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38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End Hardcover – December 4, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The first large-scale military conflict with the so-called Sioux Nation did not occur after the Civil War nor take place on the buffalo-laden Great Plains. In 1862, the various bands of the Dakota, or eastern Sioux, fed up with broken treaties and the delay of promised annuities, rose up in an orgy of violence that terrorized white settlements in Minnesota. When it was suppressed, hundreds of settlers and Dakota were dead, the Dakota were forcibly relocated, and 38 leaders of the rebellion were executed in a mass hanging. As Berg indicates, the grievances and the clumsy, confused, and vindictive responses of the military and federal government set a pattern for the further tragedies that characterizes the wars against the Plains Indians. 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. --Jay Freeman


Kirkus Reviews has named 38 Nooses a Best Nonfiction Book of 2012.
“Berg positions the book with the perfect focal length, tight enough to include fascinating and fleshed-out characters such as Little Crow, a skillful leader cursed with the gift of foresight, the captive-turned-supporter of the Indians Sarah Wakefield, and Lincoln himself, but also wide enough to capture the moral arc of the entire nation.”
The Daily Beast, “Hot Reads”

“Impressive. . . . Alongside his portrait of Lincoln, Berg makes vivid his other protagonists. . .  It is Little Crow who, from the opening pages, stand tallest in the reader’s mind.”
USA Today

“Scott W. Berg reminds us in his splendid new book . . . that the Civil War was only part of the nation’s crises in that era. . . . Berg does a remarkable job with the story and its aftermath, drawing on memoirs, contemporary reports and presidential papers to re-create—and offer an easy road map through—a complicated narrative.”
—Scott Martelle (author of Detroit: A Biography), Los Angeles Times

“Superb. . . . 38 Nooses is an imposing work, a moving story of an event enveloped within the most calamitous four years in American annals, and a book proving that obscure does not translate to unimportant when applied to events in history.”
Dallas Morning News

“Engrossing. . . . Berg’s finely grained portraits of the protagonists and antagonists humanize the conflict.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“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.”
“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

“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 . . . 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.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“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

38 Nooses shines new light on a little known and tragic chapter in American history. Thoroughly researched, richly detailed, this compelling narrative gives ‘The Battle Hymn of Freedom’ a new and ironic connotation. You will never think of the events of 1862-63 and Lincoln’s leadership in quite the same way again.”
—Robert Morgan, author of Lions of the West

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (December 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307377245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307377241
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #442,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Scott W. Berg is the author of 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Frontier's End (2012) and Grand Avenues: The Story of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C. (2007), both published in hardcover by Pantheon Books and in paperback by Vintage Books. Born and raised in Minnesota's Twin Cities, Scott received a BA in Architecture from the University of Minnesota, an MA in English from Miami University of Ohio, and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University, where he now teaches nonfiction writing and literature. Since 1999, he has also been a contributor to The Washington Post and other publications.

Scott's principal research interests include place origins, architectural history, urban history, and the intersections of lesser-known individuals with history's more famous figures. His feature writing for the Washington Post has ranged widely, covering topics as diverse as civil rights history, classical theater, the sport of cricket, the digitization of history, the role of monuments and museums in Washington, D.C., and airplane restoration efforts at the Smithsonian Institution, to name just a few. He regularly speaks to media outlets and to groups large and small in the Washington metro area and around the country about his books and related topics. A list of his upcoming and previous speaking engagements can be found on the "Events & Media" link of his website,

Scott lives in Reston, Virginia with his wife and their two sons, ages 10 and 7. He can be reached via his website or by using his e-mail address directly:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cate on March 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read many books about the Dakota War, and all of those cited by Mr. Berg. 38 Nooses is by far the most readable book I've read on this subject, and that is saying a lot because I've enjoyed most of them, and found the majority to be very informative. Mr. Berg blends wonderfully detailed historical facts taken from a variety of primary sources with a style of writing that flows nicely. The reader is able to picture the events of this bloody conflict in way I've seldom found in non-fiction books. Anyone with any interest at all in this topic will not be bored, therefore allowing the importance of this chapter in our history to shine through. High schools should teach this topic using this book.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By EWebb on January 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read dozens of Books on Lincoln, the Civil War, and the Indian conflicts yet had never heard this story. This intrigued me enough to give this book a try and I'm so glad that I did!

Berg's book reads like a novel while bringing out the facts regarding this conflict and looking at it from all of the different perspectives from that time. Personally, not really knowing the history made it a much better read for me as I turned each page in anticipation of what would happen next. Instead of comparing it to other works it was just a really entertaining and thought provoking look at some important but almost unknown history.

Berg does an excellent job of pointing out the facts while not getting bogged down in meaningless minutiae as many historians are prone to do. As good historical works also do it makes me want to dig even further into this chapter in US history.

I won't go into the facts of the conflict as I think not knowing them made this so much better for me. I'll just say that I am amazed at this history and really impressed with Berg's writing and his sense of what to include and edit out of a historical work.

This seems almost like a great Western movie with the Civil War looming in the background except for the fact that it is all true.

I'll just say if you thought you knew everything possible about Lincoln, The Civil War or the American Indian you probably will find some things in this work that you didn't know that will change your perspective on those subjects.

Just an excellent find in historical reading that I just can't praise enough.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By AllThingsReviewed on March 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you are interested in the Dakota Conflict of 1862, this is the book to choose as a primer. I wish this book had been around about 20 years ago when I started studying this "war" in earnest. No other book I have read in past years is so complete in dealing with the little details as well as the big picture. I thought I knew all the stories; this book showed me I did not. All participants in this episode of American history are treated with detached objectivity, some perhaps being granted more favorable treatment than they deserve, depending on your viewpoint, I suppose. Perhaps that is the sign of a good narrative: seeming to treat what I might consider to be the bad guys with more sympathy than they deserve, and not praising my favorites highly enough.

No knowledge of the second half of the 19th century in this country is complete without studying this episode.

Good job, Mr. Berg!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bobby D. on January 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The sweep of the American Frontier is in many ways the story of the sweeping away of the American Indian. Although Scott W. Berg does not use the term genocide in this new book it is the overall power of that crime that fills his pages. Here we learn of what I believe may be an event many readers have not heard of. That in 1862 during the hard fought early days of the Civil War a band of young Dakota warriors went on a killing spree in the new state of Minnesota savaging several hundred white settlers who happened to be living on land given the Dakota by treaty. Little Crow found he had little choice but to lead his tribe in rebellion. Six weeks later the war was over and over 300 Dakota were tried by a military tribunal and condemned to be hanged. Eventually charges for many were commuted by President Lincoln and only 38 Dakota were hung. A mistake lead to one Indian being hung despite the fact the President had commuted his sentence. This hanging became the largest mass execution in American history.

Much of the story hangs on the story of two individuals. The first being Sarah Wakefield who along with her Children became captives of the Dakota's. She was seen as an "Indian lover" by her fellow captives. Berg asks if this was truly the case. The other individual is Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple who defended the Indian side of the story and met with Lincoln in an attempt to save the condemned from hanging. These two separate narratives elevate Berg's very interesting and somewhat sad and disturbing book.

The book does a great job weaving the reader back and forth from the Indian war in Minnesota and the Civil War battlefields indicating the Dakota Rebellion was a sideshow and distraction.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gary O'neal on February 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I'm torn after reading this one. I've read many stories about this incident and after seeing an entire book dedicated to it, I was excited. After reading it, I'm less than impressed. Either every other version of Little Crow's War I have read was vastly overstated, or this author is the epitome of understatement. He glosses over the actual details of the events and dedicates most of the book to linking Lincoln, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation to the "Indian situation" in the Northwest. I thought the book was, in most places, very tedious and rambling. I've read a lot of the books on Native Americans and find that this story was much more closely tied to the coming conflicts with the Plains Indians than it was with the Civil War. Admittedly, I am much more interested in the "actions" of history than in the theory. Allowing for that, this book was especially hard for me to finish. If you're a Civil War buff, you'll probably find it very interesting. If you're more interested in the Indian Wars, you'll probably be disappointed.
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