Book Review: A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity

With Minnesota commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Dakota War, the release of this important new title is particularly timely. For those who don’t know, the Dakota War of 1862 was the largest Indian War waged in the west and for years, much of the information about it was distorted by “historians” looking to dehumanize the native people. The book is divided into four main sections beginning with a thoroughly researched historical introduction that places Mary Renville’s original text into context. Following Renville’s narrative are two extensive appendixes, the first with correspondence between the Dakota Camps and authorities between September and October in 1862. The second appendix contains fascinating, often personal select correspondence between Mary and John Renville from 1862-1888.

Married to John Renville, a Dakota man of mixed heritage Mary, a white woman concealed that aspect of her life when she released her narrative which was doomed to be quietly shelved because it portrayed the Dakota people in a more favorable light then the public was willing to accept. Thanks to Zeman and Derounian-Stodola efforts, Mary’s document finally takes its rightful place as an important account of the Dakota War. Every facet of the social fabric of the time are treated to a clear eyed examination and sheds light on what life was like as a captive at a time when the Dakota people were undergoing a major upheaval. Anyone looking to further their understanding of the culture and trials of this turbulent time in America’s history can’t do better then this excellent book.

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