Is it time to pardon the Mankato 38?

A Mankato City Council member has started a petition calling for a presidential pardon for the 38 Dakota men who were hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Jack Consadine tells KTOE radio that he was motivated to start the petition drive after he learned more about the hangings at the end of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862, a piece of history rarely taught in U.S. schools.

“I based it primarily on the discrepancies in the trial,” he said. “There were no defense attorneys. No defense was allowed. Also, the trials were only 3 to 5 minutes long. They were conducted in English and the Dakota didn’t understand the trial process.”

Several men shouldn’t have been there. We-Chank-Wash-ta-don-pee, known as Chaska, had already had his sentence commuted by President Abraham Lincoln. But he was hanged anyway.

Says the New York Times:

During the raids, Chaska took a white woman, Sarah Wakefield, and her children prisoner — not an uncommon occurrence during the Dakota War.

What was uncommon, however, was Wakefield’s defense of her captor at his military tribunal. Chaska defended her and her children, she said, and kept them from certain death and abuse at the hands of his fellow tribesmen. “If it had not been for Chaska,” Wakefield said, “my bones would now be bleaching on the prairie, and my children with Little Crow.”

One prison chaplain wrote to her after the hanging: “Dear Madam: In regard to the mistake by which Chaska was hung instead of another, I doubt whether I can satisfactorily explain it.”

Wakefield firmly believed that Chaska was executed on purpose, in retaliation for her testimony and in reaction to rumors that she and Chaska were lovers. General Sibley, who appointed the tribunal that convicted Chaska, privately referred to him as Wakefield’s “dusky paramour.”

As the 150th anniversary of Minnesota’s birth approached in 2012, several politicians in Congress called for a presidential pardon and said they might press the issue. But, they didn’t.