Twenty-five years ago, Willie Male Bear (Standing Rock Lakota) had a dream in which he saw himself and Dakota warriors running along a road carrying an eagle staff. He believed this was connected to the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War.
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He presented this idea to the Dakota Studies Committee (DSC) which was organizing the events commemorating the 125th anniversary of the War. The Dakota Studies Committee was organized Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa (formerly Chris Cavender) in the mid-1970s. The Committee was composed of individuals interested in Dakota history and culture. Recognizing that 1987 was the 125th commemoration of 1862, the DSC decided that it would be important to have a variety of events and activities to commemorate this important event in Dakota history. As the DCS was planning 1987 activities, they realized the importance of having a kick-off event to launch this commemorative year. They believed Male Bear’s idea for a commemorative run would make an excellent beginning and decided to start the run at midnight at Fort Snelling on the night of December 25, 1986. It would be a relay run that would extend through the night, arriving at Mankato in the morning of the 26th, about the time of the original mass hanging of thirty-eight Dakota warriors in 1862.
The Dakota Studies Committee named 1987 The Year of Reconciliation. To support Dakota efforts, Governor Rudy Perpich also officially declared it so for the State of Minnesota. His declaration read:
Whereas: The year 1987 marks the 125th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict in Minnesota, an event which resulted in great suffering and loss of life; and
Whereas: The anniversary of this tragic conflict offers an opportunity for Minnesotans to learn more about the life and culture of the Dakota people;
Whereas: A ceremony in Mankato on December 26, 1986, will mark the beginning of a year’s activities in which the Dakota people will join with others in appreciation of cultural diversity and human understanding;
Now, therefore, I, Rudy Perpich, Governor of the State of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim the year 1987 to be Year of Reconciliation in Minnesota.
Twenty-six runners participated in the first run in 1986, leaving Fort Snelling at midnight on Christmas night after Amos Owen, a spiritual leader from Prairie Island, led a pipe ceremony. The runners included Dakota, Lakota, Yaqui, Anishinabe, Shoshone, Arikara, Hidatsa and non-Indian people. Miss Makato, Vanessa Rae Baker (Upper Sioux), led the runners out of Fort Snelling, along with Willie Male Bear and David Gonzales, President of the Indian Nations Running Club.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This year, runners again made the trek from Fort Snelling to Mankato.
The complete list of runners is below:
- David Gonzales — Yaqui
- Douglas Fairbanks — Ojibwe
- Dana Mez Fairbanks — Ojibwe
- Terry D. Oothoudt — Ojibwe
- Heath Fast Horse — Lakota
- Bruce Medicine Elk — Northern Cheyenne
- Bryan Thunder Shield — Hunkpapa Lakota
- Terry St. John — Dakota
- Norman Benson —Ojibwe
- Gordon Regguinti — Ojibwe
- Shanah Regguinti — Ojibwe
- Patrick Gurneau — Anishinabe
- Lloyd Bubba Hatfield — Shoshone
- Dell Smith — Hidatsa and Arikara
- Mike Thunder Shield — Hunkpapa Lakota
- Willie Mato Bloka Sr. — Hunkpapa Lakota
- John-Peter Gilmore — Nakota
- Bob Zoet — Non-Indian (MAD-Mankato)
- Bruce Dowlin — Non-Indian (Mdewakanton Club)
- Timothy LaBatte — Dakota—Upper Sioux
- Vanessa Rae LaBatte — Dakota—Upper Sioux
- Joe Voss — Dakota—Upper Sioux
- Joe Ross — Dakota—Upper Sioux
- Larry Long — Non-Indian
- Maryanna Johnson — Ojibwe
- Harold McCabe — Non-Indian (MAD-Mankato)
The runners reached the Land of Memories Park at Mankato about 11:00 a.m. on December 26. Amos Owen’s sons had started a fire at midnight and tended it through the night. When the runners arrived the next morning, the fire was still burning. As the runners came in, they were directed to stand within a circle of thirty-eight stakes, each one with a tobacco tie in honor of the hanged men. Then Dr. Mato Nunpa spoke about the history of the hanging and sang the victory song, the song that the prisoners sang before they were hanged from the gallows, (“Lac qui parle” or 141 in the Dakota Odowan). Amos Owen closed the event with another pipe ceremony. After that, a dinner sponsored by the Mdewakanton Club was served to all the runners at Lincoln High School in Mankato.
Sidney Byrd, an elder from Flandreau, passed on one account of the final words spoken by one of the thirty-eight. According to Byrd:
“The execution date was originally set for December 19, 1862, but for some strange reason, it was changed to December 26. On that fateful day, the 38 prisoners were led out of the compound. They were chained together as they were shuffled forward. The women began wailing.
One of the men cried in a loud voice, ‘Mitakuyapi, namahun po!’ (Hear me my people!) ‘Today is not a day of defeat. It is indeed a day of victory. For we have made our peace with our Creator and now we go to be with Him forever. Remember this day. Tell our children so they can tell their children, that we are honorable men who die for a noble cause.’ Then he lifted up his voice to lead the condemned prisoners in a hymn of praise (Dakota Odowan 141). The trapdoor was sprung and the 38 Dakotas went to be with their Creator forever.”
I heard another account later about the thirty-eight from a Dakota woman from Spirit Lake. From the oral tradition passed down from her grandmother, she learned that one of the men said:
“Tohan wakinyan upi kinhan unkiza iyakis’as’a unkupi kte!”
“When the thunder beings come we will be amidst them sounding the victory cry!”
All the people involved in these early years of the run began something very important. This is so valuable because those thirty-eight died for a cause. Our people had suffered so much and were pitifully small compared to the forces against us, but in spite of that, those men fought to protect our people and land. They teach us how we should be today in defense of our people and land.
Ramona Jones from Prairie Island was one of the first organizers of the early runs. She devoted her time and resources to the planning and organized vans, food, and drum groups to support the runners. In 1987 she even found space for the runners to gather before the run at a hotel near Fort Snelling. When she approached the Airport Hilton Hotel about using their lobby for the runners, they were at first reluctant. However, after she told them she had invited Billy Mills to join the run, they then agreed. Billy Mills did not make it, but the runners had a place to gather. Jones arrived at the hotel with a pot of soup wrapped in a dishtowel and a big coffee pot. She helped provide nourishment to the runners before they took off. She helped organize the run for the next several years.
The Mankato Run in 1987 was difficult because there were so few runners and each one had to run a long way to make the distance from Fort Snelling to Mankato. Runners that year included: Emmett Eastman, Willie Male Bear, Cyril Chase, John Feather, Ramona Jones, Vanessa Baker, Bruce Dowlin, Jerome Hunts Along, Steve Cavender, Duane Bieber, Penny Scheffler, Dena Plennons, and Chris Cavender. Because there were so few runners the second year and they all had to run long distances, the presence of the drum group helped empower the runners. The drummers sat in a vehicle just behind the lead runner, singing to keep the runners’ spirits strong during the cold night. The drum group in 1987 included Roger Wells, Eugene Redday, Mike Owen, and Calvin Campbell.
On April 2, 1988, Upper Sioux honored the runners from the second Mankato run at the Valley Supper Club in Granite Falls, Minnesota. In attendance were: Cyril Chase, Dawn Chase, Garrick Chase, Karisa Chase, Carrie Schommer, Verna Ross, John Ross, Joe Ross, Lorraine Gouge, Eva Graham, Bruce Dowlin, Sheryl Dowlin, Duane Bieber, Liz Anderson, Rhonda Wilson, Tracy Wilson., Terry Wilson, Sarah Bremmer, Rainelle, Vanessa Rae Baker, Elise LaBatte, Leo Baker, Vida LaBatte, Sonny LaBatte, Sarah Blue, Anthony Knutsen, Harold Iron Shield, Richard Elsberry, Roger Wells, Sarah LaBatte, Troy Huntley, Deb Enstad, Jim Welsh, Lance Odegard, Burr Crowsbreast, Alfredo Ueland, Joseph Foote Sr., Eugene Redday, June Redday & children, Walter LaBatte Sr., Genevieve LaBatte, Evelyn Prescott, Elsie M. Cavender, Angela Cavender, Harry Crooks, Jr., Kevin Hagan, Steve Cavender, Walter LaBatte Jr., Dawn Fitzgerald, Alvin Echohawk, Juanita Echohawk, Paula Horne, Emmett Eastman, wife & clan, Barb Anderson, Penny Anderson.
The governing body of Upper Sioux (Juanita Echohawk, Sarah LaBatte, Rhonda Wilson, Rainelle LaBatte, and Lorraine Gouge) organized this event because we thought it was important to honor the runners who were honoring the thirty-eight. We believe it is important that we never forget our patriots, our warriors. Everyone who attended these events also believed in the importance of this and wanted to support the runners sacrificing on behalf of the thirty-eight.
If any of these original runners and organizers can participate (or the children of these original runners), it would be wonderful to see you again. You started something on behalf of our people twenty-five years ago now and we have not forgotten your contribution.
(Elitta Gouge is the younger sister of Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D., and is the aunt of Waziyatawin, Ph.D., and she was born in, raised in, and now lives in Pezihuta Zizi Otunwe, “Yellow Medicine Community” (Upper Sioux Community, Granite Falls, Minnesota)