Stories from the First Cathedral 57

The Very Rev. Canon James Zotalis

Stories from the First Cathedral 57

"It would be more than a week before Sibley began interning Dakotas he suspected of crimes, and more than two weeks before he set up a military court that would embark on a very rapid process of trying men accused of criminal activity in warfare, but in meeting with Lincoln when he did, Whipple got access to the president before Lincoln heard any extended discussion about the war from anyone else in Minnesota. What the bishop managed to do was set the war within the context of the federal government corruption and ineptitude. He created for Lincoln a lens through which to view the war." (Lincoln's Bishop by Gustav Niebuhr, 2014, p. 133)

Nobody knows the details of the conversation between Lincoln and Whipple on September 15, 1862. We do know that General Sibley wanted to execute over 300 Dakota warriors on December 26, 1862. The number was 38 who were hanged that day in Mankato--the largest mass hanging in our country's history. 

We can only speculate that Henry Whipple's plea of compassion must have had an enormous effect on President Lincoln's decision to reduce the condemned from over 300 to 38. Bishop Whipple also set in motion the process to clean up the Indian agency of its corruption. The agency's delay of payments set up by treaties, and their holding back food from the starving Native people in Southwest Minnesota, was largely responsible for the war of 1862.

Bishop Whipple made a supreme effort to be an advocate for the Dakota people of Minnesota. He traveled by train, suffering from wounds he received while working in a field hospital set up in St Peter for those wounded in the Dakota conflict. He left his family and young diocese to tell President Lincoln the truth about the Minnesota Indian/White War in August of 1862. He was driven by his compassion for the Dakota people and the white victims and the senseless death of 800 people all because treaties and promises were broken.