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Memorial to hanged Dakota men unveiled in Minnesota

Peter Lengkeek, The Dakota Wokiksuye 38+2 Memorial Ride staff keeper, right, hugs Perry Little, after Lengkeek had picked Little as the new staff keeper during the ceremony at Reconciliation Park Wednesday in Mankato, Minn. (AP photo)

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) -- Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday for the unveiling of a memorial to 38 Dakota men who were hanged 150 years ago to the day in what is the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

About 60 horse riders, including some tribe members who rode for 16 days from South Dakota, were among the roughly 500 people on hand for the dedication of the "Dakota 38" memorial, which marks a dark chapter in the history of the region and country. Dakota runners who departed from Fort Snelling also made it to the ceremony, which took place in Reconciliation Park in downtown Mankato, which is about 65 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

"Today, being here to witness a great gathering, we have peace in our hearts -- a new beginning of healing," said Arvol Looking Horse, the leader of the Dakota/Lakota tribe, according to The Free Press of Mankato.

Sidney Byrd, a Dakota/Lakota elder from Flandreau, read out in the Dakota language the names of the 38 men who were hanged. The names are inscribed on the monument, along with a poem and a prayer. Byrd's great-grandfather was among the Dakota originally sentenced to death who were given reprieves by President Abraham Lincoln.

Richard Milda, of the Crow Agency in Montana, was among a small group of riders who made the entire trip from Lower Brule to Mankato. It's the third year he's taken part in the ride.

"I heard about the ride and was attracted to its message of forgiveness and remembrance," Milda said.