NEW ULM - On horseback, bundled against the cold, a band of riders passed near New Ulm Tuesday, one day away from arriving in Mankato to commemorate one of the saddest, angriest moments in Minnesota's history.
The Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride originated in Lower Brule, S.D., has been making its way across South Dakota and southern Minnesota to Mankato, where on Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hung in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Two other participants were hung elsewhere. It was the final act in the US-Dakota War, which had raged across this area in August of 1862, but just the beginning of the U.S. war against the Native Americans that ended with the Wounded Knee massacre. It was an act that has affected the souls and psyches of the survivors and relatives of those involved in the war, even today.
Since December 2008, the Dakota 38+2 Ride has covered the 330 miles from the Lower Brule reservation to the hanging site in Mankato.
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Travis Mayawasicuna, carrying the symbolic staff of the Dakota 38+2 Memory Ride, leads the riders from a rest stop on Nicollet County Road 21 near the Harkin Store on Tuesday. The group, which has grown to about 50 riders and support staff, rode from?Fort Ridgely to Courtland on Tuesday before heading into Mankato on Wednesday. The group will be holding a commemoration service at the spot where 38 Dakota were hung in 1862 for their part in the US-Dakota War.
The ride is about remembering, but also about healing and reconciliation, said Perry Little, Staff Keeper for the ride this year.
"This ride is a long prayer, to unite our nations," said Little.
The ride is not to make accusations or seek justice, said Little, but about remembering, recognizing the past, honoring those who died and who survived, and moving on.
The hangings in Mankato have made a permanent impact on people like Little, whose great grandfather was one of those who was executed.
"The past is in the past, but it is embedded in us," said Little. "We cannot forget, but we can forgive."
The ride, he said, is open to all. One of the participants this year, said Little, is Jacob Farmer, a Mankato man whose great-grandfather was one of the soldiers guarding the Dakota prisoners who were marched to Mankato.
"His great-grandfather rode on horseback, while ours walked," said Little. "He had a bad feeling about his ancestor's part in it. So he wanted to walk the route, while we ride."
The ride is also a chance to connect the younger generations with their history, and their customs. The long days in the saddle and the nightly meetings give people from all over a chance to connect.
Native Americans from many tribes are part of the ride. On Tuesday, Travis Mayawasicuna, a Dakota from Canada, was carrying the symbolic staff at the head of the ride. Riding next to him was Kyra Roma, a Mohican from New York state.
When they gather today at Reconciliation Park in Mankato, the site of the hanging 151 years ago, they will remember their ancestors who died, those who suffered in the long marches and imprisonments, those who died from hunger and illness, and those, the grandmothers and mothers, who survived, who kept their people going and still pass along the traditions, said Little.