands of happy homes, were ushered into the presence of their
The arrangements were under the immediate supervision of Captain Burt, of
the Seventh Regiment, and they were so complete that there was not the
"Positions of honor were given to the most interested. For instance, the
cutting of the rope was assigned to William J. Daly, of Lake Shetek, who
had three children killed and his wife and two children captured, and who
were at this time in the hands of Little Crow, on the Missouri, and were
afterward ransomed by Major Galpin at Fort Pierre."
The quotation I make here is from a book in the public library, and I
found penciled on the margin by one of those persons who take advantage
of the courtesies extended by public libraries, the following:
"So should every remaining Indian be 'elevated'!" Nay! Nay! scribbler.
We cannot tell why one man's face is black and another red, while yours
and mine are white. Would you mete out the same measure to the whites?
Innocency among the Indians, per capita, is not more rare than among
their more favored white brethren, and we are brethren of a different
hue. Punish the guilty, be he white or black, but protect the innocent.
After the bodies had hung for about half an hour, the physicians of
the several regiments present examined them and reported that life was
extinct. The bodies were carried away in United States mule teams and
dumped in one common grave, dug in the sand bar in front of the city, the
half-breeds in one corner of the hole so they might be found by their
friends if they so desired. There may be times and circumstances when a
Christian people can afford to act as we expect the benighted to do; but
it has not arrived yet. No matter what the crime, the penalty has been
paid, and after the spirit has gone to God to be adjudged, it is part
of our civilization to be decent in our conduct toward all that remains
mortal. It is not necessary to make a great display, but that we perform
our duty according to our law. We have taken a life in accordance with a
human law, and in justification of it we quote, "An eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth." No matter how atrocious the deed, after the penalty
has been paid we cannot as a Christian people, apologize for our acts of
barbarism to the inanimate clay.
After the mandate of the President had been executed the telegraph
flashed to Washington the following:
"St. Paul, Minn., December 27, 1862.
"To the President of the United States:
"I have the honor to inform you that the thirty-eight Indians and
half-breeds, ordered by you for execution, were hung on yesterday
at Mankato, at ten a. m. Everything went off quietly, and the other
prisoners are well secured.
"Henry H. Sibley,
With this the curtain drops on this bloody drama, and thus ended the
great Indian campaign of 1862.
SQUAWS TAKE LEAVE OF THEIR HUSBANDS.
The condemned men, and the others who were to be deported after the
execution took place, were called upon to bid good-bye to their wives
and children, who were to be taken down to Fort Snelling. The wives were
allowed a few at a time to go inside the jail and with the children have
words of conversation with the husband and father. After a reasonable
time they took leave of them. There were no hysterics, no sobs, no tears,
but the heart-beats and the thoughts were there. Love? Yes. How deep, no
white on-looker could tell. It was a supreme moment to the poor Indian
and his dusky wife. Their roads were very divergent from this time, and
in low tones they answered in their own tongue. Some of the soldiers made
slighting remarks, but there are those among educated whites who have no
serious moments, no serious thoughts; they have not time to be serious,
and no inclination; but this was a serious time for those poor creatures;
they knew the hour had arrived when they must say good-bye forever on
earth to their red-skinned partners in life's joys and sorrows. No hand
shake; no embrace; no crying; but a sorrowful, affectionate look, and
they turn their back on them forever.
The women and children are taken down to Fort Snelling, and in a camp
prepared for them they are put for the winter, and a strong guard placed
about them to prevent any outrages being committed. The night the news
was carried to them of the execution the wails of the poor creatures
could be heard for a long distance away: "Rachael mourning for her
children and would not be comforted, because they were not."
Much sorrow was expressed for them because we could but feel that they
were unfortunate creatures, endowed with all the attributes of human