To Vernell Wabasha, there's something missing in the markers and memorials that
recall the Dakota-U.S. War.
Battles are noted and soldiers who "gallantly resisted two formidable and
protracted assaults" are named at the Fort Ridgely monument. More recently, a
buffalo symbolizing reconciliation sits at the spot of the Mankato executions
that ended the conflict.
"They have markers all along the road about our savage Indians attacking white
people," said Wabasha, who has been married to Ernest Wabasha, a hereditary
Dakota chief, for 56 years.
What's missing, in the eyes of Vernell Wabasha and others, is a memorial
remembering the 38 men who died together at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 26, 1862.
So they've set about designing one.
"These men fought for the Dakota way of life, trying to hang onto something, to
hang onto this land for the future generations of their children and
grandchildren," she told The Free Press.
The planned monument, designed by Martin and Linda Bernard of Winona, lists the
38 names on a 10-by-4-foot scroll.
While the focus of the memorial are the 38, there is also a distinct message of
The phrase "forgive everyone everything" circles the monument, planned to be 20
feet in diameter.
The effort to build the memorial has been led by Wabasha, whose husband is the
6th of his name. The 3rd Wabasha, Goodthunder, was chief at the time of the
Vernell Wabasha told the Bernards of her concept, and they created designs. The
project has been especially meaningful to Martin Bernard, who is a Dakota.
Because the rest of the Dakota were marched off to Fort Snelling after the
executions, and the bodies taken by doctors, there were no funerals, Bernard
"In actuality, I don't think there's ever been a ceremony to honor them, for
the Dakota people to grieve for them," he said.
"We want to give them a name ... They weren't savages like they've been
depicted for so long," Bernard said.
The names on the scroll, made of fiberglass crafted to look like leather, will
Dakota believe the spirits of the dead rise from their body on the 4th day, and
travel south, he said.
The design shows the scroll surrounded by multicolored tombstone-shaped
figures, though they symbolize the living, the people of the world looking at
the monument, and the names.
On the other scroll appears a poem about the hangings by the state's former
human rights commissioner, Conrad Balfour, who died in 2008. The 20-line poem
draws a parallel between the Dec. 26 hangings and Christmas:
"The day before the countryside had mourned the death of Christ the Jew
"Then went to bed to rise again to crucify the captured Sioux"
The memorial is estimated to cost between $55,000 and $75,000. It would be
placed near the buffalo statue in Reconciliation Park, probably to either the
north or south. The Mankato City Council has given its permission, informally,
to place the memorial on city land.
The next task is fundraising, and they plan to mail letters to 17 tribes, Linda
Bernard said. There is not as of now a place to donate but that should change
They hope to get it finished by September, in time for the Mankato wacipi
(source: Associated Press)