MANKATO, Minn. — An overcast sky seemed to fit the somber mood of reflection and remembrance as a 300-plus mile horseback journey concluded.
The Dakota 38 + 2 Memorial ride, which this year began on Dec. 10 with 13 riders and a small crowd of supporters in central South Dakota, finished Thursday, Dec. 26, with nearly two dozen riders and more than 300 people waiting along the road as the riders completed the final 4 miles to Reconciliation Park in Mankato.
It marked the end of a 17-day journey on horseback that started on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It's the 12th year of the ride.
At about 11 a.m. on that subzero windchill day on Dec. 10, the riders gathered for a blessing and the ceremonial burning of sage. The riders then raced around musicians and other supporters before taking off from the powwow grounds.
The conclusion of the ride Thursday included words from an elder, Marie Randall of Pine Ridge.
“Today we want to heal. We want to be happy for the next generation coming to live here in the Dakota nation,” she said. “Be generous with your kindness and faith, hope and betterment of life and especially for the young children.”
The Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride, started in 2008 by Jim Miller, is a ride to honor 38 Dakota men who were hanged in the largest mass execution in the nation's history on Dec. 26, 1862, in Mankato.
The "plus two" remembers two additional Sioux leaders who managed to flee to Canada and were later caught, brought back to the United States and executed in 1865.
Also making appearances at the ceremony Thursday were Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
“On behalf of the people of Minnesota and as governor, I express my deepest condolences of what happened here, and our deepest apologies of what happened to the Dakota people,” Walz said. “Working together in common good is our goal. I thank you for making sure the future for all of our children — black, white, brown and indigenous — is as bright as it can be.”
For Wilfred Keeble of Crow Creek, who was a part of the ride since Dec. 10, it was a learning experience.
“Today the young people have some issues from historical trauma and generational trauma and there’s not a lot of support out there,” said Keeble. “Teach them how to cope, teach how to be a part, teach them on a horse on how to be good Dakota relatives again.
“The horses, like us, are tired,” he said.
Todd Finney, a resident of Medford, Minn., and originally from the Pine Ridge Reservation, who led much of the ceremonies, asked for prayers for the horses, noting one of them was bleeding due to the journey, citing a lack of snow on the roads as being hard on the horses.
Trekking across Highway 34 in South Dakota, mostly in single-digit temperatures and subzero wind chills, wasn’t enough to halt the ride as they moved through the state.
“For the first three or four days it was below zero, but then the rest of the trip wasn’t too bad,” said Chief Arvolo Looking Horse, of the Cheyenne River Reservation.
Stops in South Dakota were Fort Thompson, Wessington Springs, Woonsocket, Howard, Madison and Flandreau, while passing through other towns.
In Minnesota, the route included stops through Pipestone, Russell, Vesta, Morton and Fort Ridgely State Park before ending in Mankato.
While the number of riders varied each day, support for the riders continued as they received support in many of the towns they passed through with people cheering them on along the sidewalks, even receiving an escort into towns from local law enforcement.
Many also provide a meal and shelter for the riders to use during their short stay in town.