From 1840 onward, the much-travelled Belgian-born Jesuit missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet of the Society of Jesus became widely regarded as a "Charismatic Peace-maker" who organized meetings of chiefs and pacified the "hostiles." De Smet is especially remembered for helping to negotiate a peace treaty for Chief Sitting Bull and his Sioux warriors in July, 1868, a turning point in the so-called Indian wars.

After a recruitment trip to Europe, Reverend Pierre-Jean De Smet also brought the first nuns, or "Lady Black Robes," to the Pacific Northwest in 1844. Six Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur sailed with De Smet and four other priests from Antwerp, Belgium, arriving at Fort Vancouver on L'Indefatigable, after a seven-month voyage, on July 31.

Born in Dendermonde, Belgium on January 30, 1801, De Smet sailed from Amsterdam on an American ship in 1821. Eighteen months later he reached Florissant, Missouri. After studying four more years for the priesthood, he earned his reputation as "Apostle of the Rocky Mountains" by travelling to the homelands of the Assiniboines, Blackfeet, Chaudiere, Chewelah, Couer d'Alene, Colville, Cree, Crow, Flatbow, Flatheads, Kalispell, Kootenays, Gens de Lac, Nez Perce, Okanogan, Pend d'Oreille, Snakes, Shoshone, Simpoil, Spokane and Yakima. He also provided translations of the Lord's Prayer in seven languages or dialects.

In 1845, at the same time as Warre and Vavasour crossed the Rockies over White Man Pass and travelled along the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers on their secret mission for the British, Reverend De Smet went from Bonner's Ferry into British Columbia as far as Cranbrook, erecting a cross and celebrating Mass for the Kootenays along the way. He knew them as the Skalzi Indians, and divided them into Kootenays and Flat-bows, named for the Kootenay and Flat-bow Rivers. He later recalled: "Coal exists in many portions of the country, lead is found in abundance, and I venture to say that more precious minerals repose in the bosom of the mountains, and will one day be brought to light there.

"The Indians have devoted themselves to agriculture for some years past. They cultivate little fields of maize, barley, oats, and potatoes, all of which ripen. It is rare that the frost injures the crops before the season of harvest. Their small fields cannot be extended, owing to the want of instruments of agriculture. They are compelled to turn the earth with instruments of the most primitive construction, such as Adam may have used in his day.... Deprived as they are of agricultural instruments and fire-arms, they are always in want, and they may be said to keep a perpetual Lent."

In 1845, De Smet travelled up the Kootenay River, along the Cross River, over White Man Pass, and onto Rocky Mountain House. Failing to conduct a successful "peace mission" to the Blackfoot who lived on both sides of the 49th parallel, he went north as far as Edmonton (Fort Augustus) for New Year's. In the early spring he travelled by dog sled to Fort Jasper, proceeding down the Columbia River to Fort Colville.

De Smet met Archibald McDonald, Chief Factor at Fort Colville, in 1841, gratefully received assistance from Peter Skene Ogden in the spring of 1842, and proceeded to make his first visits Forts Okanogan, Walla Walla and Vancouver, where he met John McLouglin and the only other Catholic missionies in the northwest at the time, Fathers F.N. Blanchet and Modeste Demers. Much later, after his dealings with Sitting Bull, De Smet submitted his resignation to the army at Fort Vancouver and headed back over the mountains for the last time, arriving at St. Louis to stay on September 23, 1859. He died at St. Louis University Jesuit House on May 23, 1873.

His Missions de l'Oregon has been translated into numerous languages. Some of his self-illustrated pamphlets are collectors' items.


De Smet, Pierre-Jean, S.J. Letters and Sketches, with a narrative of a Year's Residence Among the Indian Tribes of the Rocky Mountains (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: M. Fithian, 1843; United Kingdom: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2005).

De Smet, Pierre-Jean, S.J. New Indian Sketches (New York: D. And J. Sadlier & Co., 1863, 1865; New York: 1886; New York: P.J. Kenedy, Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 1895; Seattle: Shorey Book Store, 1971; Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1985, 1999).

De Smet, Pierre-Jean, S.J. Origin, Progress and Prospects of the Catholic Mission to the Rocky Mountains (1843; Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1967, 1972, 1986).

De Smet, Pierre-Jean, S.J. Oregon Missions and Travels over the Rocky Mountains in 1845-46 (New York: Edward Dunigan, 1847; Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1978).

De Smet, Pierre-Jean, S.J. Western Missions and Missionaries: A Series of Letters (New York: P. J. Kenedy, Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 1859, 1881; New York: James B Kirker, Late Edward Dunigan and Brother, 1863; Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1972).

De Smet, Pierre-Jean, S.J. Life, Letters and Travel of Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, S.J., 1801-1873. Four volumes. (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1905).


Laveille, E., S.J. The Life of Father De Smet, S.J.: Apostle of the Rocky Mountains (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1915; Chicago, Illinois: Loyola University Press, 1981). Marian Lindsay, translator. Also: Le P. de Smet, apôtre des peaux-rouges, 1801-1873 (Brussels: Librairie Albert Dewit, 1922; Paris: Louvain, Editions du Museum Lessianum, 1928).

Margaret, Helene. Father De Smet: Pioneer Priest of the Rockies (New York: Farrar & Rinehart Inc., Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1940).

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "Missionaries" "Forts and Fur"