This monument, featuring a bust of Father Pierre De Smet, has four plaques around it. They are, left to right (clockwise): Arrival in Soda Springs, 1841
Pierre-Jean De Smet (1801-1873) traveled to America as a young man in 1821, from what is today Belgium, to join the Society of Jesus (S.J.), a Catholic religious order commonly called Jesuits. After his ordination to the priesthood, Father De Smet committed himself to establishing permanent Indian missions in the Missouri River Valley, the Rockies, and Pacific Northwest.
De Smet's second journey to the Rocky Mountains, 1841
Responding to requests from the Flathead tribe for "Black Robes" to visit them. Father De Smet embarked on his second trip to the Rocky Mountains in 1841.
Oregon Trail emigration is born
At the same time, a wagon train known as the Bidwell-Baartleson Party, was heading westward with the goal of reaching California, but has little idea of how to get there. At Sapling Grove, Kansas, John Bidwell requested and received permission to merge his westward bound pioneers with Father De Smet's party. The route to Soda Springs established by the combined parties became the primary route for future emigrants determined to reach California and Oregon.
A lifelong dedication
to Native Americans
Throughout his life, Father De Smet was dedicated to improving the welfare of Indians of the western United States.
The combined 81-member De Smet and Bidwell-Bartleson parties headed west from Kansas to the Soda Springs area on the Bear River, arriving on August 10, 1841. The Bidwell-Bartleson Party consisted of 69 members.
Father De Smet was joined by Thomas Fitzpatrick, guide, Nicolast Point S.J., French artist, architect, and college educator; Gregory Mengarini S.J., Italian linguist, physician, and musician; three lay brothers, teamsters and a professional hunter.
Soda Springs, a place of great natural curiosities
In his writings, Father De Smet described his observations in Soda Springs area:
"Some places on Bear River exhibit great natural curiosities. A square plain presents and even surface of fuller's earth of pure whiteness, like that of marble. Situated near this plain are a great many springs, differing in size and temperature. Several of them have a slight taste of soda, and the temperature of these is cold... In the same locality there is a remarkable spring.. from this hole issue alternately a jet of water and a gush of tea. The earth for some distance around resounds like an immense vault, and is apt to frighten
the solitary traveler as he passes along."
De Smet meets with Flathead
Departing Soda Springs, traveling northwest and arriving at Fort Hall, Father De Smet was met by a vanguard of the Flathead Indians who gratefully received their "Black Rove" as an answer to their prayers. The Flatheads escorted the missionary party to the Bitterroot Valley near present day Missoula where the St. Mary's Mission was established, the first of De. Smet's Rocky Mountain Mission network.
"My heart, I admit, is ever with the Indians."
There was no single person the American Indians trusted as they did Father De Smet. He was described by one Indian leader as "the white man whose tongue does not lie" and described as "more powerful than an army" at an Indian treaty conference at Fort Laramie in 1851. Father De Smet was invited to the White House in 1867 to advise on Indian affairs and in 1869 he helped lead negotiations at a peace conference with Sitting Bull of the Sioux.
Just and honest treatment of Indians
Father De Smet's philosophy was that just and honest treatment of Indians was the surest way to keep peace with them. Father De Smet gave Sitting Bull of the Sioux a crucifix as a sign of the fervent hope which both men shared that the power of the Great Spirit would bring peace and security
to the Sioux people.
Rocky Mountain Mission established
From 1841 to 1846, Father De Smet established six interconnected missions known collectively as the Rock Mountain Mission, ministering to such tribes as the Flathead, Kalispell, Coeur d'Alene, Blackfeet, Nez Perce, Cayuse, and Sioux. In 1842, Father De Smet established a mission of the Coeur d'Alene tribe at Cataldo, Idaho eventually leading to construction of the Mission of the Sacred Heart Church in 1853, the oldest standing building in Idaho.
World Traveler and Chronicler
Father Pierre De Smet traveled to the West 18 times, crossed the Atlantic Ocean 19 times, and sailed around Cape Horn in the course of his work as a frontier missionary, peacemaker, educator, and author. From 1821-1879, his travels over land and sea amounted to over 180,000 miles.
Father De Smet was one of the best traveled frontiersmen of his day. He kept meticulous journals of his travels to the West and authored four books and numerous letters that were at the time and are now highly regarded for their accurate and insightful description of western lands and its native peoples.
The Linton Album, a remarkable scrapbook
Physician Dr. Moses Linton was a close friend of Father De Smet's and presented De Smet with this album to be used as a
journal. Within the journal, Father De Smet compiled a remarkable collection of detailed travel notes, photographs, watercolor paintings, and sketches that highlighted his Rocku Mountain travels. This album is known as the Linton Album.
De Smet and Brigham Young, 1846
In 1846, Father De Smet was sought out by Brigham Young at Winter Quarters, Nebraska to obtain guidance on western travel.
Father De Smet later wrote "In the autumn of 1846, I found an advance guard of about 10,000 Mormons camped upon the Omahas' (Indian) lands, not far from old Council Bluffs. They plied me with questions about the regions I had traversed. My accounts of the villages in Utah please them greatly."
Through his eyes
Millions of people in America and Europe saw and understood the West through the eyes and pen of Father De Smet. They also came to know the plight of the Indian tribes as the whites rushed across the plains to occupy the mountains and points west.