salmon2.GIF (2076 bytes)
back

 

 

 

Adrian Hoecken to de Smet, Flat-Head Camp, in the Black-Feet Country, Oct. 18, 1855.

From de Smet, Western Missions and Missionaries, A Series of Letters (Shannon: University of Ireland Press, 1972).

Rev. and Dear Father:

You will thank God with me for the consoling increase he has given, through the intercession of Mary to the missions which you began in these remote parts. During the many years that I have passed among the Kalispels, though my labors have not been light and my trials have been numerous enough, God has given me in abundance the consolations of the missionary, in the lively faith and sincere piety of our neophytes. We have found means to build a beautiful church, which has excited the admiration of even Lieutenant Mullan, of the United States army. This church is sufficiently large to contain the whole tribe, and on Sundays and festival days, when our Indians have adorned it with what ornaments of green boughs and wild flowers the woods and parries supply; when they sing in it their devout hymns with fervor during the Holy Sacrifice, it might serve as a subject of edification and an example to quicken the zeal of many an old Christian congregation. There is among our converts a universal and very tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin, a most evident mark that the Faith has taken deep root in their souls. Every day, morning and evening, the families assemble in their lodges to recite the rosary in common, and daily they beg of Mary to thank God for them for having called them from the wild life of the forest, spent as it is in ignorance, rapine, and bloodshed, to the blessings of the true religion and its immortal hopes.

The Kalispels have sustained a great loss in the death of their pious chief, Loyola, with whose euphonious Indian name, Etsowish-simmegee-itshin, "The Grizzly Bear Erect," you are familiar. Ever since you baptized this excellent Indian chieftain, he was always steadfast in the faith. He daily made progress in virtue, and became more fervent in the practices of our holy religion. He was a father to his people, firm in repressing their disorders, and zealous in exhorting them to be faithful to the lessons of the missionaries. In the severe trials to which Divine Providence subjected his virtue in latter years, when within a short space of time he lost his wife and three of his children, he bore the heavy stroke with the edifying resignation of a Christian. During his last illness, of several weeks’ duration, he seemed more anxious to do something still for the promotion of piety among his people, than to have his own great sufferings alleviated. His death, which occurred on the 6th of April, 1854, was lamented by the Indians with such tokens of sincere grief, as I have never witnessed. There was not that false wailing over his tomb which Indian usage is said to prescribe for a departing chieftain; they wept over him with heartfelt and heartrending grief, as if each one had lost the best of fathers, and their grief for the good Loyola has not died away even to this day. Never had I thought our Indians capable of so much affection.

As Loyola, contrary to Indian customs, had not designated his successor, a new chief was to be chosen after his death. The election, to which all had prepared themselves by prayer to lead them to a proper choice, ended in an almost unanimous voice for Victor, a brave hunter, whom you as yet must remember as a man remarkable for the generosity of rejoicing. All the warriors, in their great costume, marched to his wigwam, and ranging themselves around it, discharged their muskets, after which each one went up to him to pledge his allegiance, and testify his affection by a hearty shaking of bands. During the whole day, numerous parties came to the mission house to tell the Fathers how much satisfaction they felt at having a chief whose goodness had long since won the hearts of all. Victor alone seemed sad. He dreaded the responsibility of the chieftainship, and thought he should be unable to maintain the good effected in the tribe by the excellent chief Loyola.

In the following winter, when there was a great scarcity, and almost a famine among the Kalispels, Victor gave an affecting proof of his generous self-denying charity. He distributed his own provisions through the camp, hardly reserving for himself enough to sustain life, so that on his return from the annual chase, when yet at a considerable distance from the village, he fell exhausted on the ground, and had to be carried by his companions, to whom on that very day he had given all the food that had been sent up to him for his own use.

The Indian is often described as a being devoid of kind feelings, incapable of gratitude, and breathing only savage hatred and murderous revenge; but, in reality, he has, in his untamed, uncultured nature, as many generous impulses as thc man of any other race, and he only needs the softening influence of our holy religion to bring it out in its most touching forms. We need no other proof of it than the grateful remembrance of all the Indians of their late chief Loyola, the generous character of Victor, and the affectionate feelings of all our converted tribes for their missionaries, and especially for you, to whom they look up as to their great benefactor, because you were the first to bring them the good tidings of salvation.

Among our dear Flat-Heads, Michael Insula, or fled Feather, or as he is commonly called on account of his small stature, "The Little Chief;" is a remarkable instance of the power which the Church has of developing the most amiable Virtues in the fierce Indian. He unites in his person the greatest bravery with the tenderest piety and the gentlest manners. Known amid his warriors by the red feather which he wears, his approach is enough to put to flight the prowling bands of Crows and Black-Feet, that have frequently infested the Flat-Head territory. He is well known and much beloved by the whites, who have had occasion to deal with him, as a man of sound judgment, strict integrity, and one on whose fidelity they can implicitly rely. A keen discerner of the characters of men, he loves to speak especially of those whites, distinguished for their fine qualities, that have visited him, and often mentions with pleasure the sojourn among them of Colonel Robert Campbell, of St. Louis, and of Major Fitzpatrick, whom he adopted, in accordance with Indian ideas of courtesy, as his brothers. He has preserved all his first fervor of devotion, and now, as when you knew him, one can hardly ever enter his wigwam in the morning or evening without finding him with his rosary ill his hands, absorbed in prayer. He cherishes a most affectionate remembrance of you, and of the day he was baptized; he longs ardently to see you once more before his death, and but yesterday he asked me, when and by what road you would return. In speaking thus, he expressed the desire of all our Indians, who all equally regret your long absence.

It was proposed, during the summer of 1854, to begin a new mission about one hundred and ninety miles northeast of the I~tlispel3, not far from the Flat-Head Lake, about fifty miles from the old mission of St. Mary's, among the Flat-Heads, where a convenient site had been pointed out to us by the Kalispel chief, Alexander, your o14 friend, who often accompanied you in your travels in the Rocky Mountains. Having set out from the Kalispel mission on the 28th of August, 1854, I arrived at the place designated on the 24th of September, and found it such as it had been represented a beautiful region, evidently fertile, uniting a useful as well as pleasing variety of woodland and prairie, lake and river the whole crowned in the distance by the white summit of the mountains, and sufficiently rich withal in fish and game. I 5hall never forget the emotions of hope and fear that filled my heart, when for the first time I celebrated mass in this lonely spot, in the open air, in the presence of a numerous band of Kalispels, who looked up to me, under God, for their temporal and spiritual welfare in this new home. The place was utterly uninhabited,--several bands of Indians live within a few days' travel, whom you formerly visited, and where you baptized many, while others still remained, pagan. I was in hope of gathering these around me, and God has been pleased to bless an undertaking begun for his glory, even beyond my expectation. In a few weeks we had erected several frame buildings, a chapel, two houses, carpenter's and blacksmith's shops; wigwams had sprung up at the same time all around in considerable numbers, and morning and evening you might still have heard the sound of the axe and the hammer, and have seen new-comers rudely putting together lodges. About Faster of this year, over one thousand Indians, of different tribes, from the Upper Koetenays and Flat-Bow Indians, Pends-d'Oreilles, Flat-Heads, and Mountain Kalispels, who had arrived in succession during the winter, when they heard of the arrival of the long-desired Black-gown, made this place their permanent residence. All these Indians have manifested the best dispositions. Besides a large number of children baptized in the course of the year, I have had the happiness to baptize, before Christmas and Easter, upwards of one hundred and fifty adults of the Koetenay tribe, men of great docility and artlessness of character, who told me that ever since you had been among them, some years ago, they had abandoned the practice of gam bling and other vices, and cherished the hope of being instructed one day in the religion of the Great Spirit.

By the beginning of spring, our good Brother McGean had cut some eighteen thousand rails; and placed under cultivation a large field, which promises to yield a very plentiful harvest. Lieutenant Mullan, who spent the winter among the Flat-Heads of St. Mary's, has procured me much valuable aid in founding this mission, and has all along taken a lively interest in its prosperity. I know not how to acquit the debt of gratitude I owe this most excellent officer, and I can only pray, poor missionary as I am, that the Lord may repay his generosity and kindness a hundredfold in blessings of time and eternity. We are still in want of a great many useful and important articles indeed, of an absolute necessity in the establishing of this new mission. I am confident, many friends of the poor Indians may be found in the United States, who will most willingly contribute their mite in such a charitable undertaking we will be most grateful to them, and our good neophytes, in whose behalf I make the appeal, will not cease to pray for their kind benefactors.

Please make arrangements with the American Fur Company to have goods brought up by the Missouri river to Fort Benton, whence I could get them conveyed in wagons across the mountains to the missionary station.

The Right Rev. Magloire Blanchet, bishop of Nesqualy, who in his first visit confirmed over six hundred Indians, although he arrived unexpectedly, when a great many families had gone to their hunting grounds, among the Kalispels and our neighboring missions, intended to give confirmation here this summer. I was very desirous of the arrival of this pious prelate, who has done so much good, by his fervent exhortations, to strengthen our neophytes in the faith. It had already been agreed upon that no party of Indians should go to meet him as far as the village of the Sacred Heart, among the Coeur-d'Alenes, about two hundred miles from St. Ignatius mission, when our plans were broken up by a message from Governor Stevens, summoning all our Indians to a council, to be held some thirty miles off; in St. Mary's or Bitter Root valley, at a place called Hellgate, whence a number of chiefs and warriors were to accompany him to a Grand Council of Peace among the Black-Feet. I was absent on a visit to our brethren among the Coeur-d’Alene the Skoyelpies, and other tribes, when I received an invitation from the governor to be present at the councils. I had found, in my visit, all our missions rich in good works and conversions, though very poor in the goods of this world all the Fathers and Brothers were in the enjoyment of excellent health. Father Joset, among the Skoyelpies, at the Kettle Falls of the Columbia, had baptized a large number of adults and children. During the late prevalence of the small-pox, there were hardly any deaths from it among the neophytes, as most of them had been previously vaccinated by us, while the Spokans and other unconverted Indians, who said the "Medicine (vaccine) of the Fathers, was a poison, used only to kill them," were swept away by hundreds. This contrast, of course, had the effect of increasing the influence of the missionaries.

With mingled feelings of joy at all the good effected, and of sorrow at the miserable death of so many of God's creatures thankful to God for all his blessings, and submissive to the my6tenous judgments of his Providence, I set out, accompanied by my neophytes, for the Black-Feet territory. The grand council took place in the vicinity of Fort Benton. Our Indians, who were in great expectation of seeing you with Majors Cummings and Culbertson, were indeed much disappointed at not finding you. The Black-Feet, although they are still much given to thieving, and have committed more depredations than ever, during the last spring, are very anxious to see you again, and to have missionaries among them. Governor Stevens, who has always shown himself a real father and well affected towards our Indians, has expressed a determination to do all in his power to forward the success of the missions. The establishment of a mission among the Black-Feet would be the best, and indeed the only means to make them observe the treaty of peace which has just been concluded. Until missionaries are sent, I intend, from time to time, to visit the Black-Feet, so as to do for them what good I may, and prepare the way for the conversion of the whole tribe. I hope a new mission may soon be realized, for it is absolutely necessary, both for their own sake and for the peace of our converted Indians on the western side of the Rocky Mountains.

From all I have seen, and from all I have learned during this last trip, I may say, that the Crows and all the tribes on the upper waters of the Missouri, as well as the various bands of Black-Feet, where so many children have already been regenerated in the holy waters of baptism, by you and by Father Point, are anxious to have the Black-gowns permanently among them, and to learn "the prayer of the Great Spirit." The field seems ripe for the harvest. Let us pray that God may soon send zealous laborers to this far-distant and abandoned region.

The chief, Alexander, the Kalispel, Michael Insula, and the other Flat-Head chieftains, the leaders of the Koetenay and Flat-Bow bands, and all our neophytes, beg to be remembered in your good prayers-they, on their part, never forget to pray for you. Please remember me.

Your devoted brother in Christ,

Adrian Hoeken, S. J.