On Wednesday, Dec. 5, a few representatives of the Dakota 38+2 Ride were in Sleepy Eye to share their story with local students.
The history of the Dakota War of 1862 has been shared in this area the last several years, especially since the 150 year observances in 2012. Because many of the events happened in this region, the story may seem to end with the stories of August and September, 1862. But, the story didn’t end when the fighting did.
On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato — their execution ordered by President Lincoln. It remains the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.
Two additional American Indian warriors, who made their way to Canada, were brought back to Minnesota and executed three years later.
The Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride is held each December, since 2005. Native people from this region, and all over the nation, gather at Lower Brule, South Dakota, or join at locations along the way, and ride horses to Reconciliation Park in Mankato — arriving on Dec. 26.
Earlier this year, Sleepy Eye officials were informed the riders would spend a day (of rest) and two nights in Sleepy Eye as they made their way to Mankato. However, the organizers recently changed the plan and will follow their normal path north of the Minnesota River and spend that time in Courtland (Dec. 22 and 23).
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, a few representatives of the Dakota 38+2 Ride were in Sleepy Eye to share their story with local students. Sixth through 12th grade St. Mary’s students were bussed to Sleepy Eye High School to join the students there for the program.
The main speaker was Keith Nichols, from Wisconsin. Nichols told the students that he is not a Native person, but became involved with ride after meeting a man who invited him to join the ride nine years ago. “I’ve been doing this ever since,” he said. “But, I only rode horse the first year. Now I’ve kind of taken over the ‘chuck wagon’ duties.”
Nichols showed the students a very moving documentary about the ride. It emphasized the ride was started as a way to promote reconciliation between American Indians and non-Native people. One of the men who spoke in the documentary said the ride is about healing. He said, “we don’t have to blame [white people] anymore. We’re doing it to ourselves — selling drugs, killing each other.”
In addition to remembering and honoring the 38 + 2 who were hanged, goals of the Memorial Ride include: a means to provide healing from historical trauma; bring awareness of Dakota history, and promote youth rides and healing.
Nichols shared stories of the ride, about the spirituality of the time together and the closeness everyone feels at the end of each hard day on the road.
Joining Nichols for a short time at the end of the presentation, where two young Native men from Sisseton, South Dakota who are on the ride this month. Hunter Grey, an 18-year-old man, has been on the ride previously. Rayce Hill, a young father, age 34, said this is the first year he has been able to join the ride. Both agreed this time with the people and horses will be a time of healing.
Nichols said each day begins and ends with the riders, horses, and all those traveling with them, “circling up” for prayer. He said riders and horses go about five miles before stopping and for fresh horses and fresh riders.
The Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride left from Lower Brule on Tuesday morning, Dec. 10. They will be joined along their travels by other Native riders, growing to a group of over 100 by the time they arrive in Mankato, on the day after Christmas, for a final ceremony and prayers.