A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War

A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War

A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War

A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War

Synopsis

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 Peace Party camp. Their sympathetic portrayal of those Dakotas who opposed the war combats the stereotypical and inaccurate view that most Dakotas supported the war in 1862. What emerges from the Renvilles' story is a complex and unique picture of race, gender, and class relations on the Minnesota frontier. 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 new, annotated edition includes groundbreaking historical and literary contexts for both the war and the text.

Excerpt

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 gave me a copy of A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity in 1995, my reaction to the title was cynical: here was another bodice-ripper that would reinforce every negative stereotype of Indigenous people ever conceived. The book found a place on a high shelf in my office and was not disturbed again. Yet such assessments are rarely as simple as they first appear.

It is often tempting to look back and make judgments on the actions of historical figures or ancestors, judgments made with what we think are keen eyes sharpened by current research, new facts, and our own experiences. We scan every letter, court document, and journal for meaning and for explanations of the choices those people in our past have made. To justify our interpretations, we extrapolate answers couched in current theories of literary criticism or historiography. But without explicit records, will we ever definitively know the answers to the questions we have about our history?

During her life among Dakota people, Mary Butler Renville witnessed a significant, pivotal period of cultural, political, and historic change, of which A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity represents but a small part. However, her observations of a tumultuous time in American history reveal the almost immeasurable complexities of nineteenth-century Dakotawhite interactions and the indelible mark left by Christian missionaries.

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