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Death Certificate


As the old saying goes, there are two things you can be sure of, death and taxes. Well, perhaps.

Felix Renville of Fort Yates was a student at Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota when he enlisted in the army in April of 1917. His grandfather, Gabriel Renville, served as chief of scouts for General Henry H. Sibley during the military expeditions of the 1860s, and Felix was proud of his family's heritage as brave warriors. By 1918, Felix was in Europe operating as a machine-gunner in the Meuse-Argonne drive, and on November 2nd, his battered, lifeless body, gassed and full of shrapnel, was found on the battlefield. Renville's identity was confirmed by a corporal in his unit and some of his squad who had witnessed his death. The necessary papers were filled out and his family back in North Dakota was notified. His death certificate, duly notarized from the United States Army, arrived to confirm the family's grief.

But back on the other side of the Atlantic, things had taken a different turn. The corporal, walking through a camp hospital, suddenly exclaimed, "You're supposed to be dead!" as he looked upon the smiling face of his recently deceased buddy. It appears that the First Aid men, in retrieving the bodies from the field of battle, noted a spark of life in Private Renville, and he was hospitalized. Eleven days later, on November 13th, he regained consciousness to learn that the war was over. He would regain his health, but he would often wryly remark that numerous blood transfusions had diminished his Indian blood and left him mostly Irish and Swedish.

He remained hospitalized in Europe, and for months his family knew nothing about his recovery, although his father, Moses Renville, had always doubted the report of Felix's death. Unfortunately, when word came confirming that Felix was alive, the excitement was too much for the elder Renville, and it brought on a heart attack resulting in his death.

Felix returned to North Dakota, where he married and raised a family. He even appeared on a New York radio show, where he told his story. For the rest of his life, Felix was proud of two documents - one was a letter from General Henry Sibley commending the work of his grandfather during the Indian war period, and the other was his own death certificate, stating he had given his life for his country.

So, as far as the old saying on Death and Taxes - maybe we can't always be sure of one of those two, but when April 15th rolls around, we can be sure of the other.

By Jim Davis

Bismarck Tribune January 14, 1938