Using RadioDoc Review’s suggested criteria for evaluating a radio documentary, John Biewen delivers an auto-critique of his own program, Little War on the Prairie. It tells the story of the U.S.-Dakota War, a bloody Plains Indian war that broke out in the summer of 1862 in southern Minnesota. That six-week conflict took the lives of hundreds of people, perhaps a thousand, a larger death toll than in the better-known bloodlettings at Little Big Horn or Wounded Knee. Most of the dead were white settlers, though the U.S. government’s reprisals in the aftermath of the war killed up to several thousand Dakota Indians. A grim highlight of that payback was the simultaneous hanging of thirty-eight Dakota warriors, the largest mass execution in U.S. history, on the day after Christmas, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. Which happens to be Biewen’s hometown. Yet the story was not well known there – and Biewen seeks to find out why. Little War on the Prairie aired on This American Life (2012), whose host, Ira Glass, was also its primary editor.
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Recommended CitationBiewen, John, Little War on the Prairie: an auto-critique, RadioDoc Review, 2(1), 2015.