Pierre-Jean de Smet.

Life, letters and travels of Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, S.J., 1801-1873 (Volume 3) online

. (page 1 of 35)
Online LibraryPierre-Jean de SmetLife, letters and travels of Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, S.J., 1801-1873 (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

- V


v^ -'




v^ ^TTix. ,^"c^;\ey'^^^,'^^










Life, Letters and Travels of
Father De Smet among the
North American Indians.


"^'^'^^ ^^



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 nnpiiblished 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.



FOUR VOLUMES , ;_. , ■,•,;,,

VOL. HI ■!',•.,,''•,,,';','; \,'';'. ;

NEW YORK > . .' ; ■, /.


^^"^ X 38Q394: ''^

Copyright, 1904,


All rights reserved




Return to St. 1/)uis 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 946-95^

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 Legend 1100-1107




Louise Sighouin, an Indian Woman of the Cceur D'Alene

Tribe 1143-1175

History of the Family of Le Gros Francois . . . 1176-1185

The Indian Question 1 186- 121 1



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.

/^N^ 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 sev-
eral 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 (pinipinella 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 —
" 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.



The worthy and zealous Father Grassi, superior of this
mission, has had all the materials prepared for the con-
struction of a hospital and school buildings. He was, how-
ever, at a loss where to find nuns to conduct these new es-
tablishments — still he continued his work, trusting to the
good providence of the Lord. I could do no less than en-
courage him as well as I was able in his useful labor, so nec-
essary to the welfare of his neophytes, and the good Father's
hopes were not in vain. On my return to St. Louis I ap-
proached, 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 moun-
tain 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, an-
other 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 Protest-
ants themselves contributed. There was a demand for sev-
eral 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 re-
main in their primitive sirnplicity. fervor and zeal. They
are the admiration of all the travelers who visit them, for


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 In-
dians, 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 concern-
ing 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,


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 com-
ing 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 i6th. 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 moun-
tainous 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 Coeur
d'Alene Mountains about four in the afternoon. This is
called Sohon^ Pass and its elevation is 5,100 feet above

Along the river in the Coeur d'Alene valley the forests
are extremely thick, and one cannot but admire the aston-
ishing thickness and height of the pines and cedars. I
measured several of these giants of the forest, the circum-
ference 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 Coeur d'Alene Mountains between the headwaters of the
Regis-Borgia and the CcEur d'Alene river. Named for Captain Mul-
lan's guide in his explorations of this country, 1858-1862.


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 con-
fusion, 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 wc
crossed the Coeur d'Alene river forty-two times. On the
1 8th we reached the Mission of the Sacred Heart.

The mission among the Cceur d'Alenes continues to pros-
per, 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 Cceur d'Alenes continue to
give great satisfaction and consolation to their worthy mis-
sionaries, 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 Gov-
ernment very directly — the response, or at least the ordi-
nary practice, when the whites take possession of the lands
of the Indians, is to push them farther back into the wilder-
ness 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-


die of the mission valley, and it has always proved to the
weary traveler and destitute emigrant a St. Bernard in
the Coeur d'Alene Mountains. I fear that the location of
our road, and the swarms of miners and emigrants thrit
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. T
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 botli
oceans, driving them year after year toward the Rocky
Mountains ; and now that we propose to invade these moun-
tain 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 pttention 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 ele-
ments 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 httle churches, one on the shores of the great Cceur
d'Alene 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 tire-
less 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 con-
cerning 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 i6th), 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 regis-
tered 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


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 sac-
raments and the instruction of so many tribes.

" Pray for us and have others do so, that we may accom-
plish 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 sel-
dom 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 cis.' 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 other-
wise 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. Nicho-
las, " who never came with an empty basket." It was really
a great happiness to me to be able, this time, to relieve my


dear brothers in their pressing needs, and to share with them
my Httle belongings. When one leaves the land of civiliza-
tion for a long journey or mission among the Indian tribes,
where everything is lacking, one necessarily takes precau-
tions — and the benefactors of the missions in St. Louis
had stocked me up very well. Father Grassi had just fin-
ished a new church, which had not one obolus' worth of
ornaments, vestments nor sacred vessels ; at his earnest en-
treaty, 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 re-
ceived 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 cap-
tain of the steamboat, Mr. Charles Chouteau, was so ex-
ceedingly obliging and charitable as to give me a free pas-
sage, together with the two brothers, as well as transporta-
tion 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 ven-
ture to hope, that heaven will reward him, with all his re-
spectable family, for his great goodness and charity to the
missionaries and their missions. This Good work he re-
peats with pleasure every spring and at each departure for
the mountains.

P reached the Sacred Heart Mission on the i8th of
September and left again on the 23d, in the best of com-
pany, 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

' Translated from the French of the Linton Album, pp. 70-74.


true Christian charity, he bestowed all his care and attention
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 Touchat 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; ar-
rivals 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


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 coun-
try. 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.*

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 Van-
couver toward evening. This is a town of 700 to 800 in-
habitants. It is the ordinary residence of the Bishop of
Nisqually, Monseigneur Magloire Blanchet. This diocese,
established in 1850, contains six secular priests, eight regu-
lar priests, seven lay brothers, eleven churches and chapels,
twenty sisters of charity, a college, four literary institu-
tions for girls, three similar establishments for boys and
four charitable institutions. The white Catholic popula-
tion 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 insti-
tutions 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 metrop-
olis of Oregon, having some 6,000 inhabitants. Twelve
Sisters of Jesus and Mary are conducting a fine religious

Online LibraryPierre-Jean de SmetLife, letters and travels of Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, S.J., 1801-1873 (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 35)