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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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Life, Letters and Travels of
Father De Smet among the
North   American   Indians.    TTERS AND TRAVELS
her Pierre-Jean De
v7/*  «J i
Missionary Labors and Adventures among the Wild Tribes of the
North American Indians, Embracing
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Edited from the original unpublished manuscript Journals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;
A ho a Life of Father De Smet
Major, Corps of Engineers, U. S. /
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Edited from the original unpublished manuscript Journals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.
VOL. Ill
1905  contents of volume III.
Return to St. I-ouis via Panama 795-8n
Peace Mission to the Sioux in 1864 812-837
Ocean and River Voyages of 1865 and 1866  ....    838-858
Expedition of 1867 to the Hostile Sioux     ....     859-889
The Peace Commission of 1868 890-922
Last Journeys of Father De Smet 923-932
Religious Opinions of the Assiniboins        ....    933-945
Notes on the Blackfeet 946-95C
The  Oregon Indians 957-973
Notes on the Pawnees 974-988
Notes on  Certain Western Tribes 989-998
Manners and Customs of the Indians      ....   999-1061
Religious Beliefs 1062-1077
Indian Legends and Traditions 1078-1099
An Old Delaware Lecend 1100-1107
Louise Sighouin, an Indian Woman of the Cœur D'Alene
Tribe 1143-1175
History of the Family of Le Gros Francois      .      .      . 1176-1185
The Indian  Question 1186-1211 CHAPTER II.
Over Mullan Pass to St. Ignatius Mission — New churches — Devout
Indians — Forest fires — Captain Mullan's report — Father De Smet's
full basket — Down the Columbia — New towns and new ways in the
Northwest — California — The further journey home.
/^N1 the 25th of August, I bade farewell to my dear
^■^ brothers in Jesus Christ and left the Mission of St.
Peter, to repair to that of St. Ignatius, west of the Rocky
Mountains. The distance is about 250 miles, by the route
laid out by the Government engineers. It leads across several small rivers, tributaries of the Missouri, such as the
Prior, the Dearborn, the Prickly Pear, etc. This last
might better be called Hop river, for this plant covers,
literally, every bush and all the lower branches of the trees
in the valley. Anise (pimpinella anisum) likewise abounds.
On the 29th, toward noon, we attained the summit of
the great chain of the Rocky Mountains, by Mullan's Pass,
at an elevation of 5,980 feet above sea-level. On the 5th
of September I reached the Mission of St. Ignatius among
the Flatheads and Pend d'Oreilles. A fine frame church,
ninety by forty feet, has been erected here. I found the
mission prosperous and flourishing. Notwithstanding this,
it is impossible to overestimate the dangers which, just at
this time, are threatening all the mountain tribes, through
the approach of the whites, the ease with which liquors —
e fire water " — so fatal to the Indians, can be obtained,
and the accompaniment of all the vices and excesses of our
modern civilization; especially as understood and practiced
by our American pioneers. These things must be seen to
be appreciated and believed.
1 Translated from the French of the Linton Album, pp. 65-69.
* 796
The worthy and zealous Father Grassi, superior of this
mission, has had all the materials prepared for the construction of a hospital and school buildings. He was, however, at a loss where to find nuns to conduct these new establishments — still he continued his work, trusting to the
good providence of the Lord. I could do no less than encourage him as well as I was able in his useful labor, so necessary to the welfare of his neophytes, and the good Father's
hopes were not in vain. On my return to St. Louis I approached, by letter, the worthy Sisters of Charity of the
Maison de la Providence at Montreal, Canada. The
Superior-General has generously granted my request; she
answers me " that she grants most willingly this first colony
of sisters for the Mission of St. Ignatius, and that she will
do as much for other missions where there may be a need of
sisters." I hastened to impart to the superior of the mountain missions this consoling piece of good news — and as
for means, one may hope that the holy providence of the
Lord will intervene here also.
On my way, I found the Reverend Father Ravalli in the
St. Mary's or Flathead valley, with one Brother, occupied,
with the aid of a few Indians, in building a new church.
The site is twenty miles distant from the old Mission of St.
Mary. In the same valley, thirty miles lower down, another little church has been put up for the use of French and
Canadian colonists — and another still at the Flathead lake
for the half-breeds and Indians. A church was in course
of construction at Bannock, a mining town, where Father
Grassi has obtained a subscription of $1,500; the Protestants themselves contributed. There was a demand for several other churches in various mining regions. At the
mission of the Kootenais, a branch of that of St. Ignatius,
the good Indians have built a little church and a presbytery,
for the use of the missionary who visits them. They remain in their primitive simplicity, fervor and zeal. They
are the admiration of all the travelers who visit them, for A  CAMP  OF  THE   FAITHFUL.
their diligence in all religious practices, their hospitality and
love of justice.    Theft is unknown among them.
Wherever I met with any of our Mission Indians, they
overwhelmed me with marks of friendliness. The day
after I had crossed the divide, I came toward evening upon
one of their hunting camps. They were ignorant of my
being in that country. I saw the chief sound the Angelus,
and all his people prostrate themselves devoutly to recite it.
This edifying Christian spectacle is repeated thrice every day
in the remote wilderness. I came up in time to preside at
the evening prayers of these dear children of my heart.
That same evening, to the great consolation of the Indians, and especially to mine, the Reverend Father Giorda,
superior of all that mission, arrived in the camp. He was
returning from California, and was then on his way from
St. Ignatius to St. Peter's. Our mutual joy was great and
profound. Let me add that it is in the desert that such a
meeting, between two brothers in Jesus Christ, can be most
truly appreciated. We exchanged eagerly all our little
budget of news, good and bad — our hopes and our fears,
for the present and the future of our dear missions and our
dear neophytes.
The camp was going | to buffalo," east of the Rocky
Mountains. Father Giorda gave them a long instruction
that evening, and the confessions lasted far into the night,
in their desire to approach devoutly the holy table. On the
morrow I celebrated, sub dio, the most holy sacrifice of the
mass, and addressed them some consoling words concerning religion and the joy with which this fortunate meeting
inspired me. All the neophytes surrounded the humble
altar, made of willows and poles, and chanted in chorus
the praises of the Lord and the litanies of our August
Mother the Holy Virgin. A large number piously received
the holy communion.
Father Giorda and I remained in camp all this fine day,
with these good Pend d'Oreilles and Flatheads around us,
.%-,*K."f, 798
hungry to listen to us. It was a pleasant day, and under
the circumstances doubly beautiful, and certainly, to me,
one of the most agreeable and consoling of all my long
wanderings. I gave baptism to several new-born infants,
and afterward distributed medals, scapulars and chaplets
among such as needed them, and fish-hooks among the
young men — an article very necessary and very much
sought after among them. All day long they were coming to share their fish with us, and offered us big strings
of fine spotted mountain trout (salmo fario). Others
brought us potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips and fruits of
various sorts, which they seemed to have in abundance, the
fruit of their own industry.
I left St. Ignatius' Mission on the 8th of September.
We were one day reaching Clark's Fork and three days
going down the valley of this river, as far as the mouth of
the river St. Regis and Borgia. Here we were kept by
rain until the 16th. On that day we crossed the Regis-
Borgia thirty-seven times. Different kinds of pine and
fir abound in this valley. The undergrowth, in the mountainous part that we traversed, is very thick, and consists
principally of a sort of bush with velvety leaves, which,
when properly dried, yield an aromatic tea, very agreeable
and beneficial. We arrived at the summit of the Cœur
d'Alêne Mountains about four in the afternoon. This is
called Sohon2 Pass and its elevation is 5,100 feet above
Along the river in the Cœur d'Alêne valley the forests
are extremely thick, and one cannot but admire the astonishing thickness and height of the pines and cedars. I
measured several of these giants of the forest, the circumference of which was five, six and even seven fathoms.
In the shade of the cedars the Lychnis of Canada (or Asaron
Canadensis) grows in profusion; it is a medical plant, of
2 Over the Cœur d'Alêne Mountains between the headwaters of the
Regis-Borgia and the Cœur d'Alêne river. Named for Captain Mullan's guide in his explorations of this country, 1858-1862. THE  CŒUR D'ALENE  MISSION.
which Charboni, in his history of New France (botanical
section) tells wonders. The Solanum trifolium, with its
handsome flower, likewise attracts attention everywhere.
A forest fire was raging during our ^passage, and had
spread over a dozen miles of the mountain side and even
to their highest parts. The smoke was very thick, and
thousands of tree-trunks, fallen one upon another in confusion, obstructed the regular road and all the surface of
the ground. We succeeded at last, axe in hand, and after
plenty of minor miseries, in getting out of all the obstacles
caused by the conflagration. In the course of the 17th we
crossed the Cœur d'Alêne river forty-two times. On the
18th we reached the Mission of the Sacred Heart.
The mission among the Cœur d'Alênes continues to prosper, under the prudent management of the excellent and
worthy Father Gazzoli and his zealous companion, Father
Caruana, and the good Brother Huybrechts from Antwerp
and three other brothers. The Cœur d'Alênes continue to
give great satisfaction and consolation to their worthy missionaries, by their constancy in the practices of religion and
their perseverance in the faith. May heaven preserve them
from the dangerous contact of the whites! They are
threatened unceasingly with the loss of their lovely fertile
lands and of the advantageous position occupied by the
Captain Mullan, of the United States army, speaks as
follows in a report which has recently been published by
order of the Government and at Government expense. You
will find the paragraph somewhat long, but I prefer to give
it entire. The captain puts the Indian question to his Government very directly — the response, or at least the ordinary practice, when the whites take possession of the lands
of the Indians, is to push them farther back into the wilderness or to exterminate them.
The captain in his report praises the missionaries and
their converts very highly, and goes on to say :
" They have chosen a beautiful site, on a hill in the mid- Soo
die of the mission valley, and it has always proved to the
weary traveler and destitute emigrant a St. Bernard in
the Cœur d'Alêne Mountains. I fear that the location of
our road, and the swarms of miners and emigrants that
must pass here year after year, will so militate against the
best interests of the mission that its present site will have
to be changed or abandoned. This, for themselves and the
Indians, is to be regretted; but I can only regard it as the
inevitable result of opening and settling the country. I
have seen enough of Indians to convince me of this fact :
that they can never exist in contact with the whites; and
their only salvation is to be removed far, far from their
presence. But they have been removed so often that there
seems now no place left for their further migration; the
waves of civilization have invaded their homes from both
oceans, driving them year after year toward the Rock)''
Mountains ; and now that we propose to invade these mountain solitudes, to wrest from them their hidden wealth,
where under heaven can the Indians go ? And may we not
expect to see these people make one desperate struggle in
the fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains for the maintenance
of their last homes and the preservation of their lives?
It is a matter that but too strongly commends itself to the
early and considerate p.ttention of the General Government.
The Indian is destined to disappear before the white man,
and the only question is, how it may best be done, and his
disappearance from our midst be tempered with those elements calculated to produce to himself the least amount of
suffering, and to us the least amount of cost."
You may see from this extract from Captain Mullan's
report to his Government, the real tendency of what we have
to fear for the future of the Indian tribes in the vast Idaho
To proceed with my tale, the Church of the Sacred Heart,
with that of St. Ignatius, are the two monuments of the
Rocky Mountains ; they are well adorned with pictures and
statues, which are the admiration as well of the whites as /
of the savages. This mission has two branch stations, with
two little churches, one on the shores of the great Cœur
d'Alêne lake, the other among the tribe of the Spokans or
Zingomenes, in a fair valley of the Spokan river. This
tribe at one time had Calvinist or Presbyterian ministers;
since the departure of these sectarians, conversions to our
holy religion have been very numerous. The Mission of
the Sacred Heart is at an elevation of 2,280 feet above sea-
Reverend Father Joset, who has been laboring with tireless zeal in the mountain missions for well nigh twenty
years, is at the Mission of St. Paul at Colville, at the Kettle
Falls of the Columbia. He was absent from his mission
at the time of my arrival. I give below a few details concerning his apostolic labors, which he has given me since.
" Your Reverence knows that I am at St. Paul to reopen
the mission. I have many excursions to make, among the
Kalispels of the Great Lake of the Columbia, among the
Pend d'Oreilles of the Bay, on Clark's Fork, one of its
main tributaries, among the Simpoils, the Okinagans — but
the church to finish, the house to build, keep me often at
Colville, to my great regret.
" I am looking for my companion to arrive from one day
to another ; with two presidents, I hope that we shall be able
to meet the needs of all, though there will be plenty of work
for us both.
" On my return from Walla Walla, where I had been
buying my supplies of provisions, etc. (October 16th), I
arrived in time to bury two dead ; to-morrow I go again to
the new church, to try to push the work. I have just registered the eighty-second birth for this year, so that your
Reverence can infer what the population of this district
is. There are besides a great number of unmarried men,
soldiers, miners, etc.
" Besides the whites and the Christian tribes, that is, the
Kettles, the Gens des Lacs and the Kalispels, we have the
Simpoils, the Tlakam, the people of the stone islands, the
51 802
Spiokensi and the Satlilku, who can only receive religious
aid from St. Paul. All speak nearly the same language,
and a great number of them have already received baptism.
Your Reverence will observe that our task is large and our
labors multifarious, in the administration of the holy sacraments and the instruction of so many tribes.
" Pray for us and have others do so, that we may accomplish worthily the duties that the Lord lays upon us; that
is, that we may be good religieux, worthy children of St.
" I spend the greater part of my time in a tent, eating
what comes, sometimes in abundance, sometimes in penury,
performing my spiritual exercises as best I can, regulating
my time by the sun and stars when the weather is clear,
otherwise, by the occupations that offer. When I am
among the Indians, my time is very much occupied, I hardly
have leisure to do more than think of them and their
spiritual and bodily profit. But amidst the whites, I seldom see them except on Sunday, unless I go after them
"Although whisky is making great ravages among the
Indians, especially at Colville, still the Lord has reserved
himself a goodly number untouched by corruption. With
these it is always the same avidity to hear the word of life,
the same eagerness to approach the sacraments. As for the
other bands, one may truthfully say ' Parvuli petierunt
panem et non erat qui frangeret eis.' I raise my hands to
heaven, and full of trust in the divine goodness, I pray and
hope that, this mission once re-established, it will be otherwise for the future."
I owe a great debt of gratitude to my dear brothers in
Jesus Christ for the truly fraternal charity and kindness that
they have shown me, during my short but consoling stay
among them. May I, however, add that it occurred to one
of the missionaries to compare me to the good St. Nicholas, " who never came with an empty basket." It was really
a great happiness to me to be able, this time, to relieve my i
dear brothers in their pressing needs, and to share with them
my little belongings. When one leaves the land of civilization for a long journey or mission among the Indian tribes,
where everything is lacking, one necessarily takes precautions — and the benefactors of the missions in St. Louis
had stocked me up very well. Father Grassi had just finished a new church, which had not one obolus' worth of
ornaments, vestments nor sacred vessels ; at his earnest entreaty, I let him have my little traveling chapel. His joy
and gratitude repaid me amply, and made me forget the
great privation I had laid myself under.
I have since learned that the Reverend Fathers have received the provisions, clothing, church vestments, tools, etc.,
intended to supply the different missions. My little cargo
amounted in all to nearly 1,500 pounds. The worthy captain of the steamboat, Mr. Charles Chouteau, was so exceedingly obliging and charitable as to give me a free passage, together with the two brothers, as well as transportation for our baggage and all the things destined for the
missions — a charity on his part, which would otherwise
have cost us upward of $1,000. We shall pray, and venture to hope, that heaven will reward him, with all his respectable family, for his great goodness and charity to the
missionaries and their missions. This Good work he repeats with pleasure every spring and at each departure for
the mountains.
I3 reached the Sacred Heart Mission on the 18th of
September and left again on the 23d, in the best of company, that of the worthy Father Gazzoli, who had to go
to Walla Walla in the interests of his mission, and of a
respectable Irish physician, Mr. W. T. Martin, of Dublin,
an old pupil of the College of Notre Dame of Namur. He
has abundant claims on my most lively gratitude.    With
3 Translated from the French of the Linton Album, pp. 70-74. 8o4
true Christian charity, he bestowed all his care and attention
mf   r
on the sick and infirm savages in the camps we came across.
Everywhere that Mr. Martin went he was the benefactor
of our missions; I shall always recall with the most lively
gratitude the really fraternal kindness and attention which
he lavished on me from St. Louis to San Francisco. His
intention was to continue his little tour, returning to Dublin
by way of the Sandwich Islands, the Philippines, Japan,
China and the East Indies — almost the only parts of the
world that he had not yet visited. May heaven protect him
— our poor prayers will go with him throughout his long
and dangerous voyages.
The principal rivers crossed on our route were the
Spokan, the Paloos, the great Snake river or Clark's
[Lewis'] Fork, the Touchât and the Walla Walla. After
a very favorable and pleasant journey, on the eighth day
we came to Walla Walla City (915 feet above sea-level).
This is barely a town of yesterday, but already it has over
2,000 inhabitants, with all the signs of civilization in full
swing. Its movement and commerce are very great; arrivals and departures of travelers and merchandise from
morning till night. All the places adapted to agriculture
are covered with vast farms, for thirty to forty miles
around. The Very Reverend and very zealous Mr. Brouil-
let, Vicar-General of Monseigneur of Nisqually, was at
Walla Walla, busied about the erection of a new church
and a convent for the instruction of the children of the city,
under the care of the excellent Sisters of Charity of
On October 6th I took the stage coach for Wallula, a
small town situated on the Columbia thirty miles distant
from Walla Walla. Early on the morning of the 7th I
embarked upon the steamboat which makes regular trips
to the Dalles. To avoid the falls and the bad places in the
river, there is a little railroad ten or a dozen miles long,
which brought us in the evening to Dalles City, some 125
miles from Wallula.   Settlements are still very scarce along DOWN   THE   COLUMBIA.
the river, but we passed Umatilla, Grand Ronde City and
Dalles City is a town of about the same age as Walla
Walla, and has few, if any, more inhabitants. It is a better
business town, because it controls a larger section of country. The respectable curate of this city is the Reverend
Mr. Vermaersh, a Belgian. He has a handsome frame
church and was watching the erection of a convent, for the
education of youth, under the direction of the Sisters of
Jesus and Mary. A series of little towns and villages are
rising as if by enchantment, all along the river as we go
down, and all through the interior of the country.4
* *
On the 8th of October I resumed my journey, going
forty-five miles by steamboat. Five miles of this distance,
through the Cascade Mountains, is made by rail. Then we
take the steamer on the Columbia again and reach Vancouver toward evening. This is a town of 700 to 800 inhabitants. It is the ordinary residence of the Bishop of
Nisqually, Monseigneur Magloire Blanchet. This diocese,
established in 1850, contains six secular priests, eight regular priests, seven lay brothers, eleven churches and chapels,
twenty sisters of charity, a college, four literary institutions for girls, three similar establishments for boys and
four charitable institutions. The white Catholic population was 6,000 souls before gold was discovered, and must
have more than tripled since. The arch-diocese of Oregon
comprises twelve priests, ten churches, five religious institutions for the education of girls and five for that of boys.
Portland is the ordinary residence of Monseigneur the
Archbishop. It is the chief city and the commercial metropolis of Oregon, having some 6,000 inhabitants. Twelve
Sisters of Jesus and Mary are conducting a fine religious
institution for the education of girls, which is in a very
prosperous condition, enjoying the confidence of the public,
4 For omitted portions of this letter, see p. 1518. 8o6
as well of Protestants as of Catholics. I owe the greatest
gratitude to the venerable Archbishop of Oregon and to
Monseigneur the Bishop of Nisqually, for the truly paternal
kindness that they showed me — their Grandeurs over-
whelmed me with charities in their hospitable residences at
Portland and Vancouver. At Portland I had the pleasure
of meeting a fellow-countryman, the Reverend and worthy
Mr. Fierens, curate of the cathedral.
On the 13th of October I set sail from Portland for San
Francisco. We passed the dangerous bar at the mouth of
the Columbia in safety. The steamer touched at Victoria,
the capital of Vancouver Island, one of the new towns, admirably well situated, from both practical and picturesque
standpoints. Its commerce is already important, and growing day by day by reason of its nearness to the mines on
Fraser river and in the Caribou Mountains.
The worthy Monseigneur Demers, Bishop of Vancouver
Island and the western part of the Rocky Mountains, in the
English possessions, resides at Victoria. Besides the cathedral and the attached school, the Reverend Oblat Fathers
have opened a college and church here. The Sisters of
Jesus and Mary have a boarding-school, very well patronized, and a school for the instruction of girls. These worthy
religieuses, like the respectable Sisters of Charity of the
Asyle de la Providence of Montreal, are doing an immense
amount of good in these remote regions. Monseigneur was
absent, and had extended his apostolic tour in search of his
flock as far as to the miners of the Caribou Mountains.
The Reverend Oblat Fathers have several missions among
the savages of the interior of the island and on Fraser river,
where they are working with the greatest zeal and the happiest results; numerous conversions have everywhere
crowned their noble efforts.
The steamer left Victoria on the 16th, and after a fortunate voyage, although with some severe gales, I arrived in
San Francisco on the 21st — happy to find myself once
more in the midst of my dear brothers in Jesus Christ.
Reverend Father Sopranis, visitor of all the missions of the
Company of Jesus in North America, was awaiting me at
San Francisco.
During my short stay in California, I visited the College
of Santa Clara and the residence of our Fathers at San
José. The college is in a very flourishing state, as is that
at San Francisco. At San José I visited the establishment
of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, whom I had conducted to America in 1843, to the number of five sisters.
These first founders are still in good health. The sisters
have now two fine large establishments in California. The
convent at San José contains twenty-two professed sisters,
seven novices and two aspirants; there are 120 pupils in the
boarding-school, seventy-five day scholars and about the
same number attending the school gratis. On Sundays
they have a class for servant girls, and assemble the Catholics for Christian teaching. The convent at Marysville
has fourteen sisters, who also have around them a good
number of children, inmates and outsiders ; and are following in the same line with the sisters of San José. The
convents of the Sisters of Notre Dame are rendering very
great service wherever they are established in America.
Their scholars in Cincinnati and Boston are counted by
thousands. This religious congregation is growing mar-
I left San Francisco on the 3d of November. I had the
consolation and happiness to serve as companion to our
Reverend Father Visitor in his voyage to New York. Several of our dear brothers of St. Ignatius College escorted
us on board the vessel. The Pacific Ocean showed itself
truly pacific, calm and beautiful, and varied scarcely at all
throughout the voyage. We stopped at Acapulco, a Mexican port, to coal and take on the mails.
We reached Panama the night of the 17th, and the following morning we crossed the Isthmus of Panama, forty-
seven miles, by rail. Toward evening of the same day we
took ship again at Aspinwall, on the steamer North Star. 8o8
The weather continued clear and lovely, though varied at
times by hard squalls and head-winds. The R.everend
Father Visitor was very much inconvenienced and suffered
much from sea-sickness, and for several days his condition alarmed me seriously. We passed within sight of
Jamaica, Cuba and several low islands of the Bahama
group, and at last, on the ninth day out, reached the good
harbor of New York, on the 26th of November, Thanksgiving day by proclamation of the President of the United
States. An hour later, we found ourselves in the midst of
our dear brothers in Jesus Christ, at the College of St.
Francis Xavier, who received us with their usual kindness,
that is, with the most fraternal charity. The Reverend
Father Provincial of Missouri was expected in New York,
and I decided to wait for him.
On the 9th of December I set out to accomplish the last
portion of my long journey. We came by way of Baltimore, Washington, Frederick City and Cincinnati, in all
of which cities the Father Provincial had business to transact. In Washington I had also an errand — matters to
bring before the Government in favor of our missions
among the Indians. Finally we reached St. Louis safe and
sound on the 17th of December. The day following, I offered the holy sacrifice of the altar, as a thanksgiving service for all the benefits received from heaven, in my long,
painful and dangerous tour, upon rivers and seas and diverse
lands — through numerous bands of hostile Indians — in
the mountainous portion of Idaho, infested by white marauders and assassins of the lowest and vilest sort — and on
the two great oceans, the Pacific and Atlantic, ranged at
present by hostile ships of the American Confederacy.
Glory to God alone and to the glorious Virgin Mary, for all
the favors obtained.
I commend myself most specially to your good prayers.
Every day at the altar I form most sincere vows in behalf
of your Reverence and all our benefactors in Holland and
Belgium.    We shall  not cease to pray,  with our  dear
neophytes, for their happiness here below and for eternity.
I may later write you a longer account of my last trip, as
you have called for in several of your letters; on this
occasion I have little time left and must necessarily be short ;
I can only give you a cursory notice of the country I passed
I left St. Louis on the 9th of May. I baptized several
hundred children on my way up the Missouri, at the different posts where Indians had gathered to await the arrival of the boat. All were very kind and attentive to me.
We had no hindrance, neither from enemies nor from any
other obstacles on the river, till we reached the mouth of
Milk river — 2,400 miles above St. Louis. Here, good
depth of water failed, and the captain put all his passengers ashore (eighty in number) and 200 tons of merchandise ; this left us about 300 miles from our destination.
Three days after the boat had left us we were attacked by
a powerful band of Sioux warriors, about 600 in number.
Our camp was in an awful fix and no ways prepared for
such a visit. All rushed to their arms in a rather confused
manner. For my own part I had no time to reflect and had
nothing to do with fire-arms. I recommended myself to the
Lord, and full of confidence in the prayers which I knew
were [being] offered for me in many places, I walked, or
rather ran, up to the vanguard of the enemy, about forty
strong. The partisan or captain of the band happily recognized me and he cried out, " It is the Black-gown, who
saved my sister/' They all looked bewildered, but were
kind and shook hands with me. We had a long talk, in
which I gave them some salutary advice, backed with some
coffee, sugar and hard biscuits, and they left us without
further molestation.    The Indian brave, my friend, was the
B Additional data upon the journey of 1863.— From a letter to Father
Murphy, March 30, 1864. 8io
son of Red Fish, the great chief of the Sioux Ogallala
tribe, whose history I have left on record,6 as also that of
his daughter, in the fifth of the Cinquante Nouvelles Lettres,
published in Belgium, and to which you may refer, should
you feel inclined to know the whole circumstance. It
would rather be too long for me to repeat it here. Only
two of our men had received arrow wounds and happily
recovered later.
We waited about a month at the mouth of Milk river,
when horses and conveyances arrived from Fort Benton.
After a tedious journey through a desolate country, where
all vegetation had disappeared under the long summer
drought, we reached the fort on the day of the glorious
Assumption of the ever Glorious Blessed Virgin. I here
met Father Imoda, and after a few days' rest, and having
baptized a good number of Crow and Blackfoot children,
we proceeded together to St. Peter's Mission, seventy-five
miles distant.
The mission register contains about 1,500 baptisms of
children and adults. Thousands of whites are flocking in
the new Montana Territory in search of gold, within the district of St. Peter's Mission. They have erected several
cities, of which the most conspicuous are Virginia City and
Banack, with thousands of miners within and around them ;
so that the Fathers, two in number, will have their hands
full, both with Indians and whites. * * * West of
the mountains I met with many old friends among the
Indians, who welcomed me among them with the utmost
kindness and affection. The Missions of St. Ignatius, of
the Sacred Heart, of St. Paul at Colville, were still prosperous and doing well. They direct some fifteen different
stations, where small churches have been built. The Flat-
heads and Kalispels will soon have a convent. I obtained
a little colony of Sisters of Charity of the Asyle de la Providence at Montreal, who will take charge of it.    I passed
6 See pp. 630 and 791.
mt mm
through Walla Walla, Dalles City, Vancouver City and
Portland in Oregon, where religion was progressing. Embarked at Portland, via Victoria in Vancouver Island and
reached San Francisco on the 21st of October. The distance may be put down from Benton to San Francisco at
2,580 miles.
In California, the affairs of our Society look rather
crooked, and I am afraid some of ours have not been over-
prudent. No good can come from that quarter, unless
kind Providence comes to our rescue; the presence of the
Visitor has done nothing toward mending and filling the
breach. I left in his company for Panama and Aspinwall, which we reached in due time and safe and sound, a
distance of 2,347 miles. We next embarked for New
York, 2,000 miles, where we were welcomed with open
arms by the good Fathers of St. Xavier College — a few
days' rest, and en route de nouveau, via Washington and
St. Louis, which I reached on the 17th of December last.
Please present my best respects to the good Fathers in New
Orleans and pray for me. CHAPTER III.
Still planning for the Sioux — Precarious state of health — Government's invitation to visit the hostiles puts him in a dilemma — Another
voyage up the river—Changes in Iowa — Omaha—Ministrations by
the way — The unhappy Winnebagoes — Yankton — Barbarities of
soldiers and savages — Indian warfare — Native eloquence — Interviews and councils — Praying for rain — Peace mission of no avail —
Returns to St. Louis — Travels abroad.
St. Louis University, Feb. 23, 1864.1
Very Reverend Father-General :
*fF WILL add a few lines to my long letter (journey of
"I 1863) to inform your Paternity that no definite decision relative to my renewing my missionary work among
the Indians in May has yet been reached. When I was in
Washington the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs seemed very desirous that I should
repeat my visit to the Sioux this spring, and even offered
to pay my traveling expenses. It is going to be very difficult to obtain peace with those terrible savages. I have
not compromised nor engaged myself in any way with those
high officials.
My health is returning gradually. Meanwhile I have
written to two Sioux interpreters, trusty men, raised among
those tribes, to consult them and obtain information regarding the present state of the Sioux country with respect
to the war, as to the disposition of the Indians in regard to
peace, and whether my presence among them could be of
any use, to either the Indians or the whites, in the capacity
1 The four letters next following are from the personal letter-books
of Father De Smet, the first three being translations from the French.
of peacemaker. I am waiting for the interpreters' reply;
if it is favorable and my health permits, and above all under
the wise direction and with the permission of the Reverend
Father Provincial, I propose to visit those warlike tribes in
the course of the coming summer. My only object would be
to announce to them the word of the Lord, with the words
of peace, and to put an end, by wholesome advice, to the
massacres of the whites and thereby prevent the entire
extinction of the Sioux nation, which must be the final result of this unfortunate and cruel war.
In union of your holy sacrifices and prayers I have the
honor to be, with the most profound respect.
St. Louis University, March 14, 1864.
My very dear Silvie:
I cannot express to you the joy and consolation that your
good letters have brought me. They are the first I have
received from the family, and I am exceedingly grateful
to you. I am glad to see that your uncle Francis and dear
Paul have received mine of December 24th. I do not get
any answer ; I know not to what I must attribute the delay ;
I own to you that the delay pains me deeply.    *    *    *
I cannot hide from you, dear Silvie, that my health has
been wavering for some months past, and begins to be
threatening. I am broken down with all sorts of troubles :
I suffer particularly with my head; it is seldom that I can
leave my room. In case my health should permit, I will
have to make an effort to take the road again, to undertake
a very long and dangerous journey among the Indian
tribes. In the present difficult circumstances, the Indians
being in a state of war, the Secretary of the Interior begs
me to go and visit them in the capacity of peacemaker, etc.
The interests of our missions, the security of the whites in 8i4
that country and the happiness and tranquillity of the Indians, all seem to require that I should go. I speak of this
because I feel that it would be a very sensible affliction to
me to have to start out again on a long and uncertain road
to the Great Desert without having first received late letters
from your uncle Francis, dear Paul, etc.
St. Louis University, March 15, 186.4.
My dear Gustave:
I have received your two dear good letters of the nth
of January and nth of February.    *    *    *
Since my return to St. Louis after my long and painful
journey I have been in rather bad shape. Like a regular
old man, I am full of infirmities — my head especially
troubles me the most. I can seldom leave my room and go
out of the house. For some time past my greatest privation is to be unable even to celebrate holy mass. It is the
first time since I was ordained priest in 1827 that I have
been prevented by sickness from celebrating at the altar.
I can see that the doctors are not without some uneasiness
on the score of my health. As for myself I am not without
hope; for that matter, we are in the Lord's hands; may he
do with us according to his holy will. I am conscious of
a wish to be able to renew and continue my missions and
travels among the Indian tribes of the great plains. They
have great need of being visited and of receiving good advice. For the last two years they have been making merciless war upon the whites, pushed to the limit of endurance
by the injustices and provocations of the latter. Three to
four thousand soldiers are on the point of leaving St. Louis
to subjugate the warlike tribes, and annihilate them if
they can. The Government desires me to go thither as
pacificator, and I will do so gladly if in any way my health
allows it.    As the old Flemish proverb says : " When the
leers creak the heart is
The steamboat for the
upper Missouri is to leave about the middle of next month,
St. Louis University, March 30, 1864.
Reverend and dear Father Murphy:
This, to be sure, is rather waiting too long, to write to
your Reverence. I will try no excuse ; yourself must have
made it already. Immediately at my arrival in St. Louis
toward the end of the year, I found the ledger and daybook gaping and calling for a closing. In order to appear
decently before his Paternal eyes it took me about a month
hard labor, cyphering and corresponding all the while, with
the brethren scattered far and wide among the Osages and
Potawatomies, in Illinois, in Wisconsin, in Ohio, Kentucky
and Missouri. Next came my correspondence with Europe
which required immediate attention. I wrote a letter of
twenty-four pages, on my last journey and mission among
the Indians, to Reverend Father-General, according to
promise and as requested. I wrote another of twenty-six
pages to my near and dear friends in Belgium, who believed that I was dead and buried and I wanted to undeceive
them by a long rigmarole of facts and dates. And then
came Father Terwecoren, anxious to have some chaff and
mixture to feed his Précis Historiques, and I gave him
thirty-two pages. You see, dear Father, I have not been
idle; and all the time I was sickly, * * * so I have
been pretty much kept within doors; and thanks, after all,
to these little miseries, being kept in, I was allowed and
able to put out and let loose my flying sheets, under the
wings of steam, by land and by sea. I hope my poor and
little narrations will reach their various destinations and
will obtain some prayers and some means, for the poor and
destitute Indians and their poor and zealous missionaries.
— 8i6
I am now occupied in buying goods for the upper missions, to the amount of about $3,000. I am allowed to
draw for $1,400 on Father Congiato and shall have to look
out and make an effort for the balance. And then comes
my eight days' retreat, after which I am much panting.
And should my health permit, I am next to enter again on
another long and dangerous trip. I have been even requested, by the Commissioner of the Indian Department
at Washington, to undertake the journey and to bring about,
if possible, a peace among the hostile Sioux, acting in concert with the general of the troops and the appointed agents.2
They offer to pay all my expenses, with a handsome remuneration for myself. Not being well as yet I have not
accepted of their request. I fear I would lose all caste
among the Indians. They have hitherto looked upon me
as the bearer to them of the word of the Great Spirit and
have universally been kind and attentive on all occasions
and wherever I have met them. Should I present myself
in their midst as the bearer of the word of the Big Chief
of the Big Knives in Washington, no longer their Great
Father, but now their greatest and bitterest enemy, it would
place me in rather an awkward situation. I have written
to the Commissioner, that if I can go, I will go on my own
hook, without pay or remuneration ; visit the friendly Sioux
first, and in their company try to penetrate among their
fighting brethren and do my utmost to preach peace and
good will to them, and to make them come to a good understanding with the general in command and the agents of
Government. It may be a month or somewhat longer before
I shall be able to leave. Should I go, I am fully aware of
the great dangers I may meet with; but will be assured,
at the same time, to be remembered in your holy sacrifices
and prayers.
On board the Yellowstone, Yankton city, capital of
the Dakota Territory, 1,093 miles from the
mouth of the Missouri, May 17, 1864.3
A day of fine weather gives me an opportunity to send
you a report of the progress that we are making, and of my
new journey of 1864. The water is low, and we are continually hindered by sandbars. We have barely advanced
six miles in the last eight days. I spend my leisure hours
in reading and in taking notes upon the Missouri, its numerous tributaries and the immense region of 500,000
square miles which it drains. I examine, I draw upon my
own fund of experience, I question the best-informed travelers, and then I write. I feel confident of being able to
give you a pretty exact idea of this great and interesting
portion of the vast American continent. First let me say
a word of my departure from St. Louis.
On the 16th of April the steamer Yellowstone left the
port of St. Louis. I left on the night of the 20th, by the
Northwestern railroad, hoping to outstrip the boat and meet
it at St. Joseph. I even ventured as far as Leavenworth,
in the company of our Reverend Father Provincial, to present my respectful homage to Monseigneur Miège, S. J.,
vicar apostolic for Kansas, and to our dear brethren in
Jesus Christ. Upon my arrival, I learned, to my great surprise, that the Yellowstone was fifteen hours before me and
making good time, favored by a heavy rise in the river and
a good moon. I therefore found myself under the hard
necessity of taking a carriage and starting after the boat,
on the right [left] bank, up hill and down, on a drive of
200 miles. I will give a sketch of the aspect of this country,
the greater portion of which is embodied in the State of
8 This and the following letter are translated from the third Belgian
edition, volume V. To whom written not stated, but probably to the
editor of the Précis Historiques.
52 8i8
I had traversed this same country in 1838, when I was
going for the first time among the Potawatomies at Council
Bluffs, with Father Verreydt, to open our first Indian mission. All that region, then in its primitive condition, was
in peaceable possession of the Indians ; it was a grazing
ground for the numerous herds of wild animals that ranged
it. I shall always recall, with interest, the impression made
on my mind by the first sight of these interminable plains
and lovely prairies, enameled with flowers and plants that
were perfectly unknown to me; surrounded by forests and
fringes of woods, which seemed to frame them and the lines
of which one could follow into the distance. The axe of
the woodman had not yet penetrated thither. The whole
face of the country, for hundreds of miles in length and
breadth, from the Missouri to the Mississippi, has been
changed, within the last twenty-five years, under the influence of civilization and the labor of an industrious people.
One beholds with astonishment and admiration a succession
of towns and villages in full prosperity, several of which
already contain over 10,000 souls, like Leavenworth and
St. Joseph. They are surrounded with vast and beautiful
farms and immense pastures, where innumerable cattle are
raised without trouble. Everywhere is heard the sound of
the hammer on the anvil, and the puffing of steam in saw
and gristmills. In all this region the soil is of extraordinary
I reached the city of Omaha on the 25th of April. This
time, fortunately, I had gotten ahead of the steamboat.
Monseigneur O'Gorman, the vicar apostolic for Nebraska,
since May 8, 1859, received me with the greatest benevolence and the most paternal charity. I had time, until the
28th, to recover from my fatigues and to resume the religious practices prescribed by our rules. This important point
requires a particular effort in an American stage, where nine
or ten persons find themselves shut up, crowded and
squeezed as in a small boat, and this for two days and a
night.   Presently I took farewell of Monseigneur the Bishop,
and with his blessing received from His Grandeur all the
necessary powers for exercising the holy ministry in his immense district, which embraces the Territories of Nebraska,
Wyoming, Montana and a part of Dakota. I took the boat
on the 28th of April.
As on former occasions, Mr. Charles Chouteau received
me on board his boat with his habitual kindness and cordiality. He gave me the quietest and most commodious
stateroom, and at once had an altar prepared therein.
Thanks to his charity, I found myself installed as if at home
in one of the Society's houses. I have the consolation of
offering the holy sacrifice every day, in a kind of antechamber contiguous to mine. A good number of Catholics
can assemble here, and they come every Sunday to assist
at mass and fulfill their religious duties.
Among our travelers, who are some 150 in number, we
have all the various shades of the Protestant sects, deists,
atheists and believers in " elective affinities," who have
broken all marriage and family ties. On a long-distance
American steamboat, a priest therefore finds abundance of
occupation. In the crowd he always finds some persons
who respond to the Lord's grace, willingly receive instruction and are converted. One can awake better thoughts
in most of them, and often remorse, which bears fruit later.
When he first comes into the midst of such an assemblage,
the priest is attentively observed : they seem to measure you
from head to foot; it is like the curious beast in the menagerie, they stare at you with surprise, and are rather slow
in approaching you. But the first reserve once broken, you
are overwhelmed with questions concerning all the points
of religion, some quite often sensible, but ordinarily they
are outlandish, sometimes even rude and indelicate; this
denotes a profound and deplorable ignorance, which inspires
only pity and compassion.
From the 28th of April until this 17th of May, the boat
has barely made 340 miles. It is constantly running
aground on heaps of sand, which practically bar the river. 820
We are obliged to unload part of the cargo, to lighten the
boat and permit it to cross, and this occasions great delays.
These delays have given me opportunities to make excursions into the forests and prairies near the river, and practice my holy ministry.   Here is the result.
In a point of woods called Oak Cove, in the Nebraska
Territory, I found a Canadian who had been established
there for eight years, and who was married after the fashion
of the country, that is, by simple mutual consent, either
before witnesses or a judge. His wife was a half-breed
Blackfoot, and had received baptism in infancy, at the time
of my first visit to her tribe. The first entrance of a priest
at Oak Cove was a day of surprise and joy for the family.
The father and mother were eager to have their four children baptized, and prepared at once to receive worthily the
nuptial benediction.
Upon the opposite bank, in the Dakota Territory, I entered a cabin occupied by a young half-breed Yankton chief
and his family. He recognized me and saluted me affectionately. I had baptized him upon one of my first visits to the
Sioux. Later he had spent several years in our Indian
school at St. Mary, among the Potawatomies. He presented
to me his four sons, of whom the eldest was scarce six years
old, and begged me to baptize them.
Along the banks and at some wooded points, I have regenerated in the holy waters of baptism eighteen children
belonging to the nation of the Winnebagoes, a good part of
which is Catholic. I will give a brief note of what I was
able to learn concerning their sad and unfortunate condition.
Formerly they lived happy and contented near certain
" branches v and lakes upon the upper Mississippi, where
they occupied fine reservations. At the outbreak of the
Sioux war in 1862, in which the Winnebagoes had taken
no part, and in spite of their demonstrations of attachment
to the whites, they were forced by the civil and military authorities to leave their peaceable abodes, their fair fields
and gardens, and immediately their " reservation," which
had been guaranteed them in perpetuity, was invaded by
the whites.
The allotment made by the Government for the transportation of these poor unhappy banished folk was quite considerable, and there was abundance of provisions. Nothing
was omitted from the large promises that were made them,
" to manage everything for them, to make them happy and
comfortable in their new home, where they would lack nothing." About 2,000 Winnebagoes submitted, forcibly, to
this agreement. Last year (1863) they were put on board
steamboats, which were chartered for the conveyance of
these strange figures (figures étranges) ; and set ashore on
their new reservation, situated below the Big Bend of the
Missouri, 1,363 miles from its mouth and about 3,000
[300?] from their old dwelling-places. What preparations
had been made to receive so many wretched beings, who
saw themselves forced to leave their tents, cabins, fields,
gardens, mills, fishing-grounds? They were given in exchange a portion of desert, comparatively uncultivated and
miserable, destitute of animals and game, and besides this,
they were set down in the vicinity of the Sioux, their mortal
enemies from ancient times.
When they reached this place, the planting season was
already too far along for favorable results. Last winter
was long and severe. These savages were put on short
rations. This spring they found themselves in addition
without grain or seeds. A great number of their children
have already died of destitution; for the most part, they
have starved to death. To-day they are to be found scattered all over, in groups of two, three or four families,
hiding upon the islands or along the shores of the Missouri.
I was able to approach several of them, and, to their great
joy, give baptism to eighteen of their little ones. Soldiers
are stationed at different points along the river, to intercept
them and take them back by force upon this " reservation
of desolation, where eighty of the poor wretches have succumbed already.   It is one more link attached to the long 822
chain of cruelties and injustice inflicted upon the unhappy
natives. Some of the newspapers have made an outcry,
asking : " Who is to blame for this barbarous conduct
toward the Winnebagoes? '' And the answer is -■ Who? "
In fact, no light has yet been obtained upon this sad affair ;
but an investigation has been made. May this be for the
sake of form? I will let you know the results, if any are
ever made known.4
On the nth of May, we found ourselves completely arrested by a sandbar a mile above Yankton, capital of the
Territory of Dakota. This new town is still in its infancy.
Its population consists of thirty or forty families. The
capitol, the Governor's residence, and all the houses are
made of logs and frame. Its situation upon the river, where
the ground is high and sloping, is well chosen. Yankton
will become a city of more and more importance, as the
country settles up.
Just now we are fairly stuck. The water continues low,
and the difficulty of loading and unloading has been so
great, that the captain has resolved to have a large boat, of
the kind called Mackinaw, built, which will carry seventy-
five tons of freight, to lighten the steamboat.
The pioneer settlers are living here in a continual state
of uneasiness, and are on the alert day and night. Though
the Sioux are driven out of their ancient territory, far from
the tombs where the ashes of their ancestors repose, bands
of marauders still range their old domain, to rob and slay
the invaders of their soil. Quite recently, six of the unhappy inhabitants have fallen at their hands. The paper of
the ioth of May announces, on hearsay, no doubt, that our
boat will meet great opposition on the part of 3,000 Sioux
* This forcible expatriation of the Winnebagoes, and the absurd
scheme adopted of sending them from Mankato down the St. Peter's to
Fort Snelling, thence down the Mississippi to the Missouri, thence up
the latter stream to their new reservation, a total distance around of
1,900 miles as against 300 miles overland, were public measures which,
viewed from this distance, appear unjustifiable.
SB* mmmm
warriors, who are meditating an attack on Old Fort Clark,
and resolved to dispute the passage of the river with boats
that may try to go up. We can judge of the worth of this
news in a few days. It is added that they are well armed;
they have two cannon, abundance of powder and lead, firearms and arrows. We shall see. I put my trust in the Lord's
providence and the protection of the holy Virgin Mary,
our kind mother. I am sent out by obedience, and under
the auspices of the Government, in the capacity of " messenger of the word of peace." Still, it is impossible to deceive
one's self — this is a very critical moment; but si Deus pro
nobis, quis contra nos?
The situation is aggravated and peace rendered almost
impossible by the recent occurrences which I have related
in connection with the unhappy Winnebagoes, which have
inflamed the hatred of the whites in every Indian heart;
and also by the continual aggressions of our raw frontier
soldiery, little habituated to military discipline, who abandon themselves to all sorts of cruel and shameful excesses.
Two instances will show you what I mean.
Eight friendly Indians, riding at full speed, according to
their custom, approached a troop of soldiers. The latter,
not knowing the signal to stop them, called to them to halt.
The Indians did not understand either the language or the
order, and rode on. The soldiers fired on them and killed
seven. The single one who escaped brought the news to his
camp. The reprisals were terrible and barbarous. They
took vengeance some time afterward, first by an attack upon
a steamboat, in which four men were killed, and further
by attacking a Mackinaw containing fifteen men, a young
girl and a woman with two children, all of whom were
massacred in the most frightful manner.
Here is another. Some soldiers, in a state of drunkenness, came to an Indian lodge in which several women were
assembled. They grossly insulted the squaws, who tried
to run to escape their brutality. Then they shot after them,
and several of the poor creatures were struck and killed. 824
That is enough about the causes which are augmenting
the present difficulties and accumulating them around us.
The Lord alone can appease the wrath and calm the hearts
of the savages, inflamed by the spirit of hatred and vengeance. Let us pray and hope in the divine mercy and the
intercession of our kind Mother, Refugium nostrum.
I will finish this rather long letter with a characteristic
anecdote, very suitable to the people of this region. On
the 23d I found a Canadian, who had a cabin near the river
and a woodyard for the service of the steamboats.    He
spoke to me of the great dangers to which his family was
exposed, by the proximity of the Sioux and their hostile
nocturnal visits. I tried to give him some salutary advice,
suited to his position, such as he no doubt needed very
much. I wound up by recommending to him " to keep himself always in readiness to receive the visit of the Lord;
that he might come in the night when least looked for ; that
it would be most unfortunate to appear before his judge
without being well prepared." Evidently he had not understood a thing of my little harangue, and .was thinking only
of Sioux. He answered, " Father, it is as you say; they
come unexpected, these terrible Sioux, and without giving
warning fill you full of bullets and arrows. As for me, I
am not prepared at all, because I am poor ; I have no powder
nor balls to take my-revenge. It is a sad situation, isn't it,
Father? But to-day I have better luck. I have sold my
wood to the boat ; I will buy bullets and powder. Then let
them come, these villains of Sioux, and they will find me
ready to receive them." This is about the way all these
rangers of the wood and plains talk to you. They have
been raised in religion, but that is all. They do not practice it ; they say to you " when I was young I served the
mass; I made my first communion; but in this country,
where I have spent the greater part of my life, I have forgotten everything." Moreover, by their continual contact
with the Indians, they have become imbued with their manners and their superstitious ideas.   But they can be brought INTERVIEWS DURING  STOPS.
back, little by little, by gentleness especially, and by recalling
to them the great truths of religion concerning the end of
man. Why have we not here two dozen zealous missionaries?   Will Europe refuse them to us?
Fort Berthold, June 24, 1864.
(1,916 miles from St. Louis.)
On the 25th of May the boat stopped a moment at the
Yankton Agency, to allow me to visit a poor sick woman
and to> confer the sacrament of baptism on two children.
The same day it stopped at Fort Randall, where six children
received the same benefit.
On the following day, while the boat was taking on its
supply of wood for the day, I made my way into the forest.
A rather roomy path brought me to a little hut not far from
the river. The solitary inmate recognized me at the first
glance and saluted me in the most affectionate manner. He
was surprised but glad at the fortunate meeting. He called
his Indian wife and they presented their children to me for
May 31st, the boat halted at Fort Sully, the old Fort
Pierre, to discharge part of its cargo. This stop gave me
several hours ; I improved this time to take a little exercise,
of which I had need after my long detention on the boat ; I
utilized it also for the good of souls. The half-breeds invited me to come to the principal cabin, and directly there
came the mothers to have ten of their children regenerated
in the holy waters of baptism.
The news of my arrival went out at once to two camps
of Sioux Indians, the Kettles and the Yanktonnais; they
observe a kind of neutrality, and hold more or less aloof
from the hostile bands. The chiefs came to pray me to
enter among them, saying " that the mothers had come out
with their little ones, to put them under the special pro- 826
tection of the Great Spirit," that is to say, to receive baptism. They had gotten together and were squatting in a
ring in the middle of the camp, in the open air. I gave
them an instruction on the importance and necessity of
baptism, and the principal dogmas of religion. They all
appeared very attentive.
An Indian assemblage, come to listen to the word of
God or to be present at any religious act, always behaves in
the most respectful manner, which is really edifying to see.
Watching them under these circumstances, one would
imagine himself among Christians, rather than among unhappy pagans. Before the instruction, the chiefs keep saying to the priest, " Black-robe, give us strong words, because our hearts are so hard; we are ignorant as the animals on our plains; we need to hear thee. Speak; we are
On the present occasion I distributed 164 images, bearing
the names of the patron saints of the children baptized. I
gave with each image a medal of the holy Virgin, to be
borne about the neck as a token of their baptism. They
keep these devotional objects with the greatest care.
The chief of the Yanktons, called Man Who Strikes the
Ree, begged me most earnestly to obtain them an establishment for the instruction of their children. I promised
that I would represent their distress and their good desires
to the head chiefs of the Black-robes, that is, to the bishop
and my superiors ; I told them to hope, and to prepare themselves for this great favor by a good life, which would
bring the blessings of the Great Spirit upon them. I then
told them all about the Government's intentions in regard
to them and the mournful consequences of war, and exhorted them to continue to keep the peace.
June 3d, as we went along, I espied sixteen lodges of
Yanktonnais, grouped on a hill. They made us a signal to
approach; we went to see them, and they invited us to a
council, to deliberate upon the affairs of their country.
They seemed irresolute, but hungry for news.    We told
them all about the trouble the tribes that had become hostile were going to get into, and exhorted them to keep quiet.
As we advanced farther into the hostile country, our
crew had to be on the alert day and night, not to be surprised.
A word upon the habits of the Indians of these parts will
not be out of place. Our regular troops are going to meet
these wandering tribes of marauders, exasperated to the
highest pitch against the whites. The Sioux are five or
six thousand warriors in number, mounted for the most
part on swift horses. War is to them not only a business
or a pastime, but the occupation par excellence of their lives.
The tactics followed by these Indians renders the regular
system of warfare impotent or almost useless. They are
here to-day and somewhere else to-morrow. All at once
they are scattering panic among the horses and mules of
the emigrants, who are crossing the desert in long caravans,
and then they reappear once more on the Missouri river,
waiting for the passage of boats to pillage them and massacre the feeble crews. The Indian has the gift of being
everywhere without being anywhere. These savages assemble at the moment of battle, and scatter whenever the
fortune of war is contrary to them. The Indian puts his
wife and children in shelter in some retired place, far from
the scene of hostilities. He has neither towns, forts nor
magazines to defend, nor line of retreat to cover. He is
embarrassed with neither baggage trains nor pack-horses.
He goes into action when a favorable occasion is presented,
and never risks himself without having the advantage of
numbers and position on his side. The science of strategy
is consequently of little use in operating against such a people. There is not on earth a nation more ambitious of military renown, nor that holds in higher estimation the conduct
of a valiant warrior. No Indian could ever occupy a place in
the councils of his tribe until he had met the enemy on the
field of battle. He who reckons the most scalps is most
highly considered among his people.    The redskins  are 828
strangers to all care, they live without artificial wants, they
are happy as kings, provided that in the course of their whirlwind vagabondage they can find buffalo and antelope.
Every man among them is a warrior, and each has the conscious conviction of his personal valor.
As the boat advances, we perceive numerous traces of the
passage of large herds of buffalo, along the shore. Between the 4th and 7th of June, without stepping off the boat,
our hunters killed ten buffalo in the water and on the bank,
besides six antelope, a deer, a hare and two wolves. They
took three calves alive, that had got mired and were struggling to escape from the mud. It is easy to raise these
On the 9th, the boat arrived at Fort Berthold,5 1,916
miles above the mouth of the Missouri. I stopped here to
wait for news concerning the movements of the Sioux
bands. I hastened to send them an express, to acquaint
them with my arrival and intentions. I expect their response within a fortnight; if it is favorable, I shall, with
the Lord's grace, do my best to go to them in the interior of
the country.
The three united nations, the Grosventres, Aricaras and
Mandans, received me with the utmost cordiality. They
appeared to be delighted when I announced that I had come
to spend some time in their village. On the following day,
I collected the principal Mandans and Grosventres in one
of their big lodges or earthen houses; they are about 150
feet around and can contain over 600 persons. I made
known to them the motives of my visit, which were to announce to them the word of the Great Spirit, to baptize the
little children, to penetrate, if possible, among their enemies,
the Sioux ; and to endeavor, in the name of the Great Spirit,
to make them relish the words of peace of which I was the
5 Fort Berthold was built as a trading-post in 1845, but was occupied
as a military post in 1864. It was the successor of Fort Clark, the
old trading-post of the Mandan Indians. It was an important military
post during the Sioux wars. ORATORY  AND  ROARS.
bearer from the President of the United States, Mr. Lincoln. I spoke for two hours, and they listened with the
greatest attention and the liveliest interest. The chief,
Manchoute, "Soaring War Eagle," (he is six feet six inches
in height) addressed me in reply, in fitting and well-chosen
words, accompanied by a really remarkable oratorical bearing and gestures. This facility in speaking seems to be
natural to the Indians of the plains. In his long harangue,
he thanked me particularly " for my good will or benevolence toward them," and expressed the hope " that my
counsels and advice would be strictly followed and observed." In closing, he added : " I renew to-day the desire
that I have already expressed for some years past : we are
poor wretches and ignorant; we wish to know the way in
which the Great Spirit orders us to walk on earth. Oh!
let the Black-robes come and reside among us, to put us,
with our wives and children, in the path of truth, and we
shall live happy ! "
After the advice and the speeches, the Indian mothers
came into the lodge with their babies, and placed themselves in a double and triple circle. What a consolation!
Two hundred and four children were regenerated in the
holy waters of baptism. Everything passed off in the best
of order, though not altogether without noise. During the
ceremonies, we were honored from time to time with a
deafening chorus. All that was needed was for a young
savage, seized with terror at the approach of the Black-robe,
to exhibit the strength of his young lungs in piercing yells,
to set all his comrades going in the same key. It was really
enough to split one's ears. The dogs on the outside added
to the uproar by reinforcing the cries of the children with
their frightful howls and roars. But all in all, the 10th was
for me a beautiful and consoling day. The religious ceremonies occupied it all. Through the constant bending of
my somewhat obese body, to give the baptism, I was
scarcely able to move for several days afterward, met het
geschot in den rug: with a " crick " in my back. 830
On the 12th, I was invited by the Aricara chiefs. After
smoking the calumet, I opened the council by announcing
to them the motives of my coming. Just as among their
brethren the Mandans and Grosventres, my words were
listened to with religious attention, and approved. The
head chief, Net-soo-taka, or White Parfleche, made me a
long and handsome response, very much to the purpose.
Then I had to listen to and condole with a succession of
complaints of their enemies and the Government agents.
The meeting lasted three hours, or thereabouts. Then the
men left the lodge and gave place to the mothers and their
babies. I took my place in the middle of the lodge, seated
on a buffalo-skin, and all the small children, to the number
of 103, were presented to me by twos to receive baptism.
On the 13th we had an alarm in the camp. A band of
Sioux were perceived in the neighborhood. After having
killed a Grosventre, wounded an Aricara and stolen some
horses, they gained the open and escaped pursuit.
I will add a circumstance which has contributed considerably to increase the Indian's respect for our holy religion.
Last year, in consequence of an excessive drought, the harvest had been very meagre ; they had hardly got enough for
this year's seeding. Hoping for better results this time,
these poor people had worked hard and put in something
like a thousand acres. All their farm implements were a
few mattocks and poor spades, with crooked or pointed
sticks and shoulder-blades of buffaloes. After preparing
this land in this manner, they had sowed it. Unluckily,
this year again the spring had been without rain or even
dew. Corn and other vegetables were not growing and
their hope of a good crop was fast vanishing again. The
Indians were feeling very bad about it. At the meeting
on the 12th, they begged me to implore the aid of heaven
to obtain them an abundant rain, that would fertilize their
lands. " Black-robe," they said, " you who have such
power, can you not also make a little rain come ? '' I answered them that I had not that power, that the Great DE SMET   PRAYS  FOR  RAIN.
Spirit alone is omnipotent; but that anything can be obtained from him by prayer. I exhorted them to have recourse to him, who is always ready to listen to humble and
well-disposed hearts, since he says to us himself, " Ask and
ye shall receive." I said further, " Let us implore heaven
together, and offer our hearts to God. I will say the
greatest of prayers (the mass). Let us hope in the infinite mercy of the Great Spirit, who is our Father ; he sends
help and grants protection to his children on earth, when
they try to make themselves worthy." I offered to God
the propitiatory victim. The next day, the 13th, the sky
clouded up for the first time in a long while, and a gentle
and abundant rain fell at intervals for about twenty-four
hours. This fortunate circumstance filled all hearts with
respect for the word of God, and at the same time with
hope and joy. On the 17th we applied to heaven again, and
the Lord granted us a second rain, which did much good.
These favors from on high made a deep impression on
these simple-minded Indians.
They attended willingly, and with great assiduity, at all
the instructions. A large number of adults, together with
all the old men and old widows, the sick and the blind,
prepared to receive baptism worthily. I find them really
admirably disposed, and already the chiefs have taken it
upon themselves to devise a remedy for the pagan vices and
superstitions which have hitherto desolated the three tribes.
I shall never forget the assistance so generously furnished me at the time of my arrival at the fort by the
worthy Mr. Gerard, in charge of the establishment; Mr.
Pierre Garreau, the interpreter; Mr. Gustave Cagnat, clerk,
and all the employees. I shall not cease to make vows for
their welfare. May the Lord repay them a hundredfold
for their kindness and thoughtful charity toward me.
I made an allusion to the eloquence of our Indian orators.
This is the textual translation of the address of Little
Walker, a Mandan chief, to the President of the United
States : 832
" Great Father, I am desired to send you a word. What
can I say? Once we were a powerful nation. What are
we to-day ? Ask your agent ; he visits us every year — he
knows our number, and he will say ' Alas ! there are not
many Mandans left.' What has become of them? What
part of the earth do they occupy? Great Father, look over
the prairie, when it is covered with grass and dotted with
beautiful flowers of all colors, pleasant to the sight and
the smell. Throw a burning torch into this vast prairie,
and then look at it, and remember the life and happiness
that reigned there before the fire. Then you will have an
image of my nation. My great ancient village was like
this lovely prairie ; my people was this rich growth of grass ;
our women and children were the flowers. The smallpox
was the torch that set fire to and destroyed our fair gardens, of which, alas ! only the memory remains to us.—
But we have buried the spirit of hatred and vengeance. We
no longer reproach the white man for having thrown the
burning torch in our midst.
" Death has thinned our ranks. Today three different
peoples form only a single village. When the Aricaras
and Grosventres are hungry and suffering, we share it with
them. I have heard the speeches that our allies have made.
I have thought it my duty to add my feeble voice, hoping
that you will take pity on us and protect us against the
attacks of our enemies.— Stretch out your powerful arm,
and it will form a barrier so strong that the Sioux will not
try to pass ; and we shall sleep at peace, without bows and
arrows at our side,— Assuredly, the strong and powerful
will not hear in vain the weeping and sighing of the weak,
who call on him for succor; especially when the weak can
attribute to the strong all his troubles and the decadence of
his nation."
This language of Little Walker is not without eloquence.
eOn July 8th another formidable party of Sioux warriors,
to the number of 200 or 300, presented themselves before
Berthold on the opposite bank of the river Missouri. It
was clearly a risk to cross over to their side. Contrary to
the advice of all the whites in the fort I went to meet them.
They received me with unmistakable tokens of friendship
and respect. They had repaired to the spot for the express purpose of having a conference with me. The council
lasted nearly three hours. The great chiefs spoke favorably with regard to peace, and heard with pleasure and satisfaction the words I addressed to them on the part of the
Government. Our interview concluded in the most favorable manner.
During my stay at Berthold I received tidings of the
great tribe of the Santee Sioux who had the chief hand in
massacring the inhabitants of the State of Minnesota in
1862. They reckoned, on that occasion, above 700 hapless victims, most of them children, women and old men.
Their present abode is on the English frontier, on the
north. I was assured that they too would be glad to see
me and hear the announcements I was authorized to make
on the part of the Government. Before setting out to
them I wished to consult the general of the army, which
was 5,000 men strong, and inform myself of his dispositions
toward the savages. So I descended the Missouri and at
a distance of about 200 miles I found the great camp of
the whites. I gave the general an account of my mission
and of my different interviews with the Sioux. He told me
plainly that circumstances obliged him to punish by force of
arms all the Sioux tribes that harbored in their camps any
murderers of white men. " Unfortunately," he added,
" all the Indian camps harbor some of these desperate
ruffians, over whom the chiefs have little or no power."
® Fragment found loose in one of the letter-books without date or
other means of identification, but evidently relating to the subject of
Father De Smet's expedition in 1864, referred to in the preceding letter.
Jm\ 834
In consequence of the general's declaration and the circumstances of the case, my errand of peace, though sanctioned by the Government, became bootless and could only
serve to place me in a false position : namely, that of being
face to face with the Indians without being able to do them
the least service. So I took the resolution of returning
to St Louis. I reported to the Government all that had
passed during my stay in the plains.
3k sf ^fc *^ xj^ ^K *Jf w ^v
At the post of Berthold there are three tribes united in
one large village, numbering about 3,000 souls. The Minnetarees, or Grosventres, the Aricaras and the Mandans.
They welcomed me with the greatest cordiality. They
seemed enraptured when I told them that I was going to
spend some time in their village.
The day after my arrival I gathered together all the
principal chiefs or braves in one of their great lodges or
clay houses, which are from 100 to 200 feet in circumference and will hold more than 600 people. I acquainted
them with the reasons of my coming, viz: first to preach
to them the word of the Great Spirit ; second, to administer
baptism to all children who had not yet received it ; third,
to introduce myself, if possible, among their enemies the
Sioux, and endeavor, in the name of the Great Spirit, to
make them relish the words of peace, of which I was the
bearer on the part of the President of the United States.
My address lasted two hours.
Letter to Father Imoda,
near Sun river, August 6, 1865.
You, no doubt desire to know what I have been at for
these months. Here is a little synopsis of it which you
will please communicate to Father Giorda and to the other PROJECTS  FOR MISSIONS.
Fathers : On the 20th of April, 1864,1 left St. Louis for the
upper country on a mission from the Government, to endeavor to obtain a peace with the whites among the Sioux.
Owing to various circumstances the object of my mission
failed. The Indians I met felt pretty well disposed, at least
as to appearances, but the military authorities thought it
could not be granted without the Indians surrendering all
the murderers of Minnesota of 1862, which was altogether
impracticable, or rather impossible. I spent the greater
portion of the summer (1864) among various Sioux bands,
among the Aricaras, the Mandans and the Minnetarees or
Grosventres of the Missouri. I had the great consolation
to baptize over 700 of their little children and a great number of adults, chiefly old men and women in extreme old
age, and persons in danger of death by sickness. I was several times in great danger on the part of the Sioux; even a
plot was laid, on one occasion, to murder me and my band of
whites, had not kind Providence interfered. A chief recognized me and attributed to me the deliverance of his daughter, a captive among the Crows. At the earnest request of
the chieftain, I had offered the holy sacrifice of the mass for
her return. She made a miraculous escape from her enemies, though pursued by a large band of young warriors, and
succeeded in reaching her father in safety after a six days'
flight with very little repose.
If the thing be possible and the times allow of it, one or
two missions will be established — one among the well-disposed Sioux, and one for the three above-named tribes. At
the end of August, 1864,1 returned to St. Louis. I proceeded
to Washington in the beginning of September, to give an
account of my visit among the Indians to the Government.
Having no written authorization to show, either from
Father Giorda or Grassi, I could effect nothing with the
Commissioner of Indian Affairs — An authority should be
sent to me in proper order and if possible signed by the Grov^-
ernor of the Territory, who acts as Superintendent over the
Indians. Whilst in Washington I was not a little surprised 836
to see, from a letter to Father Van Gorp from San Francisco, how unwelcome and uncharitably the poor sisters
had been received by F. C. The thing is unaccountable to
me. I wrote to his Reverence on the subject. I have not
received an answer. I would like to hear some explanation
given on the subject, in the interest of the missions, and
would thank Father Kuppens for it, being at that time on
the spot. I now rejoice that, notwithstanding the endeavor to the contrary of F. C, the good sisters have
reached the mountains.
Toward the end of September I was back in St. Louis.
The Father Provincial had received meanwhile, a letter
from the Father-General with a permit and invitation for
me to come over to Europe. I left New York on the 20th
of October and arrived in Rome on the 9th of November.
The next day I had the great consolation to assist at the
solemn beatification of blessed Canisius. I saw his Holiness different times and shall ever remember his paternal
kindness. In December I returned to Belgium ; visited different cities; visited Holland, the Duchy of Luxembourg,
England and Ireland. I met with proper success everywhere. On the 7th of last June I embarked in Liverpool
with four candidates from Holland, five from Belgium and
three from England, besides four sisters of Ste. Marie from
Namur. We had a prosperous and happy sea voyage. We
landed in New York on the 19th of June — left New York
on the 26th and arrived in St. Louis on the 30th, safe and
sountl with all my companions, who are now in their pious
avocations in the novitiate.
Mr. Charles Chouteau, the great benefactor of the missions, has sold out his whole concern in the trading posts
on the Missouri river, except at Fort Benton. He may
even sell that post before long. This would bring a great
contrariety in regard to the upper missions, as freight on
all the goods might be exacted, which would make a con- JEHOVAH  JIREH.
siderable amount. However, let us hope in kind Providence.
Should Chouteau cease running on the Missouri, some other
kind friend might step in his footsteps. I shall try my best.
Remember your benefactors in your holy sacrifices and
prayers and do not forget me.
Remember me to all the good Fathers and Brothers, particularly to the Reverend Father Giorda, to whom I shall
soon write. Should this letter reach your Reverence you
will please communicate to him and to Father Grassi its
full contents.
OCEAN  AND  RIVER  VOYAGES  OF   1865   AND   1866.
Bringing recruits to America — A dash through England — Neptune
still on duty — Whales and icebergs — War news — Embarrassing reception at home — Up the river again — Description of boat and crew —
Occupations of travelers — Scenery and natural history — A buffalo
farce — Damage by high water — Violence of current — Prepared for
battle — Sufferings and wrongs of friendly Indians.
Ostende, June 2, 1865.1
T six o'clock this evening, I leave anew my native
country, my family, my friends; my benefactors, my
brothers in religion. Adieu, adieu to all — and who knows ?
it may be forever, until the supreme reunion in heaven.
This separation — why should I not own it ? gives me no
small heartache; but I hope to be able to work yet a little
for the glory of God and the salvation of souls ; this is the
supernatural magnet which draws me so far away from
dear Belgium and the affection that I have found here. I
always miss something when I am not among my good
Indians; notwithstanding the kindly welcome that I meet
everywhere, for the sake of my apostolic mission, I am
conscious of a certain void wherever I go, until I come
again to my dear Rocky Mountains. Then calm comes back
to me ; then only am I happy. Hœc requies mea. You will
readily understand : after having passed a good share of
my life among the Indians, it is among them that I desire
to finish the few years that are left me still; it is among
them also, if it be the will of God, that I desire to die. Ah !
this would be my last and greatest happiness on earth.
Before going on board the steamship which is to transport me from Ostende to London, I wish to thank once
more my countrymen who have been so kind to me, and
1 From the French of the third Belgian edition.
[838] in
*n  .«
in especial my benefactors. I thank God, my JQurney in
Europe has been blessed; I leave content, and go home
happy. All the persons who have taken an interest in my
mission will learn with pleasure that I am taking with me
thirteen young men and one of our Fathers. They are
going to devote themselves to the great work of civilization
by means of the gospel, the only one that is possible, as I
have satisfied myself in many places in well nigh forty-five
years of continual missionary labor. Together with these
companions, I am taking to America four Sisters of Saint
Mary, of those whose mother-house is at Namur. You will
observe that the mission to the Rocky Mountains is in some
sort a Belgian work, like that of Calcutta.
On Wednesday, the 7th of this month, with the grace of
God, we shall embark at liverpool for New York, on the
steamer City of New York. We hope to arrive for the
feast of Saint Louis Gonsaguez.
Now I have only to request your prayers and masses for
a fortunate voyage. This will be the ninth time that I have
crossed the great ocean, under the protection of heaven,
with an entire and filial confidence in the Star of the Sea,
Stella maris, the kind Mother of us all. I shall pray for all
the persons with whom I have come in contact, and will
have the Indians pray for them. May we, some day, meet
again in paradise ! On earth, everything is vanity, nothing
entirely satisfies the heart; I have had many opportunities
of convincing myself of this, having traveled and talked
with men of all religions, all opinions and all classes of
society: believers, that is, children of the Church, are the
happiest; and it is among them also that those are found
who make others happy ; they have not their personal interests in view, but act out of pure devotion and charity.
Adieu! I shall continue to send you accounts of my
travels. The journal of the present voyage begins to-day
with our departure from Ostende.
Instead of waiting to send it from New York, if kind
Providence should permit us to reach that place, I will add 840
to this letter a curious little matter that I have found in my
notes. It is the Indian tradition of the rainbow. It will be
seen that the biblical truths find traditional confirmations
in all places, even among savages who live in countries the
most remote from all communication. How, after so many
proofs of our holy and so consoling religion, can so many
remain incredulous? That is what I have never been able
to understand, nor shall I ever.
University of St. Louis, Aug. 24, 1865.2
I have been back in St. Louis since the end of June.
Pressure of work and the little indispositions that have disabled me since my arrival, have delayed the sending of this
Agreeably to the promise I made you upon leaving Brussels, I will give you a little sketch of my voyage, although
there is nothing especially interesting to tell. It was quiet
and fortunate, which is saying a good deal in a few words.
I left Tronchiennes and Ghent, with my dear traveling
companions, on the 2d of June. Toward six in the evening, we embarked at Ostende and took our farewell of
Monsieur Albert Montens, my dear brother-in-law Charles
Van Mossevelde, of Termonde, and the other friends who
had accompanied us to the landing place. We had serene
and beautiful weather for our passage of the channel.
The next day, about eight in the evening, we landed at
St. Catherine's quay in London. Father MacCann and a
young Jesuit, not a priest, were awaiting us with several
carriages. It took us nearly an hour to cross this quarter
of the great modern Babylon and reach the Liverpool station. Toward noon an express train took us away. We
went very fast. We had little time to contemplate the rich
and beautiful fields, the numerous cities, the big towns and
villages; all disappeared like a flash.    Toward six in the
2 From the French of the third Belgian edition.
evening we arrived at our destination and took lodging at
the Queen's Hotel. We had been almost fasting since we
left Ostende. You can easily imagine that we did honor to
the great roast of beef and other dishes that passed rapidly
under our hands.
The good Fathers of Liverpool were most fraternally
thoughtful of us and overwhelmed us with tokens of friendship, goodness and charity.
On the 7th, we took leave of them. Reverend Father
Weld, the Provincial, and several other Fathers conducted
us on board the fine new vessel, the City of New York.
About five in the afternoon the anchor was weighed and we
left the harbor. I had taken the precaution to engage our
seventeen places two weeks beforehand. The first night out,
the engine got out of order and the boat stopped for several
hours. During the forenoon of the next day, we cast anchor in the port of Queenstown, in Ireland, to take on
passengers and the mails. The number was then complete ;
it approached 450. All the nations of Europe and America
were represented.
Our crossing may be reckoned among the most fortunate
ever made; no tempest, no accident, only three of my companions and three of the sisters were called upon by the
inexorable Neptune, and were forced to submit to pay him
tribute. Each of them had to show him his or her pale
face, and make gestures and grimaces which sometimes
caused a good deal of mirth.
We saw a great many whales, some of them very near.
They passed majestically near the sides of the vessel and
projected two columns of foam from their nostrils. Other
large sea-fish also showed themselves very numerously.
For several days the air was very keen and chilly. All
made haste to get out their winter coats. This was not
strange ; we were gradually approaching the floating masses
of ice, detached from the glacial pole. Several in fact came
within reach of our curious gaze. It was the first time that
most of the passengers had enjoyed this marvelous sight; 842
so they opened their eyes wide and could not tire of contemplating these transparent isles, until finally they disappeared in the distance. One of these mountains of ice had
the appearance of an immense amphitheatre, seen at the distance of a quarter of a league.
Every day some sailing vessels and steamships were signaled. The direct route between Liverpool and New York
is very much frequented. In case of a meeting the national
flag is hoisted on both ships, and the pilot continues to keep
his eye on the compass, not deviating by a mark from his
course. Only on signals of distress do they approach and
We had several days of fog in the vicinity of the banks
of Newfoundland, where codfishing is carried on on a large
scale. It is a noted region for mist and rain. I do not remember to have passed there once, in all my various crossings of the Atlantic, in calm and serene weather. As long as
the fog lasts, day and night, the great steam whistle of the
boat is blown every five minutes, to avoid collisions.
Early on the morning of the 19th we came in sight of
Sandy Hook. The American pilot had come aboard the
night before, with his package of newspapers. On stepping on deck he found himself besieged by a crowd of
curious people, eager to learn the great recent happenings
in the United States. The journals were devoured and discussed with ardor, for we had amongst us many politicians
of the old and new hemispheres, and a large number of
I learned with consolation that the sad and unhappy
American war was drawing to its close, that quiet was returning among the masses, and that law and order, despite
the abolition of slavery, seemed to be returning little by
little in the States where secession had caused so many misfortunes and ruins. The spontaneity of spirit of the people
of the South, which precipitated so large a number of States
into the rebellion, caused likewise at the North a general
rally to the Union.    To-day, no one in the South seems to il
think any longer of undertakings hostile to the Government. The majority of the Southerners ask nothing but
a fair chance and the means of lifting themselves up once
more. A true policy must tend to assure a solid peace and
durable prosperity. It is to be hoped that President Johnson will remove from his side the vengeful agitators, and
then the return to the Union will render this land more
beautiful, prosperous and great than it has ever been. But
the more violent and widespread the fire, the longer time
will it take to extinguish it. The American torment has
been disastrous in its effects ; but the wisdom of the people
will avail to heal it in the end, at least we must hope so.
On the 19th, toward nine in the morning, the City of
New York entered the vast harbor of the great American
metropolis, which contains to-day more than 1,100,000 inhabitants. What strikes the stranger first on his arrival
in New York, is the splendor of the public establishments,
of the great hotels and houses ; her commerce and prosperity,
her luxury and extravagance. The war has been a gold
mine to the city; the great contracts have made it wealthy
in the last four years.
On the day of our arrival, we dined at St. Francis
Xavier's College. Our Fathers received us with the most
perfect cordiality and the most fraternal charity. Their establishment is very prosperous and contains about 500
pupils. It is very popular. The city government, the
members of which are for the most part Protestants, granted
it in the course of the year a subsidy of $4,000.
My companions needed exercise ; they took it by ranging
the city and its environs, and visiting the most interesting
public buildings. I had my missionary affairs to think of.
I obtained free entry for all our boxes and trunks. The
chief of the custom-house, to whom I presented myself with
a good recommendation, was extremely civil to me.
In the morning of the 26th, we took the railroad at Jersey
City, by way of Cincinnati, where we tarried eight hours to
visit our dear brethren of St. Xavier's College.    Finally 844
we reached St. Louis on the 29th of June. It was the feast
of Saints Peter and Paul. We were in time to attend the
solemn distribution of prizes which took place that day at
our university. I was truly delighted to be at the end of my
long travels, with all my companions, safe and sound. I
was moved to the bottom of my heart at finding myself
among my dear brothers in Jesus Christ. I went at once to
join them in the hall where the exercises were taking place.
There was a great audience present to hear the addresses
of the pupils and witness the giving of the prizes. To my
great surprise and confusion, my return was saluted by
them with clapping of hands and stamping of feet. I will
admit that at this moment I was far from being at my ease.
**t» ,*tr ^** >if -^ +&£ ■*t *fe
^n *J* >^ ^n *J* *y^ "^ *w*
A word in regard to the Indians, and I am done. My ailments and the lateness of the season prevent me from visiting my dear Indians this year. The war against the Indians in the plains of the Missouri and its tributaries is
being pushed to the utmost. Congress lately made an inquiry into the barbarous conduct of Colonel Chivington,
accused of having ordered the massacre by his soldiers of
600 Cheyenne Indians, women, children and old men, without the slightest provocation on their part. The poor
wretches had come to the fort to renew their professions of
friendship to the whites.
To-day's papers announce to us the circular of General
Conner, commanding the expedition against the tribes of
the Yellowstone river and its tributaries, in which he outlines the policy to be pursued toward the Indians. The
general enjoins upon his troops to pursue these unfortunates without rest, never stopping to parley with them and
never leaving their trail before coming up with and chastising them. " They must be severely punished to begin
with," he says ; " then we will see whether, by good behavior, they show themselves worthy to escape complete
extermination." Always the same atrocious policy. The
cruelties committed upon the redskins will inevitably bring THE  VOYAGE  OF  THE   ONTARIO.
about reprisals, and the promised extermination will likewise follow inevitably. I hope to see these poor tribes
again soon.
Reverend and Dear Father:3
Your most dear letter of the 27th of March last, with
the beautiful and fraternal note of the venerable Father
Tranqueville, have reached me safely. They come to
surprise and console me amid the mournful and savage
wilderness in which I find myself at present, the desolation
of which seems still more sombre and terrible by reason
of the war of vengeance and retaliation which has been
raging with fury between the whites and the Indians for the
past four years. I have just received your good letters, at
this great distance from St. Louis, by the mail-post, or express. They will be to me an encouragement and a consolation, in my long and dangerous mission and excursion
among the nomadic tribes of this vast region. I hasten to
reply, with the most sincere gratitude, taking advantage also
of the present occasion to commend myself, as well as the
conversion of all the Indian tribes, in a most special manner,
to your holy sacrifices and your good prayers.4
3 Written in French and dated on board the steamer Ontario at Fort
Benton, Mont., June 10, 1866. To whom addressed not stated. From
the Linton Album, p. 82 et seq.
4 Passport from General Sherman to Father De Smet :
Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi,
St. Louis, Mo., April 9, 1866.
All officers of the Army within this Military Division are required,
and all citizens are requested to extend to the bearer of this letter, the
Reverend Father De Smet, a Catholic Priest who has heretofore traveled much among the Rocky Mountains and is now en route for missions under his control, all the assistance and protection they can to
enable him to fulfill his benevolent and humane purposes.
He has always been noted for his strict fidelity to the interests of
our Government, for indefatigable industry and an enthusiastic love for
the Indians under his charge.
i 846
You ask me to send you some word from time to time,
and to keep you informed in regard to the occurrences of
such a journey, and go into minute details upon the sort of
life that one leads upon a long-distance steamboat in the
"Far West."
I shall endeavor to satisfy you. First as to the boat, on
board of which I am. The steamer Ontario has a single
wheel at the stern. It was built in 1863, carries 450 tons or
900,000 pounds, avoirdupois, draws thirty inches of water
light, and has three boilers, which consume eighteen to
twenty cords of wood daily. A cord of wood is eight feet
in length by four in height and four in depth, and sells on
the Missouri for $4 to $8 per cord.
The Ontario has two engines of 132 horse-power, and is
already considered as past its prime. The constant service
in which boats are kept on our great rivers of the West,
where commerce and transportation are very considerable
and much varied, uses them up in a very few years. They
have to contend with impetuous currents, to ascend rapids,
to cross banks or bars of sand or mud, where the full power
of the capstan has to be exerted to get them over. Snags,
or forest trees which drop into the current by thousands
from the crumbling banks, and whose roots become imbedded in the bottom of the stream, often form dangerous
and formidable barriers or obstacles, upon which a great
number of steamers are wrecked or seriously damaged every
Going against the current, the Ontario makes five to six
miles an hour; with the current, fifteen to eighteen miles.
Her crew consists of a captain, two clerks, two pilots and
an assistant, two engineers, two mates, a steward, two
watchmen, one head cook and two assistants, one hotellier
[barkeeper?], seven cabin boys, a porter or baggage man,
eight deckhands (white), four firemen, nineteen negroes
for all the work of the boat, and one chambermaid.5
5 This is one of the most complete descriptions of the Missouri river
steamboat extant.
The main cabin of the Ontario consists of thirty staterooms, seven feet long by six wide, and with two berths
each. There are thirty-two first class passengers, fifteen
gentlemen, twelve ladies and five children. In the matter
of religion, there are among these some ten Catholics, Protestants of diverse shadings, freethinkers or infidels and a
few Jews. All this mixture is wafted in peace over the
American waters. It is for the priest to make himself " all
things to all men," to win them to Jesus Christ, according
to the beautiful maxim of the apostle. I say mass in my
stateroom, where I have scarce room to turn about at the
". Dominus vobiscum " and the " Orate fratres." Sundays
and feast days I leave the door open, and the Catholics
come to attend the divine service, outside, on the gangway;
each time I have had the consolation of seeing several children of the Church devoutly approach the holy table. I
often have an opportunity to discuss one or other point of
our holy religion with my traveling companions, who never
weary of asking me questions, and I invariably find them
upright, attentive and respectful.
One Protestant lady has been regenerated in the holy
waters of baptism, and I venture to hope that several others
will have the good fortune to follow her example, for their
fidelity to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the Lord's
The long days are passed in social conversations, sometimes political, sometimes scientific or religious. Storytellers or jokers are never lacking in an assemblage of
American travelers. Some read, others play at cards or
dice, or perhaps checkers or other games of chance, the
names of which are unknown to me. Evenings, we amuse
ourselves by proposing charades — somebody imitates some
animal or other, as the antelope or buffalo, or suggests
some word or question, and the audience guesses. But the
principal amusement, in the main cabin, appears to be dancing to the sound of music, and on moonlight nights there
are concerts out on deck, with mirth and refreshments. *
The Missouri, or Muddy river, has an ordinary width of
one to three miles; its length, up to the Three Forks, is
nearly 3,300 [2,546] miles. It goes winding down this long
course and often changes its channel, thus rendering very
watchful and expert pilots necessary, who judge the depth
of water by the appearance of the surface, and in spots
where the water spreads out over a wide expanse they have
recourse to the lead.
In the season of high water, in spring, the Missouri has
generally two great rises. The first begins with the melting
of the snows on the immense plains of the West. Then the
numerous tributary streams discharge their superabundance
of water into the mother river, which gathers them all into
its vast bed. The second rise comes down from the Rocky
Mountains and their subordinate chains, the chief of which
in the upper country are the Black Hills, the Bell Mountains, the Little Rocky Mountains, the Bear Paw Range,
the Coteau of the Prairies, etc. All these masses of water
united often form an impetuous and irresistible torrent,
which cuts away whole fields from one side and forms sandbanks and bars on the other. The water filters and penetrates into, and saps the base even of the high hills and bluffs
that line the river, which crumble beneath their weight and
often drop down to the river surface, or disappear entirely in
its bed. These bluffs and hills, cut in half, are very numerous and remarkable, and reveal to the geologist all the
different layers of which they are formed, to a height of
more than a hundred feet.
When the boat stops to cut and load wood, which takes
ordinarily one to two hours, some passengers busy themselves fishing or hunting, while the greater number go walking over the adjacent hills or through the forests along the
river, making bouquets of the flowers of the wilderness or
picking up shells and petrifactions of various varieties.
Geologists and amateurs of natural science examine the diverse formations and layers of the soil.   I will give you a GEOLOGY  OF  THE  BLUFFS.
little general notice of our observations, which may perhaps
interest you.
From Independence to Fort Leavenworth, a distance of
sixty-five miles, the river passes between a long series of
bluffs and hills, belonging to the tertiary system of rocks.
From the city of Omaha to Benton, the bluffs and hills
have an elevation of about 156 feet; they are based upon
erratic layers of rocks of varying dimensions, containing
little shells rounded by the water, up to rocks of several'
thousand pounds thickness [weight?].8 The following
layer is a coarse-grained tufa, often covered with plates or
leaves of some laminated metal ; this is followed by a layer
of fine-grained tufa, mingled with mica. This tufa-like
stone is quite soft, and contains slight layers of gypsum,
which disappear in the neighborhood of Heart river. As
we proceed, we observe everywhere layers of yellowish or
grayish limestone, often topped with blue clay, which contain petrifactions (Lymnea) of various species. Other layers consist of argillaceous sands intermingled with a great
quantity of oxide of iron, in the form of brownish or reddish balls of different sizes; layers of lignites, one to seven
feet in thickness, extend for a distance of about a thousand
miles. Farther on we find in abundance deposits entirely
made up of petrified woods. This long series of bluffs and
hills, as far as the Bad Lands, are often crowned with erratic blocks of stone of varying dimensions ; heaps of petrified shells abound in several places, to the very hill-tops.
In regard to our little hunts. Our hunters, without going
any great distance from the boat, killed a great number of
antelope; this is the quickest and most graceful animal of
the plains. The stratagems employed by the hunter arouse
its curiosity. He walks, runs, crawls on all fours, lies down,
shakes from time to time his handkerchief on the end of
his ramrod ; the antelope, drawn by his natural curiosity,
stops, approaches in short springs, looks, stares, and at last
e French épaisseur.
54 IV
receives the fatal shot. The flesh is fine and delicate. Herds
of buffalo are very numerous this year, especially in the
neighborhood of the Bad Lands. It is the daily bread of
the Indian tribes in the upper plains. The various tables
of the Ontario are well supplied at present with the exquisite
meat of this noble animal. Yesterday (June 2d) we were
all spectators of a striking scene, in which buffalo alone were
the actors. The theatre was the most wonderfully wild and
picturesque part of this region. Mountainous hills rise here
to a height of 500 to 1,000 feet. They are wholly sterile,
stony, adorned here and there with a few dark and solitary
pines, while their smiling valleys are covered with flowers
and herbage, and thousands of buffalo were cropping the
tender grass as we approached.
As soon as they got wind of man's proximity and heard
the noise of the steamer, they rushed precipitately to the
nearest bluffs, whose slopes were fully 6o° with the
horizontal, and by pushing on and climbing stoutly in
zigzag lines, they gained the summit. The dark, living,
winding lines, the columns of dust that followed them, from
the bottom to the top, and the noise of their tread and their
dull bellowing, furnished the spectators a most charming
and imposing spectacle, and moreover a revelation concerning the agility, muscular strength and capacity for endurance of this mighty animal of the American desert.
But the buffalo had not yet showed all their accomplishments; as in all spectacles a farce is usually the closing
piece, so here three old buffalo bulls gave us one after their
kind. The spot chosen was an almost vertical hill
{something like 75° slope, and nearly a thousand feet in
height). The bulls found themselves just about in the middle of the slope; it was hard to see how they could have got
there. At the approach of the boat they made prodigious
efforts to clamber up and gain the top. All eyes were fixed
upon them; our cheers were a powerful encouragement to
high speed. One reached the goal, and received the applause of the spectators ; his two companions strained their ■
■■I       ■
best, but still they slipped down; and beginning to slide
with their enormous weight, they rolled head over heels,
and by a long series of bumps and pirouettes, at a height
of 400 or 500 feet, they came tumbling into the river within
a few yards of the boat. The entire descent was accomplished in less than a minute. We supposed they were
killed ; but not the least in the world — to our great astonishment and admiration they rose to the surface and, snorting, blew the water from their nostrils. Their life was
granted them — for the reason that our larder was well
stocked. We saw them both reach shore, shake the watef
from their shaggy heads and necks, and each triumphantly
hoisting his standard (his tail), they disappeared at full
In all the Bad Lands region, for a stretch of about a hundred miles, bands of bighorn are very numerous. The bighorn has a body like a deer, but his head resembles that of
the goat, surmounted with an enormous pair of short, heavy
horns. He haunts the inaccessible peaks and the wildest
and least frequented valleys, climbing with ease and celerity
almost perpendicular cliffs, jumping from rock to rock and
grazing on the tender grass that he finds among them. The
flesh, when the animal is fat, is more tender, succulent and
delicious than that of any other animal. In its habits the
bighorn resembles very much the chamois of Switzerland,
and it is hunted in the same manner. They go in flocks,
and when they have grazed they seek the most remote spot
on the mountain and repose among the rocks.
This sterile region is the wonder of all travelers. Lovers of
geology and nature will some day come to visit it to observe
its strange marvels. In their way, I will venture to say that
the Bad Lands are the most remarkable place in the vast
territory of the United States. Although uninhabitable to
man, the buffalo range it in large bands, the bighorn inhabits it, and it is the resort of the bear and the rattlesnake,
the antelope, the common and the black-tailed deer. In my
description of the Missouri I have tried to give you a little 852
general idea of everything that is to be seen. The boat is
two days crossing the Bad Lands region. The varied views
that it presents keep one in continual admiration, and it is
impossible to leave it without regret.7
The ice of spring has caused much damage in the forests
lining the Missouri. They bear in many places the imprint
of desolation. Last February there was a general thaw.
The abundant snow that was then covering all the upper
plains with its white shroud, melted suddenly under the
burning rays of the sun and the spring breezes. All this
new water, freed from restraint, hastened then by the thousands of torrents and tributaries of the Missouri, into the
great reservoir of that immense region, which drains and
fertilizes one of the vastest and most beautiful valleys of
America. Last winter was a very severe one, and had
frozen the Missouri so solidly throughout that buffalo herds
and camps of Indians, with their numerous herds of horses,
crossed it without the least danger, as if on an iron bridge.
Up to the time of this sudden thaw the ice had lost none of
its thickness nor strength. It was broken up into numerous
cakes by the great influx of water, which raised the river
and converted it into a torrent. The freed Missouri rolled
its tumultuous waters with noise and uproar, and formed
here and there gorges and barriers of ice-cakes, one to two
leagues in length and twenty to forty feet high, in the narrow places of the river. It overflowed in consequence, bearing its destroying icebergs, which in their furious course
crushed all the smaller vegetation and uprooted the trees
or stripped them of their bark, and changed these smiling
valleys, with their thickets and forests, into arenas of desolation. They are now covered to a depth of one to three
feet with sand and mud.
7This is not, strictly speaking, a "bad land" district; that is, it is
not of the character to which that term is usually applied. It is a place
where the river has cut its way through a system of rocks which are
soft enough to be readily worn by the action of the elements. They
present a wonderful display of strange, picturesque, and curious forms. HIGH   AND  LOW   WATER.
At the Muscleshell a convoy of twenty-five wagons and
over 100 horses had halted and was encamped for the night.
An avalanche of water and ice, leaving the bed of the river,
spread over the bottoms with such rapidity and impetuosity
that the whole train was swallowed up; all the animals
perished; only the men succeeded in gaining in haste a
neighboring hill, and were able to save themselves. At Fort
Union and many other points, houses on the bank of the
river were carried away or destroyed. The work of destruction was already in progress before I left St. Louis.
The breaking up of the ice destroyed a number of steamboats.   The losses are' estimated at over $1,000,000.
We left the port of St. Louis on the 9th of April last.
From the outset the boat had to contend with the excessively
high water, as I have mentioned in my letter, and with high
west winds, which often made it impossible to proceed. The,
Missouri was bankfull and beginning to overflow into the
forests and lower valleys. Consequently our progress was
much retarded. In many places all the power of the boat's
two engines was exerted, without being able to make head
against the impetuosity of the current. Then we had recourse to the slow but resistless capstan, which succeeded
each time in surmounting the obstacles. Once only the
great cable broke, and we were carried a great distance
down stream, not without danger.
" Violenta non durant." The river fell as rapidly as its
brief rise had been swift. Then another kind of obstacles
were presented, in the numerous sandbars of which the
river is full, which change its channel frequently and which
the ablest pilots cannot always avoid. Under the holy providence of the Lord we have thus far escaped all the dangers
of navigation. We have had only one serious alarm, a
salutary warning of the fragility and uncertainty of all
human works and the swiftness with which everything
passes and disappears and the fairest hopes decay. Under
a high head-wind and against an impetuous current, the
boat became unmanageable, resisted the skill and the efforts 854
of our excellent pilot, veered about and, driving rapidly
down stream, struck violently upon a great hidden rock.
The shock was great and caused a heavy leak. For a few
moments the salvation of the Ontario was despaired of ; she
was filling rapidly. Several of the officers thought her lost
and were for abandoning her, but others redoubled their
efforts to repair the injury, and with the aid of all the pumps
they kept her afloat, and she resumed her course. I have
great confidence in the four lamps that burn night and day
in the convents of St. Louis, before the statue of the Holy
Virgin, our Good Mother, stella nostra et refugium nostrum,
a confidence further strengthened by the prayers offered in
Europe and America for the success of my long and dangerous excursion. In the course of our trip to Benton
(3,100 miles) [2,285], we have passed thirteen boats that
had ten to fifteen days' start of ours; permit me the expression, "A. M. D. G. ;" we have been borne as if on
angels' wings to the boat's destination. Under the puissant
protection of the Queen of Heaven, and full of confidence
in divine Providence, we hope that my mission will end
happily and favorably, and that I shall return, safe and
sound, among my dear brothers in Jesus Christ.
In the midst of this lonely wilderness, ranged over by
numerous wandering tribes, made yet more barbarous and
indomitable by the injustices and misdeeds of the whites;
where ferocious animals and venomous reptiles,— the bear,
the wolf and the serpent — resort and have their lairs ; and
despite the more agreeable spectacle of the numerous herds
of buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and bighorn, which change the
aspect and animate the sad monotony of these primitive verdure-clad plains, and come from time to time to refresh the
spirit and the mind of the Christian traveler and add to his
admiration and gratitude, to the providence of the Lord,
who is so mighty in gifts and benefactions to his poor
creatures here below — the "Quam dulce," etc.,8 often re-
8 How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in
curs to my thoughts in this region, but unmingled with regret and without the slightest uneasiness. Guided by the
holy obedience, we are, everywhere, in the Lord's hands.
Upon entering the Sioux country, the Ontario was put in
fighting trim. The pilot-house was planked over and made
safe against bullets or arrows, the cannon was mounted in
the bow, all the carbines, guns and pistols were inspected
and loaded, and above all, sentinels were posted by night
to keep guard against any surprise by the enemy. The
preparations appeared formidable indeed. We saw once
in a while war-parties of Indians, coming and going and
keeping at a respectful distance from the boat, without the
least hostile demonstration. All the way to Benton, I am
glad to say, our fire-arms have served only to slay the timid
animals of the desert, which were at once cut up for the
kitchen and dinner table, always abundantly furnished
throughout the voyage.
The feast of the Glorious Ascension was in truth a day
of consolation for me. I said mass early in the morning;
my little congregation was present, and all devoutly approached the holy table. Two hours later we were at Fort
Sully. The arrival of a-steamboat is always an event in such
a locality, and on this occasion especially it made a good
deal of commotion. The fort was surrounded by a neutral
camp of Sioux, of some 200 lodges, and from the top of
the great pole in the centre, dominating all the plain, the
starry flag of the Union was proudly floating in the fresh
breeze of this elevated region.9 The day was most beautiful. I met at Fort Sully a large number of acquaintances —
whites, half-breeds, Indians and negroes — and when we
had shaken hands amicably, according to the usage of the
country, and exchanged our little compliments and items of
news, I accompanied the Indian chiefs to their camp. They
were a mixture of various Sioux tribes — Yanktons, Yanktonnais, Brûlés, Ogallalas, Two-kettles, Santees and Sioux-
9 According to the observations of the scientist, Nicollet, Fort Sully
has an elevation of 1,400 feet above the Gulf of Mexico.—Author's Note. 856
Blackfeet. We had a long talk, in the course of which all
their miseries, sufferings and griefs came to light. They
had just emerged (May ioth) from a long and severe winter; the new grass was barely beginning to show, or the
leaves of the willows and cottonwoods that fringe the river
to develop. For several months the Indians had subsisted
on the flesh of their lean dogs and horses, together with a
pittance of wild roots. A great mortality, especially of
children, had brought desolation and mourning to most of
the families ; scarlet fever and other maladies were still continuing their devastation.
These Indians needed consolation — but good advice still
more. In my quality of Black-robe I did my best to give
them salutary counsels, as well as to console them. The
grievances of the Indians against the whites are very numerous, and the vengeances which they on their side provoke are often most cruel and frightful. Nevertheless, one
is compelled to admit that they are less guilty than the
whites. Nine times out of ten, the provocations come from
the latter — that is to say, from the scum of civilization,
who bring to them the lowest and grossest vices, and none
of the virtues, of civilized men,10
Upon this visit to the Sioux, I spent the fair feast of the
Ascension and the following day in giving them instruction
in the various principal points of religion. They behaved
with the greatest propriety and gave close attention to my
words. Before my departure they brought me with eagerness their little children, to the number of over 200. I had
the consolation and happiness of regenerating them in the
holy waters of baptism. Having scarlet fever in their
camp, I spoke to them of the necessity and urgency of baptism, and of the eternal happiness of the children who
might fall victims to the disease. They gave evidence of
most lively gratitude for this.
10 For omitted portion of letter, see p. 1200. THE POOR  INDIAN  BABIES.
For several years past the Yankton Sioux have been
urgently asking for missionaries; and the Government
agent, on the occasion of my visit, joined them in requesting a Catholic mission, under the direction of the Fathers
of the Company of Jesus, for them. The Yanktons are many
and have sufficient resources to provide for the support of