Indian and White
In the History of the Northwest
Part 2, Chapter 16
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!
EPISCOPAL VISITATION OF EASTERN MONTANA.
BATTLE OF BIG HOLE.
It was shortly after his appointment to the Vicariate Apostolic of Nebraska, to which the eastern part of Montana belonged, that the Rt. Rev. James O'Connor signified to the missionaries on the field his intention of making an early visit to this distant portion of the Lord's vineyard that had been committed to his care.
Accordingly, in the latter part of May, 1877, he set out from Omaha on his long apostolic peregrination and after visiting Virginia City and some of its dependencies, where he administered Confirmation to a number of people, he directed his steps toward Helena, where he arrived on June 8 late in the evening.
Several prominent Catholics had gone out as far as Montana City to meet and thence escort the Prelate into town, but were disappointed. Owing to the exceedingly bad condition of the roads the coach from Virginia City on which the Bishop was expected and due early in the afternoon did not arrive till about midnight. His Lordship had intimated to the Fathers in Helena by letter that he wanted no pubic demonstration and beyond doubt the lateness and quiet of his arrival must have more than gratified his wish.
The succeeding Sunday, June 10, at the lat mass he confirmed 145 persons, several adults and even some gray-haired people being in the number, and in the evening he lectured to one of the largest audiences that ever crowded into the church of the Sacred Hearts. He spent the week in Helena, and at a reception rendered him by Mr. John Blaine and his wife at their residence on Rodney Street, a large number of people called to pay him their respects regardless of caste or creed.
On the following Saturday, accompanied by Father Menetrey, the Bishop went to the Missouri Valley, where on the next day, June 17, he confirmed 45 people, several of them being adults
and well advanced in years. H. Rosenbaum, now deceased, and his estimable wife were the favored hosts of the Bishop on the occasion.
Being desirous to see an Indian Mission whilst in Montana, he crossed over to the west side and made a flying trip to St. Ignatius. We had the honor and pleasure of being in his company in that excursion and heard him remark a couple of times on our way back to Helena that: "a visit to the Indian Mission was well worth a journey from Omaha and over Montana roads."
The Flat Head Indians from his pen and published in the III. Vol. of Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, is a beautiful and charming description of his visit and we have quoted from it several times in these pages. But we must add here a circumstance not mentioned by his Lordship and yet an interesting incident of what was to him the "ever memorable journey to the pious Flat Heads of St. Ignatius." The coach stopped for the night at Bearmouth, a station between Deer Lodge and Missoula, where the sleeping accommodations at the time were of the poorest. Still the man in charge made an effort to have a fairly clean bed for the Bishop. Invited to share the same bed with him, we declined respectfully. We lay down on an apology for a couch and had a good refreshing sleep. But we were indeed surprised in the morning when someone about the place kindly, though rather witlessly, informed us that a poor fellow had died of the smallpox, in these quarters and on that very couch only a few hours before we had reached the station. However, neither the Bishop nor the writer felt any the worse for the circumstances.
The evening of his return to Helena the Bishop delivered a lecture for the benefit of the church which was considerably in Genealogybug2005 t at the time. The next day he was called upon by a committee of gentlemen of the congregation, who tendered him a purse of some three hundred dollars for his traveling expenses. He declined the offering with thanks, remaking at the same time that all his traveling expenses were paid already and suggested that the purse made up for him right well be turned over to lessening the Genealogybug2005 t on the church.
A few hours later an ambulance, placed at the Bishop's dis-
posal by an old-time friend of his, General John Gibbon, in command at Fort Shaw, drew up before the residence and his Lordship now left Helena to visit Northern Montana, which also belonged to his jurisdiction. Going first to Fort Shaw he was the guest of his friends, General Gibbon and family, for a couple of days and gave Confirmation to some of the soldiers and several civilians. He then proceeded to Fort Benton, confirming there several people of the town and the surroundings and thence, as he had planned, he returned to Omaha by boat.
The impression which Bishop O'Connor left on the people of Montana, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, was very favorable, his visit being still recalled and spoken of with pleasure by all.
But no less favorable and no less lasting appears to have been the impression made on him by Montana and her people. In a letter to the writer, dated "Omaha, March 31, 1879," the Rt. Rev. Bishop expressed himself as follows: "You and I may not live to see it, but the day is not distant when Montana will be one of the most fruitful and flourishing as well as the most beautiful portions of God's vineyard; and this will be owing in great measure to the labors and virtues of those who have already borne there the burden of the day and the heats." We underscore some of his words because of the quasi-prophetic ring which they appear to carry.
Of the people, the Bishop has this to day: "It maybe that I saw only the bright side of their character, but certain it is, I never met a people with whom I was better pleased." As to Helena people, in particular, he thus concludes his Flat Head Indians: "the third day brought us back to Helena, where we were welcomed by the most hospitable and warm-hearted people I have seen in the far west."
And no doubt that the Bishop was a close and keen observer of both persons and things, as can be seen from the following. While here in Helena, two young ladies called to pay him their respects. After they had left, "I surmise" said he to the writer, "that the two young lady visitors received their education from some of our Sisters, their whole exterior, composed, refined, modest, yet frank and open, has left on me that impression, and I feel certain it is so." So it was, the two young ladies having received their education at St. Vincent's Academy, this city.
The favor bestowed on Eastern Montana by Bishop O'Connor in 1877, Archbishop C. J. Seghers conferred on Western Montana in 1879, two years later, and again in 1882. But we must not anticipate, as other visitors, far difference from them, of whom it is written: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that preacheth peace . . . . . of him that preachest salvation, call first for our attention. The visitors of whom we must now speak are the invading Nez Perces, who, king into open warfare against the whites in Idaho, were at this date heading toward Montana, causing the greatest alarm.
The first news of the Indian outbreak in Idaho arrived at St. Ignatius whilst bishop O'Connor was visiting that Mission, and came direct by special runners sent to our Indians from the lower country. The Bishop appeared much concerned about the disturbance, and made particular inquiries to ascertain the actual disposition of the Catholic Indians, fearing much that they might be drawn into making common cause with the Nez Perces.
He saw the chiefs and other leaders of the tribe, spoke to them words of peace, and directed them to follow in everything the counsels and advice of the Fathers. The Indians, 0n their part, assured the great Black Robe that, though they were and always had been on friendly terms with the Nez Perces and not a few were related to them by blood, none of their own people at the Mission and in the Bitter Root Valley sympathized with them in their revolt against the whites. And far from giving in to threats or coaxing, as they had already intimated to the Nez Perces, they were ready, if things came to that pass, to take sides, and fight for the whites.
The Bishop felt much relived buy these assurances of loyalty on the part of the Flat Heads. But foreseeing that false and exaggerated reports would likely be sent out and would alarm the country, as soon as he reached Missoula, the first telegraph station in his course, he sent a lengthy dispatch to the New York Herald, with the intention of forestalling rumors.
The whole country knows how loyal and how true to their word the Flat Heads proved to be, and we need not repeat the story. But it is well to put on record, upon the authority of Father Cataldo, that with the exception of one single Catholic woman, whom Father Cataldo himself had interacted and bap-
tized and who was the wife of one of Chief Joseph's men, all the others in the rebel band were pagan Indians.
Whilst Chief Joseph with his following was heading toward the Bitter Root Valley, U. S. soldiers had entrenched themselves at the mouth of the Lolo to intercept him. On nearing the spot, the Nez Perces chief sent some of his men ahead with the request that they should be allowed to pass peaceably. Upon the request, he outwitted the troops by cutting across the woods higher up, detouring unperceived into the valley near Victor. He now continued on his course up the valley, crossed over to the Big Hole Basin, entirely unaware that General Gibbon with his command was pursuing him. The Nez Perces were surprised by the troops who had stolen upon them in the darkness of the night. The attack was made at break of day, august 9, and the battle that ensued proved one of the bloodiest and most desperate in the annals of Indian warfare, though the combatants on either side were comparatively few.
General Gibbon's force consisted of 146 regulars and 34 civilians, all told, 180 men, and two-thirds of them were killed or wounded in the encounter, not a few being hit several times. Joseph had at least twice as many warriors on his wide, and 80 of them were buried on the battlefield by the troops. According of his own statement, made after his capture, 208 of his people had either been killed outright or had died soon after of wounds received in the fight. WE heard it said by General gibbon himself and several others of his command, that if the Indians had followed up the advantage which they gained in the beginning of that bloody struggle, his whole force would have been annihilated, just as the year previously Custer's command had been wiped out by the Sioux on the Little Horn.
The news of the battle, with a call for medical and other assistance, reached Helena, Saturday, August 11, between 10 and 11 A.M., and not quite an hour later, two Sisters of Charity, Benedicta and Mary Liquori, accompanied by the writer, were on their way to the battlefield. The impromptu Helena Relief committee had supplied us with transportation, and Major R. C. Walker, U. S. A., kindly volunteered to be our escort. Helena had no Mass the next day, Sunday, Father Menetrey, the other
priest attached to the place, being then on duty in some of the outside Missions.
Our little relief party arrived at Deer Lodge in the evening rather late. WE said Mass there early the next morning, and taking along Sister Mary Xavier in the place of Sister Benedicta, who had become indisposed during the night, we left before the dawn of day for French Gulch, and reached that mining camp between 1 and 2 o'clock P. M. Parting here with the Sisters, who were directed to wait there for further instructions, the writer and Major Walker continued their journey, and that evening joined the corps of volunteers who were encamped on the banks of the Big Hole River, some fourteen miles this side of the battlefield. Here we met two Protestant clergymen. They were also members of the relief committee, as ministers of religion, but they carried with them their rifles and a good supply of ammunition.
After eight or nine miles' march early next morning, word came from General Gibbon that was on the move with his command and the wounded, and wished the relief party to select a convenient camping place, where his men would arrive in a couple of hours or so.
It had been the writer's lot to se the horrors of war on a much larger scale indeed. On June 24, 1859, he was in Verona, a short distance from Solferino, where on that day some twenty-seven thousand men were killed or wounded. He there saw masses of torn and mangled humanity, the memory of which nothing can ever obliterate from his mind. But then the hundreds and thousands of wounded had there also hundreds and thousand of kind, willing hands and sympathizing hearts to provide them with shelter, medical assistance, nursing, and other comforts, thus rendering their sufferings less terrible. But here in the wilderness, amid the bleak prairie and desolate woods, a humored and more miles away from civilization, the poor sufferers, albeit comparatively an insignificant number, were still are too many to be attended to and made comfortable by their companions, anxious as the latter were to help them.
The relief corps was pressed into willing service, a halt of some four miles being made, that the sufferers might have
little rest, whilst their wounds were dressed by the surgeons and nurses.
On hearing that there was a sisters' Hospital at Deer Lodge, General gibbon was highly pleased, and thereupon, gave orders to move on, that his wounded men might be in the hands of the Sisters. We went ahead to give notice of their coming. We reached Warm Springs in the night of the 14th, had Mass there early the next day, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady, and thence hastened to Deer Lodge, where the Sisters were soon hard at work preparing for the sufferers who were brought in the following day.
It had been impossible for several days to dress the wounds properly while on the road, and in doing so now, they were found in several cases literally alive with maggots. The number of Sisters in Deer Lodge being insufficient for the emergency, other Sisters came over from Helena, and all that true Christian charity could do for the poor suffering fellow-being was done by those worthy daughters of St. Vincent for the wounded of the Big Hole Battle.
Before dismissing the subject, we must chronicle a singular incident of the battle which we learned from some of the soldiers who had been themselves eye-witnesses of the occurrence. When the troops attacked the Nez Perces camp, a squaw rushed out of a tepee and fell on her knees in front of a group of soldiers who were pouring volley after volley into the lodges or tepees behind her, whence the Indians were returning the fire. There she remained knelling, all the while blessing herself with the sign of the Cross. The strange conduct of the woman and her remaining untouched by the storm of bullets whizzing round her puzzled the soldiers. One of the officers called out to his men in these or similar words: "Boys, do not hurt, spare that woman; there is some charm about her."
We know that the incident has been discredited in the New Northwest, of Deer Lodge, by our friend Duncan McDonnald, who, after the capture of Joseph, interviewed some of the Nez Perces' across the line. Nevertheless we believe the incident, simply because the testimony of eye-witnesses is not offset by hearsay. We further observe, first, that Duncan McDonnald, as can be gathered from his own account, did not interview all the
Nez Perces', who survived the big Hole Battle. Secondly, that those Indians, being all pagans, as we stated above, were not and could not be ina condition to notice the sign of the Cross. And, lastly, that, since the squaw in question, a is made clear by the detail of the occurrence, knelt facing the soldiers and with her back to her own people, she could easily be seen bless herself by the former, and not by the latter. Hence, the testimony of the soldiers is not weakened, much less destroyed, by any contrary assertion.
We also infer that the woman referred to most have been the cone instructed and baptized by Father Cataldo, since on his own declaration there were no Catholics in Joseph's band, except one solitary woman, and as a rule Catholics only are wont to bless themselves with the sign of the Cross. All of which would seem to indicate that the subject of the occurrence could be no other than the woman spoken of by Father Cataldo.
But let us return to the local history of the Helena Mission and relate other occurrences of this period. In doing so, however--as noted already in the preface of this second edition--we would have the kind reader bear in mind that, though we would have preferred to suppress ourselves in the following and other incidents recorded in these pages, we could not do it without detracting from historical accuracy, since it fell to our lot to have more or less part in what we must now record in compliance with the wishes of our superiors. Modesty and simple veracity need not part company; they are sister virtues and may therefore rightly go hand-in-hand in one's own writings.
You are the Visitor to this USGenNet Website Since September 6, 2004
Html by Genealogybug2005
This book is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library
[Table Of Contents][Books Project][Mardos Memorial Library]