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A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity

Dispatches from the Dakota War

Mary Butler Renville

Publication Year: 2012

This edition of A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity rescues from obscurity a crucially important work about the bitterly contested U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Written by Mary Butler Renville, an Anglo woman, with the assistance of her Dakota husband, John Baptiste Renville, A Thrilling Narrative was printed only once as a book in 1863 and has not been republished since. The work details the Renvilles’ experiences as “captives” among their Dakota kin in the Upper Camp and chronicles the story of the Dakota Peace Party. Their sympathetic portrayal of those who opposed the war in 1862 combats the stereotypical view that most Dakotas supported it and illumines the injustice of their exile from Dakota homelands. From the authors’ unique perspective as an interracial couple, they paint a complex picture of race, gender, and class relations on successive midwestern frontiers.
As the state of Minnesota commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Dakota War, this narrative provides fresh insights into the most controversial event in the region’s history. This annotated edition includes groundbreaking historical and literary contexts for the text and a first-time collection of extant Dakota correspondence with authorities during the war.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

If we know anything about ourselves as human beings, it is that we know the power of a good story. And publishers know the power of a tantalizing title to attract readers and to increase profits. However, when a colleague...

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pp. xv-xviii

In “Historical Perspectives on A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity” I have privileged primary sources, quoting them sometimes at length rather than simply providing the citation. Both practical and philosophical concerns suggested...


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pp. xix-xxii

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A Note on Editorial Procedure

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pp. xxxiii-xxvi

In this edition we use a variety of sources for the three sets of texts: A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity, the letters in appendix A, and the letters in appendix B. Each of these sections requires specific adaptations...

Pronunciation Guide for Dakota Iapi

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

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Historical Perspectives on A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity

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pp. 1-112

In 1863, when A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity first appeared in print, its authors, Mary and John Renville, were too poor (they had lost everything in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862) and too disenfranchised (as an interracial couple) to afford to do more than publish their story as an...

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Literary Perspectives on A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity

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pp. 113-136

In 2009 I posted a message on the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures discussion list requesting information on Native theories of “home.” I received many responses that helped me draft this...

Original Title Page, Original Copyright

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pp. 137-138

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pp. 139-140

In the year 1859, we left Galesburg, Ill., for Minnesota, where we have been in the employ of Government, as Teachers among the Indians, as our readers will learn, without any further preface, from the narrative...

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Chapter One

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pp. 141-143

So much has been said about the Indian War that it may not be uninteresting to glean a few leaves from the Journal of one who was a captive during the late trouble. In order to realize the spirit of the time in which...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 144-147

We made all needful preparations to leave the camp, but were disappointed.17 Immediately after our friends left us, there came up a most terrific thunder storm, seeming literally as if the whole heavens were on...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 147-150

We are still at Friendly Camp, and are more closely watched than ever. Scouts are on the constant lookout. Garvie made out to reach the warehouse on the hill, a distance of about half a mile from his store. The...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 151-155

Paul and some others have gone to the Lower Agency, to learn if possible, what plan the Indians have in view, and to see if there is any possibility of getting word to the white people....

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Chapter Five

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pp. 155-159

About the 25th of August Gabriel removed from Yellow Medicine, where he had been staying with his own and his sister’s family a short time.71 Mrs. Brown was warned of the intended massacre in time to have escaped; but...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 159-163

The excitement still increases. Rebels report constant success, and are confident of taking all the smaller towns, and if they could get St. Peter, and Traverse de Sioux, they are going to attack St. Paul in the night. We...

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 163-167

The rebels are camped on the opposite side of us. We have only six tents in our company. A part have gone about half a mile above; we came here with the intention of deceiving the enemy, thinking that if we showed...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 168-171

Everything moves on in about the same way. War parties returning. Councils held. Criers go about the camp making known the commands of the rebels. Occasionally one returns from battle wounded, and a death in any...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 171-174

The Rebels are becoming more and more excited since they have found out that Gen. Sibley has command of a large force instead of a few companies, as they at first supposed. Little Crow would like to make terms of peace,...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 175-178

Our readers will review, in memory, the leaves we have already given them. They will recall what we said about Simon remaining at his house. We learned afterwards, from his family, that he took Mrs. Newman and...

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Chapter Eleven

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pp. 179-181

We are now about five miles above Red Iron village. We do not know of any name being given to this camp by the Indians, but for convenience we will call it Camp Hope; for we have a faint hope that Gen. Sibley will...

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Chapter Twelve

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pp. 182-185

We are now on the lookout for Gen. Sibley, having heard the joyful news that he has started from Fort Ridgley. The rebels keep a constant watch of the troops. Some of them have reported around camp that Gen. Sibley...

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Chapter Thirteen

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pp. 186-188

We alluded, in our last chapter, to some of the customs of the Indians before going to battle, and of sacrificing to their God.175 This consists sometimes of killing a puppy, and painting it either red or several bright colors, and presenting it as an offering to a large stone, which is decorated...

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pp. 189-192

Having received from some of our friends an account of their escape, after leaving Friendly Camp, we have concluded to append that, and also the articles we have written since our journal was...

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H. D. Cunningham’s Statement

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pp. 192-198

On the afternoon and evening of the 18th of August, 1862, the community around the Mission stations, among the Dakota Indians, was thrown into an intense excitement by reports that the Indians on the lower rese...

Appendix A: Correspondence between the Dakota Camps and Authorities ,September–October 1862

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pp. 199-216

Appendix B: Selected Correspondenceof John B. Renville and Mary A.Renville, 1862–1888

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pp. 217-244


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pp. 245-320


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pp. 321-330


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pp. 331-375

E-ISBN-13: 9780803243446
E-ISBN-10: 0803243448
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803235304

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 14 illustrations, 4 maps, 2 appendixes
Publication Year: 2012


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Subject Headings

  • Dakota Indians -- Wars, 1862-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • Renville, Mary Butler, 1830-1895.
  • Indian captivities -- Minnesota.
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