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Thania Barbecho

Prof. Donsky

RE: Famous Trials

The Dakota (Sioux) Famous Trial

                    The Dakota Conflict was a long and bloody fight between the Sioux Forces and the United States which began in 1862. Three hundred and three men were prosecuted and thirty-nine men were executed, making it the largest mass execution ever ordered by the United States.

The Sioux Nation, which consisted of seven tribes, lived along the Rocky Mountains, the Minnesota River and Dakota (known as Indian country). The conflict began with two tribes the Mdewakantons and Wahpekutes (which were divided into smaller groups and contained a chief and a leader) and the United States. Other tribes, like Sissetons and Wahpetons wished to remain in peace with the Americans as they believed in Christianity. Apart from full-blood Indians there were also mixed bloods whom were children of Indians and white settlers.

In 1851, the Dakota tribe decided to sign a treaty with the United States one in which they agreed to give up their land in southern Minnesota in exchange for reservations along the Minnesota River and a payment of one million dollars over a fifty year time period. In 1858, the tribes gave up half of their land to the United States in order to gain an advance in their annuity payments. However, the payments were made to individuals of the tribe and traders who provided them with necessities on credit. Payments were often misused and these individuals were very corrupt. The rest of the tribes who were facing starvation, did not have any means of stopping such corruption other than by violence.

In 1862, the annuity payments for the Dakota were late. On August 15, 1862 a meeting was scheduled to discuss an alternative and to avoid violence. Unknown to the soldiers holding that meeting that the annuity payment of $71,000 was on its way and would be delivered the within days, they offered the Dakota food and other necessities until the annuity payments were paid. The Dakota representatives refused the offer.

That Sunday, August 17, 1858, four Dakota men came across a nest with eggs which belonged to a white settler. One settler took the eggs (the entire Dakota tribe was starving) but was warned by another tribe member that he shouldn’t take them. The first member became furious of how his tribe members were scared of the white settlers and dared his members to enter a white settler’s home and kill an entire family. Upon the return to their reservations, the Dakota members who committed the murders were glorified and the rest of the Dakota tribe believed that their best plan would be to declare war against the white settlers and the United States.

The Dakota tribe organized themselves and gathered weapons and entered the white settler’s land. They killed forty-four Americans and captured many more in their first day of war. Over two hundred whites died within the following days and the rest of the whites fled from their towns as the Dakota burned and depopulated entire towns. At this time the United States were involved in the Civil War and did not pay much attention to this war. The United States appointed a Colonel and 1,400 soldiers were sent to try to stop the Dakota and punish them for the murders they committed.

The violence by the Dakota continued into September where they attacked 170 soldiers and 70 horses which were stationed near by. Nevetheless, some Sioux tribes were opposed to the violence led by the Dakota agaisn’t the whites and offered to harbor the whites whom they saw as innocent. Although, these opposed tribes wanted to help, they ran out of food and surrendered by the end of September. The number of fighting Sioux tribes then reduced significantly.

The appointed, Colonel Sibley, lead soldiers to hopes of ending the violence and appointed men to conduct trials of the surrendered and captured Sioux tribe members. Five military men were appointed to judge over 393 cases where 303 men were sentenced to death. These trials continued until November and got shorter and shorter every day. The trials completely lacked evidence to support verdicts, prisoners were used as eyewitnesses and given a lesser convictions for their aid. The prisoners did not speak English as they had their own language (know as Sioux) and also spoke French. Many did not know that they were on trial for their lifes as they did not understand or were given the right to have counsel. Without counsel, statements and admission were used agains’t the prisoners and damaging evidence was admitted. Nevertheless, the biggest unfairness was the prisoner’s sentencing by military members whom were in battle agaisn’t the Sioux. Today’s critics state that the trials were unfair and should have been commenced in a state court where criminal laws should have been applied instead of procedures deemed by the military.

The following months, President Lincoln had the final say as to whether the military should continue executing the Sioux. He requested that only those who raped women or children and were convicted of participating in the murders be sentenced to death. Only thirty-nine were identified and President Lincoln signed an order to execute the accused. These thirty-nine Sioux members were publicly hung and their cadavers were used by doctors as study resources of the human body.

In 1863, Congress enacted a new law prohibiting the forceful removal and execution of the remaining Sioux. The surviving were transported to South Dakota and Nebraska. In 1866, new president Andrew Johnson allowed for the release of the rest of the Sioux prisoners. However, leaders of the Dakota tribe who planned the attacks fled to Canada and were never tried in court. On June 3, 1863, a farmer spotted one of the famous Dakota leaders (Little Crow) who escaped, shot him and received a reward for murdering him. Conflicts continued for many years and it was not until 1890 where the war between the Sioux and the Americans finally ended.




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