J. Duley (his photo above was discovered in 2015)
was selected to cut the rope that dropped 38
noosed Dakota men to their deaths. Duley's
selection for the job was probably influenced by
the fact that three of his children (ages 10, 4,
and six months) were killed early in the Conflict
near Lake Shetek. His wife was injured,
raped, and held captive for three months before
being freed in South Dakota in December 1862. The
execution in Mankato on December 26, 1862 was
watched by 1,400 soldiers and thousands of
Execution ( Account published in the St. Paul Press)
following contemporaneous accounts reflect the prevailing
anti-Indian bias of the time.
After twenty-nine cases were disposed of, Major Bradley was substituted for Lieutenant Colonel Marshall, who was absent on other duty.
The prisoners were arraigned upon written charges specifying the criminating acts. These charges were signed by Colonel Sibley or his adjutant general, and were, with but few deceptions, based upon information furnished by the Rev. S.R. Riggs. He obtained it by assembling the half breeds; and others possessed of means of knowledge, in a tent, and interrogating them concerning suspected parties. The names of the witnesses were appended to the charge. He was, in effect, the grand jury of the court. His long residence in the country, and extensive acquaintance with the Indians, he knowledge of the character and habits of most of them, enabling him to tell almost with certainty what Indians would be implicated and what ones not, either from their disposition or their relatives being engaged, and his familiarity with their language, eminently qualified him for the position.
Major Forbes of General Sibley's staff, a trader of long standing among the Indians, acted as provost marshall, and Antoine Frenier as interpreter. The charges were first read to the accused, and, unless he admitted them, evidence on oath introduced.
Godfrey was the first person tried. The following was the charge and specifications, which will serve as a sample of the others:
"Charge and Specifications against O-ta-kle, or Godfrey, a colored man connected with the Sioux tribe of Indians.
"Specification 2d. In this, that the said O-ta-kle, or Godfrey, a colored man, did, at various times and places between the 19th of August 1862, and the 28th day of September, 1862, join and participate in the murders and massacre committed by the Sioux Indians on the Minnesota frontier. By order of
H. SIBLEY, Com. Mil. Expedition.
On being asked whether he was guilty or not guilty, he made a statement similar to the one heretofore detailed.
Mary Woodbury testified that she saw him two or three days after the outbreak at Little Crow's village with a breech-clout on, and his legs and face painted for a war party, and that he started with one for New Ulm; that he appeared very happy and contented with the Indians; was whooping around and yelling, and apparently as fierce as any of them. When they came back there was a Wahpeton, named Hunka, who told witness that the negro was the bravest of all; that he led them into a house and clubbed the inmates with a hatchet; and that she was standing in the prisoner's tent door, and heard the Indians ask him how many he had killed, and he said only seven; and that she saw him, once when he started off, have a gun, a knife, and a hatchet.
Mary Swan and Mattie Williams testified that when the war party took them captive, though the prisoner was not armed, he appeared to be as much in favor of the outrages as any of the Indians, and made no intimation to the contrary in a conversation the witnesses had with him.
La Batte knew nothing about him.
David Faribault, Sen., a half-breed, testified as to his boasting of killing seven with a tomahawk, and some more---children; but these, he said, didn't amount to any thing, and he wouldn't count them. Witness saw him at the fort and at New Ulm, fighting and acting like the Indians; and he never told him (Faribault) that he was forced into outbreak.
Godfrey, it will be recollected, stated, before witnesses were called, that he was at the fort, New Ulm, Birch Coolie, and Wood Lake, but was compelled to go; and that he had struck a man with the back of a hatchet in a house where a number were killed, and that he spoke of killing in the Indian acceptation of the term, as before explained, and boasted of the act in order to keep the good will of the Indians.
He had such an honest look, and spoke with such a truthful tone, that the court, though prejudiced against him in the beginning, were now unanimously inclined to believe that there were possibilities as to his sincerity. His language was broken, and he communicated his ideas with some little difficulty. This was an advantage in his favor, for it interested the sympathetic attention of the listener, and it was a pleasure to listen to his hesitating speech. His voice was one of the softest that I ever listened to.
The court held his case open for a long time, and while the other trials were progressing, asked every person who was brought in about him, but could find no person who saw him kill any one, although the Indians were indignant at him for having disclosed evidence against a number of them, and would be desirous of finding such testimony.
Finally, the court found him not guilty of the first specification, and sentenced him to be hung, accompanying the sentence, however, by a recommendation of a commutation of punishment to imprisonment for ten years. It was afterward granted by the President.
The trials were elaborately conducted until the commission became acquainted with the details of the different outrages and battles, and then, the only point being the connection of the prisoner with them, five minutes would dispose of a case.
If witnesses testified, or the prisoner admitted, that he was a participant, sufficient was established. As many as forty were sometimes tried in a day. Those convicted of plundering were condemned to imprisonment; those engaged in individual massacres and in battles, to death.
If you think that participation in battles did not justify such a sentence, please to reflect that any judicial tribunal in the state would have been compelled to pass it, and that the retaliatory laws of war, as recognized by all civilized nations, and also the code of the Indian, which takes life for life, justified it. The battles were not ordinary battles. The attacks upon New Ulm were directed against a village filled with frightened fugitives from the surrounding neighborhood, and the place was defended by civilians, hastily and indifferently armed, and were accompanied by the wanton burning of a large portion of the town, and by the slaughter of horses and cattle, and the destruction of all property which came within the power of the enemy. A number of persons from the country, who endeavored, while the attack was progressing, to make their way into the town, where alone was possible safety, were shot down and horribly mutilated. The attacks upon the forts were also accompanied by similar acts.
The battle of Birch Coolie commenced with an attack, just before daylight, upon a small part of soldiers and civilians who had been engaged in the burial of the dead at the Red-Wood Agency, by over three hundred Indians, who started for the purpose of burning the towns of New Ulm, Mankato, and St. Peter, and butchering the inhabitants. The war party to the Big Woods marched a distance of eighty miles on a general raid through the settlements. The murdered and mutilated a number of unarmed fugitives, burned many houses, stole a large quantity of horses and cattle, killed a portion of Captain Strout's company at Acton, and partially destroyed the town of Hutchinson. On all these occasions, as they were attacked by largely superior numbers, the whites would have surrendered could "quarter" have been expected. It was with the utmost resistance and despair that the defense of Fort Ridgely and New Ulm was sustained after the burning of all the outbuildings, and an attempt to set fire to the fort itself. The timely arrival of re-enforcements alone saved the part at Birch Coolie from total massacre. One hundred and four bullet-holes through a single tent, the slaughter of over ninety horses, and the loss of half the party in killed and wounded, indicate the peril of their situation. The purpose of these Indians, as frequently stated, was to sweep the country as far as St. Paul with the tomahawk and with fire, giving the men "no quarter;" and these battles were but part of the general design, and rendered the acts of one the acts of all. The fact that those engaged in such a mode of warfare acted together in organized bands, and directed their attempts against a large number of whites, was not a matter of mitigation, but of aggravation, arising from increased ability and opportunity to accomplish their purpose.
Besides, most of these Indians must also have been engaged in individual massacres and outrages. Those who attacked New Ulm on the second day after the outbreak, and Fort Ridgely on the third day, were undoubtedly parties who had scattered through the neighborhood in small marauding bands the day before. The extent of the outrages, occurring almost simultaneously over a frontier of two hundred miles in length and reaching far into the interior, and whereby nearly one thousand people perished, can not be accounted for without their participation. The fact that they were Indians, intensely hating the whites, and possessed of the inclinations and revengeful impulses of Indians, and educated to the propriety of the indiscriminate butchery of their opponents, would raise the moral certainty that, as soon as the first murders were committed, all the young men were impelled by the sight of blood and plunder--- by the contagion of example, and the hopes entertained of success--- to become participants in the same class of acts.
In at least two thirds of the cases the prisoners admitted that they fired, but in most instances insisted that it was only two or three shots, and that no one was killed; about as valid an excuse as one of them offered who was possessed of an irresistible impulse to accumulate property, that a horse which he took was only a very little one, and that a pair of oxen which he captured was for his wife, who wanted a pair. In regard to the third who did not admit that they fired, their reasons for not doing so were remarkable, and assumed a different shape every day. One day all the elderly men, who were in the vigor of manly strength, said their hair was too gray to go into battle; and the young men, aged from eighteen to twenty-five, insisted that they were too young, and their hearts too weak to face fire. The next day would develop the fact that great was the number and terrible the condition of those who were writhing in agony with the bellyache on the top of a big hill. A small army avowed that they had crept under a wonderfully capacious stone (Which nobody but themselves ever saw) at the battles of the fort, and did not emerge therefrom during the fights; and a sufficiency for two small armies stoutly called on the Great Spirit (Wakan-tonka), and the heavens and the earth (patting the latter emphatically with the hand), to witness that they were of a temper so phlegmatic, a disposition so unsocial, and an appetite so voracious and greedy, that, during the road of each of the battles at the fort, New Ulm, Birch Coolie, and Wood Lake, they were alone, within bullet-shot, roasting and eating corn and beef all day! A fiery-looking warrior wished the commission to believe that he felt so bad at the fort to see the Indians fire on the whites, that he immediately laid down there and went to sleep, and did not awake until the battle was over! Several of the worst characters, who had been in all the battles, after they had confessed the whole thing, wound up by saying that they were members of the Church!
One young chap, aged about nineteen, said that he used always to attend divine worship at Little Crow's village below St. Paul, and that he never did any thing bad in his life except to run after a chicken at Mendota a long time ago, and that he didn't catch it. The evidence disclosed the fact that this pious youth had been an active participant in some of the worst massacres on Beaver Creek.
All ages were represented, from boyish fifteen up to old men scarcely able to walk or speak, who were "fifty years old," to use the expression of one, "a long time ago, and then they stopped counting." Two of these old gentlemen were once brought in together, who were direct opposites in physiognomy--the face of one running all to nose, which terminated sharply, giving him the pointed expression, while that of the other was perfectly flat, and about two feet broad, and fully illustrated (which I always considered a fable) the fact of persons being in existence who couldn't open or shut their eyes and mouths at the same moment. This specimen was apparently asleep the whole time, with his lower jaw down; and closed eyes being his normal condition, he had to be punched up every two minutes, when the president of the commission was interrogating him, as he wished to look in his eyes to judge if he was telling the truth.
"Wake him up! stir him up!" was the continual injunction to the interpreter. This lively little proceeding kept the old gentleman's face in continued action, eyes and mouth alternately opening and shutting with a jerk. If he was simply told to open his eyes, the operation was slow. The lids peeled up like those of some stupid noxious bird gorged with carrion, and would shut again before they were fairly open, the mouth following suit pari passu. Nothing was proved against him, and the president said, in a loud voice, "Lead him out." The startled tones awakened him, but the eyes shut again, and they led him away wrapped in profound slumber.
Another equally antiquated specimen, but by no means terrific in appearance, and not of the smallest account to himself or any body else---sore eyed, and of lymphatic temperament---astonished the court by stating that he was the sole cause of the Sioux difficulty; that he was living near New Ulm upon the charity of the whites; that the whites were, in fact, lavishly kind to him, and to such an extent that the other Indians were jealous of him, and became so excited thereby that they brought on the war.
Two semi-idiots were tried. Nothing was elicited concerning one of them except that he was called "white man," and was picked up when an infant alone on the prairies. He claimed to be a white, but looked like a "Red" at that. The other had wit enough to kill a white child, and, unfortunately for him, the plea of idiocy was not recognized by the commission.
An innocent-looking youth was tried was tried on a charge of robbery. The following examination took place:
goods, if any, did you take from Forbe's store?"
Ten years in prison was given him to meditate on his reply.
Let it not be supposed, because facetiae were sometimes indulged in, that the proceedings were lightly conducted. The trial of several hundred persons for nearly the same class of acts became very monotonous. The gravest judge, unless entirely destitute of the juices of humor, sometimes a while
And deigns a transient smile."
Many cases there were where there was occasion enough for display of solemn sorrow.
The most repulsive-looking prisoner was Cut-nose, some of whose acts have been detailed by Samuel Brown. He was the foremost man in many of the massacres. The first and second days of the outbreak he devoted his attention particularly to the Beaver Creek settlement, and to the fugitives on that side of the river. I will give a single additional instance of the atrocity of this wretch and his companions. A part of settlers were gathered together for flight when the savages approached; the defenseless, helpless women and children, huddled together in the wagons, bending down their heads, and drawing over them still closer their shawls. Cut-nose, while two others held the horses, leaped into a wagon that contained eleven, mostly children, and deliberately, in cold blood, tomahawked them all---cleft open the head of each, while the others, stupefied with horror, powerless with fright, as they heard the heavy dull blows crash and tear through flesh and bones, awaited their turn. Taking an infant from its mother's arms, before her eyes, with a bolt from one of the wagons they riveted it through its body to the fence and left it there to die, writhing in agony. After holding for a while the mother before this agonizing spectacle, they chopped off her arms and legs, and left her to bleed to death. Thus they butchered twenty-five within a quarter of an acre. Kicking the bodies out of the wagons, they filled them with plunder from the burning houses, and, sending them back, pushed on for other adventures.
Many of those engaged in the Patville murder were tried. Patville started from Jo. Reynolds's place, just above Red-Wood, for New Ulm, on the morning of the outbreak, with three young ladies and two other men, and on the way they were attacked by the Indians, as detailed by Godfrey. Patville was killed near the wagon, and the other men at the edge of the woods, while trying to escape. One of the girls was wounded, and all three taken prisoners and brought to Red-Wood. Here the three were abused by the Indians; one, a girl of fourteen, by seventeen of the wretches, and the wounded young lady to such and extent that she died that night. Jo. Campbell ventured to place her in a grave, but was told that if he did so, or for any of the other bodies which were lying exposed, his life should pay the forfeit. The two other young ladies were reclaimed at Camp Release, and sent to their friends, after suffering indignities worse than death, and which humanity shudders to name.
Others were tried who belonged to a band of eight that separated themselves from the main body which attacked the fort in the second battle, and went toward St. Peter's burning the church, the Swan Lake House, and other buildings, and murdering and plundering. They attacked one party, killed all the men, and them one of them caught hold of a young girl to take her as his property, when the mother resisted and endeavored to pull her away. The Indians then shot the mother dead, and wounded the girl, who fell upon the ground apparently lifeless. An Indian said she was not dead, and told her first captor to raise her clothes, which he attempted to do. Modesty, strong in death, revived the girl, and she attempted to prevent it, but as she did so the other raised his tomahawk and dashed out her brains---a blessed fate in comparison with that which was otherwise designed.
An old man, shriveled to a mummy, one of the criers of the Indian camp, was also tried, and two little boys testified against him.
One of them, a German, and remarkably intelligent for his years, picked him out from many others at Camp Release, and had him arrested, and dogged him till he was placed in jail, and when he was led forth to be tried, with the eye and fierceness of a hawk, and as if he feared every instant that he would escape justice.
These boys belonged to a large party, who came from above Beaver Creek to within a few miles of the fort, where the Indians met them, and said if they would go back with them to where they came from and give up their teams, they should not be harmed. When they were some distance from the fort, they fired into the party, and killed one man and a number of women, and took the remainder prisoners. The old wretch was made to stand up, looking cold and impassable, and as stolid as a stone, and the boys, likewise standing, placed opposite. The stood gazing at each other for a moment, when one of the boys said, "I saw that Indian shoot a man while he was on his knees at prayer;" and the other boy said, "I saw him shoot my mother."
Another was recognized by Mrs. Hunter as the Indian who had shot her husband, and then took out his knife and offered to cut his throat in her presence, but finally desisted, and carried her away into captivity . . . .
The female sex was represented in the person of one squaw, who, it was charged, had killed two children. The only evidence to be obtained against her was a camp rumor to that effect among the Indians, so she was discharged. Her arrest had one good effect, as she admitted she had taken some silver spoons across the river, and ninety dollars in golf, which she had turned over to an Indian, who, being questioned concerning it, admitted the fact, and delivered the money over to the general.
But the greatest institution of the commission, and the observed of all observers, was the negro Godfrey. He was the means of bringing to justice a large number of of the savages, in every instance by two his testimony being substantiated by the subsequent admissions of the Indians themselves. His observation and memory were remarkable. Not the least thing had escaped his eye or ear. Such an Indian had a double barreled gun, another a single barreled, another a long one, another a short one, another a lance, and another one nothing at all. One denied that he was at the fort. Godfrey saw him there preparing his sons for battle, and recollected that he painted the face of one red, and drew a streak of green over his eyes. Another denied that he had made a certain statement to Godfrey which he testified to. "What!" said Godfrey, "don't you recollect you said it when you had your hand upon my wagon and your foot resting on the wheel." To a boy whom he charged with admitting that he had killed a child by striking it with his war spear over the head, and who denied it, he said, "Don't you remember showing me the spear was broken, and saying that you had broken it in striking the child?" To another, who said he had a lame arm at New Ulm, and couldn't fire a gun, and had such a bad gun that he could not have fired if he desired, he replied, "You say you could not fire, and had a bad gun. Why don't you tell the court the truth? I saw you go and take the gun of an Indian who was killed, and fire two shots; and then you made me reload it, and then you fired again."
I might enumerate numberless instances of this kind, in which his assumed recollection would cause his truthfulness to be doubted, if he had not been fully substantiated. It was a study to watch him, as he sat in court, scanning the face of every culprit who came in with they eye of a cat about to spring. His sense of the ridiculous, and evident appreciation of the gravity which should accompany the statement of an important truth, was strongly demonstrated. When a prisoner would state, in answer to the question of "Guilty or not guilty," that he was innocent, and Godfrey knew that he was guilty, he would drop his head upon his breast, and convulse with a fit of musical laughter; and when the court said, "Godfrey, talk to him," he would straighten up, his countenance would become calm, and in a deliberate tone, would soon force the Indian, by a series of questions in his own language, into an admission of the truth. He seemed a "providence" specially designed as an instrument of justice.
The number of prisoners tried was over four hundred. Of these three hundred and three were sentenced to death, eighteen to imprisonment. Most of those acquitted were Upper Indians. There was a testimony that all these left their homes and went upon war parties, but the particular acts could not be shown, and therefore not convicted. Some people have thought that the haste with which the accused were tried must have prevented any accuracy as to the ascertainment of their complicity. I have already shown that the point to be investigated being a very simple one, viz., presence and participation in battles and massacres which had before been proven, and many of the prisoners confessing the fact, each case need only occupy a few moments. It was completed when you asked him if he was in the battles of New Ulm and the fort, or either, and fired at the whites, and he said "yes." The officers composing the court were well known to the community as respectable and humane gentlemen. They resided a long distance from the scene of the massacres, and had no property destroyed or relatives slain. They were all men of more than average intelligence, and one of them (Major Bradley) was not only a gallant soldier, but had long been rated among the first lawyers of the state. Before entering upon the trials they were solemnly sworn to a fair and impartial discharge of their duties. It would scarcely be supposed that such men as these, after such an oath, would take away human life without the accused were guilty.
The fact that in many instances the punishment of imprisonment was graduated from one to ten years, and that in nearly one quarter of the cases the accused were acquitted, argues any thing but inattention to testimony and blind condemnation.
Mr. Riggs, their missionary, who furnished the grounds for the charges, had free intercourse with them, and as he was well known to all of them personally or by reputation for his friendship and sympathy, those who were innocent would be likely, of their own accord, to tell him of the fact, and those who were members of his church, or those whose characters were good, specially interrogated by him as to their guilt; and a gentlemen of such kind impulses, and who took such a deep interest in the welfare, would not have hesitated to have had the defensive or excusatory fact brought to the attention of the court, and he did not. One instance was that of Robert Hopkins, a civilized Indian, and a member of the Church. He helped to save the life of Dr. Williamson and party, and when he was tried Mr. Riggs had this adduced in his favor.
Where so many were engaged in the raids, the fact of any one staying at home would be a circumstance much more marked than that of going---a circumstance quickly noticed, and calculated to impress the memory, and therefore easily proven.
It is the height of improbability to believe that any Indian would be accused, especially by Mr. Riggs, and the subject of his guilt or innocence canvassed among the half-breed witnesses who had been present through the whole affair, and be conducted by Provost Marshal Forbes, who understood the Indian language and was well acquainted with them, a distance of a quarter of a mile from the prison to the court, without the fact of innocence, if it existed, being noticed and called to the attention of the court, and in no instance was there a suggestion made of any defensive testimony but what the court had it produced, and gave to it due weight and consideration.
No one was sentenced to death for the mere robbery of good, and not to exceed half a dozen for mere presence in a battle, although the prisoner had gone many miles to it, or on a general raid against the settlements. It was required that it should be proven by the testimony of witnesses, unless the prisoner admitted the fact, that he had fired in the battles, or brought ammunition, or acted as commissary in supplying provisions to the combatants, or committed some separate murder.
Where defensive testimony was offered, the defendant's case generally appeared worse against him. The reader will recollect the instances where the half-breed Milard sent for Baptiste Campbell, and the deserter from the Renville Rangers for his Indian uncles. Robert Hopkins's case, too, was unfortunate. He had helped Dr. Williamson to escape, but he fired in battles; and David Faribault swore that while he was between New Ulm and Red-Wood he heard a gun fired near a house a short distance off, and shortly afterward Hopkins and another Indian approached, and one of them (I think Hopkins) said that he (Hopkins) had first shot a white man at that house, and that there was another white man ran up stairs, and that Hopkins wanted the other Indian to follow, but he dared not; that Hopkins then proposed that they should set fire to the house, but the Indian refused to do so, as he said the white man might have a gun, and shoot one of them from the window.
have criticised the action of the court because of the
great number of the condemned. Great also was
the number of crimes of which they were accused . . .
"Good counsel was sent to the children. They were in many cases exhorted to an adoption of Christianity and the life of good feeling toward the whites. Most of them spoke confidently of their hopes of salvation. . . .
"There is a ruling passion with many Indians, and Tazoo could not refrain from its enjoyment even in this sad hour Ta-ti-mi-ma was sending word to his relatives not to mourn for his loss. He said he was old, and could not hope to live long under any circumstances, and his execution would not shorten his days a great deal, and dying as he did, innocent of any white man's blood, he hoped would give him a better chance to be saved; therefore he hoped his friends would consider his death but as a removal from this to a better world. 'I have every hope,' said he, 'of going direct to the abode of the Great Spirit, where I shall always be happy.' This last remark reached the ears of Tazoo, who was also speaking to his friends, and he elaborated upon it in this wise: 'Yes, tell our friends that we are being removed from this world over the same path they must shortly travel. We go first, but many of our friends may follow us in a very short time. I expect to go direct to the abode of the Great Spirit, and to be happy when I get there; but we are told that the road is long and the distance great; therefore, as I am slow in all my movements, it will probably take a long time to reach the end of the journey, and I should not be surprised if some of the young, active men we will leave behind us will pass me on the road before I reach the place of my destination.
"In shaking hands with Red Iron and Akipa, Tazoo said: 'Friends, last summer you were opposed to us. You were living in continual apprehension of an attack from those who were determined to exterminate the whites. Yourselves and families were subjected to many taunts, insults, and threats. Still you stood firm in our friendship for the whites and continually counseled the Indians to abandon their raid against the whites. Your course was condemned at the time, but now you see your wisdom. You were right when you said the whites could not be exterminated, and the attempt indicated folly; you and your families were prisoners, and the lives of all in danger. Today you are here at liberty, assisting in feeding an guarding us, and thirty-nine men will die in two days because they did not follow your example and advice.'
"Several of the prisoners were completely overcome during the leave-taking, and were compelled to abandon conversation. Others again (and Tazoo was one) affected to disregard the dangers of their position, and laughed and joked apparently as unconcerned as if they were sitting around a camp-fire in perfect freedom.
"On Thursday, the women who were employed as cooks for the prisoners, all of whom had relations among the condemned, were admitted to the prison. This interview was less sad, but still interesting. Locks of hair, blankets, coats, and almost every other article in possession of the prisoners, were given in trust for some relative or friend who had been forgotten or overlooked during the interview of the previous day. The idea of allowing women to witness their weakness is repugnant to an Indian, and will account for this. The messages were principally advice to their friends to bear themselves with fortitude and refrain from great mourning. The confidence of many in their salvation was again reiterated.
"Late on Thursday night, in company with Lieutenant Colonel Marshall, the reporter visited the building occupied by the doomed Indians. They were quartered on the ground floor of the three-story stone building erected by the late General Leech.
"They were all fastened to the floor by chains, two by two. Some were sitting up, smoking and conversing, while others were reclining, covered with blankets and apparently asleep. The three half-breeds and one or two others, only, were dressed in citizens' clothes. The rest all wore the breech-clout, leggins, and blankets, and not a few were adorned with paint. The majority of them were young men, though several were quite old and gray -headed, ranging perhaps toward seventy. One was quite a youth, not over sixteen. They all appeared cheerful and contented, and scarcely to reflect on the certain doom which awaited them. To the gazers, the recollection of how short a time since they had been engaged in the diabolical work of murdering indiscriminately both old and young sparing neither sex nor condition, sent a thrill of horror through the veins. Now they were perfectly harmless, and looked as innocent as children. They smiled at your entrance, and held out their hands to be shaken, which yet appeared to be gory with the blood of babes. Oh treachery, thy name is Dakota.
"Father Ravoux spent the whole night among the doomed ones, talking with them concerning their fate, and endeavoring to impress upon them a serious view of the subject. He met with some success, and during the night several were baptized, and received the communion of the Church.
"At daylight the reporter was there again. That good man, Father Ravoux, was still with them; also Rev. Dr. Williamson; and whenever wither of these worthy men addressed them, they were listened to with marked attention. The doomed ones wished it to be known among their friends, and particularly their wives and children, how cheerful and happy they all had died, exhibiting no fear of this dread event. To the skeptical it appeared not as an evidence of Christian faith, but as a steadfast adherence to their heathen superstitions.
"They shook hands with the officers who came in among them, bidding them good-by as if they were going on a long and pleasant journey. They had added some fresh streaks of vermilion and ultramarine to their countenances, as their fancy suggested, evidently intending to fix themselves off as gay as possible for the coming exhibition. They commenced singing their death-song, Tazoo leading, and nearly all joining. It was wonderfully exciting.
"At half past seven all persons were excluded from the room except those necessary to help prepare the prisoners for their doom. Under the superintendence of Major Brown and Captain Redfield, their irons were knocked off, and one by one were tied by cords, their elbows being pinioned behind and the wrists in front, but about six inches apart. This operation occupied till about nine-o'clock. In the mean time the scene was much enlivened by their songs and conversation, keeping up the most cheerful appearance. As they were being pinioned, they went round the room shaking hands with the soldiers and reporters, bidding them 'good-by,' etc. White Dog requested not to be tied, and said that he could keep his hands down; but of course his request could not be complied with. . . . After all were properly fastened, they stood up in a row around the room, and another exciting death-song was sung. They then sat down very quietly and commenced smoking again. Father Ravoux came in, and after addressing them a few moments, knelt in prayer, reading from a Prayer-book in the Dakota language, which a portion of the condemned repeated after him. During this ceremony nearly all paid the most strict attention, and several were affected even to tears. . . . The caps were then put upon their heads. These were made of white muslin taken from the Indians when their camps were captured, and which had formed part of the spoils they had taken from the murdered traders. They were made long, and looked like a meal sack, but, being rolled up, only came down to the forehead, and allowed their painted faces yet to be seen.
"They received these evidences of their near approach to death with evident dislike. When it had been adjusted on one or two, they looked around on the others who had not yet received it with an appearance of shame. Chains and cords had not moved them---their wear was not considered dishonorable---but this covering of the head with a white cap was humiliating. There was no more singing, and but little conversation and smoking now. All sat around the room, most of them in a crouched position, awaiting their doom in silence, or listening to the remarks of Father Ravoux, who still addressed them. Once in a while they brought their small looking-glasses before their faces to see that their countenances yet preserved the proper modicum of paint. The three half-breeds were the most affected, and their dejection of countenance was truly pitiful to behold.
"At precisely ten o'clock the condemned were marshaled in a procession and, headed by Captain Redfield, marched out into the street, and directly across through files of soldiers to the scaffold, which had been erected in front, and were delivered to the officer of the day, Captain Burt. They went eagerly and cheerfully, even crowding and jostling each other to be ahead, just like a lot of hungry boarders rushing to dinner in a hotel. The soldiers who were on guard in their quarters stacked arms and followed them, and they in turn, were followed by the clergy, reporters, etc.
"As they commenced the ascent of the scaffold the death song was again startled, and when they had all got up, the noise they made was truly hideous. It seemed as if Pandemonium had broken loose. It had a wonderful effect in keeping up their courage. One young fellow, who had been given a cigar by one of the reporters just before marching from their quarters, was smoking it on the stand, puffing away very coolly during the intervals of the hideous 'Hi-yi-yi,' 'Hi-yi-yi,' and even after the cap was drawn over his face he managed to get it up over his mouth and smoke. Another was smoking his pipe. The noose having been promptly adjusted over the necks of each by Captain Libby, all was ready for the fatal signal.
"The solemnity of the scene was here disturbed by an incident which, if it were not intensely disgusting, might be cited as a remarkable evidence of the contempt of death which is the traditional characteristic of the Indian. One of the Indians, in the rhapsody of his death-song, conceived an insult to the spectators which it required an Indian to conceive, and a dirty dog of an Indian to execute.
"The refrain of his song was to the effect that if a body was found near New Ulm with his head cut off, and placed in a certain indelicate part of the body, he did it. 'It is I,' he sung, 'it is I;' and suited the action to the word by an indecent exposure of his person, in hideous mockery of the triumph of that justice whose sword was already falling on his head.
"The scene at this juncture was one of awful interest. A painful and breathless suspense held the vast crowd, which had assembled from all quarters to witness the execution.
"Three slow, measured, and distinct beats on the drum by Major Brown, who had been announced as signal officer, and the rope was cut by Mr. Duly (the same who killed Lean Bear, and whose family were attacked)---the scaffold fell, and thirty-seven lifeless bodies were left dangling between heaven and earth. One of the ropes was broken, and the body of Rattling Runner fell to the ground. The neck had probably been broken, as but little signs of life were observed; but he was immediately hung up again. While the signal-beat was being given, numbers were seen to clasp the hands of their neighbors, which in several instances continued to be clasped till the bodies were cut down.
"As the platform fell, there was one, not loud, but prolonged cheer from the soldiery and citizens who were spectators, and then all were quiet and earnest witnesses of the scene. For so many, there was but little suffering; the necks of all, or nearly all, were evidently dislocated by the fall, and the after struggling was slight. The scaffold fell at a quarter past ten o'clock, and in twenty minutes the bodies had all been examined by Surgeons Le Boutillier, Sheardown, Finch, Clark, and others, and life pronounced extinct.
"The bodies were then cut down, placed in four army wagons, and, attended by Company K as a burial-party, and under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Marshall, were taken to the grave prepared for them among the willows on the sand-bar nearly in front of the town. They were all deposited in one grave, thirty feet in length by twelve in width, and four feet deep, being laid on the bottom in two rows with their feet together, and their heads to the outside. They were simply covered with their blankets, and the earth thrown over them. The other condemned Indians were kept close in the quarters, where they were chained, and not permitted to witness the executions. . . ."
Dakota Conflict Trials Homepage