THE FIRST PIONEER ON WATSON COMMUNITY SOIL
Joseph Renville was born in 1779 in the vicinity of the small trading post which is now the city of St, Paul. His mother was a Dakotah Indian girl and his father was French. When Renville was
a young boy his father took him along with him to Canada where he was placed under the tutorage of a catholic priest who must have been a brilliant teacher; at any rate Renville received a splendid education from that man. Returning to the United States when he had grown to a young manhood he soon became known and admired by his fellow men for his extraiordinary ability as a linguist and was in 1779 highly recommended for the position of government interpreter amongst the Sioux Indians, and at that time he was only eighteen years old.
At the outbreak of the War between the United States and Great Britain in 1812 he was considered a Canadian and a more than average well educated British subject, hence he was promptly appointed a captain in the British army and assigned to employ and lead Indians to fight against the United States. He was present at the historic siege of Fort Meigs, and lived for a short period after the war in Canada while drawing the half pay of a British captain; but that he dld not respect the British brand of diplomacy and warfare is evident according to the following historical narrative.
Being invited by the British commandant at Drumond island to pay him a visit Joseph Renville accompanied by the Kapiosa chief Petit Carbeau went there shortly after his return from Canada. When they arrived at the post the British officer showed them a huge pile of goods which were presenats that his majesty the King of England had sent them. Then Petit Carbeau the Kapiosa Chief replied for both of them.
"Now after we have fought for you under many hardships, lost some of our people, and awakened the vengeance of our neighbors, you make peace for yourself and leave us to get such terms as we can, but, no, we will not take your presents, we hold them and you in equal contempt.”
There are to be gleaned from existing historical records abundant grains of truth to convince one that the Minnesota river’s navigation stage has been far from at the same level from time to ftime. There was apparently a semi-flood in the Minnesota river valley in the year 1820 for it is recorded that a consignment of three hundred bushels of wheat bought at Prairie Du Chien and freighted in three Mackinaw boats went up the Minnesota river, through Lac qui Parle Indian village, through Big Stone Lake, through Sioux Wood river, through Red River into Canada and finally reached the Selkirk settlement near Lake Winnepeg Canada after costing the shippers several thousand dollars.
The Columbia Fur Company was organized in the year 1822 by Joseph Renville; Precott, Laidlaw, and Jeffries. A little later this company was absorbed by the American Fur Company then managed chiefly by John Astor of New York City; and then Joseph Renville moved to Lac qui Parle Indian village for good as head trader of the American Fur Company. He built his trading post and home and cattle ranch on the western border of Chippewa county Minnesota on land only five miles west of Watson Minnesota. He was then a citizen of the United States and the earliest permanent settler, trader, and cattle raiser in the Watson community territory.
The trade with the Indians and other trappers and profits from furs must have been very remunerative during that era for in the years 1826 and 1827 the United States government licensed four traders to do business at Lac qui Parle Indian village and they were: Joseph Ezeziel Lockwood, .Joseph Montrewelle and Joseph Laframbois. Then Joseph Renville must have won all the trade in this territory or bought out all three other traders for in the years 1829 and 1830 he was the only one licensed ln this vicinity; and during the years 1833 and 1834 he was the only one licensed under the name of his trading post and cattle ranch Lac qui Parle.
Renville was busy attending to his trading post and cattle ranch when Rev. T. M. Williamsion, M. D. who was a practicing physician ln Ohio was appointed by the joint missionary society of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches to represent the society in mission work among the Dacotah Indians, and accordingly Doctor Williamson moved with his family from Fort Snelling to Lac qui Parle ln the summer of 1835. They were greeted very friendly by Renvllle when they arrived and he befriended and aided them in every possible way. The Indian mission was started and on Sept. 15, 1836 a Presbyterian church was organlzed where Renville and his wife a Dacotah Indian woman became the first' communicants. Renvllle who had been reared and educated in the Roman Church had always insisted on his personal right to private judgement and proved that he still believed in personal choice by joining the Presbyterian church.
The Lac qui Parle Indian mission in the hill side right West of the farm buildings on the Emanuel Anderson farm five miles west of Watson Chippewa County Minnesota was from then on for about a quarter of a century a very popular industrial, educational, religious and political center of the northern Mississippi valley. History records that in the summer of 1839 the famous historical character, the explorer, "The Pathfinder," Lieutenant John C. Fremont, accompanied by the famous French astronomer Jean N. Nicollet visited the Indian mission and Joseph Renville during a long vacation from duties. They must have enjoyed their visit for during their stay they arranged it so that the Mission received reimbursement for some cattle some Indians had killed.
Two years before these last mentioned famous men's visit there was a wedding at the mission which must surely have been the first Christian wedding in the Watson community. Rev. S. R. Riggs who had joined the mission in 1837 officiated and Rev. T. S. Williamson assisted with the ceremony when Miss Sarah Poage sister of the wife of Rev. T. S. Williamson was united in marriage to Gideon H. Pond. The wedding was followed by a huge wedding dinner and festival at which a great number of the Indians were guests.
The first wool cloth manufactured in the state of Minnesiota was made on the Watson community soil at the Indian mission in the year 1838. A G. Huggins an assistant missionary taught the Dacotah Indian girls how to spin wool, and also flax and how to knit socks. The following year Huggins erected a loom and they wove some cloth, mostly woolen cloth from which they made dresses for the Indian girls.
That there was nothing cheap, deceitful, or dishonest to the mental structure or disposition for our first pioneer can be vouched for with the following historical facts. A strange man came to the mission and to Renville one day. His name was Gibson and he had been driving a herd of cattle from the state of Missouri to the Selkirk settlement near Lake Winnipeg Canada. His cattle had separated and got away from him more and more until he had lost them all, and then in hunting for them he had compIetely lost his own sense of location and direction. He was totally disheartened and sick and after telling Renville about his misfortune he departed for his home. Then Renville gathered 84 head of that lost herd of strange cattle and sold them for $750, and sent the money to the unhappy drover.
During these years of mission activity the territory now occupied by the Watson community was far from safeguarded from possible scenes of blood shed. In the year 1838 a Chippewa Indian chief, Hole In The Day met eleven Dacotah Indians on the shore of the Chippewa river close to the present site of Benson. The two Indian bands met in the evening and visited each other in the friendliest manner; pitched camps together; laid down to sleep side by side; but during the night the Chippewa Indians arose and butchered and scalped their friendly neighbors and departed. News of the tragedy was brought to the mission and Rev. G. H. Pond accompanied by only one Dakotah Indian went thirty miles from the mission site to the place of the butchery where the two men buried the mutilated remains of their friends.
Rev. T. S. Williams must have been a superintendent; and organizer for the Mission society for as soon as we read of him being at Fort Snelling we discover him at the Kapiosa mission farther west and shortly after he is at the Lac qui Parle mission again. Rev. T. S. Riggs is the man who worked and lived the longest at the Lac qui Parle Indian Mission five miles west of Watson. It was in the summer of 1841 that Rev. Riggs and Rev. Williamson built a church of unburnt brick that stood for thirteen years. They built it of what is known as sun-baked brick and they hung in it a church bell; - the first church bell used to ring and toll in the state of Minnesota.
In a letter from the mission dated in 1841 Rev. S. R. Riggs stated that he had spent five weeks in copying the Dacotah Indian vocabulary that they had collected; that it amounted to about six thousand words and that one of Joseph Renville's boys and three of his daughters were engaged in the copying work. He also mentioned that Mrs. Riggs and her assistants had written an Indian dictionary containing about three thousand words.
Whenever assistant missionaries arrived at the mission Joseph Renville welcomed them fervently and hospitably and aided them in every way he could. He was their interpreter and helped overcome the prejudices of the Indians against their teachings. He assisted in translating and compiling several books now published in the Dacotah language. Two volumes, one a volume of extracts from the old testament, and a volume containing the gospel of St. Mark, that were published in 1839, were translated orally by Renville and written down by Rev. Williamson. A hymnal "The Dacotah Hymns," published in 1843 contained many hymns that were composed by Renville who was the first hymn composer on the Watson community soil.
Renville was married to his Indian wife at Prairie Du Chien by a Roman church priest many years before there was any clergyman in the Minnesota territory. Renville was an extraordinary brilliant man in his ability to observe and understand and express himself pointedly in the simplest sentences. He was chosen and ordained a ruling elder of the church in 1841 and even then at his advanced age his memory was so perfect and keen that he could instantly upon hearing even a long and somewhat unfamiliar part of the scriptures read in French to him translate it off hand into the Dacotah language; and the Dacotah language has a manner of expression entirely different from that of the French language. It was unanimously conceded by all who knew him that he was an interpreter that could not be surpassed.
It is probable that Renville owned the first bible in Minnesota. It was a bible in the French language that he imported from France. It was printed in Geneva in 1588 and contained a foreword by John Calvin in the Latin language. He possessed this bible long before the missionaries came to begin their work as his neighbors. There are ample proofs for the belief that he had become a devout disciple of Christ long before the missionaries arrived and that it was mainly due to his sincere desire to help his mother's people the Dacotahs that the mission was ever established.
Long before the mission was started his wife had through his instructions lost faith in the Gods of the Dacotahs and she was the first Dacotah that joined the church of Christ. She died too in that faith with the final statement to her husband: "I am remembering Jesus Christ who suffered for me and depending on him alone. Today I shall stand before God and ask him for mercy for you, and all my children, and all my kinsfolk."
Joseph Renville died on a Sunday forenoon in March 1846. After having a beloved hymn sung to him his last words to those near him were in the form of an admonition to go to church, and shortly after that his spirit departed from the body leaving on it an expression of great serenity. He was buried on the western border of Chippewa county, five miiles west of Watson, Minnesota on a hillside that fronts towards the setting sun, south-east of the beautiful Lac qui Parle Lake.