Compliments of the Renville County Museum
441 North Park Drive, Morton, MN 56270

Before the white man came Renville County was primarily a range for bison, deer and elk herds. The many marshes and grasslands supported wild ducks, geese, prairie chickens and fur bearing animals. The abundance of wildlife also attracted the Native Americans of the Dakota tribes to the area.

The first territorial claim to Renville County dates back to 1493 when Spain claimed the area. It was subsequently claimed by the English and French and finally by the United States when it was included in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It was all held under jurisdiction of the Michigan Territory, the Wisconsin Territory, Iowa Territory, and finally Minnesota Territory. In 1855 the county of Renville was established by the Minnesota Territorial legislature.

Up until 1853 Renville County had seen few white men. The only records of white man's activity in the area come from government, geographical, geological and zoological records and diaries and journals or the fur traders.

Joseph Renville, the French Canadian after whom our county is named, was a soldier, explorer, government interpreter, scout, church elder and operated a trading post in the area around 1833. He was a friend and leader among the white men and the Indians and was to Minnesota what Daniel Boone is to Kentucky.

In 1856 the first land claim was registered in Renville County to Louis LaCroix. The French Canadians, followed by the Irish, Scotch, German, Swedes, Fins, Norwegians and Bohemians settled in the county. The first settlers chose the southern part of the county where there was timber for building and good water.

Trouble between the Dakota Indians and the government over reservation boundaries and annunities smoldered for several years prior to the Uprising or 1862. This Indian resentment led to an open revolt in August 18, 1862 causing an attack on the settlers in the Minnesota River Valley. Most of the fighting ended on September 23, 1862 with the battle of Wood Lake. The Battle of Birch Coolie was the turning point of the Uprising. Soldiers held off attacks for 32 hours without food and water. Many lives were lost in battle.

Despite the hardships, Renville County was declared fully organized by the Minnesota Legislature on March 1, 1866. The county seat was located at Beaver Falls. Officers were elected and the first county board meeting was held April 2, 1867. Following the organization of the county many firsts occurred. The first newspaper, the Beaver Times was published, later changed to Renville Times, schools, churches, factories, county fairs all progressed. The small settlement of Renville was incorporated February 19, 1887 to become the first village to incorporate in the county.

Pioneers of our agricultural county survived many hardships. Grasshopper plagues, prairie fires, cyclones, blizzards meant many lean years for the settlers. Up to 700O acres of land in Renville County was covered with water. Much of the land was untillable because of the sloughs and marshes. It could only be used for pasture. The farmer was fortunate if he could til 50% of his acreage. By 1920 with the massive county ditch campaign lowlands were drained and today 98% of the county is under cultivation and we now have over 3000 miles of drainage ditch in our county.

In 1878 the Milwaukee Railroad laid tracks through the northern part of the county. In 1882 the M and St. L railroad constructed tracks through the southern part of the county. Today we have the Great Northern route through the northern part of our county and Minnesota Central operates through the southern part.

After much controversy and elections the court house was moved to Olivia in 1900. A new courthouse was built for a cost of $100,000 in 1902.

In 1910 Renville County was the winner of two good roads trophies.

Renville County has seen changes from a wild and sparsely populated prairie to a prosperous county, part urban, part rural.

We have 27 townships, and 10 communities. Morton, Franklin and Fairfax on Highway 19 and Buffalo Lake, Hector, Bird Island, Olivia, Danube, Renville, Sacred Heart on Highway 212.

We are also noted for our minerals. The oldest rock in the world, the Rainbow Gneiss, or Granite is quarried at Morton. We have kaolin mined at Fairfax and west of Morton. At one time small deposits of coal and gold were also found in our county.

With the dawn of the year 2000 we see many changes taking place in our once family farm-agricultural county. Large specialized cooperative farms, such as the hog, turkey and chicken coops, are taking over the small family farm and more industries are coming in to provide the displaced farmer with job opportunities.

We are a county rich in agriculture and rich in history. There are many historic sites to be seen.

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Copyright ©Cathy Paulson 2000-2003 - All rights reserved
Copyright ©Barbara Pierce/June Lehman/Stacey Orchard 1998, 1999 - All rights reserved

Last update:  April 15, 2000