December 26, 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the largest mass hanging in U.S. history.
The executions happened in Mankato, Minnesota at the order of President Abraham Lincoln. In 1862 the president commuted the death sentences of hundreds of Dakota who had been rounded up following weeks of fighting and killing between Native people and white settlers along the Minnesota River. The president let 38 death sentences stand.
For some of those who died, their trials lasted less than five minutes. The official record totaled just a few lines. The speedy way in which the trials were conducted has long been a sore point among the Dakota people.
An annual observance at the site of the hangings in Mankato features the reading of the names of those who were executed. In the late 1980’s, Minnesota folksinger Larry Long included a reading of the names of the 38 as part of a song called “Water In The Rain”.
The song has been obscure for 30 years, but there is renewed interest in it around the 150th anniversary of the US-Dakota War of 1862.
Larry Long talked with KFAI’s Dale Connelly about the process of writing and recording the song.