The Ghost of Christmas past- Mankato Executions, mass slayings, and family fun! by Thomas Pearce

As my late friend  Aunt Becky Canales and my friend Dave Larson told me years ago, on Christmas Eve Day in 1862, 38 Dakota men and their families were marched from Fort Snelling in Minneapolis MN to “Mahkato” or as it is called today Mankato MN to be hung to death on the day after Christmas before a crowd of celebratory onlookers who ate picnic meals as the men were hung. These hangings were carried out to exact revenge on the Mdewakanton for the killing of an “US Government Indian Agent” Andrew Myrick, who after complaints were lodged against him for stealing food stores that were to be given to the 1600 people confined under the watchful gaze of Fort Snelling. The agent responded “Let them Eat Grass”, shortly after the agent was found stuffed with grass. The hangings were a reaction to the people’s response to being starved.

For years a group of indigenous people in Minneapolis have gathered at the dark foreboding fort formerly known as Fort Saint Anthony, that towers over the Mississippi River atop a cliff and would silently run the roughly 82 miles in relay to Mankato, to remember these ancestors. They have done no press conference, nor have they sought white recognition of their effort. This is not done for show but so we never forget what happened at Fort Snelling or the ancestors who died there.

Between 1862 and 1863 1600 Mdewakanton Dakota were held in captivity there on what is called Pike Island. If you can imagine what that would be like in December or in the Summer? To be confined to an island in the Mississippi River where in the Winter the area is completely frozen and in the Summer could be under water and swarming with tics and mosquitoes. Their weapons taken from them, their freedom gone.

Fort Snelling

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The towering fort’s guns trained upon them. The fort now under US cavalry control. Can you imagine? Here is a picture of the area below the fort. This picture is of a monument to the people who were confined there. Note this picture is taken in Spring and note that almost the entire area is under water.

So in 1862 The Lincoln administration was pursuing a policy of extermination in regard to all Indian people and this was doubly true for the Dakota. This became known as “Little Crow’s” war. It was truly nothing more than a insurgency directed at those who had stolen their land, who had broken every treaty made with them, and who were refusing to accept the policy of settlers moving into their homelands. It is amazing that the US government still refers to this as a response to attacks by the Dakota. It is comically pathetic that the US government still calls the efforts by the Dakota to sweep the settlers out of their lands as acts of aggression on the part of the Indigenous people of the area.

Is it any less amazing that today Fort Snelling is home to ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement? How disgustingly sick.How insulting. In recent years Indigenous activists and Immigration Reform activists have united to draw attention to Fort Snelling and it’s historic role in the oppression of oppressed people. Today reenacting the days of old is quite popular at the former concentration camp. Below are pictures I took when I last visited of White Settler descendants dressing up as the murderous thugs of 1862. Here is some fool standing guard at the gates of the fort.

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And inside more would be settlers. P1020335

Often times we are told “the Indian wars are over” and “those were things that happened a long time ago? Really? Let me give another perspective. The day after Christmas in 1862 townspeople in Mankato MN ate picnics and cheered as 38 men chosen by lottery by President Lincoln himself were hung while their horrified families watched. Today White people across the country play dress up, they don the garb of war criminals and reenact these sordid murderous but proud moments in their history.

Indigenous people and African American people often just look from afar and think “stupid ass white people”. I don’t think many know quite how to react. In Germany? If Germans were to dress up as Nazis and reenact the proud history of a concentration camp? They would be arrested. In America they have for the most part successfully made the practice acceptable and even admirable among whites.

Today immigrant activists and Indigenous activists have united in a campaign to “Take Down Fort Snelling” and return the land that is Fort Snelling State Park to Indigenous control.

When i was last there the whole thing just sank into me and I became very sad. As I walked around the Fort exhibit and read the historic plaques there? I came upon one that said the Fort was erected to present a deterrent  to hostile Dakota and Ojibwe tribes in the region and to be a symbol of strength. That the fort was to “extend American control and influence over a land and wilderness inhabited by Dakota and Ojibwe Indians”. How blatantly offensive. No mention of the 1600 starved. No mention of the 38 hung. In other words “We are very proud of the history of this fort”. Can we just call it the Settler uprising?

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I walked down the steep hill below the fort and onto the marshy area where the Dakota were held captive, starving, cold and dying.

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I could feel the power of the place. As I walked I saw an Eagle in the air above me who seemed to come to remind me that spirit of the people were still here.

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Then I came to this plaque. In the woods and the monument erected not by whites but placed there by the Dakota people themselves.

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And again this monument placed by the people to remember the 1600 and the 38.

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This passage from white historians seems to stand out to me this HOLIDAY SEASON!!!

Little Crow was forced to retreat sometime in September 1862. He stayed briefly in Canada but soon returned to the Minnesota area. He was killed on July 3, 1863, near Hutchinson, Minnesota, while gathering raspberries with his teenage son. The pair had wandered onto the land of white settler Nathan Lamson, who shot at them to collect bounties. Once it was discovered that the body was of Little Crow, his skull and scalp were put on display in St. Paul, Minnesota. The city held the trophies until 1971, when it returned the remains to Little Crow’s grandson. For killing Little Crow, the state granted Lamson an additional $500 bounty. For his part in the warfare, Little Crow’s son was sentenced to death by a military tribunal, a sentence then commuted to a prison term.

Really? The city held Little Crow’s head until 1971. REALLY! To date there has been no apology for the Christmas hanging. NO APOLOGY for the confinement of the 1600. Nothing. Just proud settlers playing dress up and lingering around the fort. A constant reminder in the city that is home to the American Indian Movement that this country, this illegal settler state really does not give a damn about the genocide it committed and really doesn’t give a damn if indigenous people don’t like it.

Is it any wonder AIM was founded here? As I walked the trail from Fort Snelling to Minnehaha Falls I saw and felt the people had not forgotten and would never forget. I was first greeted by a herd of deer along the way.

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As i walked along through the woods I came along this marker placed there by the people.

I walked along and I knew that regardless of the Settlers in their bizarre regalia, that the effort to erase the past had failed. The people would always return. They would always remember. They would never give up on the decolonization of the continent. It cannot happen.

This sculpture looks toward the falls.

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I walked down the path and saw the beauty of Minnehaha Falls and I was overwhelmed by gratitude for those who make the walk every year to Mankato. I was overwhelmed with grief for the sheer and hostile sense of pride in this illegal settler state. This country has defended it’s genocidal policies from day one. It still does. All the historical markers display an analysis that says “We did what we had to do to make this nation the most powerful in the world and we will erase you from history to prove it.”

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IT DID NOT WORK. IT NEVER WILL WORK. IT IS NOT OVER. IT NEVER WILL BE!!!!!!!! So it is Christmas. The time of year that oppressors chose to destroy the tribal ways of pagan Europeans by celebrating the supposed birth of the supposed savior. Everyone now knows that none of the symbols of Christmas have anything to do with Christianity at all. The Tree, the Yule log, the stockings, the feast, none of these things have thing to do with CHRIST. None of the actions taken by the founders of this Settler Occupation of the United States has anything to do with truth, democracy, justice, or spirituality. At a time of year that Mankato executions, the Wounded Knee Massacre of 300 men, women and children on Dec 29th 1890, and many more.

Lets look at the holiday season and what it means to the non christians of Turtle Island:

December 8, 1818: Secretary of War John C. Calhoun presents a report to the House of Representatives. Among the report’s proposals: tribes should no longer be treated as sovereign nations; Indians should be saved from extinction; and Indians should be taught the correct concept of land ownership.

December 14, 1763: A band of almost five dozen frontiersmen, called “the Paxton Boys,” attack a peaceful Susquehanna Indian village in Conestoga, Pennsylvania. They kill eight of the twenty-two inhabitants in this unprovoked raid. “The Boys” continue their rampage during the next two weeks.

December 15, 1890: Sitting Bull is killed while being arrested at Fort Yates. Later this week, the editor of the “Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer,” wrote later that week “[With the death of Sitting Bull] the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.” The author of this editorial is L. Frank Baum, best known as the author of “The Wizard of Oz.”

December 17, 1890: Sitting Bull and the police killed during his arrest are buried with honor. An arrest warrant was also issued for Big Foot, himself, for his part as a “trouble maker” in the ghost dance religion.

December 23, 1855: Whites surround a Rogue River Indian village they had visited the day before. The village is mostly unarmed. The whites attack, and nineteen Indian men are killed. The women and children were driven into the cold. The survivors arrive at Fort Lane, in southwestern Oregon, with severe frostbite and frozen limbs.

December 25, 1839: After the July defeat at the Battle of the Neches, Cherokees under Chief “The Egg” attempt an escape to Mexico. They make to the Colorado River before they are met by Colonel Edward Burleson and his Texan and Tonkawa forces. A fight ensues; 7 Cherokee warriors are killed and 24 women and children are captured. Among the dead is The Egg.

December 26, 1862: The thirty-eight Santee Sioux condemned for their actions in the “Santee Uprising” are hanged at Mankato, Minnesota. This is the largest mass hanging in American History.

December 29, 1890: The Wounded Knee Massacre takes place. According to army records, one officer, 24 soldiers, and 128 Indians are killed. 35 soldiers, and 33 Indians are wounded in the fighting. The army will give Congressional Medals of Honor to almost two dozen soldiers.

These are just a few of the significant dates in the history of this continent. It seems that Christians have done some of their most effective killing, raping, and stealing in the month of their lord.

It is important to note that this country recognizes a CHRISTMAS SEASON as a nationally practiced day of rubbing manifest destiny in the faces of all who fell to their blades, bullets, and under their boot.

The Winter solstice is a beautiful time for all tribal people. I do think it is important to recognize that the founders of this settler state did not pause during the season to have a time of peace or reflection. They were serial killers and they did some of their most heinous work during the holiday they set aside for the LORD. So Merry Christmas.

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3 Comments

  1. I am so horrified, that all this happened. Our history is horrifing. I remmember reading about ,how the Mexican,people were done too. and our African Bro’s man this whole earth is so I do not have a word for the cruelty im possed upon human kind ,just for selfgain,power and well makes no sences does it. I wish We could all belive in LOVE>it is real, Forgivness is too.

  2. My heart was sad when i read this….such a beautiful people and the suffering they endured, no words are adequate enough to explain man’s inhumanity to man…..may God bless you all

  3. And this is why I refuse to call I TB Fort Snelling. Its Fort Dakota to me.


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