Indian and White
In the History of the Northwest
By Holice and Pam
Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this book. The excellent work she does continues to help many researchers! Thanks also, to Pam Rietsch, for sharing her books with genealogists!
NEW LABORERS. FATHER F. X. KUPPENS AND OTHERS.
In 1864 two new missionaries were assigned to this portion of the Lord's vineyard, father A. Ravalli, who arrived in the month of August, and Father Francis X. Kuppens, who joined that small band of zealous workers in November. We have just been kindly favored by the latter with some notes on the subject how before us. It is indeed fortunate that we are able to avail ourselves of them and incorporate them where
they properly belong in our narrative. They make interesting and valuable history.
Father Kuppens accompanies his notes with three small maps or diagrams which illustrate the subject matter. The first diagram gives the general lay of the country, marking out at the same time various points that have special reference to the Mission.
I have lived at the Mission (writes Father Kuppens) from November, 1864, to its close in the spring of 1866. Three of the first founders lived there at the same time, and the Mission w as located on the north bank of the Missouri, about six miles above the mouth of Sun River. This was the third location of the Mission among the Blackfeet Indians. The second had been on the Sun river where Fort Shaw was afterwards built; and the first on the Teton, near Chouteau. (that is, near the spot where now stand the town of that name. As to the spelling of Choteau, see footnote above, Chap. XXV.)
From the years 1862, 63-64-65, and the first three months of 1860, St. Peter's Mission was the only Catholic establishment in the present Diocese of Great Falls. From 1864 to the close of the Mission there lived at St. Peter's three resident priests and two lay Brothers, who had care of all the Catholic interests of the whole of Montana lying on the eastern slop of the main range of the Rockies. At times a four Father would celebrate the holy mysteries there.
As to his arrival at the mission, Father Kuppens speaks of it thus:
I recollect well the evening of my arrival and the first days I spent at the Mission. The reception which the Indians gave me; the view of the Belt Mountains; the immense plain; the majestic Missouri river, which nearly encircled out place, remain vividly depicted in my mind; and in the evening, I recollect, my attention w as called to the roar of the waters of the Missouri at the Great Falls.
Perhaps that short decryption of the Missouri houses and their immediate surroundings will not be amiss. Here he presents his diagram No. 2 which shows clearly the Mission site.
When the location of the Mission had been determined ina general way (we are told by Father Kuppens), the Fathers pre-empted a small peninsula, formed by a prolonged bend in the river. It contained about 175 or 200 acres of land. The neck was no more
than a fourth of a mile wide, and a short fence at this place would enclose the whole property. On the east, a wide fringe of heavy cottonwood trees occupied about four acres. The remaining, about 2150 acres, were level, good loam, sufficiently high to be safe from the spring floods, and very good for farming or for pasture; and it seems to me that at the extreme southern end of the peninsula a small creek flowed into the river.
At the north, just outside of our fence, the found rose gently, at fist, then steeper and steeper, until, at a height of about a hundred feet, it terminated ina heavy layer of rock. This was the edge of a high plateau. To the west, perhaps half a mile beyond our preempted cabin, a dry ravine with a gentle ascent, offered an excellent wagon road to the top of the plateau. This we used to go to Fort Benton or to Helena. I see by a recent map that the town of Flood is marked a trifle to the northwest of out property.
A small X, in a dry coulee, a quarter of a mile west of our fence, marks the spot where John Fitzgerald, our herder, was killed, April 6, 1866. Cross (X), No. 2, on the incline north of the Mission, marks his grave, R. I. P. Cross (X) No. 3, marks the grave of Mr. Johnston, who was brought to the Mission sick, and after a few days asked for baptism and died a Catholic. His grave was the first on the hill. R. I. P.
Three small cabins outside of our place toward the east were occupied as follows: in the one nearest to the Mission lived a Flathead Indian with his old spouse. Both were good Catholics; and their children were married and lived in the camp. The middle cabin was occupied by a Blackfoot Indian, with his two wives and six children. he had rescued Father Giorda from the river, and took good care that every guest at the Mission should be acquainted with all the details; he never forgot them. The farthest cabin toward the east was the home of Mr. Viel, a French Canadian married to a daughter of a Blackfoot chief. He had four children and all practiced the duties of religion. They were a happy family.
Cross (X) and cross (X) 5 in the river mark the place where Father Giorda broke through the ice, and where he was rescued. (The spot is indicated by the space between the two crosses.)
The accompanying map (continued father Kuppens) may perhaps five a faint idea of the buildings of St. Peter's Mission on the bank of the Missouri. The first glance at the houses should convince a person that the inmates were not cave-dwellers, nor should they be ranked among the cliff-dwellers either. We sometime had a dis-
cussion as to the style of architecture that had been adopted; it was neither Greek nor Roman nor Byzantine nor Gothic; nor either an imitation of California Mission. It was Montana pioneer style.
Rooms Nos. 1 and 2, and Nos. 3 and 4, had been erected at the first beginning of the mission, in February, 1862. Rooms Nos. 5 6, 7, were built during November and December, 1864. All the buildings were well matched, all of the same material, green cottonwood logs, the same degree of finish; they were not squared and the bark had not been removed. The walls were about seven and a half feet high. The interstices and chinking were plastered with clay. The roof was made of rails laid close together, overlaid with a heavy layer of clay. There were no ceiling to any of the rooms; and as to floor, we had, when the buildings were new, a most delightful velvet green carpet of the very dense sod. When that carpet was worn out, as the very best will do in time, we walked on a clay floor.
There was a porch, about five feet wide, along the whole length of this incipient rectangle. In after life, I have often wondered that these could be so much interior peace and consolation in poor surroundings. These were all the accommodations at St. Peter's in 1864.
But I must not forget two useful adjuncts, a stockade coral, faced by the windows of rooms No. 1 and 2, for the ponies of our guests. These were borrowed sometimes during the night, to the great annoyances of ourselves and our guests. By this arrangement, each guest could have an eye to his pony whenever he awoke. Another stockade coral was along the eat side of the building, for our cattle and horses. This saved a great amount of trouble.
The time of the accident to Father Giorda was at the very beginning, whilst they were preparing the foundations and laying the logs. At my arrival at the Mission, Father Giorda himself whilst showing me the points of interest about the place, pointed out to me where he had broken through the ice and was saved from the waters. He also introduced me to his rescuer. A week after the accident, Father Giorda set out for the Gros Ventres camp, where he had another adventure, narrated in the book (Indian and White in the Northwest).
The site and premises described and illustrated by Father Kuppens show us the Mission of St. peter, as it stood on the banks of the Missouri. But it did not remain there long, hardly five years, since in the spring of 1866, as we shall seem it was removed to another location, the one it occupies today. Nevertheless, its short existence by the Missouri appears to have been spiced with incident.
As Father Kuppens was returning one day from a missionary excursion, an Indian stopped him in the middle of the road, a few miles from the Mission. Somehow, the Father's mount had caught the eye of the redskin, and he offered to swap it for his own bronco. As the Father would not consent to the bargain, the Indian seized the hose by the bridle, as if determined to take it by force. Upon this, Father Kuppens gave the fellow a good whack across the face with his whip, and off he galloped as fast as the hose could take him. Twinkling of an eye, the Indian had recovered from his surprise and with bow and arrow shot at the Father, hitting him in the calf of the right leg, where the missile stuck, till it was extracted by Father Ravalli at the mission.
Father Kuppens makes no allusion whatever on his notes to the occurrence. Ina a personal letter to the writer he makes light of the whole thing and laughs it off, as not worth mentioning.
At first quite a number of Indians collected in the new place. But they did not, nor could they remain any length of time. So far, "the buffalo" as Father Kuppens tells us, "was their only support, and they moved their camp to the source of their food supply."
It also came to pass that unusual dry weather prevailed three years in succession at this period: and it did not tend to impose the Indians favorably with the locality. Hence they left "regretfully," according to some; "dissatisfied and in disgust," according to others.
Father Kuppens takes us to task for having stated in the first edition that the dry weather had destroyed "the crops three years in succession." "True, the Indians and the Mission had no crops for three successive years," says the father, "but they had not planted anything"; for they had neither seed not any means to plant it with. Accordingly, historical accuracy would have us say, not that the dry weather destroyed the crops, but that it would have done so had there been any to destroy. For, according to Brother L. D'Agostino, who also lived there at the time, hardly any green grass could be seen thereabouts during the prolonged dry spell.
With 1862, had begun what may be called the gold-digging period of Montana, deposits of the precious metals being dis-
covered at Bannack, Gold Creek, Alder Gulch, and shortly after at Silver City, Last Chance and several other places. This brought many whites into the country and kept them also in a feverish state of mine, with constant expectation of new diggings being discovered. Crowds would rush or stampede, as goes the word, in this or that direction, at the first rumor of gold being struck. However, very often such rumored discoveries proved ill-founded, bringing nothing in their train save disappointment and hardship.
A wild stampede of the kind occurred in the winter of 1865, when somebody spread the news of a big find in the Sun River country. It was during a blizzard in one of the coldest winters ever experienced in Montana, and many a brave, bur unfortunate miner has his ears, nose, hands or feet frozen. A number found their way to St. Peter's Mission, whose poor and scant accommodations were thrown open to them by the Fathers. Were it not for this, and the medical skill and unsparing devotedness of Father Ravalli, several would have surely perished.
"I remember the Sun River stampede," writes Father Kuppens, " and whilst the Sun River country received the brunt of the inundation, we on the Missouri received an overflow far above our capacity to accommodate."
But the discovery of gold in Montana had other aspects far more serious than stampeding, and none could be more serious then the strife which it brought about between the whites and the Indians, and which promised little good for the latter.
The natives had been from time immemorial the sole possessors of all these regions, and naturally enough they resented seeing them invaded by the pale faces. On the other hand, the discovery of gold was bringing in the whites by the thousand from every quarter. Nor could they be stopped in their rush any more than an avalanche can be stayed by means of a few straws. Yet, the Indians imagined that they could hold back the white man by force. Hence the state of guerrilla warfare that prevailed, especially in the northern part of Montana, at this time of our history.
Detached bands or war parties of Blackfeet would fall on groups of miners, prospectors, teamsters or travelers, and mercilessly rob and murder every one of them. The whites
retaliated. Hence it came to pass that innocent persons were often made to suffer for some one else's misdoings; and many a harmless white man, and many a peaceful native perished during this lawless and bloody strife.
A reprisal of the kind occurred along the Marias about this time, when four peaceful Indians ere murdered by whites. As a sequel and in revenge, some whites were killed by Indians shortly after. Matters grew rapidly worse, and from 1865 6o 1869, the Blackfeet appeared to become desperate, and bent on exterminating every white man found in the country. The highway to fort Benton, particularly, became so infested with marauding bands of Indians that the life of no white man traveling over that road was secure. it is asserted that in the summer of 1869 fifty-six white people were killed, either from ambush or in the open, along that road, by Indian war parties.
These disturbed conditions are referred to as follows by Father Kuppens:
The summer of 1866 was full of excitement and rumors of Indian wars, and many lives of both whites and Indians were sacrificed, and the Mullan road from Fort Benton became very unsafe. To protect this thoroughfare to the gold fields in Montana, Fort Shaw was established, late in the summer in the immediate vicinity of the second location of the Mission (on Sun River.)
The murder of Malcom Clark, at the mouth of Prickly Pear Canyon, twenty-five miles from Helena, brought things to a climax. It led to what has been called the Piegan War of 1869-70, when Col. Baker and his command slaughtered two hundred and thirty-three Indians, fifty of whom were women and children.
And now, for the history of St. Peter's. WE must retrace our steps, and return to the year 1865-66. In the Fore part of that winter Father Kuppens went to visit the Indians, who were then camped on the right bank of the Missouri, some thirty miles
below Fort Benton. During his visit he found that they were bent on mischief against all white people in general, and even against the Mission and the Fathers. A number of the Indians were clearly under the false impression that every white man was an enemy. They had, therefore, resolved to treat as such even the Black Robes.
All this was communicated to Father Kuppens by a personal friend of his in the tribe. So far the missionaries had not had the slightest sign of any feeling against them on the part of the Indians. The information came as a surprise to the Father; and the more so as he could not doubt the veracity of his informant. He left the camp rather sadly, and as he was retracing his course toward the Mission he met with a very trying visitation, becoming snow-blind and totally helpless. Most providentially, there happened to come his way a kind-hearted miner, by name John Dougherty, who took care of him and led him safe to Old Agency, some eighteen miles from the Mission. Here, with rest and proper care, he gradually regained his sight, and had also for some time the company of a confrere, Brother D'Agostino, sent to his relief from the Mission.
There were several Indian lodges camped about Old Agency at the time, and when the Father began to see and move around, he went to visit and instruct them. He noticed, however, as did others, that the Indians had suddenly become strangely reticent and sulky. He wondered what the cause might be, and having inquired, they told him that four of their people had been hanged by the whites near Sun River Crossing, and that the bodies had been thrown into the river, through a hole cut in the ice. And there was only too much truth to the ghastly tale.
Near the locality mentioned by the Indians there lived one John B. Morgan, a squaw man, married to a Piegan woman. Some few days before, a party of Indians of the same tribe, numbering at least four, had come to his house and were his guests. He treated them well, making them feel quite at home, and having been assured that they were perfectly safe with him, they put aside their guns. Shortly after, there also arrived at his place a party of white, led by one Charles Carson. They were a squad of the volunteers who under the proclamation of the Acting Governor, General Thomas Francis Meagher, had
been enlisted with the object of sending them against the Blackfeet Indians. But they were soon after disbanded, their organization having been disapproved by the Government of Washington, D. C.
Did Morgan send for his new visitors? Did he bring them to his home? We cannot say. But certain it is that the could not have behaved more treacherously than if he had been in entire collusion with them. As he afterward boasted of doing; he gave his Indian guests over to the Carson crown, telling them: "Now, boys, right here is a chance for you; some of the redskins you are after are in this house.
The doomed Indians were in an adjoining room eating what Morgan had set before them. Suddenly attacked, they were quickly overpowered, and dragged out and hanged to a couple of trees near the premises. The bodies, still warm, were cast into the river, through an opening hastily but in the ice. The tragic ending of these poor fellows was witnessed by two of their companions, who had remained hiding in the underbrush close by. Either they distrusted Morgan, or some other reason not known led to their hiding. They now stole away unperceived, and hastened to bring the news to their fellow Indians, camped near Old Agency. No wonder that these had become unusually sullen.
Nor were they slow in giving vent to their desire for revenge. They attacked the New Agency, a few miles from Morgan's, where they killed one of the men; whilst another owed his escape merely to the accidental explosion of some powder in the building, which frightened off the assailants. Simultaneously, too, they killed a white man, whom they caught outside; and but for the rest having fortified themselves with the premises, all would have fallen victims to Indian vengeance.
Notwithstanding his being married to an Indian woman of the same tribe, Morgan had good ground to feat for himself and his family. hence, he hastened to the Mission, and sought to obtain there shelter for them, on the plea of the general insecurity of the country about, and because he had to go to Helena on most urgent business. The man was soon suspected by the Indians and believed to have had some part in the hanging of
their people at his place. Hence his mere going to seek protection for his family at the Mission was apt to bring odium on the Fathers. We have seen above that distrust of the missionaries had already crept into the mind of some of them, and the tragedy at Morgan's could not but add to it.
This became more apparent day by day. Acts of hostility such as wantonly shooting down the Mission stock, several head being killed or maimed, plainly showed the temper of the savages. But worse: about Easter, John Fitzgerald, whom the Fathers employed as herder, was shot dead, hardly a quarter of a mile from their premises. There was not telling what the next day might bring on.
Father Giorda, the general Superior, was at this time at Alder Gulch or Virginia City, whither he had gone to give the many Catholics in that large mining camp the opportunity to make their Easter duties. A messenger was dispatched to him; and without a moment's delay he set out for St. Peter's Mission. On reaching the place, he viewed the situation with no little concern, and tender-hearted as he was, broke into tears.
We shall see directly that a new site for the Mission had been selected a year before, and that preparation for the removal to the new place had been going on for several months. Hence, "Father Giorda felt considerably relieved," writes Father Kuppens, "when we told him that things in the new place were practically ready."
But of this in the next chapter.
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