The Lac qui Parle Mission and State Park

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The Lac Qui Parle Mission, founded as a trading post by Joseph Renville.

Lac qui Parle is the French translation of the Dakota name, “Lake That Speaks.” It was at site of the Lac qui Parle mission that French Canadian fur trader and interpreter for many pioneer scouts, Joseph Renville worked with missionaries to create the first written Dakota language alphabet and dictionary.

Joseph Renville was the son of a French trader and a Dakota woman and was born near what is now Saint Paul. He lived with his Dakota relatives until he was ten, then moved with his father to Canada. He eventually returned to Minnesota, where he was an interpreter for Zebulon Pike in 1805 to 1806 and for Major Stephen Long in 1823 as those two Army officers explored the northern regions of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.

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In 1826, Renville established a fur-trading post near Lac qui Parle as an agent for the American Fur Company. His fluency in the Dakota, English, and French languages, and his Dakota heritage, made him an effective intermediary among the people who lived and worked near his post.

Renville invited European missionaries to establish a mission and school near his fur post. Through his facility with the Dakota and French languages, he was able to translate the Bible into the Dakota language. Up to that point, Dakota was an oral language only, so Renville’s translations were among the first attempts to record Dakota in written form.

Renville stayed at the mission until his death in 1846.

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The interior of the reconstructed Lac Qui Parle mission features placards detailing its historic role in the first communications between the white settlers and the Dakota people, including the creation of a system to write the Dakota language for thee first time.

Lac qui Parle Mission was a center for missionary work to the Dakota for nearly 20 years. After Renville’s death, the mission was taken over by the fur trader Martin McLeod, who did not have such a cordial relationship with the Dakota people. In 1854, the missionaries left Lac qui Parle Mission for the Upper Sioux Agency. The Lac qui Parle Mission subsequently was abandoned and fell into disrepair.

Since then, both Renville and McLeod have had Minnesota counties named for them. There is more information on both men and the Lac qui Parle Mission at the Minnesota Historical Society. The Mission site is actually managed by the Chippewa County Historical Society.

minnesota lac qui parle mission lake view
A walk or drive up the east side of the lake gives you a view of Lac Qui Parle.

In 1941, the Lac qui Parle was designated as a State Park, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) reconstructed the Lac qui Parle Mission building that you can now visit.

Unfortunately, as of early June 2022, the lower State Park campground and hiking areas were closed due to the high waters of the lake and the Minnesota River. The lower campground near the US Army Corps of Engineers dam, was just reopened on June 2, 2022, but because of another side effect of all the recent high water, hiking was impossible. We tried to get out of the car near the lower campground area, but were literally driven back by ferocious hordes of mosquitoes.

I’m not exaggerating to say there were clouds of the little predators that made it impossible to walk even a few yards without being devoured. We, unfortunately, only had “natural” insect repellent with us, which, as far as I could tell, only caused the mosquitoes to laugh uproariously at our feeble attempts to dissuade them.

We retreated to the other side of the lake to visit the mission, and they were also in abundance there. We ran up the hill from the Mission parking lot to the building and managed to get inside with only a few mosquitoes who got in before we could slam the door. After enjoying the displays at the Mission, it was another very quick trot back down the hill, without bothering to stop to read the didactic signs placed by the State Historical Society. Brutal.

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A large room in the Lac Qui Parle State Park visitors center features taxidermy of the dozens of bird species that live on the lake.

However, we guessed that driving up the hill to the upper campground and State Park Visitors Center would be vastly more pleasant. And it was. The breeze on the hilltop above the lake kept the pests off of us – mostly. And the Visitors Center itself was a treat with an entire room full of taxidermy birds that live on the lake.

We had a very pleasant conversation with the Park Ranger on duty about the bird displays, phone apps for identifying bird calls and various plants and trees, and his suggestions on using a device called Thermacell to ward off mosquitoes. I’ve got one on order for the next time.

Where to stay near Lac qui Parle

If you’re planning on visiting the Lac qui Parle Mission and State Park, here are some suggestions of where to stay Montevideo (about 17 miles distant.)
The Viking Inn
The Fiesta City Motel.

In Granite Falls, about 27 miles away, check out the Prairie’s Edge Casino Hotel. It’s a very nice hotel and casino with a couple of restaurants inside.

We’ve written about things to do in Granite Falls to help you enjoy your stay.

More info from MNTrips

See the list of all Minnesota State Parks, including basic permit information. We also have a list of all Minnesota Historical Society sites. We’re adding our commentary for the park and historical sites as we visit them.

When you plan on hiking or biking the Minnesota State Parks, be sure to download the Avenza Maps app to your phone. The app allows you to download the trail maps for almost every state park, and they are invaluable for navigation, especially because many of the parks don’t have as many directional signs as they should.

Also, if you’re planning on camping at Minnesota State Parks, you’ll need a reservation. Here’s the online reservation form.

Check out our recommendations for what to carry in your hiking day pack when you check out the extensive Minnesota State Park and National Park system.

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Tom Bartel
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