S2 E5: Little War on the Prairie

April 12, 2017

Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen heard next to nothing about the town’s most important historical event. In 1862, Mankato was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history – the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors – following one of the major wars between Plains Indians and settlers. In this documentary, originally produced for This American Life, John goes back to Minnesota to explore what happened, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it afterwards.



Image: The Minnesota State Seal, 1858

Download a transcript of the episode.

Key sources for this episode:
Gwen Westerman, Mni Sota Makoce
Mary Wingerd, North Country: The Making of Minnesota

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17 comments on “S2 E5: Little War on the Prairie

  1. I’m trying find the beginning. I was just intoduced to “Seeing White,” and would like to start from the 1st one. I just clicked on #2–thought I was gettin Part 2, instead up pops Episode 35, Part 5. I’ll keep exploring to find sequences in order.

  2. Margaret Nelson Nov 11, 2017

    Thank you for this series and especially this episode. I am so glad to hear of this opportunity to be educated on race. I work with a group of Native Americans. I am of Norwegian descent, so I don’t have a real grasp on the history or culture and this helped immensely. I am aware of the genocide of tribes including the attempt to wipe out their culture through boarding schools. There is so much I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

  3. That 3rd grade teachers telling her students that Native Americans didn’t know how to resolve conflicts by any means other than fighting is tantamount to calling the Dakota savages. Hearing a 3rd grade teacher say that was an absolute gut punch, I hope she uses this series to re-inform her teaching and give her a better understanding of the influence she has to create racist biases in young people. If not, I hope she finds a new job.

    • I so agree with Russ. Along with Officers of the Law, teachers need to be aware of their implicit biases and know how to override them. And like medical doctors, their first charge should be “do no harm”.

    • Elizabeth Tigan Jun 28, 2020

      I also wondered about the teacher here, I hope someone helps guide her gently to a better understanding. Her voice grated my nerves with it’s condescension, but the words she said terrified me because of how they would be received by thirsty 3rd grade ears.

  4. Curious if you sent the third grade teacher a copy of the show to listen to…

  5. Solange Cote Aug 1, 2018

    What a roller coaster of emotions. I wept, felt rage, sadness, and shame. The most pressing thought: “who does this to other human beings”. It is beyond my understanding. Thanks for the reality check.

  6. Maria Jan 22, 2020

    Just- thank you!

  7. Logan Jan 28, 2020

    Was Sarah Wakefield not taken in by Chaska (Wechankwastadonpe) and not Little Crow? In her writings “If it had not been for Chaska my bones would now be bleaching on the prairie, and my children with Little Crow.”. I’m confused.

  8. Muoi Sau Apr 13, 2020

    Very interesting! Thank you!

  9. Brian K Freeland May 22, 2020

    Excellent truthful historical account.

  10. Sandra Hansen Jun 6, 2020

    Great series. Sobering facts.

  11. Diane Jun 6, 2020

    I grew up in Trenton, Michigan, south of Detroit, there was a road near my house named Sibley, I had no idea of this history.

  12. Sarah Pallas Jun 14, 2020

    I went to Mpls area public schools and had 6th grade Minnesota History in about 1965. This is more or less the story we got, even to the grass in the mouth incident. The Dakota (Sioux) were painted in a negative light and labeled savages (a label my classmates mostly rejected), but it was made clear to us that the Indians were being deliberately cheated and starved by the US government and had little recourse.

  13. Mike Sperl Jun 20, 2020

    Incredible! Growing up in Minnesota and going to college at GAC, never knew, or heard of this. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Wanda Kirkpatrick Jul 9, 2020

    Can you give me the name of someone to give me more information on the Minnesota flag. I have a friend that doesn’t believe and can’t find and collaboration to discuss the Indians position on the flag. Thanks