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Born a slave in free territory, Joseph Godfrey died widely reviled for his controversial role in the U.S. Dakota War of 1862. Separated from his mother at age five when his master sold her, Joseph Godfrey was kept in bondage in Minnesota to serve the fur - trade elite. To escape his masters' beatings and abuse, he sought refuge in his teens among the Dakota people he'd befriended as a child slave. Godfrey married a Dakota woman and was living with his family on the Lower Sioux Reservation in 1862. Conscripted to don war paint and join Dakota warriors who killed defenseless settlers in the opening days of the U.S. - Dakota War of 1862, he became the first of hundreds of men tried by a military court when the six - week war ended in late September. Commander Henry Sibley, who created the court, was one of his former masters. Sibley approved death sentences for Godfrey and 302 other Dakota soldiers. In this riveting, first - ever biography of Joseph Godfrey, historian and retired lawyer Walt Bachman untangles the thorny questions that haunt Godfrey's story: How was he enslaved in a free state? Did he murder the frontier settlers for which the Dakota dubbed him Otakle - ''Many Kills''? Did he turn traitor to save his own skin? Did Godfrey's testimony send 38 Dakota men - including his father - in - law - to the gallows on the day after Christmas, 1862? In this carefully researched, stunning historical debut, Bachman argues that the 1862 war trials that ended with the largest mass execution in U.S. history, were both more just, and more unfair than we've ever guessed.