Heritage Museums
of the
Coteau des Prairies
SissetonSouth Dakota
For Teachers

Dakota Indian Leader - Joseph Renville

Students will research Joseph Renville, an important Dakota Indian leader that knew and assisted Joseph N. Nicollet. They will record facts their lives, actions and how they influenced the settlement of America and their experiences with the new culture of non-Indian people at that time.

Time Required
One to two hours in two sessions

Materials Needed
Copies of the map made by Joseph N. Nicollet, pencils, markers, text of Nicollet's Journal, "On the Plains and Prairies", a current map of the Midwest.

4. U.S.1.1. Students are able to explain factors affecting the growth and expansion of South Dakota
5. U.S.1.1 Students are able to differentiate the lifestyles of various Native American tribes
5. W.1.1. Students are able to identify the causes and effects of European exploration and their impact

Background Knowledge
Joseph Renville (1779 – 1846) was the son of a Dakota Indian woman and a French fur-trader born at Kaposia on the Mississippi River (south of present day St. Paul, Minnesota). His early childhood was spent with his Dakota Indian mother in traditional Dakota life. When Joseph was about 10 years old he was taken by his father to Canada and placed under the care of a Catholic priest who taught him the French language.

In 1805 Joseph Renville became a well know guide to Lieutenant Zebulon Pike. Renville served with the British as an interpreter to the Sioux Indians in the War of 1812 with the rank of Captain. He went to the great council at Portage des Sioux (mouth of the Missouri) as an interpreter in 1815 and then resigned his commission in the British Army so he could work more with the Americans.

Joseph Renville organized the Columbia Fur Company with its headquarters on Lake Traverse, in what is now Minnesota across the lake from South Dakota. Later, Renville established an independent fur trading business at Lac qui Parle (near present day Montevideo, MN) where he conducted business until his death.

In 1834, Renville met Dr. T.S. Williamson, the famous missionary at Prairie du Chien. Renville arranged for Williamson to establish a mission at Lac qui Parle the next year. The mission church at Lac qui Parle grew and soon Dr. T.S. Riggs joined the mission. Dr. Riggs worked with Renville in the translation of the Bible into the Dakota language. Renville also work hard with Riggs to write a Dakota language grammar book and dictionary.

On July 15, 1838, Renville met Joseph Nicollet at Lac qui Parle ("the lake that talks") near present day Montevideo, Minnesota. Joseph Renville provided hospitality and official protection to Nicollet and his group as they traveled the region.

In 1841, Joseph Renville was chosen and ordained a ruling elder of the Dakota. He continued the duties of this office until his death at Lac qui Parle in March of 1946.

Directions for the Lesson
Visit with the class and ask if them to think of an American Indian leader who has influenced American History. Write the names on the board. (Squanto, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, etc.) Ask them why this person influenced history. Discuss with the class how America might be different now if this person had never lived. Would the changes we have seen have been the same? What might have happened in history if they had never lived? What accomplishments did this person bring to history and how did these accomplishments make America a better or worse place?

Step by Step Instructions:
  1. Write on the board Joseph Renville (1779 -1848)
  2. The class assignment is to research Joseph Renville and find what influence did he have in American History? What did he do? What was he best know for in American History? What impact did this have on America? Was it good or bad?
  3. Ask the students to list the actions that Renville did as they relate to American History. They should find 5 facts about this man and how they think he influenced American History.
  4. Have the students locate on Nicollet's map of 1843 the areas where Joseph Renville was born, educated , where he had his fur trading posts and where he helped established the mission. Have the students find the same locations on a current map of the Midwest and Canada.
  5. After the students have completed their research, ask the students to share with the class the information they found on Joseph Renville.
  6. As everyone shares what they feel are the major influences Joseph Renville had on American History, write them on the board. Ask the class to if they think Renville had an impact on how the country was settled? Why do they feel that way? Ask the class how they feel the impact of meeting Joseph Renville influence the work of Joseph Nicollet and America? Why did Joseph Renville have an impact that went beyond the work of Nicollet?
Assessment Activities
Have the students write a short essay about Joseph Renville, the things he did in his life and how he may or may not have affected the mapping expedition of Joseph Nicollet and the growth and expansion of South Dakota. Ask them to include in the essay an explanation how Renville's accomplishments with others may have affected the relationship between Indian and non-Indian people at that time? How does this affect how people relate to each other?

Enrichment Activity
Challenge the student to learn more about Joseph Renville by making a time line of his life.