The Infamous Dakota War Trials of 1862

Revenge, Military Law and the Judgment of History

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About the Book

The U.S.–Dakota War, the bloodiest Indian war of the 19th century, erupted in southwestern Minnesota during the summer of 1862. In the war’s aftermath, a hastily convened commission of five army officers conducted trials of 391 Indians charged with murder and massacre. In 36 days, 303 Dakota men were sentenced to death. In the largest simultaneous execution in American history, 38 were hanged on a single gallows on December 26, 1862—an incident now widely considered an act of revenge rather than judicial punishment.
Providing fresh insight into this controversial event, this book examines the Dakota War trials from the perspective of 19th century military law. The author discusses the causes and far-reaching consequences of the war, the claims of widespread atrocities, the modern debate over the role of culture in lawful warfare and how the war has been depicted by historians.

About the Author(s)

John A. Haymond is a conflict historian who was a paratrooper and infantryman in the U.S. Army. He is the executive director of the Mower County Historical Society in Austin, Minnesota.

Bibliographic Details

John A. Haymond
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 276
Bibliographic Info: 16 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6510-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2507-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments ix

Preface 1

Introduction: Beginning at an End 3

Part One: The War

1. A War and Its Language 7

2. Spark, Fuel and Fire 11

3. The Acton Murders 19

4. “Over the earth I come” 24

5. “My heart is hardened” 39

Part Two: The Trials

6. “Ferreting out and punishing the guilty” 47

7. The Trials Begin 52

8. Questions of Legality 59

9. “A species of domestic rebellion” 65

10. Due Process and the Lack Thereof 69

11. The Rush to Judgment 84

12. Violation of the Law: Sibley’s Error 89

Part Three: The Reckoning

13. March to the Gallows 99

14. Mass Punishment 114

15. The Executions 119

16. Concentration Camps and Ethnic Cleansing 126

17. The Later Military Commission Trials 132

Part Four: The Controversies

18. Crimes or Culture? 141

19. “The most horrible and nameless outrages” 152

20. “A fair fight”: Crimes That Were Not Crimes 156

21. Exaggeration, Errors and Evidence: The Atrocity Debate 165

22. The Power of the ­Self-Perpetuating Myth 184

Part Five: The Aftermath

23. Misspelled Names, Misplaced Records and Mistaken Identities 191

24. Confusion and Contradictions 198

25. Oral Histories 207

26. Victims of Every Kind 218

27. After the Storm 222

Conclusion 226

Notes on Sources 231

Appendix: The Creation of Military Commissions 237

Chapter Notes 239

Bibliography 254

Index 261

Book Reviews & Awards

“this excellent, well-researched book is an illuminating study, ripe for discussion in both historical and legal settings. Highly recommended”—Choice; “deftly examines the Dakota War trials from the perspective of 19th century military law. Impressively researched and notably well written, organized, and presented…an exceptional work of historical scholarship and very strongly recommended”—Midwest Book Review; “the author examines the trials in detail regarding how the war has been portrayed over the years”—Civil War News; “brings a new perspective to the historical discussion on the Dakota War trials”—The Journal of Military History.