Published on April 3, 2015 by Amy
Joseph Renville (1779–1846) was an interpreter, translator, and an important figure in dealings between white men and Dakota (Sioux) Indians in Minnesota. He contributed to the translation of Christian religious texts into the Dakota language. The hymnal Dakota dowanpi kin, was “composed by J. Renville and sons, and the missionaries of the A.B.C.F.M.” and was published in Boston in 1842. Its successor, Dakota Odowan, first published with music in 1879, has been reprinted many times and is in use today.
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Joseph Renville’s father, also named Joseph Renville, was a French Canadian fur trader, and his mother, Miniyuhe, was a Dakota, possibly a daughter of Mdewakaton-Dakota chief Big Thunder. Renville’s bicultural formative years may have included some education in Canada.
The town of Renville, Minnesota, is named in honor of Joseph Renville, as are Renville County, Minnesota and Renville County, North Dakota.
He participated in the 1805 Pike expedition to explore the south and west of the Louisiana Purchase, as well as the U. S. expedition in 1823 to Red River of the North led by Major Stephen Harriman Long.
By 1827, Renville had settled at Lac qui Parle, Minnesota, where he built a stockade, kept a band of warriors, and continued his livelihood as a fur trader. In 1835, Thomas Smith Williamson, M.D. (1800-1879), arrived at Lac qui Parle, the first of several missionaries. Another, Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883) arrived in 1837. Two others, Gideon Hollister Pond (1810-1878) and his brother Samuel William Pond (1808-1891) were largely responsible for the creation of the Dakota alphabet.Template:W. W. Folwell, 1921. A History of Minnesota. Appendix 3 Renville and the missionaries translated The Bible into English.
Renville’s French Bible, printed in Geneva, Switzerland in 1588, was used for translating. Riggs wrote that the little group of translators “usually consisted of Mr. Renville, who sat in a chair in the middle of his own reception room, in which there was at one end an open fireplace with a large blazing fire, and Dr. Williamson, Mr. G. H. Pond, and myself, seated at a side-table with our writing materials before us. When all were ready, Dr. Williamson read a verse from the French Bible. This, Mr. Renville, usually with great readiness, repeated in the Dakota language. We wrote it down from his mouth. If the sentence was too long for us to remember, Mr. Renville repeated it… That winter, the Gospel of Mark was finished…”
In 1836, Renville employed a clerk named Eugene Gauss (1811-1896), who, during his service as a private in the United States Army, had become “a pious Presbyterian and decided he wanted to be a missionary.” Gauss assisted with translation of the Bible from French into Dakota, and Dr. Williamson wrote, “Brother Gauss, Mr. R’s present clerk being pious and feeling a deep interest in the spiritual welfare of the Dakotas and my own increasing knowledge of the French language make it more practicable to give religious instruction than heretofore.” Eugene Gauss was a son of the renowned German mathematician and physicist, Carl Friedrich Gauss.
Three of the hymn tunes in Dakota Odowan are designated as Dakota Native Airs. Their names are LACQUIPARLE (number 141), LA FRAMBOISE (number 142), and RENVILLE (number 145). The first of these appears in many modern hymnals and is probably the world’s most widely known melody of American Indian origin.
An examination of distinctive meters and other evidence leads to the conclusion that Joseph Renville probably composed the three hymn tunes, and he certainly composed the three Dakota texts. In modern English-language hymnals, a paraphrase by Philip Frazier, loosely based on Renville’s text, appears with the tune LACQUIPARLE, and it is known to many Christians by the opening words, “Many and great, O God, are thy works, maker of earth and sky”.
The hymn tune RENVILLE has been adapted for modern congregational singing in Singing the New Testament, a hymnal copublished in 2008 by The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Faith Alive Christian Resources.