|A formal glass-plate portrait of William Duley in his military jacket,|
probably taken between September 1862 and February 1865.
by Curt Brown
Until now, historians had never seen an image of Capt. William J. Duley—the executioner on the day 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato after the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. New Ulm researcher and author Elroy Ubl tracked down a descendant in Seattle who had inherited a family album of the glass-plate portraits, including her great-great grandfather’s.
Now we know what the hangman looked like at the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Just how history remembers Duley — as traumatized father, notorious executioner or out-for-himself promoter — remains a thornier question.
Three of Duley’s children—Willie (10), Belle (4) and Francis (6 months)—were killed in the conflict. His wife, Laura, was shot in the heel, witnessed at least one child’s slaying and was taken captive along with their son, Jefferson, and daughter. Emma. Some accounts said Laura was pregnant at the time and miscarried during her four months on the Dakota plains. She might have been raped.
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