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Dakota Indians remember largest mass hanging in US history

In 1862, while the Civil War raged, the US government also fought a war against the Dakota Indians. On Dec. 26, 38 Dakota were hanged, an event memorialized by the tribe today by a 300-mile horseback ride.

By David BaileyReuters / December 26, 2012

Riders participate in the Dakota 38 Plus 2 memorial ride near Woonsocket, South Dakota on Dec. 12. The riders left from Crow Creek and are expected to arrive today in Mankato, Minn.

Chris Huber/Daily Republic/AP

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St. Paul, Minn.

The day after Christmas will be somber for Dakota Indians marking what they consider a travesty of justice 150 years ago, when 38 of their ancestors were executed in the biggest mass hanging in U.S. history.

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Overshadowed by the Civil War raging in the East, the hangings in MankatoMinnesota, on Dec. 26, 1862, followed the often overlooked six-week U.S.-Dakota war earlier that year -- a war that marked the start of three decades of fighting between Native Americans and the U.S. government across the Plains.

President Abraham Lincoln intervened in the case, demanding a review that reduced the number of death sentences. But he allowed 38 to be executed, including two men historians believe were hanged in error, even as he was preparing the Emancipation Proclamation to free black slaves in the South.

This month, in an annual event that started in 2005, some Dakota are making a 300-mile trek on horseback in frigid winter temperatures to revive the memory of this footnote in U.S. history.

"It was just a terrible trauma that they had to endure, and we continue to have to endure this generational trauma to this very day," said Sheldon Wolfchild, former chairman of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in southwestern Minnesota.

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