Synopses & Reviews
In August 1862, after decades of broken treaties, increasing hardship, and relentless encroachment on their lands, a group of Dakota warriors convened a council at the tepee of their leader, Little Crow. Knowing the strength and resilience of the young American nation, Little Crow counseled caution, but anger won the day. Forced to either lead his warriors in a war he knew they could not win or leave them to their fates, he declared, “[Little Crow] is not a coward: he will die with you.”
So began six weeks of intense conflict along the Minnesota frontier as the Dakotas clashed with settlers and federal troops, all the while searching for allies in their struggle. Once the uprising was smashed and the Dakotas captured, a military commission was convened, which quickly found more than three hundred Indians guilty of murder. President Lincoln, embroiled in the most devastating period of the Civil War, personally intervened in order to spare the lives of 265 of the condemned men, but the toll on the Dakota nation was still staggering: a way of life destroyed, a tribe forcibly relocated to barren and unfamiliar territory, and 38 Dakota warriors hanged — the largest government-sanctioned execution in American history.
Scott W. Berg recounts the conflict through the stories of several remarkable characters, including Little Crow, who foresaw how ruinous the conflict would be for his tribe; Sarah Wakefield, who had been captured by the Dakotas, then vilified as an “Indian lover” when she defended them; Minnesota bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, who was a tireless advocate for the Indians’ cause; and Lincoln, who transcended his own family history to pursue justice.
Written with uncommon immediacy and insight, 38 Nooses details these events within the larger context of the Civil War, the history of the Dakota people, and the subsequent United States–Indian wars. It is a revelation of an overlooked but seminal moment in American history.
"Berg, a teacher of writing and literature at George Mason University, turns his attention from Pierre L'Enfant, planner of Washington, D.C. (Grand Avenues), to the Dakota War of 1862 in a gripping narrative of this little-known conflict and a careful exploration of the relationships between events of the Civil War and America's expansion west. Berg illuminates the growing clashes between whites and Indians and reveals the contradictory stances taken by such participants as Dakota chief Little Crow, a white woman Little Crow had taken as a hostage, an Episcopalian bishop, army officers, and political leaders including Abraham Lincoln. The first military commission used in the Indian wars sentenced 303 warriors to death after hearings that were held without defense representation and usually lasted only a few minutes. Lincoln stayed most of the executions, rejecting the commission's criterion that 'any armed resistance to white encroachment was worthy of death.' Nevertheless, in America's largest mass execution, 38 Indians were hanged from a single scaffold in December 1862. Although the reader knows the eventual outcome of these battles near extermination of Indian tribes and cultures Berg maintains suspense about individual fates to round out this nuanced study of a complex period. B&w illus. Agent: Eric Lupfer, WME." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"While Union and Confederate armies clashed at Bull Run and Antietam, another epochal — but largely forgotten — American struggle was being fought a thousand miles to the northwest. In vivid, often lyrical prose, Scott Berg tells a story of courage and ruthlessness, mercy and retribution." Adam Goodheart, best-selling author of 1861
"Berg's...accomplishment is his ability to overlap the little-known Dakota War with its far better known counterpart, the American Civil War. The author's juxtaposition offers readers a contextual framework that provides unique insight into the era....A captivating tale of an oft-overlooked, morally ambiguous moment in American history." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"38 Nooses vividly shows the pressures facing Dakota Indians in 1862, the pent-up conflicts between white settlers and Native people in the Upper Midwest, and the stretched resources and flawed judgments of local and federal officials during the Civil War years. In spellbinding fashion, Scott W. Berg tells a previously neglected story with tragic historical reverberations." Jack El-Hai, author of Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places
"Although Berg's sympathies are clearly with the Dakota, he avoids preaching and strives successfully to present a balanced narrative of the conflict while providing excellent portrayals of some of the key participants. This is a valuable but understandably depressing account of an obscure but important episode in our history." Booklist
"This fascinating book examines the opening salvo in the U.S. conquest of the Great Plains and is highly recommended for all readers." Library Journal
"Engrossing....Berg's finely grained portraits of the protagonists and antagonists humanize the conflict." Minneapolis Star-Tribune
A riveting account of the little-known Dakota War of 1862, which culminated in the largest government-sanctioned execution in United States history.
In August 1862, after decades of broken treaties, ever-increasing hardship, and relentless encroachment on their lands, Dakota Indian warriors began a series of devastating attacks on white soldiers and settlers on the Minnesota frontier. After six weeks of intense conflict that left hundreds dead, federal forces quashed the uprising and convened a hasty military court that found more than 300 Indians guilty of murder. President Lincoln, embroiled in the darkest period of the Civil War, personally intervened in order to spare the lives of 265 of the condemned men, but still the toll on the Dakota nation was staggering: a way of life destroyed, a tribe forcibly relocated to barren and unfamiliar territory, and 38 Dakota warriors hanged the morning after Christmas. Scott W. Berg places these events firmly within the larger context of the raging Civil War, the history of the Dakota people, subsequent U.S.-Indian wars, and the unending influx of white settlers into former Indian territories. He recounts the conflict through the stories of a remarkably rich cast of characters, including Little Crow, the Dakota leader who foresaw how ruinous the conflict would be for the tribe but determined nonetheless to die with his warriors; Sarah Wakefield, vilified as an "Indian lover" when she defended the Dakotas who had held her captive for six weeks; and Minnesota bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, a tireless advocate for the Indians' cause. Written with uncommon immediacy and insight, 38 Nooses is a revelation of a hidden but seminal moment in our history.
About the Author
Born and raised in the Twin Cities, Scott W. Berg holds a BA in architecture from the University of Minnesota, an MA from Miami University of Ohio, and an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University, where he now teaches writing and literature. The author of Grand Avenues: The Story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C., he is a regular contributor to The Washington Post.