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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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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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
Top customer reviews
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I enjoy history, but I'm no history scholar.
I don't get a lot of free time to read, I wanted to learn more about this episode in Minnesota history, and this book did a fine job for me.
I have history books that won't keep me awake for more than 10 minutes, this is not one of them.
I trust the accounts and facts are accurate. It was consistent with other information I've read about this subject, so I was satisfied with it.
This book, 38 Nooses, is really the definitive account of the Dakota rampage and it far exceeds explaining the conflict than the explanation attempted by Lincoln and the Indians by David A. Nichols. The Dakota War is a fight which matches earlier Indian Wars in US History and it has some shades of the intersection of contemporary America's unassimilateable, often dangerously violent, non-white people and the wealth transfer payments given to them.
The Dakota War is often blamed on a crude statement by a white trader towards the Indians...a famous insult advising the Indians to eat grass or their own dung. Here Berg puts the statement in context and he states that the war had already started prior to the flip (and commonly made by that) trader's remarks when several Dakota braves went to a white homesteader's family to initially beg for/steal food and then they ended up killing the whites. The war began, as they say in a modern context, by "a robbery gone wrong." At the start of 1862, the Dakota were part of a large wealth transfer program that was highly corrupt almost in the same way that modern-day food stamps are partially a subsidy for the politically connected whites who own grocery stores and agri-business concerns as much as they support the non-white (and low class white) American underclass. What changed in 1862 was that the Indians were rumored to be paid in script rather than in gold. The traders who usually took the welfare money and extended credit to Indians as well as sold the Indians food and other goods expected, along with the loss of payments via gold coin, their licenses to be withdrawn by the Republican Civil Servant Indian Agents because so many of the traders were Democrats. Therefore the gravy train was off the tracks and no white government official had the foresight or leadership ability to get the welfare payments moving again. The war already raging was unable to be stopped in Minnesota when it was still small. Reading about the conflict remained this reviewer of first-hand accounts of Pontiac's Rebellion in Pennsylvania just more than a century prior to the Dakota War in that many of the whites were Germans and they were rescued by Anglo officers leading a collection of white soldiers of mixed European origins. Additionally, like in Pennsylvania earlier, there were pacifist Christian religious leaders who tried, somewhat naively, to head off the violence and uplift the Indians by making them into carbon copies of whites.
This book covers the most famous of the white religious leaders, Bishop Whipple. Much like today, this faith-based religious leader agitated for reform to the system, which amazingly also lead to money raised for his organization.
There is also a very satisfying explanation of the famous mass hanging of 38 Indians (and one hanged by mistake). This reviewer his highly skeptical of Lincoln's policy to cut down on the number of hangings for the following reasons. First, many of the Indians were interred where they died of various ailments anyway. Second, the commutations led to a precedent where white authorities deliberately excuse vicious behavior of non-white combatants who don't understand the trial or evidence against them anyway. This excuse, this pulling of punches, deserves more remarks. Essentially, the Indians were engaged in terrorism against actual non-combatants and not hanging the Dakota set a legal precedent which in our age kept the Gitmo terrorists in prison, rather than justly put to death, for so long. It is important to remember that the Indians killed more whites than the number of Dakotas white authorities initially sentenced to death. I believe that firm responses to these sorts of attacks lead to peace through fear which is better than an appeasement where mercy can be mistaken for a weakness that invites further attacks.
The book also describes the combat actions, though still in an unsatisfying way. What, for example was the march into the Dakota Territory in pursuit of Indians like for the men of the 10th Minnesota Infantry? Interestingly enough the battles against the Indians in the Autumn of 1862 have a very modern ring of an overwhelming white force compromising with a "community organizer" who is leading some annoying riot.
On the whole, this book was really excellent. There is no way to not see parallels to America's situation today in this semi-forgotten sideshow of the Civil War.
Mr. Berg tells this fascinating history of what happened after the U.S. Army crushed the revolt and found 303 captured Dakota's guilty and sentenced to be hung. President Lincoln got involved and except for the 38 who would later hang for crimes of murder and rape, exonorated the rest of the warriors.
This didn't "warm the hearts" of the Minnesotans who wanted them ALL to be hung. However, Lincoln was a compassionate and thoughtful President and leader and did the right thing. Mr. Berg also describes what happened to some white children captured by the Dakota's and easily adapted to the Dakota way of life.
This is an excellent and interesting read. It can get in-depth at times, however overall it is a great piece of little known history during the Civil War and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Most recent customer reviews
Historical narrative was informative will read more about the Indian wars.
The insight about president Lincoln was very interesting