1862 Letters From Dakota Men Condemned to be Executed

36Dakota Star Tribune

Artist’s depiction of the main Dakota prison at Mankato, MN in 1862

Today, translations of five letters written by condemned Dakota men came to hand. The letters are dated December 25, 1862, the day before the executions. The version I found is an English translation made by Dr. Thomas S. Williamson and transmitted to his superiors at the headquarters of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions on January 29, 1863.

These letters are new to me and I’ve added the text of each to that man’s e-file in the 1862 Dakota War Trials series. That file includes the page images, as well as a transcription of, his 1862 trial transcript, the execution opinion rendered by the lawyers President Lincoln ordered to re-examine the case, and his published death-row commentary on his participation in the war. That file is linked in each man’s name below.

The text in italics is an explanatory note added by Williamson. The selection of these five letters (assuming each of the condemned men had the opportunity to write or dictate a last letter to his kin) likely dictated by Williamson’s choice of audience, the mission board that employed him.  All five letters speak positively of Christianity.

A note at the bottom of the last page of this manuscript reads: “Letters of Dakotas executed at Mankato Decr 26 ’62 to their relatives dictated shortly before their execution. These men had been opposers of Christianity till the time of their imprisonment.”

The spelling of Dakota names in these letters is poor, reflecting the typist who reproduced these copies from the original holographs for the Northwest Missions Manuscripts Collection at MHS, where I found them as transcriptions.

*****

Tatemima to his wife December 25, 1862

My wife

Now you have been a member of the church for many winters. You know that I did not murder any person and so I thought I should see you again, but now I shall soon die. I wish you to think much of the Great God. My mind is now upon him and I think I shall soon go to him. I shall walk in the path of the son of the Great God. I wish you also to walk in it and so you will see me again. Command your three children who are with you to pray very much to the Great God.

My nephews and all my nieces all pray to the Great God. I think I shall now soon be happy in his house so pray much that you may see me there.

Tate Mima, Round Wind

This man was convicted of participating in the murders and sentenced to be hung on the testimony or two small German boys who doubtless mistook him for another man. I never believed him guilty because my son in law in his flight saw him and spoke to him and was completely in his power and yet was not molested by him, though at the time neither of them recognized the other, and a week after the massacre going to some of the deserted houses he found a little girl about five years old almost starved to death took her home and had her carefully nursed till she got well, and was restored with the other captives. Yet I fully expected he would be executed with the others as he did himself, but the night before the execution a dispatch was received from the President countermanding the order for his execution, which however was not made known either to himself or me till after the others were executed. T.S.W.

*****

“Gray Whirlwind to his sister, the wife of Big Eagle” [Haypeedan or Wamne omne hota] December 25, 1862

My younger sister you are very dear to me, but you will see me no more. My younger sister do not grieve because I must die. I think I shall be happy, because I trust in the son of the Great God, therefore do not grieve on my account.

Wamniomni hota

*****

Sounding Walker [Snamani] to his wife & children December 25, 1862

My wife you will see me no more. My children I greatly desire you to attend the schools taught by the missionaries.

Snamani

*****

Passing Wind [?] to His Arrow December 25, 1862

My younger brother I wish you to pray to the Great God and listen to the missionaries. My sisters I wish you to do the same.

Tatehihohe

[The name does not match any of the men executed in 1862. I am suggesting case #279 only as a hypothesis and am open to suggestions. CRZ.]

*****

Coming Voice to Half Metal Woman December 25, 1862

Now I am about to die trusting in the Great God. I wish you also to regard and trust him. I love you and you are very dear to me.

Hotaninku

Image Credit: “36Dakota” http://www.startribune.com

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