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Fort Abercrombie - History

execution in Mankato of 38 Native Americans

When news of the Santee Conflict reached Ft. Abercrombie on August 20, 1862, earthen breastworks described as “a fortification for the quarters was made by using the barrels of pork and corned beef and flour, mingled with earth and cordwood” was erected. Work on the defensive perimeter surrounding the fort’s buildings continued throughout the six week Dakota siege. By September 23, the fort had been strengthened with cordwood and hewn timbers - a breastwork built around the barracks which raised to a height of 8 ft. This was capped by hewn timbers 8 inches square, with loopholes between them from which fire could be directed against an attacking enemy. Bastions for the 12-pound cannons were established at three corner locations.

News was coming in every day, that Fort Ridgely was being attacked, that white settlers to the east and south were being massacred, and that New Ulm was attacked. It was also reported that a party of hostile Indians, many young men, had gone north on a war party, there being white people there and also a fort [Fort Abercrombie] toward which they went. Gabriel Renville, or Tiwakan, meaning Sacred Lodge, (1825 - 1892)

The fiercest fighting at Fort Abercrombie took place in September, when Dakota warriors got into the stable and a “hot, ten-minute fight” ensued. Other confrontations took place on the west side of the commissary, located on the north side of the fort. On September 23, 1862, five hundred volunteer soldiers under the command of Captain Burger arrived to reinforce the garrison, and the siege of Fort Abercrombie was lifted.

The forces of the United States, including volunteer militias, struck back at the Dakota, and rounded up thousands of men, women and children. On October 25, 1862, military tribunals began trying forty Dakota at a time. 307 Dakota were condemned to death by the tribunals, but the cases were referred to Washington, DC for review. On December 6, 1862, President Lincoln approved the death sentence for 39 Dakota and commuted the sentences for 263 Dakota. The executions were carried out in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862. This was the largest mass execution in American history.

Execution of Thirty-Eight Indian Murderers at Mankato, Minnesota
sketch by Mr. Herman, St. Paul, MN
Harper’s Weekly, January 17, 1863, page 39
Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN.

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Abercrombie, ND 58001