MN Historical Society agrees to return 1862 ‘Mankato hanging rope’ to Prairie Island Indian Community

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After a several-month consultation process, the Minnesota Historical Society has agreed to return the “Mankato hanging rope,” used to execute a Dakota man in 1862, to the Prairie Island Indian Community.

Tribal leaders filed a claim earlier this year under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law that establishes tribal ownership over cultural items and requires federally funded agencies to return certain Native objects to the people or tribal lands they came from.

The noose in question was used to execute Wicanhpi Wastedanpi (also known as Chaske), one of 38 Dakota men imprisoned and hanged in December 1862 in Mankato following the United States-Dakota War of 1862, according to the historical society. The hanging of the Dakota men remains the largest single-day mass execution in U.S. history.

Historical society officials said the rope was donated to the organization’s collections in 1869.

“This is a harmful and painful object that does not reflect the mission and the values of MNHS today,” officials said in a statement Tuesday.

The Prairie Island Indian Community is about 40 miles southeast of St. Paul, almost entirely within what’s now the city of Red Wing.

The rope likely will be repatriated to the reservation this summer, but the transfer can’t happen immediately. Under the terms of the repatriation law, historical society officials first must submit a public notice to the Federal Register. They can begin the return process 30 days after that notice is published, an MNHS spokesperson confirmed, assuming no competing claims to the item arise.

As part of the repatriation law’s consultation process, officials determined the noose had a protected affiliation to all 12 federally recognized Dakota tribal nations in the U.S., including the Prairie Island Indian Community. Each tribe supported Prairie Island’s specific request that the rope be returned to them, according to a statement from the historical society.

In the 1850s, before Minnesota officially became a state, the population of homesteading settlers skyrocketed from about 6,000 to nearly 170,000 by 1860. To make room for them, the U.S. government pressured local Dakota leaders into a series of treaties to give up much of their historical farming and hunting land in exchange for payments and food relief.

By 1862, with the federal government focused on the Civil War, the payments and food were not arriving on time. Facing forced relocations, starvation and hostility from the settlers, a small Dakota uprising turned into a five-week war between tribal leaders and U.S. troops led by Col. Henry Hastings Sibley, according to the historical society.

The 38 Dakota men ultimately hanged after the war ended were among 303 people initially given death sentences in what some historians consider to be shoddy military trials that, in some cases, lasted no more than five minutes apiece. Wicanhpi Wastedanpi himself, the man hanged with the rope currently in the historical society’s collections, likely was executed by mistake, historians believe.

During the war, Minnesota’s governor, Alexander Ramsey, declared all Native people “must be exterminated or driven forever” from the state — a statement not officially repudiated until 2012, when then-Gov. Mark Dayton commemorated the 150th anniversary of the war.

Previously, as a territorial leader, Ramsey helped found the Minnesota Historical Society.

From 1879 to 1915, the historical society publicly displayed the scalp and other remains of Little Crow, a Dakota chief who led the war effort. The remains were returned to his descendants in 1971.

A MNHS spokesperson said Tuesday she is not aware of any other items in the museum’s collection that are currently under review by the organization’s NAGPRA compliance committee.

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