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Life, letters and travels of Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, S. J., 1801-1873 : missionary labors and adventures… Smet, Pierre-Jean de, 1801-1873; Chittenden, Hiram Martin, 1858-1917; Richardson, Alfred Talbot 1905

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£S  Life, Letters and Travels of
Father De Smet among the
North   American   Indians.  mm  LETTERS AND Tl
Father Pierre-Jean DeSme
[jissionary Labors and Adventures among the Wild Tribes of tbe
North'American Indians, Embracing Minute Description of Their
Manners, Customs, Games, Modes of Warfare and Torture,
Legends, Tradition, etc., All from Personal Observations
Made during Many   Thousand   Miles   of  Travel,
with Sketches of the Country from St. Louis
to   Puget   Sound    and   the   Altrabasca
Edited from the original unpublished manuscript Jour.
and Letter Books and from   his  Printed  Works  t
Historical, Geographical, Ethnological and other Ar«
A ho a
n:t> illustrations
Major, Corps of Engineers, U. S. A
Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, S. J.
Missionary Labors and Adventures among the Wild Tribes of the
North American Indians, Embracing Minute Description of Their
Manners, Customs, Games, Modes of Warfare and Torture,
Legends, Tradition, etc., All from Personal Observations
Made during Many   Thousand   Miles   of  Travel,
with Sketches of the Country from St. Louis
to   Puget   Sound    and   the   Altrabasca
Edited from the original unpublished manuscript Journals
and Letter Books and from   his  Printed Works  with
Historical, Geographical, Ethnological and other Notes;
Also a Life of Father De Smet
Major, Corps of Engineers, U. S. A.
1905  WS&Bsmm
©f tftje IPtetx
ff0*rai«8 at 1ft* tKEesl  «9
The present work is an outgrowth of the interest which
the editors have long taken in the pioneer history of the
West. Explorers of this attractive field are constantly running across the trail of Father De Smet, which interlaces
the whole Northwest from St. Louis to the Straits of Juan
de Fuca. Wherever encountered, it is a tempting trail to
follow, for it is marked in all its course by episodes romantic and interesting and frequently of weighty importance.
A devout and zealous missionary, Father De Smet filled
the Oregon country with religious establishments, some of
which, in spite of the vast changes of later years, survive
to the present day. He was acquainted with most of the
native tribes of the Northwest and with many of them he
was on terms of intimate friendship. Their trust in him
was so complete and his influence over them so great that
the government repeatedly besought his aid in paving the
way for its negotiations with them. He assisted at the
great Indian council of 1851 near Fort Laramie. In 1858
and 1859 he accompanied the Utah and Oregon expeditions under General Harney in the nominal capacity of
Chaplain, but in the actual role of pacificator and intermediary between the military and the Indians. In 1864
he was sent by the government to pacify the Indians of the
Upper Missouri, and again on a similar errand in 1867.
In 1868, it was alone through his great influence that the
hostile Sioux, who had declared war to the death with the
white race and were spreading terror over the whole region
of the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone valleys, were induced to meet commissioners of the government and enter
into a treaty of peace.
[vii] vm
Father De Smet's travels were not confined to the western
country. He visited many parts of the United States east
of the Mississippi, crossed the Atlantic nineteen times and
made one voyage around Cape Horn and two by way of
Panama in the interest of his work. He was well known
in both Europe and America, and on one occasion was made
the bearer of dispatches from this government to several
European courts. He took an active interest in public
affairs and watched them with an eagerness which one would
hardly expect from his exclusive order of life.
Wherever he went, whatever he did and much of what he
saw were carefully recorded in letters to his superiors or to
his personal friends. Many of these letters were published
in his lifetime; many others were never published and are
accessible only in the original letter-books. Altogether
they constitute a rich fund of material upon the early history of the West, particularly during the critical period of
our Indian wars. Unfortunately these writings are practically inaccessible to the general public. The unpublished
letters are, of course, wholly so. The published works are
nearly all out of print and some of them were published
only in French. There has never been written a satisfactory
biography of Father De Smet.
To supply these deficiencies and make the life-work of
this great missionary and public man familiar to students
of our country's history, the editors have prepared the
present work—Life and Letters of Father De Smet—
comprising a complete biography, all his important letters
both published and unpublished, illustrations characteristic
of his missionary career, and a map showing the wide
range of his travels west of the Mississippi.
The original arrangement in the published works has
been discarded entirely and the letters have been reclassified
according to periods and subjects. Even the English texts
have not been literally followed, for they are nearly all
translations, and the editors have felt at liberty to substitute their own rendering wherever they have thought m
it desirable. The English of the published texts is almost
throughout a translation from Father De Smet's French
letters, and none of it apparently is his own work. It is
full of renderings of French phrases, and more particularly
of geographical names, which show a lack of familiarity
on the part of the translator with the subjects treated. No
record has been kept of the pagination of the published
letters for the reason that much of the matter was duplicated
in different texts and in the present edition is extensively
interspersed with new letters treating of the same subjects.
The narrative letters are classified under five chronological periods, each of which is prefaced with an itinerary
of Father De Smet's travels during that period. Following
the narrative portion are the letters containing observations
upon Indian affairs, missionary work, public questions, etc. ;
personal letters to his friends in Europe and America which
show the inner life and character of the man; and finally
many of the letters received in the course of a long and
active correspondence. The new matter in the present
edition is about equal in volume*to all heretofore published,-
and contains everything which, in the opinion of the
editors, would be of general interest. It omits several of
the published letters relating solely to church matters.
The editors are under particular obligation to the Jesuit
authorities of the St. Louis University for access to the
old letter-books of Father De Smet, and for other valuable
assistance. Thanks are also due the Reverend J. D'Aste,
S. J., of St. Ignatius Mission, Montana; W. R. Logan,
U. S. Indian Agent at Fort Belknap Agency, and James
H. Monteath, U. S. Indian Agent at Blackfeet Agency,
Montana, for information furnished. Among the published
works consulted, Shea's Catholic Missions in the United
States, History of the St. Louis University, by Father
Walter H. Hill, S. ]., and Palladino's Indian and White in
the Northwest, are the most important.  CONTENTS OF VOLUME I.
Preface     .......... vii
The Jesuits in America  1-8
Early Life of Father De Smet • 9-18
A Romance of an Indian Mission I9~3°
The Flathead Mission 31-43
The Oregon Missions 44-57
The Great Council of 1851 58-65
The Utah and Oregon Expeditions 60-75
JOURNEYINGS AT HOME AND ABROAD,   1860-1866 . . . 76-88
Peace Commissions of 1867 and 1868     .      .      .      .      .      89-103
Character of Father De Smet 104-114
Return from Three Forks to St. Louis     ....    233-259
A Second Account of the Journey of 1840      .      .      .    260-271
St. Louis to the Platte River, 1841 272-288
From the Platte River to the Bitter Root Valley    .      .     289-314
Founding of St. Mary's Mission 315-341
Journey to Fort Colvhxe and Return      ....    342-358
Affairs at St. Mary's 1841-42 359-369
Journey to Vancouver and the Willamette and Return,
1842 370-392
Return to St. Louis in Fall of 1842 393-402
Birth of Society of Jesus — Wonderful growth and power — Downfall and restoration — Missionary work of Society in America — Early
Canadian missions — Insuperable obstacles — Novitiate at Whitemarsh
— Migration to St. Louis — Founding of the Florissant Novitiate —
The St. Louis University — Indian missions entrusted to Jesuits —
Field of labor in Far West.
-|pORTY-TWO years after the discovery of America there
<#j arose in Europe a religious order destined to play a
leading part in the Christianization of those races which the
great achievement of Columbus made known to the world.
This was the Society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius Loyola
in 1534. The chief purposes of its creation were to stem
the swelling tide of Protestantism in Europe and to spread
the Catholic faith among infidel peoples in every quarter of
the globe. Its chosen motto, Ad majorent Dei gloriam1
(To the greater glory of God), was a fitting expression of
its exalted program for the spiritual regeneration of the race.
The career of the Society in Europe, for two hundred
years after its founding, forms one of the strangest and
most fascinating pages in the history of Christianity. Its
marvelous organization made it the most autocratic power
of its time, while the severity of the novitiate through which
its members had to pass insured a loyalty and obedience that
were superior to every test. The growth of the Society was
rapid, for it had come into existence at an opportune time,
1 The monogrammatic form, A. M. D. G., is of universal use in
Jesuitic practices. j00&6U&K«*tMMm*
when the Church needed its powerful arm to extend her
sway and defend her against her enemies. It became a
mighty power, guiding the destinies of European nations
and carrying its influence to the uttermost parts of the earth.
The proud place which the Society had acquired in the
temporal affairs of the world it was destined not to hold, for
the very greatness of its power excited the jealousy and
hostility of European rulers, who one after another expelled it from their dominions. Finally, in 1773, the Church
herself, yielding to the general outcry, decreed its total suppression, and it remained without recognized existence for
forty-one years thereafter.
Our present inquiries relate solely to the missionary work
of the Society in the western hemisphere, particularly in
the western portion of the United States. The spread of
the gospel among heathen peoples was a fundamental purpose of the Society. The discovery of America, with its
vast but unknown population, offered a field of labor which
from the first was one of great attractiveness. The Jesuits
came early to America, and their missionary work on this
continent has gone hand in hand with exploration and settlement, except in the English colonies. They went to
Florida about the time of the founding of St. Augustine,
but remained only a few years. They were in Mexico at a
very early day, and in 1697 founded a mission at Loretto in
Lower California which became the forerunner of the
famous missions of Upper California, established at a later
date by the Franciscans. The Jesuits themselves were not
permitted to carry out their work in this inviting field. The
growing hostility to the order in Europe led to their expulsion from the Spanish dominions in 1767, and on February 3, 1768, the Jesuits in California were all forcibly removed.
The principal work of the Jesuit missionaries in North
America was done in Canada and the other possessions of
France.    Previous to 1629 there had been some progress mm
in missionary work in Acadia and along the St. Lawrence;
but in that year Quebec was captured by the English, and
Catholic priests were forced to leave. The conquest was
not a permanent one and it was restored to France in 1632.
Missionary work was thereupon resumed and its prosecution soon fell into the hands of the Jesuits, who entered
upon it with heroic zeal and devotion. The missions of
New France became exceedingly popular in the parent country. Men of high-born connections entered the Society in
the hope that they might be sent to Canada. Nuns and
sisters of the Church offered themselves to the work, while
the funds to carry it on were freely donated by all classes.
The missionary work of the Jesuits in New France extended from Maine to the Mississippi. The principal fields
of labor were among the Abenakis in Maine; the Iroquois
in New York; the Hurons in Ontario; the Illinois in the
Mississippi valley, and other less important tribes scattered
along the way. The zeal and devotion of the missionaries-
in all their undertakings, and the self-sacrifices they underwent for the sake of the faith, are the bright spots in a story
which is one of uniform disaster. There was no faltering
amid hardship, no yielding to discouragement, no flinching
in the presence of danger; but a complete extinction of all
personal considerations and a sublime devotion which looked
forward to martyrdom as the most welcome reward of all
their labors. Sebastian Rasles, Isaac Jogues, John de Bre-
bettf, Gabriel Lallemant and others are brilliant names in
the Jesuit temple of fame.
In spite of the zeal and herculean toil of the Jesuits in
New France, their work did not prosper. Causes beyond
their control baffled all their efforts. The Iroquois destroyed the Hurons and the English gained control of the
lands of the Iroquois and Abenakis. Traces of the work of
the missionaries survived, and many proselytes remained
true to their new faith; but the movement as a whole did
not realize its expectations.
The same fate overtook the early missionary work farther
■ tëN*ë&H!&*H5&ff&tJ&&&
west. Following the discoveries of Marquette and Joliet
and the enterprises of La Salle in the Mississippi valley, the
zealous missionary penetrated these new fields, undeterred
by the discouragements which he had already encountered}
A good beginning was made and missions were plantea
along the way from the head of Lake Michigan to the Gulf
of Mexico. Those in the valley of the Mississippi were
governed from New Orleans and not from Canada. Although established with much promise of success, the same
general causes which had proven fatal to the other missions
soon began to operate here. The incompatibility of the
Indian nature with the new order of life, the constant clashing of hostile tribes with one another, the irresistible progress of the English, which finally drove France from the
soil of North America, were all against the success of the
missions. To crown the difficulties with which they were
contending, the Jesuits presently found themselves without
an existence, cast out by the nations of Europe and deserted
by the mother Church. Before their restoration a new
nation had arisen on the soil where much of their toil had
been expended, and had won a boundless expanse of territory beyond the Mississippi. It was in this newly-acquired
empire that the Jesuits were to find their next important
field of labor.
During the forty-one years of its suppression the members
of the Society kept in touch with one another, working
largely in the ranks of the secular clergy. Most of those
who were living in 1773 died before the restoration, but
nevertheless the elements of life were kept up, and, as old
causes of enmity became forgotten and ancient prejudices
were softened away, the Society won back the favor of
European nations and was reinstated by the Pope in 1814.
At this time there were a few old Jesuit priests at White-
marsh in Maryland who founded there the first novitiate of
the Society in the United States. About 1820 the affairs
of this establishment were in a precarious condition from
lack of funds and an abandonment or removal seemed un- FOUNDING  OF  THE   WESTERN   BRANCH.
avoidable; when, in 1823, at the suggestion of John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War, the Right Reverend Du Bourg,
Bishop of Louisiana, proposed to Father Van Quickenborne,
Master of Novices, that he would be given a tract of land
near St. Louis if he would establish a novitiate there. The
offer was gladly accepted and steps were at once taken to
carry it into effect.
In the company of twelve who set out on the long journey
from the Chesapeake to the Mississippi was a youth named
De Smet, the subject of the present sketch. The date of departure, April 11, 1823, is a notable one in the history of the
Catholic Church in the United States, and the journey was
thoroughly characteristic of the pioneer times in which it was
made. Two large wagons were hired to convey the heavier
articles from Baltimore to the Ohio river, and a light spring
wagon for the smaller articles. As to the travelers themselves, they had no other transportation than that which
nature had provided them, and they made the entire distance " pedibus apostolorum, staff in hand," as Father De
Smet puts it. The journey was full of interest in spite of
its genuine hardship at that season of the year. The route
lay wholly through Protestant communities and most of the
people had doubtless never seen a priest before. They
imagined the black-gowns to be a band of adventurers, seeking their fortune, and they frequently besought them to remain. The same petition with different motives came from
the few Catholics they met, who were longing for the services of a priest.
At Wheeling on the Ohio the travelers purchased two
flatboats with the intention of making the descent of the
river by water. The boats were lashed together into a
single craft, and in this manner the little party made its
way, borne by the current, between shores which were then
in their natural wildness and beauty. At Louisville they
portaged their baggage around the Falls and sent the empty
boat over them in charge of a pilot. They then continued
their voyage to Shawneetown, Illinois, where the old over-
land route from Louisville to St. Louis crossed the river.
Here they debarked, disposed of their boats, sent most of
their baggage by steamboat to St. Louis, and themselves
started on foot across the country. It was still early in the
spring, the ground was soaked with rain and in many places
covered deep with water. Houses were few and far between, and in their absence barns and outhouses were their
only shelter. It was a rough and trying journey and they
were well-nigh exhausted when, on the last day of May,
they found themselves on the east shore of the Mississippi
opposite the city of St. Louis. Crossing the river they
reached their destination in the future metropolis of the
Mississippi valley. For the present, however, they were not
to remain there, but to go on some fifteen miles farther to
the little village of Florissant, in St. Ferdinand township,
where they were to found the second novitiate of the Society
of Jesus in the United States.
The new home of the young novices lay directly north
of St. Louis not far from the Missouri river. It was a
beautiful spot, typical of the attractive rural scenery in the
environs of the city. It had formerly been the country
seat of one of the Spanish governors of upper Louisiana.
Here the little company from Whitemarsh fell to work in
earnest, conscious that they were laying the foundation
of a great institution in the religious and educational
growth of their city and the surrounding country. It was
truly an humble beginning for these young men, all of
whom had given up homes of comfort and the promise
of successful careers in their native land in order to devote
their lives to the greater glory of God. | It is at such
times," to quote Father De Smet on another occasion,
" that one feels the full weight * * * of the sacrifice
he makes in a good and holy cause." They must have
felt this as they took up their abode in a rude log structure, in the low loft of which seven of their number were
crowded together on pallets of straw in a single room.
The lower room was divided by a curtain into two parts,   c
in one of which Father Van Quickenborne and a companion lived, the other being used for a chapel. Two
small log cabins completed the list of buildings from
which the now splendid St. Louis University took its rise.
These buildings were enlarged as rapidly as possible, the
manual labor being done by the novices themselves.
After a time schools were opened for Indian children, this
being an important part of the missionary work of the Society. These schools, however, as has so often been the
case, did not thrive as they had been expected to do. The
wild nature of the Indian was ill adapted to that kind of
life, and it is proof of the high sagacity of Father Van
Quickenborne that he early recognized the wisdom of not
building all his plans on so precarious a foundation. Although the good father and his companions had dedicated
their lives to the spiritual and temporal welfare of the
Indians, they soon became convinced " that no great or
permanent results could ever be accomplished among the
indolent, wandering and indocile aborigines of the woods
and prairie which would at all compensate for sacrificing
all their energies and resources in exclusive attention to
the savages. They came to the conclusion, therefore, that
more solid and lasting good might be done among the
white population than with the well-nigh indomitable
redmen."2 Without abandoning any of their missionary
purposes among the Indians, they resolved to found an
institution of learning to meet the growing wants of a
great center of population in which the proportion of
Catholics was certain to be large. The conception rapidly
developed into a concrete result. A suitable building was
erected in the city of St. Louis and the reception of students began in the fall of 1829. Father P. J. Verhaegen,
one of the seven novices from Whitemarsh but now an
ordained priest, was made first president, and Father De
Smet was a member of the faculty.
The Jesuits in St. Louis were now fairly well equipped
2 History of the St. Louis University, p. 36. 8
for effective work except in the matter of numbers. These
could be had only through the slow process of the novitiate
or by recruits from Europe; but as the latter were generally themselves novices, the growth in numbers in early
times was very slow.
In 1831 the Missouri Mission, which had heretofore
been a dependency of the Province of Maryland, was made
an independent mission. In 1833, October 2.y, the second
Provincial Council of Baltimore petitioned that the Indian
missions of the United States be confided to' the Society
of Jesus. The petition was favorably acted upon at Rome
July 26, 1834, and the Society was now about to enter
upon the last virgin field of its labors, the vast region,
still almost unknown, which was then and is now known
as the Far West.
This region, comprising more than half the area of the
United States, was still the home of native tribes who were
just beginning to be acquainted with the white man
through intercourse with the traders. In some portions
of the nearer territory, along the lower Missouri, were a
few tribes, remnants of the great nations that had once
held sway east of the Mississippi, but had been crowded
from their homes by the resistless pressure of settlement;
but for the. most part the tribes were new to the missionary and he was entering an unbroken field. The more
important of these tribes, beginning in the lower valley of
the Missouri, were the Osages, the Kansas, the Omahas,
the Pawnees, the Sioux nations, the Aricaras, the Man-
dans, the Grosventres of the Missouri, the Assiniboins,
the Crows, the Blackfeet, including the Grosventres of the
Prairies, the Shoshones with their manifold subdivisions,
the Flatheads, Nez Percés, and other tribes of the upper
Columbia valley, and finally the almost numberless and
nameless tribes of the Pacific Coast. It was into this vast
field that the Jesuits of St. Louis were about to enter, under the leadership of the greatest and most practical missionary who has ever labored among the Indian tribes of
the United States. EARLY  LIFE  OF FATHER DE SMET.
Ancestry and youth — Choice of missionary career — Leaves Belgium
for America — Enters Whitemarsh Novitiate — Goes to St. Louis —
Helps found Novitiate and University — Returns to Europe — Sends
contributions to University — Returns to America — Goes to Council
Bluffs — Work at the Potawatomi Mission — Visits the Sioux Country
— Describes evils of liquor traffic among the Indians.
tlVIERRE-JEAN DE SMET was born in the village of
UV Termonde, Belgium, at the very beginning of the
19th century.1 His family, which has been traced back to
the beginning of the 17th century, was one of the most respectable in Belgium, and the young De Smet came into the
world in circumstances that assured him a satisfactory beginning in life. The parents, too, found in their offspring all the promise which they could well desire. He
was a well-formed, healthy, and handsome child, and as
1 Entry in the baptismal register of the Church of the Blessed Virgin
Mary of Termonde, copied by C. L. Tede, the present dean or chief
pastor, 1902.
" In the year 1801 on the 30th day of the month of January, I baptized Pierre-Jean, born this morning at about five o'clock, and Coleta
Aldegunda, born at a quarter after five, twin children of Judocus
De Smet of this parish and Joanna Maria Buydens, of this parish, his
wife; the sponsors were John Baptiste Kollier of Smerrebe and Coleta
De Saeger of Bottelière.
(Signed)    J. C. Ringoot, Pastor of B. V. M. of Termonde."
The father of Father De Smet was Josse-Arnaud De Smet, born April
28, 1738, and died February 15, 1827 ; was twice married — first to
Jeanne-Marie Duerinck, by whom he had six children ; and second, to
Marie-Jeanne Buydens by whom he had nine children, Pierre-Jean being
the fifth. Two of his brothers, Charles and Francis, grew to adult
years, and both were men of character and distinction in their native
[9] fi»
his mental and spiritual faculties began to develop, they
were in harmony with his physical qualities. His early
years were spent at his parents' home, but when he became
old enough to take up the more serious educational work
of youth, he was sent to the Seminary of Malines where
he remained until his twenty-first year.
In school, the young De Smet was a distinguished pupil,
and in particular exhibited those solid qualities of tact and
common sense which did him such great service in after
years. He was also noted for his great physical strength
and skill in youthful sports. So prominent was his superiority in these respects that his school-fellows gave him
the nick-name of Samson.
These qualities of body and mind were associated with
a fervent and sentimental nature, and the course of events
at this time was such as naturally to turn his mind to a religious career. The Church was strong in Flanders and
young De Smet's youth was spent in a religious atmosphere. The fiery ordeal of the French Revolution was past
and the natural reaction led men to look with renewed favor
upon the ancient church which had stood unscathed the
tempests of that fierce time. It was also about the time when
De Smet entered the seminary that the Jesuit Society was
restored. Whatever the particular influences, it is apparent that while yet at the seminary, De Smet had made up
his mind to follow a religious life, and probably to enter
the Society of Jesus. He had also formed a purpose of becoming a missionary and would naturally turn to the religious order whose principal purpose was that kind of work.
De Smet was near the close of his seminary career when
an event occurred that solved all doubts and settled the
young student definitely in his future career. Father
Charles Nerinckx, a native of Brabant, whom the events of
the French Revolution had driven across the sea, and
who had then become a zealous missionary, appeared in
Belgium at this time in quest of funds and recruits.    His THE  LIFE-WORK   CHOSEN.
vivid pictures of the untilled field in the New World and
his fervent appeal for workers roused the enthusiasm of
the young students at Malines and six of their number,
among them De Smet, volunteered to go.2
The deep meaning of a decision like this it is not easy
now to appreciate. It was not simply the giving up of
the natural pursuits and pleasures of life to follow a religious career, but it meant practical expatriation and a
literal exchange of the pleasures of civilization for a life
among barbarous people. It required an open and unselfish nature, and an abundant fund of spiritual faith to
take the step. It was literally following the injunction
of the divine Teacher — " Sell that thou hast and * * *
follow me."
Van Assche seems to have been the first of the young
men to decide to go to America. Imparting his plan to
his schoolmate Elet the latter also determined to go.
John B. Smedts was the next recruit and then followed
De Smet, Verreydt and Verhaegen. It was an exceptional
group of young men in more ways than one, and their
subsequent careers were in a high degree creditable to
themselves, their Society, and their native and adopted
countries. In nothing is their high character better
shown than in this early decision as to their life work.
In one case, at least, that of De Smet, and probably in
others, the step was contrary to parental counsel. The
young men were even compelled to pawn their personal
belongings to raise the necessary funds for the journey,
and the way in which they rendezvoused on the Island
of Texel before embarking does not indicate any joyous
Godspeed on the part of the friends behind.
The decision once made, preparations for carrying it
into effect swiftly followed. The little band presently
found themselves on board the brig Columbus at the Island
2 Felix Verreydt, Judocus Van Assche, Pierre J. Verhaegen, Jean
Smedts, Jean Elet, and Pierre-Jean De Smet.
' e 12
of Texel in July, 1821, en route for America. The voyage
was a prosperous one, though slow, for steamboats had
not yet crossed the ocean, and it took forty da]fe to reach
Philadelphia. Here, we are told, young De Smet was
greatly surprised to find good buildings, as all his mental
pictures of the America to which he was going were of an
untamed wilderness, the home of wild Indians. But if he
was astonished to find himself in a well-settled and highly-
civilized country, the time was to come when he should
find wilderness enough to satisfy him.
The young men visited Baltimore, Washington and
Georgetown and finally entered the Jesuit novitiate at
Whitemarsh to commence their long career as novices.
We have related how a second novitiate came to be established at Florissant near St. Louis, and how, in something less than two years after their arrival in America,
De Smet and his companions found themselves on the
western shore of the Mississippi.
The years that followed before the end of De Smet's
novitiate were naturally void of much interest, for the
kind of life that the novices led offered little of excitement
or unusual occurrence. The young student bore his full
share in the work of the novitiate, helped erect the buildings, and was particularly relied upon in getting out the
timber for the work. His great physical strength and
restless energy won for him a fame which survives to
this day and doubtless has assumed something of an
apocryphal character. It was said that he accomplished
three times as much work in a given time as any of his
associates, and that he was always called upon when it
was a question of cutting large trees, carrying heavy loads,
etc. He was first at his task and last to leave, and in
whatever of manual toil presented itself he did more than
his full share.
In his studies likewise he made good progress, and he
was one of the first teachers in the new university. He
finished his novitiate and was ordained priest in 1827 and A   EUROPEAN   SOJOURN.
we shall henceforth give him the title by which he is
universally known, Father De Smet.
At this time Father De Smet was a man of unusual
attractiveness in his personal appearance. His face was
full and frank in its expression, beaming with the natural
buoyancy and good humor of his temperament. His
stature was rather short for his otherwise heavy build and
gave him an appearance of greater corpulency than he
really possessed. In his full maturity his weight was above
two hundred pounds. With advancing years the. dignity
of manhood's estate and the venerable figure of age became him well, and he was always noted for his commanding presence no> less than for his mild and benevolent
In 1833 Father De Smet's health was in bad condition
from some cause, and he was permitted to visit Europe.
He was also charged with business for the Society, the
particular purpose being to procure recruits for the work,
and funds, instruments, books and other things for the
new university. It has been stated that he contemplated
never returning to the United States, but this is evidently
not so. Besides his own recorded statement that he went
abroad on business for the Society and for the benefit of
his health, the fact that he took out his final naturalization papers and became a citizen of the United States4 just
before starting on his voyage, effectually negatives any
such supposition.
Father De Smet reached Europe late in the year 1833
and went directly to his old home in Termonde. He remained in Belgium during the greater part of 1834 and
succeeded in getting three recruits and an important outfit
of instruments for the university.    He then embarked at
8 Passport, signed by William H. Seward, October 17, 1864, gives the
following description : Age, sixty-four ; stature, five feet seven ; forehead, ordinary ; eyes, blue ; nose, ordinary ; mouth, middle sjze ; chin,
round ; hair, gray ; complexion, natural ; face, full.
4 September 23, 1833. 14
Antwerp to return to America, but during the passage of
the North Sea he was taken violently ill, and the physician
advised him not to continue the voyage. He accordingly
landed at Deal in England and returned to Termonde.
He arranged to have the instruments sent on without him
and they were received at the university March 7,  1835.5
Father De Smet now remained two years in Europe devoting his time to the procurement of funds and recruits
for the missions and a further equipment for the university. During this period* he sent to St. Louis several
thousand volumes of books and a large number of fine
church pictures. In 1837 he set out for America with
three candidates for the priesthood and reached St. Louis
after an absence of four years.
The time had now arrived when Father De Smet was
to take up in earnest the great work of his life. In the
spring of 1838 he was sent with Father Verreydt and two
lay brothers to found a mission among the Potawatomies,
a part of whom were then located about where the city
of Council Bluffs, Iowa, now stands. There were also
several other tribes or bands of Indians in the same vicin-
B i Whilst he was absent in Europe, and after his donations were
received, the trustees of the university entered on their records the
following honorable tribute to him as a benefactor:—
I ' Whereas the board and faculty of the St. Louis University are
highly indebted to the liberality and exertions of the Rev. P. J. De
Smet, for the splendid apparatus of physical and chymical instruments
received at the university on the 7th of March, 1834;
"'Resolved, that, besides the special thanks already tendered by the
board and faculty of the St. Louis University to said Rev. P. J. De
Smet on receipt of the above-mentioned apparatus of physical and
chymical instruments, the register of the contributions to the Museum
of St. Louis University be opened with a copy of this resolution, and
his name be placed at the head of the list of contributors to the
P. J. Verhaegen.
James Van de Velde, Secretary.
St. Louis University, Sept. 5, 1836.' "
(Historical sketch of St. Louis University, by Father Walter H. Hill,
ity, some of whom, like the Potawatomies, were remnants
of eastern tribes transferred to new lands west of the Mississippi. It was considered an inviting and important
field of labor.
Father De Smet left St. Louis by the steamboat Howard
May 10, 1838, in company with the Father Superior, who
wanted to visit the Kickapoo Indians near Fort Leavenworth. The rest of the party were to follow a few days
later by another boat. After a brief delay at Leavenworth
Father De Smet bade good-bye to the Father Superior
and joined his companions on the Wilmington. They
arrived at the site of the proposed mission on the 31st
of May.
The outlook was discouraging. There were Indians
enough, but instead of being eager for missionaries, as
had been represented, they seemed wholly indifferent.
Nevertheless the fathers set vigorously to work and in a
short time began to arouse an interest among the Indians.
They seem to have first occupied an abandoned fort
turned over to them by Colonel S. W. Kearny; but Father
De Smet says that they also erected a small house. The
mission was named St. Joseph, although it has been more
frequently referred to as St. Mary.e   It was located within
6 "Nous érigeantes une residence et une petite église en bois à
l'honneur de St. Joseph." De Smet Letter, Book IV, p. 133. Shea
(Catholic Missions, p. 462), says that the new church was built under
the protection of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. This last statement may account for the confusion as to the proper name of this
St. Joseph's Mission at Council Bluffs seems to have been maintained for only three or four years. Father De Smet mentions it when
he passed there in 1840, but not in 1842 nor in 1846. In 1838 Father
De Smet founded another mission among a band of Potawatomies,
recently arrived from east of the Mississippi. This mission was on
Sugar Creek, a tributary of the Osage on the south, and seventeen miles
west of the Kansas-Missouri line. In 1847 and 1848 the Potawatomies
were moved to the banks of the Kansas river and a new mission was
started there September 9, 1848. It became one of the most important
and influential of the Indian missions and was frequently visited by
Father De Smet, who took a deep interest in its welfare. *ti£éw***mrfw**fMr*«*wxrr«tf*mfrtt**TVKmKf*gK**w
the present city limits of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Father
De Smet, who put a cross on the roof of the church, wittily relates that when he " climbed the ladder to put it in
place * * * Father Felix [Verreydt] beheld the
devil clap his tail between his legs and take flight over
the big hills."
In the year 1839 Father De Smet made an excursion to
the Sioux post at the mouth of Vermillion river, a short
distance above where Sioux City now stands. He left the
mission April 29 by the American Fur Company steamboat
St. Peters,7 and returned about the middle of May by canoe.
The purpose of Father De Smet's mission to the Sioux at
this time was to bring about peace between them and the
Potawatomies. It w&s the first of many similar excursions
in which he went, comparatively alone and unprotected,
among Indians whose friendship was doubtful.
The Potawatomi mission at Council Bluffs is of particular
interest in this narrative, not so much for the results that it
accomplished, as because it reveals at this early date the
full character of Father De Smet as an Indian missionary.
It was here that he began that famous series of letters which
have made his name well known throughout the world. A
few of those written at St. Joseph Mission have already
been published; but the most interesting and important are
now given out for the first time. They were probably not
intended for publication, for they lack something of the
clerical dignity in which the writer then doubtless thought
that he ought to appear in public ; but they are all the better
for the omission and are equal, in force of expression, to
anything he afterward produced. No more racy narrative is
to be found in the pioneer literature of the period than the
account of the voyage on the Wilmington from Fort Leavenworth to St. Joseph Mission in 1838; while the journal of
1839, copied in a letter written in December of that year,
7 On the St. Peters was a Government exploring party under the
celebrated geographer Jean N. Nicollet, whom Father De Smet knew
is of genuine historic value as a living picture of the state
of things among the frontier tribes at that time. A single
example will serve to show the fresh and vigorous manner
in which the young missionary dealt with subjects that fell
under his observation. Speaking of the liquor traffic, which
never failed to arouse his indignation, he writes : "A war
of extermination appears preparing around the poor Potawatomies. Fifty large cannons have been landed ready
charged with the most murderous grape shot, each containing thirty gallons of whiskey, brandy, rum or alcohol. The
boat was not as yet out of sight when the skirmishing commenced. After the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, the confusion became great and appalling. In all directions men,
women and children were seen tottering and falling; the
war-whoop, the merry Indian song, cries, savage roarings,
formed a hideous medley. Quarrel succeeded quarrel ; blow
followed blow. The club, the tomahawk, spears, butcher
knives, brandished together in the air. Strange! astonishing! only one man, in this dreadful affray, was lost —
drowned in the Missouri. Another was severely stabbed
and several noses were lost."
Father De Smet pictures what he saw in unvarnished
colors. In particular he portrayed the evils of the abominable liquor traffic in a more forcible light than had ever
been done before. It is to be regretted that his trenchant
and scathing denunciations of this crime were not made
public at the time. His published letters were carefully
pruned by his superiors of whatever savored too much of
hostile criticism of the Government. He states that he wrote
to the department on the subject, but the letter is not among
his retained copies. If his accounts are true, and there is no
reason to doubt it, these letters stand as a perpetual indictment against the Government for having permitted this
hideous tragedy to be enacted within its territory.
The experience was a new one to Father De Smet, and it
was his first real contact with the race to whose spiritual
welfare he had dedicated his life work.   It is plain to see
2 ivê&twtiBKexMtÊHÊ*MÊtëeËÊtiÊt&etiiÊÊ&
that his first impression was a dubious one. The revolting
uncleanness, the lack of energy in work, the love of whiskey
and debauchery, and the impenetrability of the Indian mind
to the abstract notions of religion, all made the prospect
seem anything but flattering. He saw in their full force the
great obstacles that were always to be encountered in the
attempt to improve the condition of the Indian, particularly
where he had come into contact with the white man. The
weakness of the Indian in the presence of temptation, and
the greed of the white man, which was always placing temptation in his way, were everywhere in constant evidence.
Nowhere in our Indian literature is there to be found a more
graphic and faithful picture of the wrongs which the Indian
suffered in the inevitable displacement of his race by the
whites, than in these few fragmentary notes written at the
St. Joseph mission of the Potawatomies.
iVfc ■iiiiuiw,   T^.
Nez Percé and Flathead Indians — The Iroquois among the Flat-
heads — Deputation of 1831 to St. Louis — Fact and fiction concerning
same — The mythical oration — Its far-reaching influence — The
Protestants send missionaries to Oregon — New deputation from the
Flatheads — The Jesuits decide to respond.
*^*HE Indian tribes in what is now western Montana,
^■^ northern Idaho, and eastern Washington were a peculiar people in the matter of their susceptibility to religious
influences. Especially true was this of the Flatheads and
Nez Percés (Pierced Noses),1 the only Indians who, of their
own volition and without ever having seen a priest, have
sought the services of missionaries. They were naturally
of a turn of mind that was easily moved by religious teachings, and were relatively high in the scale of morality as
measured by the Indian standard.
As early as 1811 or 1812 the traders of the Northwest and
Pacific Fur Companies were among them, and their territory
remained a fruitful field in the fur trade until settlement
took possession of the country. The rank and file of the
trapping fraternity were made up of Canadian half-breeds
who, in spite of their lawless and irreligious lives, were
staunch Roman Catholics. With them, strange to say, were
many Iroquois, children of the tribe Who had shut their
doors to the missionaries a hundred and fifty years before.
They were apparrently descendants of the converts of a later
period; but whatever the origin of their religious belief, it
was now ardent and strong.   It is a singular fact that the
1 How those names came to be applied to these two tribes has always
been a mystery. There was nothing in the practices of either that
could suggest them.
tribe who cast out the missionaries with such relentless rigor
should thus have been, through their children, a means of
introducing them to other tribes ofjwhose existence their
fathers never heard. Irving gives in Astoria the names
of the first two individuals of these classes that arrived on
the Lower Columbia — Regis Brugière, a half-breed, and
Ignace Shonowane, an Iroquois.2
The half-breeds and Iroquois circulated freely in quest
of furs among the tribes of the Columbia Basin. They told
these tribes of the priests of Canada — the famous black-
gowns who taught the only true religion. Upon the susceptible minds of the Flatheads their accounts made a deep
impression. They eagerly sought further knowledge and
even learned such of the religious rites and customs of the
Church as their ignorant preceptors could communicate:
They became much concerned about their own spiritual state.
If what was told them was true — that their religion was
false and that they were all in danger of perdition and could
be rescued therefrom only by embracing the new faith —
was it not high time for them to learn what that faith was ?
These considerations crept into their minds slowly, not
through any direct missionary preaching, but from the
casual hints of the irreligious trappers who now and then
talked with them on the subject, and perhaps even sought
to work upon their feelings from mere motives of curiosity
or amusement.
A dozen years or more of this intercourse had aroused a
2 It is said that the Iroquois went to the Rocky Mountains in a company of about twenty-four. Whether the Ignace Shonowane of Irving
was one of the number does not appear, but the name Ignace was a
great one among the little band and shows from what past associations
it must have sprung. The leader of these Iroquois was Ignace La
Mousse, or Old Ignace, called the "Apostle of the Flatheads," who
deserves to be canonized among the saints of the tribe. He early acquired a great influence over the Flatheads and it was largely upon
his initiative that deputations were sent to St. Louis for the purpose of
securing religious teachers. THEY  SEND  EAST   FOR  LIGHT.
deep desire to have instruction directly from the black-gowns
themselves. Doubtless the Iroquois and the half-breeds also
longed to see a priest again and resume the observance of
their religious duties. The problem of securing one did
not seem so very difficult to them. From two directions
there was an established route of travel from the homes of
the black-gowns to their country. There was the Canadian
route from Montreal and Quebec ; but it lay far to the north
and the distance was very great. This was a natural route,
however, considering the origin of the Iroquois and half-
breeds, and it is not clear why they did not receive instruction from that direction. The other route was to St. Louis.
It was much shorter, and every year the caravans of the
traders came to the very borders of their country. It was
a comparatively safe undertaking to send messengers to St.
Louis with the traders. Furthermore, it was from that
direction that the great explorers, Lewis and Clark, whom
they held in sacred veneration, had come to their country.
One of them still lived in St. Louis, and they well knew that
his heart would be open to them if they could but see him
and lay their petition before him.
The first deputation to make this journey, though whether
Flathead or Nez Percé is not entirely clear, was in 1831 and
consisted of four Indians. Whether these Indians accompanied the return caravan of the traders, which usually
reached St. Louis in the beginning of October, does not appear, but it is probable that they did. The date of their arrival, which was about October 1, would confirm this view.
In St. Louis the deputation called upon General Clark and
visited the Catholic church. The complete change of life
which residence in a city entailed was very hard on them,
and they all fell ill, and two of their number died about a
month after their arrival. They were attended by a priest
and gave evidence of their knowledge of the Catholic faith
by fervently seizing the crucifix when shown to them, and
holding it with such tenacity that it was taken away only Vé&f&éé*MmmmVff(H*mé*H*M&*XBB0Mé&
after death. The records of burial of these two Indians
are in the books of the old Catholic Gathedral in St. Louis.3
And now an event took place which converted this simple
yet inspiring episode into a thrilling romance that stirred
the religious heart of the entire country. The Wyandot
Indians were among the last of the tribes east of the Mississippi to take up homes to the westward of that stream.
At this particular time the Government was trying to induce
them to move, and they were investigating the question.
They sent a party to explore the country, and among the
number was one William Walker, an interpreter and himself a member of the nation. The party arrived in St.
Louis about November 5, 1831, and before proceeding further Walker called upon General Clark. The General directed his attention to the presence of the Indian chiefs in the
next room, all of whom were sick, one having died a few
days previously. Mr. Walker went into the room to see
them and he tells us how their personal appearance impressed him. When he came out General Clark explained
to him the purpose of their visit.
A significant fact in Walker's description of his visit to
these Indians is that he represents them as genuine Hat-
heads, their heads exhibiting the well-known artificial deformity practiced by some of the Coast tribes, but never, according to all information, by the Flatheads themselves.
This fact can be accounted for only on the supposition that
the deputation was composed of Nez Percé Indians who
3 Le trent et un d'Octobre mil huit cent trent et un, Je, sousigné ai
inhumé dans le Cemetière de cette Paroisse le corps de Keepellelé ou
Pipe Bard du Nez Percé de la tribu de Chopoweck Nation appellee
Têtes Plates âgé d'environ quarante quatre ans, administré du St.
Baptême venant de la rivière Columbia au delà des Rocky Mountains.
Edm. Saulinier, Pr.
Le dix sept de Novembre mil huit cent trent et un, Je, sousigné, ai
inhumé dans le Cemetière de cette Paroisse le corps de Paul sauvage
de la Nation des Têtes Plattes venant de la rivière Columbia au delà
des  Rocky  Mountains,  administré  du   St.  Baptême  et  de  l'extrême
did, to some extent, follow the custom of flattening the
head. There is indeed much evidence that this is the true
fact in the case. They were neighbors of the Flatheads,
and like them religiously inclined. The record of burial of
one of the chiefs at St. Louis describes him as a Nez Percé
of the Chopunnish tribe (another name for the Nez Percés),
called the Flathead nation. A letter written by one H. McAllister of St. Louis, April 17, 1833, in reference to this
deputation, states that it was " from the Chopunnish tribe,
residing on Lewis river, above and below the mouth of the
Koos-koos-ka (Clearwater) river, and a small band of Flat-
heads that live with them." This information was apparently derived from General Clark. There are other authorities to the same end.
The question is therefore a doubtful one as to who these
Indians really were, with the weight of evidence in favor
of the Nez Percé identity instead of the Flatheads of Father
De Smet. But whatever the truth, it does not affect the
important fact that their visit produced a profound impression among all classes when it came to be generally known.
It was given wide notoriety through the columns of the
Christian Advocate. Under date of February 18, 1833,
one G. P. Disoway of New York sent a letter to this journal, inclosing another from William Walker describing the
circumstances of his call upon General Clark.4    The publi-
4 Walker's letter was dated Upper Sandusky, January 19, 1833. Both
the Disoway and Walker letters were published March 1, 1833. In
Mr. Disoway's letter the writer speaks of Mr. Walker as having made
his expedition to St. Louis and the proposed Wyandot lands " in November last," which would clearly fix the date of the Flathead deputation in 1832 instead of 1831, and this is the date universally accepted by
Protestant missionary writers upon the subject. Through these letters
the author of this sketch was led into the same error in his American
Fur Trade of the Far West, p. 643. See, among other authorities,
records of Indian Superintendency at St. Louis now in possession of
the Kansas Historical Society at Topeka; and a letter from Bishop
Rosati of St. Louis dated December 31, 1831, published in the Annals
of the Propagation of the Faith, and quoted by Palladino in his Indian
and White in the Northwest, p. 11.
■   i 1
fffl 24
cation of Disoway's letter called forth a spirited editorial in
the issue of March 22, 1833, exhorting the Church to take
the matter up at once and respond to a call which appealed
so powerfully to the Christian conscience of the world. Additional correspondence appeared in the issue of May 10,
1833, and the whole subject had by this time become familiar
to Protestant churches throughout the United States.
There grew out of the event a curious myth, to the effect
that on the eve of the departure of the surviving Indians
for their home they were given a banquet, and that at this
banquet one of the Indians delivered a speech, in which he
declared that he and his companions had not found what
they came for and must therefore go home disappointed to
a disappointed people. The writer has never seen the
smallest evidence that this reported speech was genuine, nor
any as to who the real author was.5 The speech itself, by
whomsoever prepared, holds a prominent place in the history of the Protestant Missions in the Columbia valley, and
is here given in full:
" I come to you over the trail of many moons from the
setting sun. You were the friends of my fathers, who have
all gone the long way. I came with an eye partly open
for my people, who sit in darkness. I go back with both
eyes closed. How can I go back blind, to my blind people ?
I made my way to you with strong arms through many
enemies and strange lands that I might carry back much to
them. I go back with both arms broken and empty. Two
fathers came with us, they were the braves of many winters and wars. We leave them asleep here by your great
waters and wigwams. They were tired in many moons and
their moccasins wore out.
I My people sent me to get the ' White Man's Book of
Heaven.'    You took me to where you allow your women
5 It is said, upon the questionable authority of the Rev. H. H.
Spalding, who went to Oregon with Marcus Whitman, that a clerk
of the American Fur Company in St. Louis overheard the speech and
wrote it up and sent it to his friends in Pittsburg. THEIR  RETURN  HOME.
to dance as we do not ours, and the book was not there.
You took me to where they worship the Great Spirit with
candles and the book was not there. You showed me
images of the good spirits and the pictures of the good
land beyond, but the book was not among them to tell us
the way. I am going back the long and sad trail to my
people in the dark land. You make my feet heavy with
gifts and my moccasins will grow old in carrying them,
yet the book is not among them. When I tell my poor
blind people after one more snow, in the big council, that I
did not bring the book, no word will be spoken by our old
men or by our young braves. One by one they will rise
up and go out in silence. My people will die in darkness,
and they will go a long path to other hunting grounds. No
white man will go with them, and no White Man's Book to
make the way plain.    I have no more words."
The return of these Indians to their country is another
matter about which there is great uncertainty. The orthodox version, as given by the latest writer on the subject,6
is that they returned by the American Fur Company steamboat in the spring of 1832 as far as to the mouth of the
Yellowstone whence they made their way home; that
George Catlin, who was a passenger on the same boat,
painted their pictures and that these are now numbers 207
and 208 in his well-known gallery of Indian paintings ; and
that the tribe at home agreed to go on their annual buffalo
hunt to the Judith Basin on the Upper Missouri earlier than
usual in the summer of 1832, in order to meet them. It
can only be said of this version that it is extremely doubtful. No steamboat had ever yet ascended the Missouri anywhere near the mouth of the Yellowstone, and there had
been no trading post built farther up than this point when
the deputation left home in 1831. They could not, therefore, have expected a steamboat as far as the Yellowstone or
any other craft beyond that point, and any pre-arranged
plan to meet the Indians, based upon such a voyage, would
6 By Mrs. Eva Emery Dye, in The Conquest.
f,,, - ii^rj wsaÈset
have been wholly impossible. Moreover it would have
been extremely hazardous for these Indians, alone as they
would have been, to have traversed the territory of their
enemies the Blackfeet. Finally, every consideration would
have led them to return by the way they went, and while
they may have traveled from St. Louis to Independence
(near Kansas City) by boat, they probably joined the regular caravan at that point. The annual rendezvous of the
Rocky Mountain Fur Company for 1832 was in Pierre's
Hole, on the borders of their country, and here in fact a
large band of both the Nez Percé and Flathead Indians were
gathered. May they not have been looking for their absent
brethren, and would not this have been the natural place to
expect them?
As to the Catlin pictures the facts are even more uncertain. It is well known that, as an authority on historical
or even descriptive matters, Catlin did not stand well, and
his claim may be simply the embellished account of some
commonplace incident. His general carelessness of statement is illustrated in his reference to the two men who died
in St. Louis as " old and venerable men," whereas the
record of their burial gives their age as about forty-one
years. There were always Indians on the boats of the
American Fur Company and generally in considerable numbers and of different tribes. The artist had no lack of subjects, and his subsequent identification of these particular
two Indians as the ones who visited General Clark in the
fall of 1831 cannot be accepted without question.
But again the manner of their journey home, or whether
they ever reached there, like that of the mythical oration, is
of comparatively little importance. The great fact is that
they had sown seed in fertile ground. They had aroused
the Christian spirit throughout the United States and the
result was a prompt response to their call. In the year following that of the publications in the Christian Advocate
the Methodists sent out two missionaries, Jason and Daniel
Lee.    These missionaries did not stop among the Flatheads m
or Nez Percés but went on to the Willamette Valley. In
1835 Marcus Whitman and Samuel Parker were sent out
by the Presbyterians to investigate the field, and upon arriving at Green river were so favorably impressed that Doctor
Whitman returned to report to the Board and recommend
the forming of missions. While at home he married, and
in the following year himself and bride, with Reverend
H. H. Spalding and wife, started for their remote field of
work, ie Doctor Whitman established himself among the
Cayuses at Waiilatpu, near the Walla Walla river, while the
Reverend Mr. Spalding commenced work among the Nez
Percés at Lapwai.
Considered simply on the basis of evangelizing the Indian tribes, the Protestant missions in these parts were not
a success. To the clear-sighted men who had founded them,
it was apparent that they never could succeed. In one of
his letters written from the mission Doctor Whitman said :
11 have no doubt our greatest work is to be to aid the
white settlement of this country and help to found its religious institutions. Providence has its full share in all those
events. Although the Indians have made, and are making,
rapid advancement in religious knowledge and civilization,
yet it cannot be hoped that time will be allowed to mature
the work of Christianization or civilization before white settlers will demand the soil and the removal of both of the
Indians and the missions.
" What Americans desire of this kind they always effect,
and it is useless to oppose or desire it otherwise. To guide
as far as can be done, and direct these tendencies for the
best, is evidently the part of wisdom."
Such was likewise the feeling on the part of the Lees on
the Willamette. So it resulted that these men became
rather the forerunners of American civilization in Oregon
than successful missionaries to the Indian tribes. Marcus
Whitman in particular looked with a jealous eye upon his
country's rights in that great region. In no other light
can his famous journey back to the States in the winter of 28
1842-3 be explained, and however much his motives have
been impugned, his name has become indelibly fixed in the
national heart as one of its great heroes. The tragedy which
awaited him upon his return, when he and his beloved Christian wife fell victims to savage cruelty, has made him a
true martyr both to the cause which he nominally represented
of Christianizing the Indians and to what he regarded the
far greater cause of establishing American possession and
civilization in the Columbia Valley.
The immediate result of the deputation of 1831 was
therefore to start a Protestant missionary movement in
Oregon. The Jesuits at St. Louis were still too weak in
numbers to respond. They had had but very few recruits
since the opening of the novitiate, and all these were needed
in the new work incident to founding the university. It was
impossible to spare any workers for this distant field.
In 1835 another deputation went to St. Louis. It appears
that a Flathead chief, Insula by name, went to the Green
river rendezvous in 1835 to meet the missionaries whom his
people supposed to be Black-gowns, but who proved to be
Protestant ministers. As they did-not satisfy the description which the Indians had heard of the Catholic priests,
Insula returned home and it was decided to send a deputation to St. Louis to ask for them. It was old Ignace who
undertook the expedition and he took with him his two sons
to have them baptized. He made the journey in the summer
of 1835.7   The little party reached St. Louis in safety; the
7 Father Palladino, Indian and White in the Northwest, p. 19, says
that " Ignace started with the intention of going to Canada, the place
of his birth, where he thought he could more easily obtain missionaries
for the Flatheads, which, as said, was the main object of his long,
perilous journey. Learning, however, on his way that there were
Jesuit Fathers at St. Louis, he turned his steps in that direction, and
reached the place late in the fall, after frightful privations and sufferings." This, if true, is another indication that the 1831 deputation was
not from the Flatheads, or they would have known of the presence of
Jesuits in St. Louis> unless indeed none of the deputation succeeded in
getting home. WPJMl*»
sons were baptized December 2d with the Christian names
Charles and Francis ; and Ignace went to Bishop Rosati with
his request for missionaries. In the following spring he
returned home with his sons, where one of them, Francis,
is still living.
In 1837 a third deputation started for St. Louis. It consisted of old Ignace, three Flatheads, and one Nez Percé.
At Fort Laramie they fell in with a party of white men
traveling in their direction, among them one of the Protestant ministers, W. H. Gray, returning from Oregon. At Ash
Hollow on the North Platte, where the road started to
cross over to the ford of the South Platte, the Indians were
attacked by a band of Sioux. The whites were ordered
to stand apart, as it was not intended to molest them.
Ignace, being dressed as a white man, was mistaken for one
and ordered apart with the rest, but heroically refused to
abandon his companions. The five Indians were slain and
this deputation never reached St. Louis.
A fourth, and this time successful, attempt was made in
1839. A deputation of two Indians, Pierre Gaucher and
Young Ignace, set out-with a party of trappers who were
going to St. Louis. Their route was apparently by the
Yellowstone and the Missouri rivers which they descended
by canoe. In passing St. Joseph Mission, at Council Bluffs,
they stopped to see the priests there, and it is an interesting
coincidence that they should have found the very man who
was to grant them their request in person and open a new
era in the history of their nation. This is Father De Smet's
account of their visit:
I On the 18th of last September two Catholic Iroquois
came to visit us. They had been for twenty-three years
among the nation called the Flatheads and Pierced Noses,
about a thousand Flemish leagues from where we are.
I have never seen any savages so fervent in religion. By
their instructions and examples they have given all that
nation a great desire to have themselves baptized. All that
tribe strictly observe Sunday and assemble several times a ^T^^nr^—^!nr~~CTPr Tgrrr1" rinrn 111111111111 h i n 11 ij i iTTTTTnTmrrmiTriTrrTriTmnTi n mm ~rrn n n mum nnmmi milium
week to pray and sing canticles. The sole object of these
good Iroquois was to obtain a priest to come and finish
what they had so happily commenced. We gave them letters of recommendation for our Reverend Father Superior
at St. Louis. They thought nothing of adding three hundred leagues to the thousand they had already accomplished,
in the hope that their request would be granted."
The two deputies arrived safely in St. Louis and presented themselves to Bishop Rosati, who gave them definite
hope of a priest in the following spring. Thereupon one of
them, Pierre Gaucher, set out for home, while Ignace
remained to accompany the missionary who should be sent.
The letter of Bishop Rosati to the Father General of the
Society in Rome, detailing the circumstances and result of
the visit, is dated October 20, 1839, and states that the
Indian was to start the next day. If Pierre Gaucher made
his journey home alone at that season of the year (it is
said to have taken him all winter) it was a remarkable
achievement. He arrived in the Bitter Root Valley, the
home of the Flatheads, early in the spring of 1840 and announced to the tribe that a black-gown was surely coming. CHAPTER IV.
Father De Smet detailed for the Flathead Mission — Journey across
the plains — Meeting with Flathead envoys — The welcome at Pierre's
Hole — Flattering prospects — Joy of the Indians — Gratitude of
Father De Smet — Journey to Three Forks — John Baptiste de Velder
— Father De Smet starts home — Passage of the Crow country —
Interesting intercourse with the Crows — Dangerous journey to Fort
Union — Journey down the Missouri — Agreeable encounter with the
Sioux — Arrival in St. Louis — Disappointment in regard to funds —
Father De Smet seeks contributions — Signal success — Second journey
across the plains — Founding of St. Mary's Mission among the Flat-
heads — Difficulties and set-backs — Journey to Fort Colville and return — Work at the Mission — Visit to Fort Vancouver and the Willamette — Return to St. Mary's — Departure for St. Louis — Incidents
of the journey — Arrival in St. Louis.
Tlïfï HEN it came to fulfilling the promise made to Ignace
^■^H and Pierre Gaucher, Father De Smet volunteered to
go and the task was assigned to him. It was at first expected
to send two priests but it was found impossible to raise»
the necessary funds. Accordingly Father De Smet was
sent alone. He could at least survey the ground and report whether it would be worth while to carry the work
On the 27th of March, 1840, he set out on his long
journey. He traveled by steamboat to Westport (Kansas
City) and there joined the annual expedition of the American Fur Company to the mountains. It was under charge
of a trader, Andrew Drips, well-known in the early history of the west. The party left Westport on April 30,
following the general route of the Oregon Trail, and without any untoward event, reached the annual rendezvous
on Green river just two months later.
M _ gffiffljwsgg r"Vfft^rtfffrwrtrr{Ti^im<t&ww*i
To Father De Smet, full of enthusiasm in his work and
with his active mind open to all around him, the long journey was a veritable pleasure tour except that he was unwell much of the time. His letters are filled with interesting notes upon the country, and descriptions of his varied
experiences along the way. His buoyant and hopeful demeanor on this journey is a proof of his thoroughly optimistic and cheerful temperament. He was suffering from chills
and fever and was at one time in such a state that he had to
be carried on a litter fixed up in a wagon. He was strongly
urged to turn back ; but he felt that too much was at stake,
as he was the only person with the expedition that could
carry out the work, and his abandonment of it would be a
sore disappointment to the Indians. He therefore resolved
to keep on. The malaria did not finally leave him until on
his way home some three months afterward.
At Green river, to Father De Smet's joy and astonishment, he found a deputation of ten Flathead Indians who
had been sent on to meet him after the return of Pierre
Gaucher. There were also present other Indians, notably
of the Snake nation, and a motley crowd of trappers and
hunters,— making in all a curious assemblage such as only
a rendezvous of the fur trade in those early times could produce. Father De Smet enjoyed the novelty of it all, and
was especially delighted at the prospect of success which
the presence of the Flatheads assured. There was an instant bond of sympathy between him and his hosts which
made them from the first more brothers than strangers.
The Sunday following their arrival a formal mass was
celebrated on the prairie — the first ceremony of the kind
in the Rocky Mountains north of the Mexican possessions.
After four days delay at the Green river rendezvous,
Father De Smet and his Flatheads started to join the main
camp. Their route took them through the wonderful valley
of Jackson Hole and across the great Teton range into
the valley of Pierre's Hole, renowned for its beauty and SW
at one time a famous rendezvous in the fur trade. In
Pierre's Hole was the camp of the Flatheads and Pend
d'Oreilles, who had come thus far to the number of about
i,600 to welcome the long-expected black-gown. They
had already set up his tent and when he arrived there was
the most lively demonstration of joy. They led him to the
lodge of the chief, who received him with a touching address of welcome, after which the Father at once began his
instructions. With a marvelous eagerness the whole tribe
set about learning their religious duties. A bell was
presented to Father De Smet to call them to prayers and
they were rigidly punctual at all the appointed exercises.
The chief was the first up in the morning, and as he aroused
his people, | Come, courage, my children," he cried,
If open your eyes. Address your first thought and words
to the Great Spirit. Tell him that you love him, and ask
him to take pity on you. Courage, for the sun is about to
appear, it is time you went to the river to wash yourselves.
Be prompt at our Father's lodge, at the first sound of the
bell; be quiet when you are there; open your ears to hear
and your hearts to hold fast all the words that he says to
It was in truth a remarkable experience to find the wild
tribes of the mountains absorbed in religious teaching
with a fervor approaching that of the primitive Christians.
To the earnest missionary who had come so far the full
reward of his labors was already at hand. It was something
far beyond his expectations, and tears of gratitude told of
his emotion as the hope of spreading a knowledge of the
faith among people ready and capable of receiving it
seemed about to be realized. His narrative of these events,
as given in his letters, can alone convey an adequate impression of this singular scene in the heart of the wilderness.
After sojourning a short time in Pierre's Hole the entire
party took up their march in the direction of the Flathead
country. They ascended Henry Fork of Snake river to
its source in Henry Lake where they arrived on the 22nd
3 wswfffimHflr&mrœm
of July. This lake is close to the Continental Divide, and
just across the ridge is Red Rock Lake, the ultimate source
of the Missouri, 4,221 miles by water-course from the sea.
Father De Smet climbed far up the side of a mountain
where he could overlook this impressive scene, and then
sat down, musing upon the works of God around him and
the holy character of the service in which he was engaged.
On a rock near him he inscribed a religious sentiment and
the date July 2y, 1840.
During the next month Father De Smet and his Flathead
and Pend d'Oreille friends passed leisurely down the valley
of the stream which flows from Red Rock Lake to join
the Jefferson river, and down that stream to the Three Forks
of the Missouri. His time was spent in instructing the
Indians, in listening to their tales of war and peace, and in
studying the prospects of missionary work among them.
He became convinced that here was a field of genuine promise, and his proposition to establish a mission in their midst
was received with the greatest enthusiasm. Father De Smet
did not actually go into the Flathead country, which lay
across the Divide in the Bitter Root Valley, as he thought
it best not to take the time to go there on this occasion;
but rather to hasten home, report the situation to his superiors, and get the necessary assistance for the commencement of a permanent mission. He imparted his plan to the
Indians, and after giving them his word that he would return, he set out on his journey home.
He had as a companion a man whom he had picked up at
the Green river rendezvous. Father De Smet thus describes him:
"A good Fleming of Ghent, John Baptiste de Velder, au
old grenadier of Napoleon, who had left his native land at
the age of thirty, and had spent the last fourteen years in
the mountains in the capacity of beaver hunter, generously
offered to serve and assist me in all my wanderings. He
was resolved, he said, to pass the remainder of his days in
the practice of his holy religion.    He had almost forgotten 'V
the Flemish language, excepting his prayers and a song
which he had learned on his mother's knee and which he
repeated every day."
This man staid by Father De Smet in his long and perilous journey back to St. Louis and for a part of the way was
his only companion. The Flatheads sent an escort of
seventeen men as far as to Fort Alexander, on the Yellowstone. Amid the genuine sorrow of the Indians, tempered,
however, by the Father's promise to return the following
spring, the little cavalcade took up their route from the
Three Forks very much along the modern line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. They crossed the Bozeman pass and
reached the Yellowstone river at the Great Bend where
Livingston now stands. With imminent danger from the
hostile Blackfeet, they made their way down the right bank
of the river until they reached a village of the Crow Indians
in the Bighorn valley.
Here Father De Smet made new friends, as he always did
whenever he met a band of Indians. He traveled with them
two days and was forced to accept their burdensome hospitality during all this time. " Since I hide nothing from
you," he says in one of his letters, " I hope you will not be
scandalized at learning that in a single afternoon I took part
in twenty different banquets." The religious teachings,
which Father De Smet never failed to press upon his Indian
hosts wherever he was, caused some surprise to the ruffian
freebooters among whom he found himself. One of the
chiefs exclaimed : " I think there are only two in all the
Crow nation who will not go to the place you describe;
* * * they are the only ones I know of who have never
killed nor stolen nor been guilty of the excesses you speak of.
I may be mistaken about them, and in that case we will all go
to hell together." Still Father De Smet made a deep and
lasting impression upon this wild tribe. He visited them on
a subsequent occasion and was well received by them, and
more than once they asked that he plant a mission in their
country. MBWMMMCOTW t*\>*rrrtrfffTiTT****Tm«tmr*rTTrtr^ nnam
At Fort Alexander, which was the American Fur Company trading post for the Crows, Father De Smet's escort
turned back at his request, and he was left with his Flemish
friend to make the rest of the journey alone. This post
was on the left bank of the Yellowstone opposite the mouth
of the Rosebud river. The two travelers set out by land,
keeping along the left bank of the river, and with great
caution hastened their course to Fort Union on the Missouri, a little above the mouth of the Yellowstone. This
journey was one of great risk and peril. They were liable
at any moment to be slain by some wandering band of Indians and on one occasion escaped this catastrophe by the
narrowest margin. Commenting upon their dangers, Father
De Smet made the following beautiful reflection : | Such 1
solitude, with all its horrors and dangers, has notwithstanding one very real advantage ; it is a place where one is constantly looking death in the face, and where it presents itself
incessantly to the imagination in the most hideous forms.
There one feels in a very special manner that he is wholly in
God's hands. It is then easy to offer him the sacrifice of a
life which belongs less to you than to the first savage who
may see fit to take it ; and to form the most generous resolutions a man is capable of. That was, in fact, the best ' retreat I that I have ever made in my life. My only consolation was the object for which I had undertaken the journey ;
my guide, my support, my refuge, was the fatherly providence of God."
But the great danger did not prevent the good priest from
seeing the humorous side of things. On the second, day of
their journey they were in imminent peril of being discovered by a party of savages whose fresh trail they had come
upon. They built no camp fire that night and cooked no
supper. 11 rolled myself in my blanket," says Father De
Smet, " and stretched out on the sod, commending myself
to the good God. My grenadier, braver than I, was soon
snoring like a steam engine in full swing. Running through
all the notes of the chromatic scale, he closed each move- —
ment of his prelude with a deep sigh, by way of modulation.
As for me, I turned and rolled, but spent a sleepless night."
In due time they reached Fort Union. After a few days
of the hospitable entertainment which that fine trading post
always furnished to guests of merit, and after having baptized a good many half-breed children, the two travelers resumed their journey September 23d. They went by land
down the left bank of the Missouri to near the Mandan
village, where they crossed to the right bank. Here were
also the Aricaras and the Minnetarees, or Grosventres of
the Missouri, all of whom welcomed the black-gown and
did all in their power to entertain him. They stopped a
short time at Fort Clark, the trading post for these Indians,
and then, in company of a Canadian voyageur, set out down
the west, or right, bank of the river for Fort Pierre.
On this part of the journey they came near getting into
serious trouble. They had stopped for noon in a concealed
little nook on the brink of a clear spring, and were congratulating themselves on the security of their position, when
they were suddenly pounced upon by a band of Blackfeet-
Sioux who had been stealthily following them for some
time. The Indians were bedaubed with paint and otherwise decked out as if on the warpath. 11 rose at once,"
says Father De Smet, " and presented my hand to him
whom I believed to be the chief of the band. He said
coldly, \ Why are you hiding in this ravine ? ' I answered
him that we were hungry and that the spring had invited us
to take a moment's repose. He looked at me with wonder,
and addressing the Canadian, who could speak the Sioux
language a little better, said to him, \ I have never seen such
a man in my life. Who is he ? ' My long black robe and
the missionary cross that I bore upon my breast especially
excited his curiosity. The Canadian answered (and under
the circumstances he was prodigal of his titles) : * It is the
man who talks to the Great Spirit. It is a chief Black-
gown of the Frenchmen/ His fierce look changed at once ;
he ordered his warriors to put away their weapons and they
«JL* «jjiaff^wi^^
all shook hands with me. I made them a present of a big
twist of tobacco and everybody sat down in a circle and
smoked the pipe of peace and friendship."
Their further entertainment by these Indians was full of
interest and it was an introduction to the Sioux nations
which neither the Indians nor Father De Smet ever forgot.
Although he never had the satisfaction of founding a mission in their midst he made many efforts to do so, and these
Indians never ceased while he lived to send messages to him
asking him to send them a teacher.
Thus the little party made their way onward amid danger
and never-ending surprises. They stopped at Forts Pierre
and Vermillion, and at the latter place took a canoe, under
the guidance of an Iroquois half-breed. They reached St.
Joseph Mission, at Council Bluffs, November 24th, and the
river closed with ice the next day. The rest of the journey
was made by land, and Father De Smet arrived among his
brethren at the St. Louis University on the last day of the
Full of enthusiasm over the results of his journey and
eager to commence preparations for the return, Father De
Smet was not prepared for the deep disappointment that
awaited him. I On my arrival at St. Louis," he writes,
under date of May 1, 1841, "I gave an account to my superior of my journey and of the flattering prospects which a
mission beyond the Rocky Mountains held out. You will
easily believe me when I tell you that my heart sank within
me on learning from him that the funds at his disposal for
missionary purposes would not enable him to afford me
scarcely half of what was necessary for the outfit and other
expenses of an expedition. The thought that the undertaking would have to be given up, that I would not be able
to redeem my promise to the poor Indians, pierced my very
heart and filled me with the deepest sorrow. I would have
desponded had I not already experienced the visible protection of the Almighty in the prosecution of this great work.
My confidence in Him was unabated.    Whilst in this state THE  SECOND  JOURNEY   WEST.
of mind one of my friends encouraged me to appeal to the
zealous and learned coadjutor of Philadelphia and to his
indefatigable clergy. I immediately acted upon the thought.
I did appeal, and with what success the Catholic public already know."
Father De Smet practically took the matter of funds into
his own hands, went to New Orleans, and in the course of
a few months succeeded in raising the necessary amount
from that city and several other sources. His great success
on this occasion doubtless accounts for his being sent to
Europe so often in after years on similar missions.
The funds being raised and the outfit made up, Father
De Smet and his companions set out from St. Louis on the
steamer Oceana April 30, 1841. The party consisted of
two priests besides Father De Smet and three lay brothers.
Father Nicholas Point, one of the number, was a most valuable acquisition and did a great work for the mission. He
was a skilled draftsman, and left many sketches of the customs of the people among whom he was thrown.1
We shall not follow in detail this second long journey
over the plains, though its interesting incidents fill many
pages in Father De Smet's letters. The little party left
Westport May 10th and reached Fort Hall on Snake river
about the middle of August. Here they met the advance
guard of the Flatheads. Resuming their journey August
19th, they traversed the plain of the Three Buttes to near
the junction of Henry Fork with Snake river, and thence
followed practically the modern line of the Oregon Short
1 " To give them pleasure, the missionary (Point, winter of 1845-46)
amused himself in his leisure time by sketching with the pen various
historic incidents, taken from their own annals; such, namely, as were
most to their taste, such as the moving of a camp, diverse occupations»
the work of the chase, fine deeds of arms, amusing or tragic adventures, religious scenes, etc. It would be hard to depict the pleasure
that this little collection gave them; but what is much more worth
while, it contributed powerfully to increase the authority of the chiefs
in the eyes of the young men, and to rouse in the latter a noble
emulation for good."—Indian and White in the Northwest. Palladino.
1 m&mms^KMWfimsBm
Line Railroad to the Deer Lodge valley, where they arrived
early in September. The main Flathead camp had joined
them while passing through the Beaverhead valley. The
party continued their route down the Deer Lodge and Hell
Gate valleys to the modern site of Missoula, and then passed
up the Bitter Root valley some thirty miles, where they
chose the site of their first establishment and commenced
work upon it September 24, 1841.
Notwithstanding all they had brought with them for the
needs of the mission, it was at once seen that further provisions and tools would have to be procured, and as the nearest point where they could possibly be obtained was Fort
Colville on the Columbia, it was decided that Father De
Smet should make a journey thither before winter set in.
He accordingly left St. Mary's Mission, the name of the
new establishment, October 28th, and after a long and trying journey through dense forests and over a rough country he reached his destination in safety. He returned to
St. Mary's early in December, having been absent but little
bver a month.
The missionaries now labored with unabating zeal, in
which the Indians joined, to get their establishment into
working order. Things were moving so prosperously that,
as Father De Smet naively remarks, the jealousy of the
demons of darkness was aroused, and they were treated to
a few trifling set-backs ; as for example the " sickness of the
interpreter and sexton " when their assistance was most
needed ; a hurricane which came near demolishing in an instant all the fruits of their labors ; and the church organ accidentally broken by one of the Indians. "All seemed to
conspire against them; but the day of baptism arrives and
every cloud disappears."
The fathers entered upon the religious portion of their
work with determined zeal and devotion. They struck directly at the root of the evils of savage society as they understood them. One of their greatest difficulties was in regulating the subject of marriage.   They adopted the principle DE SMET   AND   McLOUGHLIN.
that there could be but one legitimate marriage and that it
must be solemnized according to the forms of the Church.
It therefore became necessary for the Indians to choose,
and then present themselves before a priest. The fathers
had a good deal of trouble, as might naturally be expected,
to convince the Indians of the necessity of this and other
regulations of civilized society; and with a less well-disposed tribe they would not have succeeded.
Thus the winter of 1841-2 passed away. With the approach of spring Father De Smet decided to visit the lower
Columbia for additional supplies, and to get in touch with
the new Catholic missionary in that quarter and with the
governor of the Hudson Bay Company who resided at Fort
Vancouver. He left St. Mary's early in April and went first
to Fort Colville. Thence he made his way down the Columbia by skiff, wherever navigation was possible. He had
fortunately gone ashore to walk along the bank at the place
called the Little Dalles on their second day out from Fort
Colville, when the frail craft in which he usually rode was
caught by the violent eddies, swamped, and five of the boatmen drowned. He arrived at Fort Vancouver June 8th,
where to his great joy he found Father Blanchet and Father
Demers, two Canadian priests who had been sent to that
country two years before. He visited St. Paul's, the establishment of these priests on the Willamette, and conferred
with them about what ought to be done to promote the general work in their respective territories. It was decided that,
with the consent of his superiors, Father De Smet should go
to Europe for recruits and funds.
Father De Smet also found that he had a most powerful
and valuable ally in the venerable John McLoughlin, Governor for the Hudson Bay Company in these parts. This
philanthropic and capable man was a power in the Columbia
valley in these early years and his generous aid to settlers
during the emigration to Oregon has won him a permanent place in the affections of the people of that region.2
2 See pages 355 and 1553 to 1557 of the Letters. Mmt^mmsmÊmmmmimS€im^MfmÊmm»m
Having accomplished the purpose* of his journey, Father
De Smet returned to St. Mary's. Both on his way out and
back he studied, as was always his wont, the spiritual condition of the tribes through which he passed and the prospects for establishing missions among them. He found the
feeling among the Cœur d'Alênes highly promising and he
gave these Indians assurances that he would send them
priests that very fall. In fulfillment of this promise he directed Father Mengarini to open a mission and leave it in
charge of Father Point and Brother Huet.
With all things arranged as far as his humble means
would permit, and with assurances to his brethren and the
Indians whom he was leaving that he would send them early
succor from St. Louis and Europe, Father De Smet set out on
his return eastward July 29th. He spent two weeks in the
plain of the Three Forks with the Flatheads who were there
on a buffalo hunt, and then started for St. Louis by the
route of the previous year. He was escorted to the Crow
country by twelve Flatheads and had as traveling companions an Iroquois by the name of Ignatius, and a Crow
half-breed by the name of Gabriel. His short stay among
the Crows was full of interesting experiences, to some of
which we shall refer later. He left Fort Alexander with his
two companions and also two American hunters and together they made the always perilous journey down the Yellowstone to Fort Union. This is Father De Smet's description of their daily routine of travel : "At daybreak we
saddled and set out and at about 10 a. m. we halted for an
hour and a half, being careful to choose a place which, in case
of attack, might offer some advantage for defense. After
this brief rest we resumed our course and kept up a trot until
sunset. After our evening meal we built a big fire and
hastily constructed a hut from the branches of trees to make
our enemies, who might be on the watch, think that we
were encamped for the night. * * * Then we pursue
our route until ten or eleven o'clock at night when, without fire or shelter, we dispose ourselves as best we can for «H
repose. * * * Each one wraps himself in his buffalo
robe, with his saddle for a pillow, and thanks to the
fatigues of a forty-mile ride in a burning sun, falls to sleep
the moment he lies down/'
After a brief and enjoyable delay at Fort Union Father
De Smet, with Ignatius and Gabriel, set out in a skiff for
St. Louis. On their third day out they had the good fortune
to meet a steamboat — the first one that had ever ascended
the river so far at that season of the year — and they displayed no false modesty in accepting an invitation to ride in
it the rest of the way to St. Louis. After returning with the
boat to Fort Union all set out again down the river. The
voyage was a tedious and dangerous one. " The waters
were low;" says Father De Smet, " the sandbars and snags
everywhere numerous; the boat consequently encountered
many obstacles in her passage. We were frequently in great
danger of perishing. Her keel was pierced with pointed
rocks, her sides rent by the snags. Twenty times the wheels
had been broken to pieces. The pilot-house had been carried
away in the tempest ; the whole cabin would have followed if
it had not been made fast by a large cable. Our boat appeared to be little more than a mere wreck, and in this wreck,
after forty-six days navigation from the Yellowstone, we
arrived safely at St. Louis."
In deep gratitude for his preservation amid the manifold
dangers that he had passed through, Father De Smet repaired at once to his church and offered up a grateful prayer
of thanksgiving for the signal favors he had received. «M*mmMMmmmmvmmiiim&>
Recruits for the Mission — Goes to Europe — Visits Rome — Sails
for Oregon via Cape Horn — Incidents of the voyage — Visits to
Chile and Peru — Crossing the Columbia bar—Activities in the Willamette valley — Visit to the interior — Winter among the Kalispels —
Visits St. Mary's — Return to the Willamette — Again visits the upper
country — Starts in search of the Blackfeet — The Canadian, Morigeau
— Failure to find Blackfeet — Passes winter at Fort Augustus — Perils
of return journey — Extent of Oregon Missions — Return to St. Mary
Mission — Sets out for St. Louis — Battle between Crows and Flat-
heads— Peace with the Blackfeet — At Fort Lewis — Voyage by skiff
down the Missouri — Meeting the Mormons — Arrival in St. Louis —
Survey of work in Oregon.
FATHER De SMET'S enthusiasm and faith in his new
work were unbounded. He inspired his superiors
with his own confidence and they gave him a free hand to
work out his plans. Early in the year 1843 ne went as far
south as New Orleans and as far east as Boston soliciting
funds for his work. He succeeded in getting together a
goodly supply of articles needed for the missions and three
recruits — Father Peter De Vos, who was made Vice-Superior of the Missions, Father Adrian Hoeken, and
Brother J. B. McGean. Father De Smet accompanied the
little party on their way as far as Westport, going by the
steamer John Auld. Near Glasgow, May 1st, they saw the
distinguished naturalist Audubon, who was on the American
Fur Company boat Omega with a party of scientists making
an exploration of the Missouri. During Father De Smet's
absence three more recruits arrived from Europe, but as
they were too late for the expedition they waited in St.
Louis until the following year.
Immediately upon his return to St. Louis Father De
Smet set out for Europe and after a voyage of twenty-
[44] Iv
one days landed in Ireland. While there he heard that
great man, Daniel O'Connell, speak, and he records the
following incident of the occasion, which impressed him
deeply as an example of the intense feeling of the Irish
people at the time: "An old woman had come many a
mile to look at the Liberator. She had forced her way
with difficulty through the immense crowd; she had
even climbed on the platform from whence O'Connell
spoke. I stood near him; she asked me, ' Is this the man? '
At my answering yes, she pulled his coat exclaiming,
| Sir, let me look at you! ' He turned with a smile and'
a bow. A gift of a thousand pounds could not have been
more welcome to her. An old man had also reached the
carriage. He took the hand of the Liberator and with
tears in his eyes exclaimed — f I have come far to see you,
Sir, and to touch this hand; now I am happy and return
home rejoiced/ As the man retired O'Connell whispered
aloud — f What a nation ! \ His broad chest heaved. No
doubt his benevolent heart answered to his whispering —
I They must be free/ "
After leaving Ireland, Father De Smet traveled through
the principal cities of England, France, Italy,1 Holland
and Belgium, and embarked at Antwerp, December 12th,
with four fathers, a lay brother and six sisters, together
with a large amount of supplies for the missions. They
sailed in the Infatigable around Cape Horn for the Columbia. Whether the vessel was chartered for the purpose of
the missions does not appear, but in any case she sailed
1 " In Rome, when presented to His Holiness Gregory XVI by the
Father-General of the Society of Jesus, the Pope rose from his throne
and embraced him. But the cordial greetings were not long an unmixed pleasure for the soul of the humble missionary, who became
much alarmed on the discovery that they had resolved to make him a
bishop. With the help of the Father-General, however, he succeeded
in throwing the burden on the shoulders of the Very Rev. F. N.
Blanchet, who, besides being in every way qualified for the Episcopal
dignity, was his senior both in years and as a missionary in the Rocky
Mountains."— Palladino.
j '
§§yj n.
directly to Father De Smet's destination without other
than necessary outfitting delays at any place. They were
detained at Flushing near the mouth of the Scheld twenty-
eight days by contrary winds and did not finally get away
until January 9, 1844.
The story of this voyage of seven months, as told by
Father De Smet, is one of the most interesting on record.
It deals with all the incidents of the journey, the varying
moods of the weather, the crossing of the Equator with its
time-honored fun and frolic, the meeting of vessels on the
lonely ocean, the rise of the southern constellations into
view and their disappearance again, and a great variety of
other subjects which so long a voyage brings forth. To
a man of Father De Smet's temperament everything had
an interest and he was eminently qualified to derive the
utmost pleasure possible from such a journey.
Soon after passing the Horn they encountered a succession of terrific storms which almost drove them upon the
coast of Patagonia. It was a terrible time, but the danger
was met with consummate skill by the crew and with
calm resignation by the passengers. " A tempest is truly
a sublime spectacle/' says Father De Smet in his account
of the storm, " but the description is infinitely more agreeable than the reality. If there had been less of the frightful aboutit, probably I should have enjoyed it more. Such
was the roaring of the winds and waves that the captain's
voice, even through the trumpet, could hardly be distinguished. The waves rose in pyramids around us, and
masses of water, torn off by the fury of the winds, were
hurled upon us in floods that filled the deck with foam.
Never in any of my voyages had I seen such evidence of
the might of wind and water, nor of the admirable manner
in which a vessel resists the fury of the elements."
The Infatigable stopped for a considerable time at both
Valparaiso in Chile and Callao in Peru, and Father De
Smet visited the capitals of these two countries. They were
full of interest to him and he devotes much interesting
space to his impressions of them.2 These breaks in the
long journey were most welcome to the weary passengers,
who spent all the time on land. On the 27th of May,
1844, they sailed from the harbor of Callao and were not to
land again until at the end of their voyage. For a while
the winds were favorable and the vessel was soon back on
the north side of the Equator. Then they fell into a zone
of calms which continued until both passengers and crew
were well-nigh exhausted. Father De Smet thus refers
to these miserable experiences: | Then an expression of
discouragement and melancholy appears on the captain's
face and on those of all the crew. It seems as if one were
condemned to perish here. A blackened sea all around,
a somber sky above, and clouds on the horizon, like impenetrable obstacles, changing form every instant and calling to mind all kinds of phantoms; while the ship, like
a weak toy upon a sea in torment, swelling and sinking
unceasingly, rocks and rocks until the head and stomach
both turn."
Presently they came to regions of better winds and the
good ship resumed her speed. It was high time, for her
supply of provisions was getting low. Finally, on the 28th
of July, amid general exclamations of joy, the longed-for
coast of Oregon came into view where the great " River
of the West " pours its tribute into the sea. But scarcely
had the first outburst of joy passed when the ominous
sight of the rolling breakers at the mouth of the river
changed all to gloomy foreboding. They were face to
face with one of the greatest of maritime dangers, the
bar of the Columbia. They had heard of its terrors —
what sailor had not?—but it required actual observation
to show them in their true light. Here they were at the
end of their voyage. For nearly seven months they had
been upon the sea and had survived its calms and tempests.
A sail of two hours would place them within the mouth of
2 See p. 420 et seq. of the Letters.
I JMiBMWW WMiMESMi ri n in
the river; but to get there they must brave the greatest
peril of the entire voyage. It was a situation that caused
the stoutest heart to sink.
We cannot follow the good ship through all of the experiences of the next three days, which Father De Smet
has given in such graphic detail. Suffice it to say that the
crew misunderstood warning signals from the shore, sent
a boat to sound the channel, received a favorable report,
set out to cross the bar, fell into the wrong channel, were
practically aground several times, but by the most extraordinary good fortune escaped disaster and made the
passage in safety. Little wonder that such a providential
escape, coming upon the Feast Day (July 31st), of the
great founder of the Society of Jesus, should have been
ascribed by his devoted followers to his watchful guardianship.
On the 2d of August Father De Smet started by canoe
for Fort Vancouver to announce his arrival to Bishop
Blanchet and Dr. McLoughlin. The bishop happened to
be absent at the time in the Willamette valley, but was
immediately sent for. After the first greetings and the
delays incident upon unloading their goods from the vessel, Father De Smet and his companions, with Father
Blanchet, started for the Willamette valley, where, according to the plan agreed upon with the Father General
in Rome, a central mission was to be established. After
some difficulty in selecting a site the work was begun.
During its progress an alarming epidemic prevailed and
Father De Smet was for a time dangerously ill ; but nevertheless kept his hand on the wheel and guided the rising
establishment through its initial stages.
With an ardent longing to get back among his Indians in
the mountains, whom he had not seen for two years, Father
De Smet left the Willamette on October 3d for the upper
country. He first came among the Kalispels of the Bay,
whom he had promised to give a mission two years before.
They were accompanied by Father Adrian Hoeken.   They A   WINTER   IN   THE   MOUNTAINS.
were overjoyed at Father De Smet's return and conducted
him to their camp amid volleys of musketry and every
demonstration of rejoicing. Then began a general interchange of news, the Indians relating what had happened
in the past two years, and Father De Smet relating his
wondrous journeys by sea and land, through great cities
and nations and over vast oceans. To the simple Indians
he must indeed have seemed like an envoy from the Great
Spirit himself.
Father De Smet now turned his attention to planting
an establishment among the Kalispels of the Bay, this last
word being then applied to a great bend in Clark's Fork of
the Columbia river some forty miles above its mouth. To
this reduction the name St. Ignatius was given. It
was Father De Smet's intention to visit the Flathead
mission that fall and as the season was far advanced it
was necessary for him to set out at once. He stopped for
a time at the new mission, the Sacred Heart, among the
Cœur d'Alênes, and then continued his journey. It was
the 19th of November and winter in the mountains was
already so far advanced that he could not get through.
After several attempts, he was compelled to return and he
passed the winter among the Kalispels of the Bay.
Early in February, 1845, while the snow was yet deep
on the ground, Father De Smet started for St. Mary's,
thinking he could make the journey and return before the
spring melting should come. In this he was successful,
and he got back to the Bay just as the snow-melting had
well begun. After helping start the new buildings for
this establishment, he went to Fort Vancouver and the
Willamette for further supplies. With eleven horses laden
with implements and provisions he soon started back to
the upper country, and on his way established two new
stations — one at Kettle Falls and the other at Lake de
When the 31st of July, the Feast of St. Ignatius, came,
and Father De Smet reviewed the past year, he could not
i î
-^ I M
but feel gratified at the progress that had been made. He
says in one of his letters: " Last year the Feast of St.
Ignatius proved for me a day of danger, trial and uneasiness. I love to recall it to my mind, for it terminated
joyfully, and so gloriously that I know my companions
can never forget it, and they will return lasting thanks
to the Almighty for the display of his mercy. Without a
chart or any knowledge of the mouth of the Columbia,
we traversed, as if borne on angels' wings, the bar of this
formidable river. This year I passed the Feast of St.
Ignatius amidst many occupations, but they were of such
a nature as to console the missionary's heart, and repay
him a hundred fold for the trifling privations, pains and
fatigues he endures."
The Blackfeet Indians, traditional enemies of the Flat-
heads and other tribes among which De Smet was operating, were at this time giving a great deal of trouble, and
even menacing the continued existence of St. Mary's Mission. It seemed a necessary step to bring about some
understanding with them. Father De Smet, in his capacity of spiritual envoy extraordinary, assumed, on more
than one occasion, the power to make treaties of peace.
With an admirable common sense he reasoned that peace
could never be objectionable and no exceptions could be
taken by the Government to his efforts to bring it about
wherever it did not exist. Accordingly he now resolved
to make a personal visit to the Blackfeet and endeavor to
put some check upon their warlike operations. He traveled by the Canadian route which took him far to the
north. It would have been much easier to reach the
Blackfeet by going from the Flatheads direct to the Missouri river, and the only reason which suggests itself for
his taking the course he did was to visit new tribes with
a view of spreading his work as widely as possible. His
mind was full of his vast design of building up in this
country a mighty spiritual empire and he stopped at no
hardships to carry out his scheme.   He speaks of " taking THE   CHRISTIAN   THIRST   FOR  GOLD.
spiritual possession of this land, which was now for the
first time trodden by a minister of the Most High." It
was undoubtedly this purpose that led him to take the
long and circuitous route that he did.
Father De Smet was now again in his element — exploring regions new to him; jotting down the experiences
of each day in order that he might send them forth to
the world where they would bring new workers to his
vineyard. One of his observations at this time has become
historical. He had already become convinced of the
presence of gold and silver in these mountains; but knowing what its discovery by the whites would mean to the
Indians, he had kept his knowledge to himself. He thus
refers to the matter in a letter written on this journey:
I Poor unfortunate Indians ! They trample on treasures
unconscious of their worth, and content themselves with
the fishery and chase. When these resources fail, they
subsist upon roots and herbs; whilst they eye, with tranquil
surprise, the white man examining the shining pebbles of
their territory. Ah ! they would tremble indeed could they
learn the history of those numerous and ill-fated tribes
that have been swept from their land, to make place for
Christians who have made the poor Indians the victims of
their rapacity."
His route, which is given in detail in the published
itinerary of his travels, was, in general terms, up
the Kootenai river to the mouth of the Vermillion river;
thence across the Divide to the sources of the Saskatchewan, and thence to the Rocky Mountain House, a
Hudson Bay trading post on the north fork of that
stream. The course of this journey had taken him momentarily across to the lakes at the source of the Columbia. Here occurred one of those interesting rencontres
which were so frequent in his experience. He found there
a Canadian family, named Morigeau, sole occupants of
this empire of rugged grandeur. Morigeau had long been
without a priest and in the meanwhile a numerous family
t      1
1       1
ill: jj1
11 11|
: s
Jm &&mmMmwm%mxmsm
had grown up. Upon hearing that Father De Smet was
coming his way he hastened home to make ready for the
baptism of his wife and children. When the priest arrived, " the august sacrifice of the mass was offered and
Morigeau devoutly approached the holy table. At the
foot of the humble altar he received the nuptial benediction; and the mother, surrounded by her children and
six little Indians, was regenerated in the holy waters of
The presence of this Canadian family in such a place,
cut off from all the world, appealed to the romantic side
of Father De Smet's nature and he thus unburdened
himself in their regard: " The Canadian! Into what part
of the desert has he not penetrated? The monarch who
rules at the source of the Columbia is an honest emigrant
from St. Martin in the district of Montreal, who has resided for twenty-six years in this wilderness. The skins
of the rein and moose deer are the materials of which his
portable palace is composed; and to use his own expressions, he i embarks ' on horseback with his wife and seven
children, and 1 lands ' wherever he pleases. Here no one
disputes his right, and Polk and Peel, who are now contending for the possession of his dominions, are as unknown to him as the two greatest powers of the moon.
His sceptre is a beaver trap, his law a carbine; and with
the one on his back, the other on his arm, he reviews his
numerous furry subjects — the beaver, otter, muskrat,
marten, fox, bear, wolf, sheep and white goat of the
mountains, * * * some of which respect his sceptre
and others submit to his law. He exacts and receives
from them the tribute of flesh and skins. Encircled by
so much grandeur, undisturbed proprietor of all these skyward palaces and strongholds, the very last refuge which
Nature has reared to preserve alive liberty on earth —
solitary lord of these majestic mountains that elevate their
icy summits to the clouds,— Morigeau (our Canadian)
does not forget his duty as a Christian.   Each day, morn- IN  THE  FROZEN   NORTH.
ing and evening, he may be seen devoutly reciting his
prayers in the midst of his little family."
From Rocky Mountain House Father De Smet made a
long excursion to the south in search of the Blackfeet;
but winter had come, the snow obliterated the trail of the
Indians, and after intense suffering he returned to Rocky
Mountain House and went thence to Fort Augustus in
latitude 53° 30' north, where he arrived on the last day
of the year 1845.
He spent the winter at Fort Augustus, making one trip
to St. Anne Mission in that vicinity. As soon as the approach of spring held out a prospect of getting back
across the mountains, he left for Fort Assiniboin on the
Athabasca river, traveling on a sled drawn by four dogs.
He left Fort Assiniboin on the 12th of March, 1846, and
went a long step farther to Fort Jasper, traveling on the
ice of the river. Here he remained until the 25th of April
and then set out on the hazardous journey across the
mountains. With numerous delays here and there, owing
to the early season, the little party made their way across
the pass to the point called Boat Encampment where the
Canoe river enters the Columbia. This was undoubtedly
the severest test of his physical powers to which Father
De Smet was ever subjected. A large part of the way he
had to wade the icy waters of the streams. He lost the
nails of his toes and was so much affected otherwise that
he declares he would surely have succumbed but for the
aid of a small band of Indians whom' they encountered.
It had been the opinion of the people at Fort Augustus
that Father De Smet's weight was too great to permit
him to make the journey, much of which would have to
be upon snowshoes. But with quick resolution he set out
to reduce his flesh by a rigorous fast of thirty days and
was measurably successful. After he started, the scant
supply of provisions gave him no opportunity to regain
his weight.
The long journey that remained was made in comparative ease. He was back at Fort Colville near the end of
May and went thence to Fort Vancouver and the Willamette.
The large extent of the work now established made it
necessary that additional aid be sought from the States
or from Europe and it was unanimously the opinion of the
missionaries that Father De Smet should go. Outfitting
himself with supplies for the stations in the upper country,
he set out from Fort Vancouver to visit them and then
to go on to the States. He arrived at St. Mary's Mission
about August ioth, and left there on the 16th. As his
mission of the previous winter had miscarried, so far as
making peace with the Blackfeet was concerned, he resolved to try to accomplish that desirable object on his
way home.
It happened that a considerable body of the Flatheads
with thirty lodges of Nez Percés and, strange to say, a
few lodges of Blackfeet, were at this time in the Yellowstone valley on the borders of the Crow country. The
Crows were at war with both the Blackfeet and Nez
Percés, and perceiving their own strength to be greater
than that of the united camp, were eager to attack it.
At the urgent interposition of the Flatheads they deferred
action for a time. Father De Smet, when he discovered
that there were both Nez Percés and Blackfeet with the
Flatheads, foresaw what would probably happen should
they meet the Crows, and accordingly dispatched his interpreters, Gabriel and Charles, at their utmost speed to
announce his approach. This had some effect, and the
Crow chiefs made a strong effort to repress the turbulent
spirit of their camp. But the strain was too great to be
resisted and on the following day they attacked the allied
camp with great impetuosity. Anticipating the attack,
the allies had fortified themselves and were able to repulse
it without loss. At the opportune moment, when their
enemy was in disorder, they delivered a counter-charge THE  BLACKFEET  CONVINCED.
which completely routed them. Fourteen of their warriors were slain while the allied camp lost but one man —
a Nez Percé. The Crows fled entirely out of reach and
Father De Smet was unable to communicate with them,
though he ardently desired to do so and heal the unfortunate rupture that had taken place.
The valiant conduct of the Flatheads made a deep impression upon the Blackfeet and paved the way for the
desired peace between the two tribes. " Shortly after my
arrival," says Father De Smet, " the Blackfeet came in a
body to my lodge, to express in a manner truly eloquent
their admiration of the Flatheads, with whom in future
they desired to live on terms of the closest friendship.
* To their prayers/ said they, ' must this extraordinary victory be attributed. While the battle lasted, we saw their
old men, their women and children, on their knees imploring the aid of heaven. The Flatheads did not lose a
single man; one only fell, a young Nez Percé, and another was mortally wounded. But the Nez Percés did
not pray. We prayed morning and evening with the Flat-
heads, and heard the instructions of the chiefs/ Then
they begged of me in their own affecting way to take pity
on them and be charitable to them. They now determined
to hear the words of the Great Manitou of the whites."
The allied camp then set out in a northwesterly direction
to the buffalo country in the Judith Basin and thence to
Fort Lewis which was later named Fort Benton. The incidents of this trip, the jealousies of the tribes, the constant
exercise of diplomacy to meet their various whims, the growing admiration of the Blackfeet for the black-gown and his
religion, and finally a peace between these Indians and the
Flatheads, occupy many pages in Father De Smet's letters.
His plan was successful and paved the way to founding a
mission among this always dreaded tribe. With this result
accomplished, it was decided that Father Point should remain with the tribe and himself go on to St. Louis.
Father De Smet left Fort Lewis September 28th, traveling by skiff on the long journey of 2,200 miles.   Naturally
m M
it was full of interesting incident as they passed the various
posts and Indian tribes along the way and these are recorded
in great detail in the letters. We shall pass them by here and
note only one of unusual character, the meeting with the
Mormons at Council Bluffs. Father De Smet saw much of
these people. He naturally shared the popular prejudice
against what seemed a spurious religion, but he sympathized
with them in the persecutions which had virtually exiled
them from the United States. He became well acquainted
with Young and it is possible that the information he gave
him may have influenced that leader in choosing Salt Lake
Valley as the future home of his people. The following
reference from his letter will be of interest :
I In the fall of 1846, as I drew near to the frontier of
the State of Missouri, I found the advance guard of the
Mormons, numbering about 10,000, camped in the territory of the Omahas, not far from the old Council Bluffs.
They had just been driven out for the second time from a
state of the Union. They had resolved to winter on the
threshold of the great desert, and then to move onward into
it to put distance between themselves and their persecutors,
without even knowing at that time the goal of their long
wanderings, nor the spot where they should once more build
for themselves permanent dwellings. They asked me a thousand questions about the regions I had explored and the spot
which I have just described to you [the basin of Great Salt
Lake] pleased them greatly from the account I gave them
of it. Was that what determined them ? I would not dare
to assert it. They are there. In the last three years Utah
has changed its aspect, and from a desert has become a
flourishing territory which will soon become one of the
states of the Union."
Father De Smet reached the University of St. Louis December 10, 1846, three years and six months after his departure in the opposite direction.
It is worth while to consider here what Father De Smet
had accomplished in the past seven years. His prodigious
labors, travels, hardships and perils must be placed in the
~^ w
very first rank of similar exploits. In these seven years he
had traveled, by the slow methods of the time, a distance
equal to more than twice the circumference of the earth.
He had traveled in almost every clime and by every sort of
conveyance. From the burning summer of the Equator he
had passed to the frozen winters of 540 30' north. He had
traveled by sailing vessel, by river barge and by canoe; by
dog sled and snow shoe; on horseback and in wagon; and
many a long mile on foot. He had endured hardships that
seem to us almost impossible and which undoubtedly were
the foundation of the ills he later suffered. It was to the
period of 1844-6 that he referred in a letter to a fellow
missionary who was complaining of the hardship of his lot :
11 have been for years a wanderer in the desert. I was three
years without receiving a letter from any quarter. I was
two years in the mountains, without tasting bread, salt,
coffee, tea, sugar. I was for years without a roof, without
a bed. I have been six months without a shirt on my back,
and often have I passed whole days and nights without a
morsel of anything to eat."
The results of his labors, from a missionary point of view,
were highly successful. The whole Columbia valley had
been dotted with infant establishments, some of which had
taken on the promise of permanent growth. He had indeed
laid the foundation well for a spiritual empire throughout
that region, and but for the approach of emigration his
plans would have brought forth the full fruition that he expected.
But most important of all, from a public point of view,
was the fact that he had become a great power among the
Indian tribes. All now knew him, many personally, the
rest by reputation. He was the one white man in whom
they had implicit faith. The Government was beginning to
look to him for assistance. The Mormon, the Forty-niner,
the Oregon emigrant came to him for information and advice. His writings were already known on two continents
and his name was a familiar one, at least in the religious
world. CHAPTER VI.
Trials and discouragements — Restlessness of the Plains tribes —
Government decides to hold council — De Smet asked to go — Voyage
of the St. Ange — Cholera on board — Death of Father Hoeken —
Arrival at Fort Union — Departure on overland journey to Fort Laramie — Fort Alexander —• Lake De Smet — The Oregon trail — Arrival
at the council ground — Proceedings of the council — Return to St.
*fTT is a fact not easily explained that Father De Smet never
™ again returned to his great field of missionary work,
nor ever revisited those regions except twice, and both times
upon other business. And yet we have his repeated statements that it was the cherished desire of his heart to spend
the remainder of his days among his dear Indians, and he
undoubtedly sought, as much as he could consistently with
his vows, to bring about such a result. " I am like a soldier,"
he wrote to a friend. " When I receive orders I march
whither I am sent. Yet, like a soldier, I may have my preferences, and I need not tell you that these are decidedly for the
Indian country." And again : " I regret very much the
plains, the Indians and the wilderness with all their privations, miseries and dangers. They were treats indeed compared with the monotony with which I am surrounded."
Again, in a very feeling letter to the Father General, he implores the privilege of being sent away to some obscure
mission there to spend the remainder of his days.
The " monotony " which Father De Smet complains of
undoubtedly relates to the character of the duties with which
he was charged during the greater part of his life as an
ordained priest. He occupied almost continuously the position of procurator of the Province, an office which related
C58I I I II l m   II
exclusively to the financial affairs of the Church. His great
ability in securing contributions and in managing the always
difficult task of their distribution made him admirably fitted
for this work. But it was personally distasteful to him. " I
hold the general purse," he once wrote, " and have to supply
all needs ; and this purse is never full ; the greater part of the
time it is flat; while I receive demands from all sides." In
another letter to a distant friend he wrote : " Probably we
shall never again see each other on this side of the grave.
I hope we shall meet in heaven where all ciphering, quibbling
and account-making are at an end."
But the principal reason why Father De Smet was not
permitted personally to conduct his missions was a growing
feeling in Rome that he was planning on too large a scale ;
that the ends would not justify the means. It had been reported to the Father General by other parties, that the field
of work was not at all what had been represented, and that
De Smet's descriptions were poetical flights of the imagination and not true pictures of the situation.1 Father De
Smet was deeply hurt at these accusations but promptly
and vigorously defended himself, to the apparent satisfaction
of the Father General; for soon after sending his reply to
the charges against him he speaks with great satisfaction of
the certain prospect before him of spending the rest of his
life among the Indians.
1 " When you were my Superior, you frequently corrected me for
being too easily dejected when things were said against me, to
which I must plead guilty. Something of the kind has occurred again,
and from headquarters, which has brought me low indeed — the more
so as I have the full conviction in my heart that the charges against
me are untrue, false and unjust, and bring along great evil in their
train — the neglect, in a great measure, of the Indians, for whom I
would gladly have sacrificed the remainder of my days. I stand
accused of the following: ist. That my letters have done a great
deal of harm in America ; 2d. That they are only imagination and
poetry, false and untrue; 3d. That I have lost the mission by over-
liberality to the Indians, and by promises to them which the fathers
have been unable to fulfill."
Letter to Bishop Van de Velde, Baltimore. 6o
Immediately after his return to St. Louis in 1846, he
went to New Orleans, returning in January, 1847, anc^ later
in the year made a journey to Europe returning to America
in midsummer, 1848. He was then sent on an expedition to
the Sioux country and returned to St. Louis late in December. The years 1849 and 1850 were spent in St. Louis
except for several journeys in the capacity of Socius with
the Father Provincial to Catholic institutions in various
parts of the country.
Here again we come upon an obscure spot in Father De
Smet's life. It is apparent that he now saw before him the
long-wished-for opportunity of spending the rest of his life
among the Indians. He repeatedly refers to this fact in his
letters, but always without explanation. Just before leaving
St. Louis on the expedition of .1851, which we shall next
relate, he wrote the words already quoted : " Probably we
shall never again see each other on this side of the grave."
In another letter written at the same time he says that he
expects never to return. Upon what he based these expectations or what brought about their prompt non-fulfillment,
we do not know, except that upon the very eve of departure
he received a letter from the Father General disapproving his
plan of going among the Indians. Preparations were, however, too far advanced to be countermanded, and his superiors in St. Louis decided that he should at least attend
the Indian council which the Government had decided to
hold that summer and at which Father De Smet had promised to assist.
The great rush of emigrants to Oregon which began in
the early Forties and kept on increasing year after year ; and
the immeasurable tide that swept over the plains as a result
of the discovery of gold in California, wrought a profound
change of conditions in the western country. The Indian
saw his once undisputed domain slipping steadily from his
grasp. He became restless and discontented. It was apparent that trouble might arise at any time and it became
necessary to take some measures to avoid it.    To that end ENTERS  THE   NATIONAL  FIELD.
it was proposed, largely at the instance of D. D. Mitchell,
Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis, to hold a
general council of all the Western tribes east of the Rocky
Mountains and come to some understanding in view of the
changed conditions. This plan was approved by the Government and the year 1851 was fixed upon. Colonel
Mitchell, to whom the actual work of the council was entrusted, earnestly besought the aid of Father De Smet, and
his superiors consented that he should go. Thus began the
long and valuable service which Father De Smet, in the
capacity of pacificator, rendered the Government of the
United States during the remaining years of his life.
It was in connection with this expedition that Father De
Smet, in the letters quoted, speaks of never returning again.
It was his plan, after attending the council, to go on to the
missions and remain there the rest of his life. With him
on this expedition was Father Christian Hoeken, one of the
most efficient of the early missionaries. They left St. Louis
June 7, 1851, on one of the finest boats ever on the river,
the St. Ange, commanded by the distinguished pilot, Father
De Smet's fast friend, Captain Joseph La Barge. Disaster
attended the first part of the voyage. Cholera had been
prevalent throughout the country for several years and was
particularly bad this year. The spring floods of the Missouri had been high, the bottoms much overflowed, and
malarial conditions were bad. Three days after leaving port
the cholera broke out on board and raged with great fatality
for the next ten days. In the meanwhile Father De Smet
was seized with a malarial fever which itself came near
proving fatal. He had besought Father Hoeken to hear his
confession, when that priest was suddenly seized with the
cholera. Father De Smet, barely able to drag himself to the
bedside of his companion, administered the last sacraments
and the good father passed away on the 19th of June. It
was a great blow to Father De Smet, for Father Hoeken
was one of his most cherished friends. WKftWWWSfl
As soon as the boat had gotten above the flooded district
and into a dryer atmosphere it was unloaded and thoroughly
aired and the rest of the voyage passed off without further
As the boat threaded its way up the winding Missouri,
amid scenes of rural beauty and the luxuriance of a fertile
country, Father De Smet could not but ponder upon the
changes which were on the eve of taking place. He was
on his way even then to assist at a council which was to offer
some temporary relief to an ever troublesome problem. In
his narrative of this journey he writes : " Will not the
President of the Republic, like some of his predecessors,
pluck some plumes from the Indian eagle, once the emblem
of their greatness and power, to place them among the
trophies of his administration? In the limits which I trace
he will find an extent of country vast enough to be represented by three or four stars more of the first magnitude,
which will enhance the lustre of the galaxy in the flag of the
Union. This great territory will hold an immense population, destined to form several great and flourishing States.
1 But then, what will become of the Indians, who have
already come from afar to abide in this land? What will
become of the aborigines, who have possessed it from time
immemorial ? This is indeed a thorny question, awakening
gloomy ideas in the observer's mind, if he has followed the
encroaching policy of the United States in regard to the
Indian. We may hope that the sad remnant of these numerous nations who once covered America, now reduced to
earn their bread in the sweat of their brow (for they can
no longer subsist by hunting), will find an asylum, a permanent abode, and will be incorporated, with the rights of
citizens, into the Union."
The St. Ange arrived at Fort Union on the 14th of July,
and preparations were begun for the journey overland to
Fort Laramie, where the great council was to be held. It
was a common experience in Father De Smet's career that
important events in his work occurred on the 31st of July,
the feast day of the founder of the Society.    So now the F
considerable party of Indians and white men started on their
long and important journey upon that day. There were
representatives from the Assiniboins, Minnetarees and
Crows and the party consisted in all of thirty-two men.
Their route took them across the desolate waste west of the
Yellowstone river in eastern Montana to Fort Alexander,
which Father De Smet had visited twice or three times before. Thence they made their way southwardly, along the
eastern base of the Bighorn mountains to the Platte river
near the present town of Casper, Wyoming. At this point
they came upon the Oregon Trail, which was then the route
of the vast emigration that was on its way to California and
Oregon. It was an impressive sight, even to white men, and
as to the Indians, let Father De Smet tell of its effect upon
" Our Indian companions, who had never seen but the
narrow hunting-paths, by which they transport themselves
and their lodges, were filled with admiration on seeing this
noble highway, which is as smooth as a barn-floor swept by
the winds, and not a blade of grass can shoot up on it on
account of the continual passing. They conceived a high
idea of the countless White Nation, as they express it. They
fancied that all had gone over that road, and that an immense void must exist in the land of the rising sun. Their
countenances testified evident incredulity when I told them
that their exit was in nowise perceived in the lands of the
whites. They styled the route the great medicine road of the
whites. * * * They visited and examined in detail all
the forsaken camping-grounds on the way; they brought a
great variety of objects to me to have their use and signification explained ; they filled their pouches with knives, forks,
spoons, basins, coffee-pots and other cooking articles, axes,
hammers, etc. With the bits of earthenware which bore any
figure or inscription, they fabricated some ornament for their
necks and ears. How wonderful will be the accounts given
of the great medicine road by our unsophisticated Indians
when they go back to their villages and sit in the midst ot
an admiring circle of relatives." fftiMMMMU&éW0«ét6i£eBt*
This great California movement was a source of deep
interest to Father De Smet. When in St. Louis not a day
passed, he tells us, that some one did not come to ask his
advice about going thither. He generally discouraged them,
or at least advised extreme deliberation in undertaking such
a step. He had witnessed so much suffering and disappointment in these migrations that he could not see an intending
emigrant depart without wishing him to give it up. And
now along the great Trail he saw for himself the true meaning of such a journey, in the relics cast away by the emigrants, in the graves of those who had perished by the way,
and in many returning parties who had found their hopes of
fortune to be only barren dreams.
After striking the Oregon Trail the party marched eastward to Fort Laramie, where they found that the council
was to be held in the valley of Horse Creek still thirty miles
farther on. The'next day this additional journey was made
and the whole party, with the several representatives of the
Government and some ten thousand Indians, were gathered
together in the plain. The council with its attendant incidents lasted from the 12th to the 23d of September, and
was terminated to the satisfaction of all concerned. Great
harmony prevailed. All features of the troublesome situation were discussed and earnest effort was made to reach
some good result. The principal men among the whites
were D. D. Mitchell, Robert Campbell, Thomas Fitzpatrick
and Father De Smet, although the latter had no official
powers. The treaties formed with the various tribes recognized the right of the whites to cross their lands with roads,
etc. ; recompensed the Indians for losses sustained, and provided payments for losses in the future. On the 20th of
September an immense quantity of goods arrived for distribution as presents to the Indians and gave them great
Father De Smet attended the council from beginning
to end. He used his great influence with the tribes to
promote a satisfactory understanding and he labored in-
cessantly for their spiritual and temporal welfare. His
dignified and unselfish bearing won their hearts and his
presence was a power among them.
The council broke up September 24th and the members
of the commission started for the east. Father De Smet
turned off from the main road on his way and visited the
Mission of St. Mary's, in Kansas. He reached St. Louis
on the 21st of October.
Upon his return home he found that his dear friend,
Father Provincial Elet, had died. These two losses,
Father Hoeken and Father Elet, were a great sorrow to
him and, added to the failure of his plan of going among
the Indians, made the year 1851 one of gloom to the good
missionary. Only a year later we find him ready to return
to his native land to remain there, for it doubtless seemed
to him that his long-cherished hopes were doomed to disappointment. There seems to have been some plan on
foot to this end emanating from his superiors. He thus
refers to it: " In so far as this plan regards me, I will
speak openly to you. I have nothing whatever to do with
their choice, nor with the adoption of the plan. I affirm,
nevertheless, that I am ready to execute in all things the
will of my superiors. I will even admit to you, that in
my secret soul, and after mature reflection and much
prayer, I desire that the plan should be accomplished, and
for the sole reason that I would be glad to be able to spend
the few years that remain to me, should the Lord grant me
any, in the strict observance and practice of all our holy
rules and in perfect submission to the orders of my superiors. I feel the need of it, after having passed so many
years in these remote American missions."
But this plan, like the other, was never realized and
Father De Smet continued to labor in his accustomed
field. The subsequent events of his life show that, whatever his own regrets or disappointments, his adopted
country was the gainer by the action of his superiors. wwaBwgr<wwmwt^é^^
Visit to Europe in 1853 — Shipwreck of the Humboldt— Voyage to
Europe in 1856 — The Mormon rebellion — Military expedition under
Harney — De Smet accompanies as chaplain — Peace with the Mormons — Expedition interrupted — Yakima war in Oregon — Harney
sent thither — De Smet goes with him — Voyage via Panama — Pacification of the Oregon Indians — Departure for home — Arrival at
Fort Benton — Voyage by skiff to Omaha — Thence by steamer to St.
VV HE year 1852 was spent by Father De Smet in his
^■^ regular duties as procurator of the Province. In the
spring of 1853 he started on another trip to Europe accompanied by the Right Reverend Bishop Miege, Vicar
Apostolic of the Indian Territory east of the Rocky
Mountains. While passing through Washington they
were presented to President Pierce by Colonel Thos.
H. Benton and Father De Smet was made bearer of dispatches to several European powers. They sailed May 9th
on the steamer Fulton and crossed in eleven days — a great
contrast with the voyage of 1821, when it took forty days
under sail to bring De Smet to America.
Father De Smet accompanied Bishop Miege only as far
as Paris. While there an incident occurred that shows the
humorous nature of the great missionary and also his fertility of resources in popularizing his work in America.
He delivered an address upon his missions to the student
fathers at the Sorbonne, and to make it more effective,
decked out one of them in Indian paraphernalia that he
had brought with him.
Father De Smet embarked on his return to America November 23d of the same year on the steamer Humboldt. The
voyage was rough and slow and the steamer had to put into
[66] ■Il    J.ll.1   llll
Halifax for coal. Through the incompetence of the pilot
the vessel was wrecked and lost but the crew and passengers were saved. After a short delay the passengers
were taken on the steamer Niagara and carried to Boston.
Father De Smet was back in St. Louis the day after
The years 1854-5 and most of 1856 were spent in St.
Louis, except for the journeys made as Socius with the
Father Provincial to the various Catholic establishments
in the Mississippi valley. In the year 1855 Father De
Smet took the last important vows pertaining to membership of the Society of Jesus and one which is never permitted to members before they reach the age of forty-five.
Father De Smet thus refers to this event : " On Assumption Day I took my last vows. Remember me in your
holy sacrifices and prayers that I may remain faithful to
my holy engagements."
In September, 1856, Father De Smet sailed again by
the steamer Fulton for Europe, and after an extensive tour
of the cities of Europe, re-embarked in April, 1857, on
the- Leopold for New York. This visit to Europe was a
most unwelcome one to the much traveled priest. 1 The
journey comes wonderfully hard on me on the present
occasion," he writes. 11 find consolation only that it is
undertaken by obedience." Reluctant as he was to go,
he was even more rejoiced to get back. " I embraced
the floor of my room on entering it," he wrote, " and from
my inmost heart thanked the Lord."
In December, 1857, Father Duerinck was drowned near
Independence, Mo. He was descending the Missouri in an
open boat with six men. The boat was wrecked on a snag.
Duerinck was a close friend of Father De Smet, his aunt
having been the first wife of De Smet's father. The occurrence completely prostrated Father De Smet.
Father De Smet had not at this time been to the Indian
country for six years; but in 1858 a call came from quite
an   unexpected   quarter.     The   Mormon   Rebellion   of 68
1857-8 was in progress. As is well known, the Mormons had migrated to the Salt Lake valley when that
country was still a possession of Mexico. But the war
with Mexico transferred it to the United States, and as
it increased in population the responsibilities of territorial
government followed. Brigham Young and his people
opposed all Federal interference; indeed the Government
was not at first disposed to trouble them; and to make
such interference as was necessary as light as possible,
Brigham Young was himself made first governor of the
territory. The movement of people along the California
trail had brought to the States the first real knowledge of
the condition of things in Utah, and a feeling of prejudice
against the Mormons gradually assumed formidable proportions. In 1857 the incoming administration at Washington appointed a new governor, Alfred Cummings, to
succeed Young. The ex-governor and his people rebelled
and decided that the change should not take place; and to
make good their threat they prepared for active resistance.
It therefore became necessary to send a military force
to protect the governor and other new officers in the discharge of their duties, and Albert Sidney Johnston was
sent in command of the expedition. The Mormons at
first got the better of the federal troops; destroyed large
quantities of their supplies, and so crippled the usefulness
of Fort Bridger as a base that the expedition was threatened with starvation when the winter of 1857-8 approached. Thereupon the Government assumed both a
commanding and conciliatory tone. It organized a new
military expedition, and it sent commissioners offering
amnesty to such of the Mormons as ceased their resistance. These measures resulted in peace before the second
military expedition reached the territory. General Johnston and Governor Cummings entered the Mormon capital in June and the authority of the governor was recognized by the people. The second military expedition was
stopped at the ford of the South Platte river and turned
The commander of this second expedition was General
William S. Harney. He asked to have Father De Smet
accompany the expedition as chaplain and the Government approved his request. The Church authorities at
St. Louis thought well of the project and so Father De
Smet accepted the place at $1,200 per year and his
expenses.1 His letters inform us that he was contemplating a trip among the Missouri and Flathead Indians this
year, and thought he could combine it with his official
Father De Smet left St. Louis May 20, 1858, to join
the command at Fort Leavenworth. It was seven years
since he had crossed the plains and the progress which
settlement had made in the meantime impressed him
deeply. "No further back," he writes, "than 1851, at
the time of my return from the great council held on the
borders of the Platte, the plains of Kansas were almost
entirely without inhabitants, containing only a few scattered villages of Indians, living for the most part by the
chase, by fishing and on wild fruits and roots. But eight
years have made an entire change: many towns and villages have sprung up, as it were, by enchantment; forges
and mills of every kind are already numerous; extensive
and beautiful farms have been established in all directions
with extraordinary rapidity and industry/'
Father De Smet records some interesting facts regarding the expedition. The magnitude of the supply trains
excited his astonishment, as some of their idiosyncrasies
provoked his laughter. " The most remarkable thing that
I met * * * ," he says, " were the long wagon trains
engaged in transporting to Utah provisions and stores of
war. If the journals of the day may be believed, these
cost the Government fifteen millions. Each train consisted of twenty-six wagons, each wagon drawn by six
yoke of oxen, and containing near five thousand pounds.
1 For a full statement of his account; see page 775.
I ""■iriTniîî-iiirrrtfiiimriiiHj
The Quartermaster-General made the calculation and told
me that the whole train would make a line of about fifty
miles. We passed every day some wagons of this immense
train. Each wagon is marked with a name, as in the case
of ships, and these names serve to furnish amusement to
the passer-by, the caprices of the captains in this respect
having imposed upon the wagons such names as the
Constitution, the President, the Great Republic, the King of
Bavaria, Lola Montes, Louis Napoleon, Dan O'Connell, Old
Kentuck, etc., etc. These names were daubed in great letters on each side of the carriage. On the plains, the
wagoner assumes the style of \ captain,' being placed in
command of his wagon and twelve oxen. The master-
wagoner is admiral of this little land-fleet; he has control
of twenty-six captains and 312 oxen. At a distance, the
white awnings of the wagons have the effect of a fleet of
vessels with all canvas spread."
The expedition made its way safely and prosperously as
far as the ford of the South Platte, when its further progress was stopped by the events already related. Father
De Smet returned to Leavenworth with General Harney
and then went on to St. Louis with the intention of resigning his commission; but his plan was frustrated by
other events occurring in the far distant Oregon which
was the familiar field of his labors in years gone by. Following is his own account of the event that changed his
plan: " Upon my arrival in St. Louis in the early part of
September, 1858, I tendered to the Secretary of War my
resignation of the post of Chaplain to the Army of Utah.
It was not, however, accepted, because of fresh difficulties
that had arisen with the Indian tribes west of the Rocky
Mountains. The papers announced that a powerful coalition of Indians had been formed, and that Colonel Steptoe
had been attacked, and two officers, a sergeant and several
soldiers of his company killed in the first engagement. A
general rising was feared of all the tribes in that section —
the Palooses, Yakimas,  Skoyelpi,  Okinagans,  Spokans, THE   CHAPLAIN   STILL  NEEDED.
Cœur d'Alênes, Kalispels, Kootenais and Flatheads. All
these Indians, hitherto quiet and peaceable (especially the
four tribes last named) had of late become more or less
disturbed and irritated, chiefly through the incursions of
white emigrants into the Indian lands on the southwest of
the territories of Oregon and Washington, where, without
the least ceremony and without any preliminary arrangement or agreement, they had taken possession of the most
fertile lands and the most advantageous sites.
1 The mountain Indians, especially, had become alarmed
and had resolved to oppose the entry of the whites and
their further advance into the land. The Indian force that
was on foot consisted of 800 to 1,000 warriors. They had
just won a victory: the hasty retreat of the brave Colonel
Steptoe, who was hardly expecting an attack from the
savages and had only 120 soldiers, appeared to them a
flight. He had even abandoned to them all his train and
provisions. Swollen with pride and presumption, the Indians thenceforth believed themselves invincible and capable of resisting and withstanding the whole United States
Army. Accordingly they issued their defiance of the
whites. The Government at any rate thought their opposition quite a serious matter, and decided to send out
General Harney, who had covered himself with laurels on
various occasions in Indian warfare in Florida, Texas,
Mexico and the plains of the Missouri.
11 was once more invited by the Secretary of War, at
General Harney's special request, to accompany him in
his distant expedition. With the approval of my superiors,
I consented to keep my post of army chaplain, with the
hope especially that I might be able to be of some use to the
mountain tribes of Indians, and be among my brethren in
the difficulties which the war would bring upon them."3
2 This outbreak is what is known in Oregon history as the Yakima
War. It was induced, like nearly all our Indian wars, by the encroachment of white settlers on the Indian lands. 72
Father De Smet went to Oregon by way of Panama,
sailing from New York September 20, 1858. He crossed
the Isthmus on the 29th, stopped at San Francisco October 16th, and arrived at Vancouver October 28th. As
in the case of the Utah expedition, the actual campaign
was over before General Ha