The Mullan Road

Hans C.A.J. Smith

Rocky Mountain Missionaries

(2010)

The first Jesuit mission in the Northwest was St Mary's Mission, which administered to the Flathead population. Its location was in present day Montana at Bitter Root Valley. [1] This first Jesuit mission existed from 1846-1850 and its architecture entailed 12 log houses, one church, one sawmill, and several farm buildings. Cumulative agricultural production numbered 7,000 wheat bushels, 4,000-5,000 potato bushels, and other vegetables. The stock at St Mary's included 40 cattle, horses, and other animals. It was disease and rivalry with the Niitsitapi tribe that caused St Mary's mission to fall apart in 1850. [2] Another mission among the first "Rocky Mountain Missionaries" was St Ignatius whose range of farm acreage was 160 acres. The log houses of this mission boasted of storeroom and shop extensions. An elegant chapel, barns, and a windmill were other architectural structures at St Ignatius mission. [3] The Jesuit missionaries here oversaw American Indians in the production of brick, tin ware, soap, candles, vinegar, butter, cheese and more. Agricultural production included wheat, barley, onions, cabbages, parsnips, peas, beets, and potatoes. The Jesuit missionaries aimed to cultivate American Indians and also intervened as a source of support for emigrants. Although there were three such Jesuit missions along the Mullan Road I will be focusing mainly on just two of them. The Niitsitapi mission near Fort Benton targeted the Niitsitapi population while the Coeur d' Alene/Cataldo mission was the main site providing a refuge for Mullan and his crew.

Along the Mullan Road there were a total of three Jesuit missions. The first of these three missions was the most widely accessed and built amongst the Coeur d' Alenes. The second Jesuit mission's purpose was to administer the developmental progress of the Pend d' Oreilles and Flatheads. The third of these Jesuit missions was geared towards harnessing the eminent Niitsitapi population and was located near Fort Benton. [4] For purposes of this essay my focus will be on both the Coeur d' Alene and Niitsitapi Jesuit Missions. One of the main purposes of the Jesuit missions was to develop agriculture and production among American Indian tribes and equip natives with pragmatic skills. Missionaries taught American Indians to worship God and utilized a sort of religious existentialism as a method that would cultivate the Native population. At the Jesuit missions American Indians also learned agricultural processes. The missions equipped Natives with a skill and a pathway to civil integration. The approach of the missionaries was to develop the remaining American Indians and equip them to successfully conform to the bureaucracy of America. The reputation of the Jesuit missionaries was quite commendable. They ministered to the sick and made all attempts of providing education for American Indian tribes. [5]

The Niitsitapi mission had the greatest challenge on its hands. After all, the tribe numbered from 8,000 to 10,000 and posed a major threat to emigrants. This mission was located at what was initially "Old Fort Campbell". Just a mile away from Fort Benton this site was used and developed as the Jesuit mission for Niitsitapi American Indians. At the time of Mullan's adventure the director of the Niitsitapi mission was Father Giorda. As the director of the Niitsitapi Mission Father Giorda coordinated his operations just a mile away at Fort Benton where his headquarters were located. The Niitsitapi were well known for their sporadic and mischievous behavior, and it was good to have a safe refuge nearby. There were several appealing aspects that made "Old Fort Campbell" an ideal location for the Niitsitapi mission. There was a high quality of soil to complement the mild climate for one. This would support the missionaries' agricultural agenda. Secondly, the location was nearby the Niitsitapi dwellings and the Mullan Road. [6]

The Coeur d' Alene Mission encompassed approximately 200 acres, which was originally heavily utilized for agricultural production. Architectural structures included several buildings, one church, and one "horse powered" flourmill. The livestock on this mission totaled 20 cows, 8 yokes of oxen, 100 pigs, and more. [7] The Coeur d' Alene Mission was the most widely accessed and well known of the Jesuit missions. The original Coeur d' Alene/Cataldo mission was founded at the place of council following the colonel Steptoe conflict. It was this location that eventually developed into the Coeur d' Alene/Cataldo mission. Mullan and his crew also operated from this location utilizing it as a place of refuge. This Cataldo mission was originally developed back in 1842. It was right on St Joe River until later being relocated to the Coeur d' Alene River. It was due to flooding and other geographical complications that the Cataldo mission was relocated to the Coeur d' Alene River. [8] The Coeur d' Alene Mission was easily accessible making it an ideal place for emigrants to seek refuge. Steamboats could chug along the St Joe River to reach the mission directly from Coeur d' Alene. Even to this day the mission still stands in Idaho as the "oldest building" in the state. [9] In today's modern world you can travel along interstate 90 and exit at "Old Mission State Park". The yearly influx of tourists is in the range of 100,000 people. In the coming year of 2015 the Coeur d' Alene tribe will obtain the title for "Old Mission". [10]

There were three particular events of the era that truly defined Jesuit missionaries' philosophical position in regard to the American Indian population. These missionaries made themselves involved with the Stevens Council in 1855, the war of 1858, and the Nez Perce outbreak of 1877. Jesuit missionaries promoted peace, and stability during these events. They certainly were Jesuit intercessors. Father De Smet and also father Ravalli influenced Flathead populations to remain peaceable during the Nez Perce outbreak of 1877. [11] Mullan gives credit to regional founder of the missions as he makes the following statement in his report of 1863:

"The country and the American Indians are mainly indebted to the zealous labor of Reverend Father de Smet in establishing all these missions for he truly is the great father of all Rocky Mountain missionaries." [12]

Development of American Indian Populations

In many of the Jesuit missions American Indians lived a very prosperous and abundant life. Missionaries oversaw American Indians who worked in cultivation and production resulting in the abundance that they subsequently experienced. Jesuit missions resolved issues of famine in American Indian populations. Another perk was that the children gained access to methods of educational development. [13] Indeed it was the Jesuit missionaries who took the lead role in cultivating the remaining American Indian population. Although there were many American Indians along the Mullan Road there are three particular tribes who worked collaboratively with Jesuit missionaries. The Palouse, Flatheads, Nez Perce, Coeur d' Alenes, Pend d' Oreilles, and Niitsitapi all lived along the Mullan Road and would inevitably interact with emigrants. [14] The destiny of these tribes would depend upon their ability to mediate and confer with emigrants in a civil manner. Three native tribes who collaborated with Jesuit missionaries were the Coeur d' Alenes, Pend d' Oreilles, and Niitsitapi. While they all three collaborated with Jesuit missionaries the Niitsitapi tribe differed greatly from the other two tribes.

The tribe of the Coeur d' Alene was one of the native populations who worked together with missionaries. At the time there were approximately 300 Coeur d' Alenes the majority of who lived at the Coeur d' Alene mission. The Coeur d' Alenes who did not live directly at the mission stayed nearby on the Coeur d' Alene and St Joseph Rivers. Their property consisted of houses, cattle, and canoes as they worked collaboratively with missionaries to develop in a way that would help them to adjust and co-exist with the developing world. Also these Coeur d' Alenes appeared to maintain good relations with other tribes as they embarked on joint hunting missions, which traversed the Rocky Mountains. One of the goals of the missionaries was to develop agriculture and other production amongst American Indian tribes. Agriculture and production were pragmatic skills for tribes, as emigrants would soon be flooding the area in search of gold. Some of the Coeur d' Alenes lived in sturdy log homes while others chose to remain in "skin lodges". This Coeur d' Alene tribe was very similar to Pend d' Oreilles and Flatheads who also collaborated with Jesuit missionaries. [15]

The Pend d' Oreilles were another American Indian tribe who collaborated with Jesuit Missionaries along the Mullan Road. Jesuits founded the Pend d' Oreille Mission and oversaw this tribe in production and development. The Pend d' Oreille natives' method of productivity was virtually identical to methods utilized at the Coeur d' Alene mission. Pend d' Oreilles lived predominantly at the mission involving themselves in agriculture and other production. The Pend d' Oreille tribe had generally friendly relations with missionaries and emigrants while they consisted of about 500 American Indians. Their population was slightly more than that of the Coeur d' Alene tribe. [16]

A third group of American Indians whom Jesuit missionaries tried to collaborate with was quite different from other tribes. The Niitsitapi mission was created to develop the Niitsitapi. This tribe dwarfed all other tribes along the Mullan Road in terms of their population. There were approximately 8,000 to 10,000 Niitsitapi and agriculture production did not arouse their interest. They namely hunted buffalo while missionaries promoted agriculture and production among native populations. These Niitsitapi were somewhat of a bloodthirsty throng who stalked the buffalo for its meat and fur. The enormous population engulfed Fort Benton from the north and continued into British territories. Niitsitapi occupied quite a bit of land and the mission was located a mile away from Fort Benton. Surely this mission would play a pivotal role in American Indian relations. Military force was sometimes needed to quell the Niitsitapi uprisings. The American military would intercede with the Niitsitapi who made agreements and treaties, which they unscrupulously ignored and violated upon the first absence of military presence. However the Niitsitapi natives seemed to be thriving and "rich in horses". They had many horses, but their ethics were questionable to say the least. The exhibition of polygamous behaviors and horse thievery were common practice amongst the Niitsitapi. [17] This Niitsitapi tribe was not making it easy on missionaries. The Jesuit missionaries aimed to preserve what was left of native cultures and create a civil discourse that would allow the American Indians to develop under a religious existentialism. Missionaries wanted to find the good in native cultures and give them a chance to prove their civility. The Niitsitapi did more to oppose and attack the Jesuit missions then the alternative of collaboration. Jesuits and American government could only put forth a finite effort. The result of Niitsitapi relations is illustrated in Mullan's report as he writes,

"With the present system at the bureau, however, I can only expect to see experiments and changes made until the American Indian has disappeared."[18]
The large population of Niitsitapi was one reason for the chaos, and use of the Mullan Road would spark a gold rush in 1862 that would have a devastating impact on the Niitsitapi. Gold seeking miners began to flow into the area by the thousands. In total there were approximately 15,000 miners who traveled directly into Niitsitapi territory, as the appeal of gold was a very strong incentive. Subsequently these miners desecrated the lands where Niitsitapi hunted buffalo. In the absence of fruitful hunting grounds they were at a complete loss for means of production. Jesuit missionaries were unable to harness the massive Niitsitapi population for agriculture and production. The result would be a lack of pragmatic skills that could sustain them in the developing world. Also the influx of miners brought new diseases that began to decimate Niitsitapi populations. One disease that killed in excess of 1,000 Niitsitapi in 1864 alone was the deadly "scarlet fever". [19]

While the Coeur d' Alenes, Pend d' Oreilles, and Niitsitapi all three collaborated with Jesuit missionaries the Niitsitapi tribe was quite different than the other two tribes. Jesuit missionaries worked together with Coeur d' Alenes, and Pend d' Oreilles developing agriculture and production among these tribes and preparing them to integrate with the developing world. The Niitsitapi were quite different in population, cultural practices, and adaptation to development.

End Notes


[1] Orin Oliphant, Revista de Historia de America number 21, Pan American Institute of Geography and History, 1946. Pg 78 found at:
( http://www.jstor.org/stable/20136780 )
[2] Hubert Bancroft, History of Washington Idaho and Montana 1845-1889, Bancroft Works volume 31, San Francisco, The History Company, 1890, #18 found at:
(http://www.accessgenealogy.com/montana/montana_settlement_geology_exploration.htm )
[3] Hubert Bancroft, History of Washington Idaho and Montana 1845-1889, Bancroft Works volume 31, San Francisco, The History Company, 1890, #18 found at:
(http://www.accessgenealogy.com/montana/montana_settlement_geology_exploration.htm )
[4] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 51
[5] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 52
[6] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 53
[7] Hubert Bancroft, History of Washington Idaho and Montana 1845-1889, Bancroft Works volume 31, San Francisco, The History Company, 1890, #18 found at: (http://www.accessgenealogy.com/montana/montana_settlement_geology_exploration.htm )
[8] Idaho Parks and Recreation, About Cataldo Mission, Angler Guide. found at:
( http://www.anglerguide.com/articles/18b.html )
[9] Marc Entze, Glossary, Mullan Road Terms and Glossary. found at:
( http://www.narhist.ewu.edu/mullan_road/mullan_glossary_vanl.html )
[10] Jacqueline Peterson, Sacred Encounters in the Northwest: A Persistent Dialogue, US Catholic Historian volume 12 number 4, Catholic University of American Press, 1994. Pg 39 found at:
( http://www.jstor.org/stable/25154042 )
[11] Richard Ellis, The Magazine of Western History volume 17 number 1, Montana Historical Society, 1967. Pg 68 found at:
( http://www.jstor.org/stable4517131 )
[12] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 53
[13] Hubert Bancroft, History of Washington Idaho and Montana 1845-1889, Bancroft Works volume 31, San Francisco, The History Company, 1890, #18
found at:
(http://www.accessgenealogy.com/montana/montana_settlement_geology_exploration.htm )
[14] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 49
[15] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 49
[16] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 50
[17] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 50
[18] Captain John Mullan USA, Report on the Construction of a Military Road from Fort Walla-Walla to Fort Benton, Washington (City): Government Printing Office, 1863, 50
[19] Malcolm MacCalman, The Shrinking Reservation, Traditional and Contemporary Native culture. found at:
(http://www.trailtribes.org/greatfalls/shrinking-reservation.htm)