John Livingston News

Father De Smet: People Who Write Revisionist History are Cowards

I spend long winter nights studying for my summer camping trips. Lynn and I bought a new RV three years ago and we made our 1st trip a “Louis and Clark” trip stopping along many historical spots on the Missouri River and The Yellowstone Rivers. We covered 2000miles. The Corps of Discovery traveled 6000 miles both ways and broke up on the return trip with Louis traveling north to explore the St. Marie’s River and Blackfoot territory east of what is now Glacier National Park.

Clarke followed the Yellowstone from what is today Livingston Montana to its’ mouth at the junction of the Missouri close to modern day Williston North Dakota. The Corps of Discovery’s expedition to my way of thinking was the greatest and bravest undertaking ever attempted and completed by Americans. It continued the narrative of “American Exceptionalism” and for generations these two explorers were revered and venerated like astronauts and fighter pilots are today. They were heroes, but there were many early American frontier heroes like Danial Boone and Davey Crocket who today are being marginalized by the left.

This year I have studied the journeys of Fr. Peter John De Smet. This Flemish Jesuit Missionary to the Indians traveled 180,000 miles across the American West—add another 100,000 miles from his 16 trips to Europe procuring funding from European governments and aristocracy for the 19 missions and 3 Colleges that he established over 40 years of discipleship. I am sure people and especially Catholics growing up in the West know more about the good Father than I do, but after several months of research I am now of the mind that his accomplishments rival those of Lewis and Clark’s or of many others who settled the West including those who died for Texas Liberty, or the thousand who braved the Oregon trail.

It is recorded that Fr. De Smet baptized over 500,000 Indians. Many of them young children on their death beds dying from cholera, smallpox, or measles. Over 40 years Fr. De Smet contracted all three diseases and in the end most likely tuberculosis, yet despite his own infirmities, he sat out less than three months in convalescence. He met with the Pope in Rome twice and with Abraham Lincoln several times. He met with and was vocally outspoken in his criticism of U. S. Grant’s Indian policy. He saved the lives of thousands—most likely tens of thousands of American soldiers and Indian Warriors lives on two occasion negotiating treaties with Native American Tribes that the US government couldn’t complete.

The most famous—the treaty of Laramie in 1868, he negotiated with the great warrior Sitting Bull—who he baptized and many believe allowed to be confirmed in the church even though he had two wives. During his life Sitting Bull had at various times 9 wives, but after being chastised, two made the final cut and it is believed that he negotiated a compromise with Fr. De Smet to allow him to be a full member of the church and he even asked that should he have a chance that he be given a Catholic burial. Fr. De Smet and two close Catholic brothers—Fr. Catoldao, the founder of Gonzaga University and Fr. Ravalli—the actual founder of the Catoldo mission in Idaho, baptized and converted thousands of Native Americans in the Sioux, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Flat Head, Coeur d’Alene Pend Oreille, Nez Perce, Wallowa, Spokane, and Salish and Seattle tribes—and others. Famous Chiefs who trusted and befriended Fr. DeSmet included the aforementioned Sitting Bull, but also that great warrior Crazy Horse. Chief Seattle died receiving last rights, and the paths of Chief Joseph and Fr, DeSmet crossed several times.

The reason I bring up Fr. Desmet is that in my studies it became obvious that contemporary writings and writings that occurred before 1980 painted a very different story of the Jesuit contribution to American and Native American life. The Native American portrayal of the Jesuits was incredibly positive up until the mid-1990’s.

Let me give you an example of the revisionist history that today is being promulgated by Academics and politicians none of whom have the courage or personal character of our early American pioneers—and this includes Columbus to Neil Armstrong, and Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph

In 1884 Senator George Vest—12 years after Fr. DeSmet’s death informed the entire Senate in a floor speech:

“I can assert that nowhere in the United States have such satisfactory results been obtained as in the Jesuit Missions The girls are taught needlework, to read, and then teach, they are taught music and art and how to manage a household. The young men are taught to herd cattle, work and raise crops, to read and do math, to be carpenters, blacksmiths and millwrights I do not speak of any denominational prejudice, I grew up as a Presbyterian and was taught to abhor the entire sect, but I defy anyone to find me a single tribe of Indians—blanket Indians, that approximate the civilization of the Flat Heads who have been under the control of the Jesuits for 50 years. Where there were Flatheads and Jesuits you find farms you find civilization, you find Christian Communities. You find the relationship of husband and wife, father-mother and child scrupulously observed.”

The “Black Robes” were revered amongst the Native Americans and were respected by all who understood their great contributions to the world. Similar missions in South and Central America had similar results. And now let’s see what the Washington Times reported in 2015 about the removal of a statue of Fr. DeSmet on the campus of St. Louis University—a College he helped establish and build from the ground up:

Faculty, staff, and students defended their actions stating: “the statue was culturally insensitive and celebrated cultural dominance and slavery.” Other students describing themselves as “stakeholders” said that the Jesuits “had a history of Colonialism. Racism. Imperialism and Christian White Supremacy”. I bet they didn’t know that in the second generation of “Black Robes” there were several native American Priests and today there are many with Native American ancestry.

Two very different ideas about the Jesuit Missionaries. The contemporary one is the most accurate. The second one comes from the perspective of a spoiled entitled class. I would hazard a guess that there would be none of the current “faculty, staff and students” that removed that statue, who could begin to follow in the footsteps of “The Black Robes”—in Fr. DeSmet’s case all 160,000 miles.

The final irony is I bet none of the students—most who were the recipients of Pell Grants or what seems to be “non-recourse” student loans were casting dispersions on the man that founded their University!

What do you get when you combine entitlement with revisionist history? Ignorance and stupidity.

Maybe the way back for our country can be found in the Jesuit example. God first. Unselfish service to others, work hard and finally reverence, respect forgiveness, and redemption.

If God brought peace between the White Man and The Native American, surely the factions in our country can be brought together by subjugating ourselves to his Sovereignty. I believe it is the only way forward.

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