(1801 - 1873)
The lesson of American history is the wicked and the strong always find plenty of pretexts to oppress the innocent and the weak, and when they lack good reasons they have recourse to likes and calumnies.
Belgian-born Jesuit priest who became a leading figure in the
19th century history of the American West as a missionary to the
Pierre DeSmet, the peripatetic Jesuit who traveled tens of
thousands of miles across the mountainous West - and in doing so,
became the most trusted white man among the western tribes - was an
important interpreter and witness to the peace council at Horse
Creek in 1851.
'Blackrobe' to the tribes of the West, Pierre DeSmet, a
Belgian-born Jesuit priest, arrived in St. Louis in 1823 and became
a U.S. citizen ten years later.
He would spend the next thirty years travelling among the
western tribes and establishing missions in Montana, Idaho, Oregon,
and the Dakotas, often traveling on foot and by
himself. He sailed to Europe on four different
occasions to raise money for his many causes, and in time, became
the most trusted white man in Indian country.
request of David Mitchell, DeSmet escorted the Mandan, Hidatsa, and
Arikara tribes to the peace council at Horse Creek, in 1851.
When it concluded he drew a now-famous map of the territory
formally recognized by Congress as being owned by the western
DeSmet was probably the only white man outside of the fur trading
enterprise to travel across the entire Western half of the United
States before railroads and pioneers changed the face of the
frontier. Like his good friend of Thomas Fitzpatrick, DeSmet
would go to his grave lamenting: "Poor unfortunate Indians!
They trample on treasures, unconscious of their worth, and content
themselves with the fishery and the chase. When these
resources fail, they subsist upon roots and herbs; whilst they eye
with tranquil surprise the white man examining the shrinking
pebbles of their territory." Over the course of his
adventures in the West, deSmet travelled more than 150,000 miles on
horseback or on foot, and it seemed to make him unusually
clairvoyant about the Indian's future: "The policy of the U.S. has
ever been to remove the Indians from each new state as soon as it
is admitted…when the lands of the Indians cease to be valuable, and
the white can do without them, then only will the Indian enjoy the
privilege of retaining them."
Of the men, women, and elected leaders of his adopted country,
deSmet was no less insightful: "American liberty and tolerance, so
highly boasted, exist less in this great republic than in the most
oppressed country of Europe…Mobs are the order of the day (in a
nation where) liberty is a perversion of the word; it is rather
pure license which has got the upper hand…the unhappy land is
flooded with crimes and misdeeds of every sort. The American nation
is a great, imitative people…they cannot live without some or other
Pierre DeSmet died in St. Louis on May 23, 1873, and is buried at
the Jesuit Novitiate at Florissant, Missouri.