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!
FATHER DE SMET JOURNEYS TO ST. PAUL,
Among the adults baptized on that first Christmas celebrated in our mountains were twenty-four couples, whose marriages were likewise to take place on the same festival. But as each part of the liturgy had to be explained to the Indians, the baptisms occupied the whole time, so that the marriage had to be deferred tot he next day. "The contracting of those twenty-four marriage," says Father De Smet, "presented that mixture of simplicity, of respectful affection and profound joy which is a sure indication of a good conscience."
Such a "wedding lee," if it had taken place in a civilized community, would certainly have aroused a great deal of discussion, but should surprise no one in the present case. The marriage of unbaptized persons, wherever properly contracted, is valid and binding as a natural contract, and as such it has always been look upon by the Church. But the missionaries found no such marriage among these people, eve though polygamy was an exception. The nature of the marriage contract requires for its validity that the parties to it intend to bind themselves to each other for life, an intention so essential that without it there can be no marriage. Now, the Fathers found that amongst the very best of the Indians the belief prevailed that even after marriage they were still free, and justified in sending away their first wife and marrying another, at pleasure. This made it clear that the essential condition to the validity of the matrimonial contract was wanting in their marriages, and that, consequently, they were all null and void. Hence the necessity of setting the Indians right on so important a matter, and of revalidating the marriage of young and old alike.
It can be easily imagined how all this must have fairly bristled with difficulties. For the missionaries had to look into each individual case, in order to remove, by dispensation and otherwise, all impediments, whether canonical or not, that might stand in the way to a peaceful and valid marriage.
But the greatest difficulties, beyond doubt, were on the part of the Indians, of those especially who had left a first wife, if now a second and third, to marry another and whoa r the bidding of the ministers of God, would have to give up the latter, or last, and return to the first. What heartaches! God's grace, however abounded among these earnest children of the wilderness and so wondrously that even heroic sacrifices they would make lightly and with a cheerful heart. One evening a poor fellow, as we are told by Father De Smet, came to seek the missionaries in their own quarters, which just then were filled with Indians, and unabashed asked what should be done in his circumstances. "On the very instant," writes Father De Smet," he acted according to instruction given him. He dismissed his young wife, giving her what he would have wish another to give his own sister if in the same situation, and was reunited to his first wife whom he had forsaken." "This is but one of many like cases," adds Father De Smet.
Once more we must leave St. Mary's awhile, and follow Father De Smet on another journey. More supplies than he could obtain at Fort Colville were needed at the new mission, and hence the spring of 1842 had scarcely opened, when he set out again, his objective being Fort Vancouver, on the banks of the Willamette, and the principal trading post of the Hudson Bay Company in the Northwest.
The distance he had to travel was close to 800 miles, and this he covered partly on horseback and partly by boat or canoe. On his way down the Columbia, his Guardian Angel, beyond doubt, saved him from a watery grave. When nearing the Okanagan Dalles he sensed danger ahead, and requested the boatmen to put him ashore. A little whole after, the small craft engulfed ina whirlpool, and, with the exception of his own interpreter and another man who barely escaped with their lives, all the other were drowned. Hence, likely, as the writer surmises, the name "Priest Rapids," borne by the Columbia in that vicinity.
Another object of Father De Smet's journey to Oregon was to meet and confer with the Very Rev. F. N. Blanchet, V. G., and his companion, the Rev. Modest Demers, on matter appertaining to the general welfare of the Indians. The three first missionaries of the Northwest had thus the pleasure of a fraternal meeting at St. Paul, on the Willamette. "A scene here ensued so affecting and so edifying," writes Archbishop Segliers in his Pastoral Letter, "that drew tears from the eyes of the only witness, Father Demers, from whose lips we received the moving narrative. No sooner had Father De Smet descried the Vicar General than he ran to prostrate himself at his feet, imploring his blessing; and no sooner had the Very Rev. Blanchet caught sight of the valiant missionary than he also feel on his knees, imploring the blessing of the saintly Jesuit. Admirable struggle where the last place, not the first, was the object of the contestants" the three missionaries spent a few days in happy intercourse, the charms of which could only be known to their own hearts and to their Angel Guardians.
Having consulted together on the means of best promoting the interests of Catholicity in these regions, they resolved to combine their efforts for the conversion of the natives; and in furtherance of this object it was agreed that Father De Smet would soon go to Europe and return with laborers, Fathers, Brothers, and sisters, for this large and promising portion of the Lord's vineyard.
With this understanding, Father De Smet now left St. Paul to return to the mountains, being accompanied by the Rev. Demers as far as Walla Walla, where the two missionaries parted. He revisited the Coeur d'Alenes, who renewed their earnest request for Black robes to come and stay among them. He not only promised these good people that their desires would be soon fulfilled, but directed them to send some of their men to the Flat Head Mission in the fall, where a Father would then be ready to come and stay in their midst. Continuing his journey he crossed the Bitter Root Mountains on the Indian Trail, which has since become a part of the Mullan Road, and safely arrived at St. Mary's. He made arrangements with Father Mengarini for the opening of a mission among the Coeur d'Alenes, and
destined to that new field Father Point, with Brother Huet as his companion.
Eager to have the Black robes among them, the Coeur d'Alenes sent their men after the Father much sooner than they had been directed, and had to wait a long time at St. Mary's for the return of Father Point, who was out with the Flat Head on a buffalo hunt.
It may be well, in this connection, to state that the chase of the buffalo usually took place three times a year. The first, or big hunt, occurred from the middle of August to the end of November. The spring hunt or little chase lasted from the middle of April tot he end of May; and in this only bulls were sought, the cows at this season being lean and extremely poor. There was also the winter chase, which many Indians attended in order to secure buffalo robes of prime quality, which could be had only in winter, the animal's fur being then at its best. These hunts were always events of the greatest importance for the Indian; they absorbed his whole being, and were participated in by every member of the tribe who was able to go. We must refer the reader to Father De Smet and others for the description of one of these most interesting and exciting scene of early Indian life. It suffices to say here only a word concerning the plan of accompanying the Indians on the hunting excursions as adopted at first by the missionaries.
The principal reason in favor of this course were: first, not to leave the Indians so long a time without instruction and the comforts of religion; secondly, to lend aid and assistance to the sick and the dying; thirdly, that the presence and influence of the priest might restrain the Indians from the disorder and excesses of which these hunting excursion were always the cause or the occasion; all good and solid reason, beyond doubt.
However, his presence on such occasions could not but place the missionary in a very delicate position; since the buffalo plains were not merely common hunting grounds for the Indians; they were also their ordinary battle fields. It would commit him before hostile tribes, because from the act of his being in the camp of the enemy he would, naturally, be looked upon as in league with them, and a an enemy himself. Was this not tanta-
mount to barring the way to missionary work, for the time being as well as for the future, among the hostile Indians and their friends?
Was there not also danger of his incurring the ill-will even of those whom he accompanied? This might prove the case especially when there was question of prisoners captured in war. As a matter of course, the Father's counsels would be for lenity toward the conquered. But no Indian ever felt mercy for an enemy who fell into his hands. Hence the peaceful character of his mission was apt to compromise the Father, even with those he went with. This, his presence in such excursions, instead of making for good, tended to defeat the very object sought after, namely, the spiritual welfare of the red men. A few facts will throw light on the subject.
The first time Father Point accompanied the Indians to the hunt, during the winter of 1841-42, on which occasion he came near freezing to death, the party he went with consisting of sixty warriors, encountered on the way a small band of Blackfeet, numbering seventeen, whom they soon surrounded, leaving them no chance whatsoever of escape. In this light, the poor fellows appealed to he Black Robe for mercy, and he, in turn, insisted with the Flat Heads to spare them. They did so, but most reluctantly, and became highly incensed against the Father for his meddling in the matter.
On another occasion it was Father Mengarini who accompanied the Indians. Word had been brought to St. Mary's by one Mongravier from Fort Benton that a large body of Blackfeet warriors, some six hundred strong, were ambushed along the path through which lay the course of the Flat Heads to the buffalo plains. The question with the latter just at this time was, either to fight their way to the buffalo, or die of starvation, as they had nothing left to eat, and their children were crying for food. Father Mengarini went along for the very purpose of preventing, if possible, any shedding of blood. Two flat Heads preceded the main body, as scouts and vanguard. On approaching the spot where the Blackfeet had been reported in ambush, two of these came forward to parley, one of them being the Blackfoot chief, and the other Choquet, a French Creole. The chief made friendly signs, and invited the two Flat Heads
to his camp, to smoke the calumet of peace. The answer given him was a bullet that instantly struck him dead. A general battle now ensued.
The war chief of the Flat Heads and Pend d'Oreilles, seeking to draw the enemy from the cover of the woods out into the open, directed a feigned retreat. Then they were ordered to turn suddenly and charge their pursuers, which they did with remarkable bravery. Twenty-five Blackfeet fell in the engagement; while on the side of the Flat Heads and their allies but three were killed, one Snake, married to a Flat Head woman, and two Pend d'Oreilles.
The fight over, the Flat Head warriors returned to their camp ina canyon some distance off, where the women as well as all their traps had been left, and where Father Mengarini had been also ordered to remain during the battle. The Creole mentioned above, a day or so after, came to see the Father, and on the part of the Blackfoot nation invited him to go and visit them in their camp, as they were all eager to hear his word. The Father was most willing to go, but the Flat Head's would not have it. They told him that if he went, they too should go, and should fight so long as one of them remained standing. They were, besides, much angered against him, because he hindered them from renewing the fight, and they threatened to abandon him.
These and other facts which we pass over, show clearly enough that the presence of the missionary in these hunts was anything but advisable. The more so, that during such hunting excursions the Indians were a prey to the wildest excitement, which left little time for religious instruction. This the Fathers soon found by their own experience, and refused to follow the Indians to the chase any longer.
While Father Point was still with the Indians on the buffalo plains, Father De Smet, July 29, set out from St. Mary's for the States, arriving at St. Louis in the latter part of October. To his delight he found here some new laborers ready for the Indian Missions in the Rocky Mountains, two Fathers, Peter De Vos and Adrian Hoecken, and John b. McGean, a lay brother. He started them on their journey without delay, escorting them himself a considerable distance, and after seeing
them fairly on the road in the company of Lord Stuart he retraced his steps to St. Louis.
New recruits in the meanwhile had arrived from Europe, three Fathers, Joseph Joset, Peter Zerbinatti, and Tiberius Sodernini, and a lay brothers, Vincent Magri, whose voyage across the Atlantic had taken fifty-two days. Because of this, they reached St. Louis too late to join the previous expedition. Unable to proceed further, they passed the winter in the States, and resumed their journey toward the Rockies the following spring. At Fort Hall Father Soderini parted with his confréres and shortly after left the Society, being dismissed by Father De Smet. The rest of the band pursued their curse and arrived at St. Mary's in the summer of 1843, a few months after the party led by Father De Vos, upon whom now rested the care of the Indian Missions, as Vice-Superior, during the absence of Father De Smet.
In the meantime the Mission among the Coeur d'Alenes had been started by Father Point and Brother Huet, who, according to Father De Smet's instructions, had left the Flat Head Missions for their new field the preceding autumn. Thus, St. Mary's, the cradle of religion in what is now the State of Montana, had also become the parent stock of Christianity in that part of the Northwest known today as the State of Idaho.
It was the first Friday in November when Father Point and his companion arrived among the Coeur d'Alenes, and as the first Friday of every month is especially devoted to the honor of the most sacred Heart of our Divine Redeemer, the coincidence led to naming the Mission after the Sacred Heart. From all reports, the Coeur d'Alenes are today the best and most industrious Indians in the rocky Mountains.
The Kalispels were not forgotten, and with the arrival of new laborers it became practicable for St. Mary's to send them help. Father A. Hoecken, after spending some months with Father Point among the Coeur d'Alenes, proceeded, as directed by Father De Smet, to open the Mission among the Kalispels along the shores of Pend d'Oreille Lake. He arrived among them in the summer of 1844, and established the new Mission on the banks of Clark's Fork of the Columbia, the river being also known in its upper course as the Flat Head, and becoming
the Pend d'Oreille lower down toward the lake of the same name. The site lay some sixty miles below the present Sand Point and was named after St. Ignatius.
The location, however, proved unsatisfactory, as is mentioned elsewhere, and was abandoned shortly after for a more favorable site in northwestern Montana, namely, the St. Ignatius of today, of which we shall have to speak at considerable length in the course of our narrative.
Father De Smet in the meanwhile had arrived in Europe, where a great many had already a reading acquaintance with him and his work among the Indians of the Rocky Mountains, and where he received the heartiest greetings from all classes of people. When presented to Gregory XVI by the Father General of the Society of Jesus, His Holiness rose from his throne, to clasp him in his arms. But the cordial greetings proved no unmixed pleasure for the soul of the humble missionary, since he discovered that there was serious question of making him a bishop. However, with the help of the Father General, he succeeded in parrying off the dignity from himself, and at his suggestion the honor went to the Very Rev. F. N. Blanchet, his senior in age in missionary experience in the Rocky Mountains.
Having attained his object--its accomplishment being greatly facilitated by the enthusiasm which his glowing account of the new field among the Indians created everywhere--Father De Smet set out from Europe on his return trip to Oregon. He had with him Fathers John Nobili, Michael Accolti, Anthony Ravailli, Louis Vercruysse and a lay brother, Francis Huybrechts, together with a colony of Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur. The band left Flushing, Holland, December 12, 1843, by sailing vessel. They rounded Cape Horn and touched at Callao and Valparaiso. On July 31, the Feast of St. Ignatius, they cross the treacherous bar at the mouth of the Columbia River, where they barely escaped being wrecked. At last, they safely reached St. Paul, August 17, eight months after setting sail from Europe.
With the approval and encouragement of the Very Rev. Francis N. Blanchet, it was now resolved by the Jesuit Fathers to establish a residence here which should be, as it were, the motherhouse, as well as the center of supplies, for all the Indian Mis-
sions in the Rocky Mountains. Accordingly a suitable tract of land was secured for the purpose, and steps were also taken for the erection of buildings, the place and new Missions being name after St. Francis Xavier.
Father De Smet had not yet fully recovered from his long voyage when he was taken down by a severe attach of dysentery which laid him up for several days. When able to be about again, and previous to is setting out for the Missions in the upper country, he picked out the spot whereon the buildings in contemplation were to stand. He then left the Willamette Valley, intending to go and pass the winter among the Flat Heads.
On November 6, he reached the Kalispel country, where Father Hoecken a few months before had opened the Mission for the Indians of that name. He then proceeded to the Mission of the Sacred Heart among the Coeur d'Alenes, and thence, November 17, set out for St. Mary's. The season was too far advanced for him to go through the Coeur d'Alene Mountains having become impassable. He retracted his steps in the midst of untold dangers and hardships, and made an attempt to reach his objective by the Kalispel trail, but without success. He could proceed no further than the Kalispel Mission, and there he passed the winter with Father Hoecken. He reached St. Mary's the following spring, and after spending there sometime with the Flat Heads, he started out again to visit the Indians in the vicinity of Fort Colville.
Whilst he was thus journeying from one tribe to another in the wilds of the mountains, the Father in charge of the new Missions on the Willamette, together with his companions, was hard at work erecting the building that had been planned for the residence. But, somehow, this was not located on the site selected by Father De Smet, but on another nearby, and seemingly preferable. Whatever motives may have prompted such a departing from his orders, they did not appeal to him and the building was ordered pulled down and reconstructed on the spot where he wanted it to stand. This, no doubt, entailed considerable loss; but, then, material losses are often gain in the service of God. He changed the local Superior, father De Vos, whom he assigned to the Kalispel Mission, and whose place at St. Francis Xavier was taken by Father Accoli.
Another band of men for the Missions landed on the Willamette in 1847. They, too, had doubled Cape Horn, being from nine to ten months making the voyage from Europe. The band consisted of Fathers Gregory Gazzoli, Anton Goetz, and Joseph Menetrey, with three lay brothers, one of whom was Natalis Savio. We need not mentioned the two others, who feel by the wayside and proved untrue to their calling shortly after their arrival in this country.
Mot likely, the contemplated head-mission on the Willamette made the rounding of Cape Horn preferable to the journey overland and cross the mountains. It was not long, however, before the project of having in this locality the headquarters and center of supplies was reconsidered and given up, owing, principally, to the great distance, and the difficulties of travel.
But even so, and while this may have fully justified a modification of the original plans, it appears to have been ill-fated and a serious mistake for the Fathers to abandon the place altogether. For no one will deny that their withdrawal proved a great detriment to the cause of religion throughout the whole of this section.
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