Dakota Commemorative March

Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling
November 7 - 13, 2014

In 1862 bounties were placed on the scalps of Dakota people by Governor Alexander Ramsey which eventually reached $200


On November 7, 2014, as in every second year since 2002, Dakota people from the United States and Canada will begin a 150-mile long Commemorative March through southern Minnesota in honor of their ancestors who were forcibly removed from the Lower Sioux Agency to concentration camps at Mankato and Fort Snelling in November of 1862. For the Dakota this commemoration signifies an opportunity to remember and grieve for the suffering endured by their ancestors as well as to relate a perspective of the event which has rarely been told.

On November 7, 1862, a group of about 1,700 Dakota, primarily women, children and elderly, were force-marched in a four-mile long procession from the Lower Sioux Agency to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling. Two days later, after being tried and convicted, over 300 condemned men who were awaiting news of their execution were placed in wagons while they were shackled and then transported to a concentration camp in Mankato, Minnesota.

Both groups had surrendered to the United States army at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, believing they would be treated humanely as prisoners of war. Instead, the men were separated out and tried as war criminals by a five-man military tribunal. As many as forty cases were tried in a single day, some taking as little as five minutes. Upon completion of the trials, 307 men were condemned to death and 16 were given prison sentences. The remaining Dakota people, primarily women, children, and elderly were then forced to endure brutal conditions as they were forcibly marched to Fort Snelling and then imprisoned in Minnesota's first concentration camp through a difficult winter.

As both groups were paraded through Minnesota towns on their way to the camps, white citizens of Minnesota lined the streets to taunt and assault the defenseless Dakota. Poignant and painful oral historical accounts detail the abuses suffered by Dakota people on these journeys. In addition to suffering cold, hunger, and sickness, the Dakota also endured having rotten food, rocks, sticks and even boiling water thrown at them. An unknown number of men, women and children died along the way from beatings and other assaults perpetrated by both soldiery and citizens. Dakota people of today still do not know what became of their bodies.

After 38 of the condemned men were hanged the day after Christmas in 1862 in what remains the largest mass hanging in United States history, the other prisoners continued to suffer in the concentration camps through the winter of 1862-63. In late April of 1863 the remaining condemned men, along with the survivors of the Fort Snelling concentration camp, were forcibly removed from their beloved homeland in May of 1863. They were placed on boats which transported the men from Mankato to Davenport, Iowa where they were imprisoned for an additional three years. Those from Fort Snelling were shipped down the Mississippi River to St. Louis and then up the Missouri River to the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. A memorial to some of those people was dedicated at Crow Creek in 2001.

The memorial at Crow Creek

This ethnic cleansing of Dakota people from Minnesota was one part of the fulfillment of a larger policy of genocide. Governor Alexander Ramsey had declared on September 9, 1862 that "The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state." The treatment of Dakota people, including the hanging in Mankato and the forced removal of Dakota people from Minnesota, were the first phases of Ramsey's plan. His plan was further implemented when bounties were placed on the scalps of Dakota people which eventually reached $200. Punitive expeditions were then sent out over the next few years to hunt down those Dakota who had not surrendered and to ensure they would not return. These actions cleared the way for white settlement of Minnesota.

While small numbers of Dakota people began trickling back to their homeland by the late 1880s, most Dakota people remain in exile from their ancient homeland. This Commemorative March is a reason for Dakota people to not only honor their ancestors by acknowledging the suffering they endured, it is also a chance to tell the truth about Minnesota's shameful ethnic cleansing of its Indigenous people and an opportunity for Dakota reconciliation in their homeland of Minnesota Makoce (Land Where the Waters Reflect the Skies) 140 years later.

In 2002 Ron Leith who is the carrier of the Eagle staff for the 38 hanged at Mankato helped with our opening ceremonies. He asked Gerald Standing who is from the Wahpeton Reserve in Saskatchewan, to take care of the staff for the march, so Gerald started them out every morning carrying the eagle staff and ended with it every day. Gerald put in a lot of miles on the march, walking every day even when it was very painful. The picture below was taken on the first morning of the march as they were leaving Lower Sioux.

The marchers leaving the Lower Sioux in 2002

Leo Omani, from the Wahpeton Reserve in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. was with the group for the entire march and it was his little red car that served them as the lead car for us the entire way (he and Gerald Standing took turns driving it). Leo was also the person who conceived of the idea for a commemorative event to honor the group of primarily women and children who made the march in 1862. The picture below is of him taken the morning they left Lower Sioux on the first day.

Leo Omani


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Historic photographs courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

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