Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota

By John D. Bessler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Lynch Mobs and Public Hangings

Minnesota is, by far, mainly known for its blizzards and its below-zero temperatures, and as the Land of 10,000 Lakes—a message imprinted on the state’s license plates. It is the home of attractions like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, and the Mall of America, and is the boyhood home of rock stars Bob Dylan and Prince. Laura Ingalls Wilder and F. Scott Fitzgerald both lived in the state, and in the Metrodome, in the shadow of Minneapolis’s skyscrapers, sports figures like outfielder Kirby Puckett hit World Series home runs and rounded the bases to thunderous applause. While famous Minnesota politicians like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale once occupied the national stage as presidential candidates, one part of Minnesota’s past is hardly known at all: the history of lynchings and public executions within the state’s borders.1

Public hangings and extrajudicial lynchings are, in truth, sprinkled throughout much of Minnesota’s past, dotting the state’s landscape like historical markers. The state’s death penalty, at least formally, dates to 1849, when Congress created the Minnesota Territory. Under territorial law, all persons convicted of premeditated murder automatically received death sentences and were put in solitary confinement for lengthy periods of time prior to execution. The law in effect in 1851 mandated a full year of isolation before execution, while an 1853 amendment reduced that period to anywhere from one to six months at the judge’s discretion. The

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