fbpx
 

MINNEAPOLIS — “Savage Conversations” is Choctaw writer Leanne Howe’s daring document of Mary Todd Lincoln’s insanity in 1875, 13 years after her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. In Savage Conversations, Mary Lincoln’s insanity is linked to one of the 38 Dakota Indian men that were hanged in Mankato, Minn. in 1862. 

President Lincoln gave the order to execute 38 Dakota Indians for their actions in the Dakota War against white settlers encroaching on their lands and stealing their rations guaranteed by treaties. It is the largest mass execution in United States history. An estimated 4,000 settlers attended the execution in the streets of Mankato on December 26, 1862, the same week Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Want more Native News? Get the free daily newsletter today.

After their bodies were buried in a shallow grave near the Minnesota River, their bodies were dug up the next morning by local physicians for use as medical cadavers.

Eleven years later, in November 1873, a Dr. Willis of Danforth, Illinois treated Mary Todd Lincoln for “nervous derangement and fever in her head.” 

“The Indian slits my eyelids and sews them open, always removing the wires by dawn’s first light,” writes Mary Todd Lincoln in her diary during the time she was treated by Dr. Willis. 

In May 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln goes on trial in Chicago for insanity and a jury decides within 10 minutes that she be placed in an asylum. She is escorted to Bellevue Place Sanitarium in Batavia, Illinois by her son, Robert Lincoln. While at the sanitarium, Mary Lincoln continues to have visions of an American Indian spirit that haunts and tortures her. 

Want to support Native News? Make a donation today.

The accounts of Mary Todd Lincoln were never linked to the hanging of the Dakota 38, until writer Leeann Howe created a play/poem/novel/historical nightmare that features only three characters: Mary Todd Lincoln, Savage Indian, and The Rope (“Both a man and the image of a hangman’s noose used in the largest mass execution in United States history.”) It exposes American racism through a deteriorating mind, with discussions of stealing land, killing children, and the crimes that founded the United States. 

Every year, a 330 mile horse ride from the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota to Mankato, Minnesota is organized to conclude on December 26, the day the Dakota 38 were hung. The memorial ride began in 2005 and promotes reconciliation between American Indians and non-Native people. The Spiritual Journey seeks to shed light on historical trauma, remember and honor the 38+2 who were hanged, bring awareness of Dakota history, and to promote healing. The +2 commemorates two additional Dakota men who fled to Canada only to be caught, sent back to the states and executed in 1865. 

Author LeAnne Howe (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) is a poet, fiction writer, playwright, and filmmaker. Her most recent book, Choctalking on Other Realities, won the inaugural 2014 MLA Prize for Studies in Native American Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. She is the Eidson Distinguished Professor in American Literature in English at the University of Georgia, Athens.

 

More Stories Like This

Five More Native Americans Who Shaped Culture
Producers of Jim Thorpe Movie Select Mohawk Citizen Tracey Deer to Direct Film
Five Native Americans Who Shaped American Culture
Native American Music Awards Moved to Monday Night Due to Snowstorm
Here’s What’s Going on in Indian Country: Nov. 19-Nov.24

You’re reading the first draft of history. 

November is  Native American Heritage Month in the United States. We feel like every month — and every day — is a reason for celebrating Native Americans and our heritage. That’s what we try to do here at Native News Online, with stories each day that celebrate, inform and uplift American Indian and Alaska Native people. Over the past year or so, we have been especially busy with three important reporting projects that are having an impact across Indian Country:

  • Indian Boarding Schools. We’ve reported and published more than 150 stories and special live stream video events to help shine a light on the dark era of boarding schools — and help create momentum for change.
  • Native Health Desk. Launched in January, this reporting initiative was created to heighten awareness of Native American health inequities and spotlight pockets of progress in Indian Country. So far we’ve reported and published nearly 120 stories and launched a monthly health newsletter that reaches more than 23,000 readers.  
  • Native Bidaske. In March, we launched this live stream interview program to highlight the work of Native Americans who are making news and leading change in Indian Country.  We have hosted guests from the federal government and Native rights advocates as well as Indigenous actors, comedians, journalists and models.   

We hope you will join us in celebrating Native American heritage and history this November and invite you to consider the old adage that “Journalism is the first draft of history.” If you appreciate the voice Native News Online gives to Native American people, we hope you will support our work with a donation so we can build our newsroom and continue to amplify Native voices and Native perspectives.

Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10.  Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.