- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

JUDSON, Minn. (AP) - The faint hiss of a waterfall could be heard Christmas Day on the Minnesota River bottom road as dozens of horseback riders quietly rode toward the Rick Brown farm just east of Judson.

“Happy holidays,” said a rider smiling, greeting a number of people on foot who escorted them to a nearby pasture.

Brown said the riders and their entourage, who commemorate the hanging of 38 Dakota Indians on Dec. 26, 1862 in Mankato, have visited his farm every Christmas Day for the past few years, no matter how cold or snowy the weather is.

Thanks to the volunteer efforts of Kristi Debban, Julie Haas, LuAnn Marti and Gloria Desantiago, the riders and those in their support vehicles were given bags of candy, sandwiches and hot cocoa while their horses were given water. A number of businesses donated to the cause.

After learning about this year’s ride recently, Debban led the support group by organizing food preparation efforts early Thursday at First United Methodist Church in New Ulm.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of this. Now it’s finally happening. Once I started talking to people about it, it came together. I’m so glad we did this,” Debban told The Journal of New Ulm (http://bit.ly/1zmMGEh ). She added that she was driven by her Native American ancestry to become involved with the two-week, 330-mile ride from Lower Brule, South Dakota, to Mankato, Minnesota.

Tim LaBatte of Peever, South Dakota, rode a horse in the first row of the entourage, wearing a bright red coat and staff with a red feather.

“The weather is nice here now, but there were places in South Dakota where it was so icy and windy, horses slipped, fell and slid down ditches,” LaBatte said. “I’m riding my fourth horse now. I brought five horses to ride.”

The entourage included a number of horse trailers pulled by diesel pickup trucks that led or trailed the horseback riders who followed highways more often in South Dakota and secondary roads in Minnesota.

LaBatte said he’s taken part in a number of memorial rides in the past. In his younger days, he ran part of the route.

Errol Medicine of Wakpala, South Dakota, drove a pickup truck with family members as passengers.

“I almost missed the turn (to the Brown farm) until I saw a bald eagle flying over it,” Medicine said.

“They didn’t expect us to feed them, but we had enough food,” Debban said. “Thanks to everyone who helped … people need to know that the end of the (U.S.-Dakota War) and Mankato hangings weren’t the end of this story.”

The drug and alcohol-free memorial ride is an attempt to reconcile the events following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 in which a commission of U.S. military officers was created to hold trials for 303 Dakota prisoners accused of war crimes.

President Abraham Lincoln reviewed the trial records and commuted the death sentences of 264 prisoners but allowed the public execution by hanging of 38 men on Dec. 26, 1862, in Mankato.

At least two Sioux leaders, Little Six and Medicine Bottle, escaped to Canada but were later captured and returned to Fort Snelling where they were hanged in 1865.

The ride, which was to culminate in a ceremony in Mankato on Friday, focuses on prayer and presentations on community healing, overcoming meth addiction, the sacred relationship between horses and their relatives and genealogy.

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Information from: The Journal, http://www.nujournal.com/journal

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