Father De Smet in Dakota

Father De Smet in Dakota

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By Louis Pfaller, O.S.B.

Father De Smet! The almost legendary and heroic exploits associated with this kindly Indian missionary, traveler and beloved peacemaker cast an aura of awe and veneration around his name. Thousands of Indians from Missouri to Washington placed such a high regard on the friendliness, love and trustworthiness of the priest, that the United States Government eagerly sought his services as a peacemaker on many occasions.

Father De Smet's main title to fame and a place in American History was the tremendous influence he exercised upon the Indians in the Rockies and along the Missouri River. Thurlow Weed, journalist and Republican leader, wrote to President Lincoln, August 28, 1864: "No white man knows the Indians as Father De Smet, nor has any man their confidence in the same degree." Among his beloved Indians he was known as the "man who speaks without forked tongue."

This account is but a gesture in the direction of acknowledging the tremendous influence of Father De Smet in the West, or, more precisely, in Dakota. We are purposely limiting our story to the least known episodes of his western travels. Many have heard of De Smet, the Apostle of the Rockies, but they are surprised when told that his activities in Dakota were possibly greater than his Rocky Mountain apostolate. He visited Dakota fourteen times between 1839 and 1870, and his missionary and peacemanking efforts between 1862 and 1879 were concerned almost exclusively with the Indians of Dakota.