Unforgetting the Dakota 38: Settler Colonialism, Indigenous Resurgence, and the Competing Narratives of the U.S.-Dakota War, 1862-2012
Legg, John Robert
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"Unforgetting the Dakota 38" projects a nuanced light onto the history and memory of the mass hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men on December 26, 1862 following the U.S.-Dakota War in Southcentral Minnesota. This thesis investigates the competing narratives between Santee Dakota peoples (a mixture of Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota) and white Minnesotan citizens in Mankato, Minnesota—the town of the hanging—between 1862 and 2012. By using settler colonialism as an analytical framework, I argue that the erasing of Dakotas by white historical memory has actively and routinely removed Dakotas from the mainstream historical narrative following the U.S.-Dakota War through today. This episodic history examines three phases of remembrance in which the rival interpretations of 1862 took different forms, and although the Dakota-centered interpretations were always present in some way, they became more visible to the non-Dakota society over time. Adopting a thematic approach, this thesis covers events that overlap in time, yet provide useful insights into the shaping and reshaping of memory that surrounds the mass hanging. White Minnesotans routinely wrote Dakota peoples out of their own history, a key element of settler colonial policies that set out to eradicate Indigenous peoples from the Minnesota landscape and replace them with white settlers. While this thesis demonstrates how white memories form, it also focuses on Dakota responses to the structures associated with settler colonialism. In so doing, this thesis argues that Dakota peoples actively participated in the memory-making process in Mankato between 1862 and 2012, even though most historical scholarship considered Mankato devoid of Dakota peoples and an Indigenous history.
General Audience Abstract
The U.S.-Dakota War wracked the Minnesota River Valley region of Southcentral Minnesota. Following a bloody and destructive six weeks in late-Summer 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the mass execution of thirty-eight Mdewakanton Dakota men as punishment for their participation. This controversial moment in American history produced unique and divergent memories of the Dakota War, the hanging, and the Mdewakanton Dakota place in white American society. This thesis examines the memories that formed between 1862 and 2012, highlighting Dakota perspective and memories to shed new light on the history of this deeply contested event. By doing so, we gain new understandings of Mankato, the U.S.-Dakota War, and the mass hanging, but also a realization that Dakota peoples were always active in the memory-making process even though many have considered their participation nonexistent.