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St. Peter's Mission at the Bird Tail

St. Peter's Mission at the Bird Tail

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The establishment of St. Peter's Mission, Montana, at its site east of the Bird Tail. This was the site of a Metis community and where Louis Riel taught school.
The establishment of St. Peter's Mission, Montana, at its site east of the Bird Tail. This was the site of a Metis community and where Louis Riel taught school.

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Published by: Lawrence J. Barkwell on Nov 09, 2013
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Peters Mission at the Bird Tail
From: Lawrence Benedict Palladino, Indian and White in the Northwest; A History of Catholicity in Montana, 1831-1891. Pa.: Wickersham Publishing Company, 1 !!: pp. !"#$!1!. %n the beginning o& 'une, 1()*,+ we ,uote &rom Father -uppens. notes, +Father /iorda, who was at the time the 0uperior general o& the 1orthwestern 2issions, made his yearly 3isit to 0t. Peter.s, at the end o& which he in3ited Father %moda and your humble ser3ant to accompany him in search o& a more suitable site. 4nder the guidance o& our Black&oot %ndian, and 2r. 5iel, a French Canadian, we took our course along the 2issouri westward to the &oothills, and e6amined the 3arious 3alleys and little streams. We passed Bird 7ail 8ock, then up the 9earborn 8i3er, to its 3ery source : then down &rom the head$ waters o& 0un 8i3er to its ;unction with the 2issouri. +< care&ul comparison o& notes on the &a3orable points o& the di&&erent sites resulted in the unanimous opinion that the place about two miles east o& Bird 7ail 8ock, was the most suitable &or durable mission work and school. +Father %moda recei3ed instructions to prepare the buildings, and &ence in a &ield and garden, &or the trans&er o& the 2ission to this place, which Father /iorda hoped to e&&ect the ne6t year.+ +When the &ourth location o& the 2ission had been chosen,+ continues Father -uppens, +the place was designated as two miles east o& Bird 7ail 8ock.+ =e then tells us that, later on, the 2ission was marked on the map, 0t. Peter, and Bird 7ail appeared a little west o& it. <nd now he describes Bird 7ail as a peculiar landmark near the 2ullan 8oad, about midway between the 9earborn and 0un 8i3er. +%t is a high, isolated and 3ery steep hill, and the many &ragments o& rock, all about its sides, gi3e it a &ormidable aspect. 7he top appears to be one solid mass o& stone and at its 3ery highest point there ;ut out bold against the sky, some se3en monoliths o& colossal si>e. 7he %ndians in designating the hill would raise their open hand abo3e their head, and e6tend the &ingers. 5ery little e&&ort o& the imagination was re,uired to &ind that the name Bird 7ail was 3ery appropriate. 7he &irst white settlers had &or it no other name, and always designated it as Bird 7ail, Bird 7ail 8ock, Bird 7ail =ill. % ha3e li3ed two years almost in sight o& the place,+ adds Father -nppens, +and % ha3e ne3er heard the name called in ,uestion.+ 0ince a new 2ission site had been resol3ed upon, it is e3ident that the one by the 2issouri had not been &ound ,uite satis&actory. Why so, apart &rom the reasons indicated abo3e in the narrati3e, the writer is unable to tell. 7hose reasons, howe3er, were such as could ha3e applied pretty much to any other location in that whole country. =ence it is but &air to surmise that, whilst there must ha3e been special reasons rendering a change o& location desirable, these did not become so well known. %n compliance with the directions Father %moda established a camp at the new place, and a Brother or Father, with some workmen and a &ew %ndians, prepared logs, stone and all


the necessary material. +We had plans,+ says Father -uppens, +that included all the di&&erent departments &or chapel and community li&e: &or school and industrial training. Lumber was hauled &rom =elena and ci3ili>ation was ad3ancing.+ +7he earliest 3isitor that % can remember,+ says the Father, +was /eneral 7homas Francis 2eagher, who strayed &rom the 2ullan road in a bli>>ard, and landed in our camp, attracted by the barking o& the dogs. 0e3eral %ndian chie&s 3isited us, highly pleased with the new location, and promised to send their children to school. 9uring the winter, the work had ne3er been interrupted, and the houses were practically ready in the spring.+ 7his was what relie3ed Father /iorda on his arri3al &rom 5irginia: &or he was thus able to order at once the trans&er to the new place. +=e told us in the e3ening,+ says Father -uppens, +that we would mo3e in the morning with all our belongings. We had a short but impressi3e e6hortation in the chapel: and in the morning bade good bye to 0t. Peter.s, on the 2issouri. Father /iorda, as a last act, 3isited the place o& his rescue &rom the waters : and thus this third location was abandoned.+ +9uring our short ;ourney to the new place,+ adds Father -uppens, +we saw se3eral parties o& %ndians and whites on the war path, and it was e3ident that whiskey had set their brains a&ire. We occupied the 2ission houses only one night. 7he &our Fathers said 2ass in a new chapel and on a new altar: and all &elt con&ident that the new 2ission, on its &ourth and last location, had &ound a permanent home. 7hat 3ery day we all recei3ed orders to close the 2ission temporarily, and retire to 0t. %gnatius, across the mountains. ?n <pril !#, 1()), we abandoned 0t. Peter.s 2ission, on the 2issouri : on the same day we opened the 2ission at Bird 7ail 8ock. 7he ne6t day we closed this 2ission temporarily.+ Father -uppens. notes make ,uite clear this part o& the history o& 0t. Peter.s 2ission &rom its establishment by the bank o& the 2issouri, to its remo3al to its &ourth site near Bird 7ail 8ock, where it was opened one day, to be closed again the ne6t. %t is not unlikely that this last step was resol3ed upon on reaching the new place i& not on the way thither, and that the immediate cause were the war parties met by the missioners whilst mo3ing to the new home. 7homas 2oran, who was on the spot at the time, told the writer as much. =e added, &urther, that soon a&ter their arri3al, the Fathers held a consultation, and resol3ed unanimously on closing the 2ission &or the time being. %t was not sa&e &or any o& them to remain at his post. =ence the order o& Father /iorda sending the members o& the little community, some to 0t. %gnatius, some to =ell.s /ate, whither also was to be trans&erred the stock and whate3er else could be mo3ed. 7he hardships and strenuous duties o& his position, especially in connection with the occurrences described abo3e, told hea3ily on Father /iorda, and impaired his physical strength. 7his led higher 0uperiors to grant him some relie& by appointing Father 4. /rassi to &ill his place in the capacity o& 5ice 0uperior. 7he appointment was made in the summer o& the same year, 1()). <s will be related more in detail in the second part o& this work, yielding to the persistent re,uests o& the many Catholics in the two mining


districts o& <lder /ulch and Last Chance, Father 4. /rassi ga3e resident priests to those two places in the &all o& that year. %n other words, he opened a 2ission in each o& the two communities o& whites, 5irginia City and =elena. 7he mo3e was a necessary one. But on the other hand, there&rom arose a new problem whose practical solution presented many serious di&&iculties, especially because o& the scarcity o& laborers in the &ield. =ow could both the %ndians and the whites be attended to, when there were not men enough to care &or either one or the other@ 7o encompass both ends, i& no more than in part, 0t. Peter.s 2ission was now attached to the 2ission o& =elena, whence the Black&eet %ndians were to be occasionally 3isited by Father C. %moda, who was specially charged with the task. 7his, howe3er, was a temporary arrangement only. For the ne6t &ew years the 2ission had no resident priest. ?ne or another o& the Fathers residing in =elena 3isited it now and then. Father %moda ne3er &ailed to do so, when on his way to the %ndians or when he returned &rom their camps. =e would stop there, to see that things were kept in order, and also to comply with the re,uirements o& the law, so as not to &or&eit the title to the claim. Whilst the reopening o& the place was wished &or somehow, the hope o& its reali>ation diminished as time went on. 1ay, an inter3al now &ollowed, when all thought o& its restoration seemed to be gi3en up, as is made clear by the &act that Father 2enetrey recei3ed orders to close the 2ission.s a&&airs. =e went to 0t. Peter.s on this special business in the &all o& 1()#, and remained there till the &ollowing summer, and, during that time, disposed o& whate3er belonged to the 2ission. =e had ;ust completed the task assigned to him, when &rom head,uarters arri3ed positi3e orders &or the continuance o& the 2ission. 7he conse,uence o& this was, that all &ormer dispositions not in keeping therewith were re3ersed. <s the &irst step toward the reestablishment o& 0t. Peter.s, Father /. /a>>oli was sent o3er there in the &all o& 1()(. =is ob;ect was to look into matters and report on the e6pediency o& re$opening the place. =e stayed till the &ollowing summer, and ha3ing reported ad3ersely, things continued in statu ,uo, a while longer. 9uring the whole inter3al &rom the closing o& the 2ission in 1()), to its re$opening in 1(#A, the premises and whate3er else had not been disposed o& by the Fathers, remained con&ided to the care o& 7homas 2oran, whose loyal and &aith&ul stewardship pro3ed deser3ing o& all praise. 0ource: Palladino, Lawrence Benedict, Indian and white in the Northwest; a history of Catholicity in Montana, 1831-1891. Pa., Wickersham Publishing Company, 1 !!: pp. !"#$!1!. 7he 2Btis would establish a community at 0t. PeterCs that e6isted &rom the late 1()".s until 0t. PeterCs closure in 1 1( with a &ew indi3idual &amilies remaining there a&ter that date. For se3eral decades 0t. PeterCs 2ission and the 2Btis community established


around it would &orm the religious, educational and political base o& the 2Btis in central 2ontana. 8osalyn La Pier reports1: 7he 2Btis were acti3ely in3ol3ed in the seasonal religious acti3ities o& the 2ission. 7hey participated in the blessing o& the &ields and prayed &or a good har3est during 8ogation 9ays. 7he entire community participated in the Corpus Christi Procession which was led by twel3e young 2Btis girls Edressed in pink dresses and white 3eils, strewing &lowers be&ore the Blessed 0acrament.F 7his must ha3e been ,uite a sight by 1((" when the community at 0t. PeterCs numbered about 1*" people, o& whom 11( were 2Btis. <t the time twenty$se3en 2Btis &amilies made up the community at 0t. PeterCs. 2ost o& these &amilies were large e6tended &amilies or were related through marriage. 7he Fathers o& the 2ission spent a large amount o& their time away &rom the 2ission. 7he 2Btis &amilies that li3ed at the 2ission were le&t with the duty to o3ersee the care o& the 2ission while the Fathers were tra3eling. 7he men worked as carpenters building log cabins, ranchers, &arm laborers and sheep herders, while the women worked as seamstresses, laundresses and domestics. Father 'oseph 9amiani came to 0t. Peter.s in the spring o& 1(# , and &rom this base pro3ided ser3ices throughout central 2ontana. =e tra3eled up and down the 2issouri 8i3er and tra3eled as &ar east at the 2ilk 8i3er and the 2usselshell. <s part o& this tra3eling Father 9amiani blessed marriages and bapti>ed babies in remote 2Btis communities. %n the spring o& 1((! he blessed the marriage o& Louis 8iel and his wi&e 2arguerite, about D"" Gri3erH miles down the 2issouri &rom 0t. PeterCs. %n 1((D Louis 8iel mo3ed with his wi&e and young son to 0t. PeterCs 2ission and came to li3e with the 'ames 0wain, 'r. &amily. Father 9amiani hired him to teach at the boysC school beginning in 0eptember. <s noted abo3e, in 1(#A, the mission was re$opened, and prospered &or many years. 7here were the usual agricultural and stock raising acti3ities to supplement the industrial school &or %ndian boys. By 1((", the 4rsuline 1uns were induced to come there and establish a school &or %ndian and 2etis girls. Within 1" years, 0t. Peters had accommodations &or A"" children, both boys and girls by this time. 7he buildings were substantial, being o& stone, and the school &acilities were numbered among the best in the west. 7he mission had one great handicap. 7he rapid settling o& the region by the whites had caused the go3ernment to restrict the territory o& the Black&eet and, as a conse,uence, the

8osalyn Le Pier. E2Btis Li&e <long 2ontanaCs Front 8ange.F Gpp. 1"$1!H < paper which appeared as a chapter in eyond ...!he "hadows of the #oc$ies% History of the A&'&sta Area. <ugusta 27: <ugusta =istorical 0ociety, !""#. 9r. LaPier is a Black&ootI2ichi& 4ni3ersity Pro&essor. 0he is a descendant o& the Lapierre &amily that li3ed in the 2etis community at 0t. PeterCs.


%ndians were now placed on a reser3ation some 1"" miles to the north o& the mission. 0o &inally, a new mission nearer the %ndians had to be established. <t &irst this new 2ission was located at Birch Creek on the outskirts o& the reser3ation. %n 1((*, it was mo3ed to a more central location on 7wo 2edicine creek. 7he old 0t. PeterCs at the Bird 7ail continued by taking non$<boriginal students but as these dwindled it was &inally closed.

Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell Coordinator o& 2etis =eritage and =istory 8esearch Louis 8iel %nstitute


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