Good Words


Zabelle and I are grateful for the warm reception of our new edition of Mary Butler Renville’s A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity in it’s first year off the press. Three new reviews recently came to our attention, excerpted below. I hope that Mary knows that her little book, dismissed when she published it 150 years ago this month, has finally found its audience.

The Annals of  Iowa

Michael Knock, assistant professor of history at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, wrote in Annals of Iowa, Spring of 2013:

“To the casual observer, the life of Mary Butler Renville sounds like a bad dime novel. A Christian missionary and teacher, Mary Adeline Butler married John Renville, a man of French and Dakota ancestry. The couple was held captive during the 1862 Dakota uprising, and event that would become a book with a sensational title, A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity.

The similarities between Renville’s story and melodrama end there, however. Her story paints a nuanced portrait of the conflict at a time when the wounds were still fresh….

A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity, originally published in 1863, has been revived in a fascinating new edition edited by Carrie Reber Zeman and Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola. The book contains not only the Renville’s original narrative, but also an appendix of letters that passed between the Dakota camps and Minnesota authorities during the war. A second appendix contains correspondence between Mary and John through 1888. These primary documents paint a far more complicated picture of the war, and of the Renville’s marriage.”

Knock concludes, “…this fascinating edition should help scholars to better understand the complexities of race, gender and compassion through the voices of those who struggled with them in their own lives.”

South Dakota History cover Winter 2012

In the Winter 2012 edition of South Dakota History Linda Clemmons, associate professor of history at Illinois State University, who has published extensively on the Dakota Mission of the ABCFM, wrote:

“The editors, however, have not simply reprinted the Renville’s story. Most edited volumes provide a short contextual introduction and explanatory footnotes. But Zeman and Derounian-Stodola have done much more. Zeman contributes a 112-page historical introduction, while Derounian-Stodola presents a 22 page literary introduction. Taken together, these pieces could stand alone as a book in and of themselves….

A Thrilling Narrative, as edited by Zeman and Derounian-Stodola, is an essential primary and secondary source for historians interested in the years leading up to, and through, the Dakota War of 1862. Literary critics specializing in captivity narratives will also find much of value in the reprint of this obscure text.”

H-Net logo_reviews

In June, 2013, H-Net published a review of A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War by Colette Hyman, professor of history at Winona State University and author of Dakota Women’s Work: Culture, Creativity, and Exile (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012). Hyman’s review opens:

A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity is an ambitious, multifaceted volume that plunges us deep into the complexities of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, and, more specifically, into the intratribal conflicts that erupted in the wake of colonization and dispossession. At the center of the book is a unique exemplar of the captivity narrative; the editors have supplemented the original text itself (which they have richly annotated) with both historical and literary introductions, and with additional primary sources. A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity confirms the view held by some that the U.S.-Dakota War was, as much as anything else, a civil war among Dakota in Minnesota, and makes a powerful case for listening to a wide range of voices in order to fully understand this conflict.” (Read Hyman’s full review on-line at

Thank you to everyone who has written a review!

Image credits: The University of Nebraska Press, the State Historical Society of Iowa, the South Dakota State Historical Society, H-Net.

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1 Response to Good Words

  1. Woo Hoo! Great reviews for your great work!

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