Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End
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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.
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.
In the press
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
From the Hardcover edition.