October 16, 2014

Following in his footsteps

By Jerry W. Kram

The Three Affiliated Tribes Museum had a pair of visitors who came in search of the footsteps of a man who traveled here more than 160 years ago.

Luc Vints and Mireille Holsbeke work for a museum in Leuven, Belgium. Leuven is the birthplace of Father Pierre DeSmet, a figure well known to American Historians but little known in his homeland. DeSmet created missions from South Dakota to the Rocky Mountains and worked tirelessly to try and protect native tribes from encroaching European settlement.

Holsbeke said her museum recently received a gift of DeSmet’s papers from his descendents. Since he is a significant historical figure in the United States, they decided to create and exhibit about him and have been following his footsteps from Washington state to New Town to find out more information about his life in the American West.

DeSmet is primarily remembered for his work with the Lakota in what is now South Dakota and the native people of western Montana and Idaho from the 1840s to the 1870s. However, he frequently returned to St. Louis, where the Jesuit order in the U.S. was based at the time, by traveling down the Missouri River. As he traveled he spent time with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people in Like A Fishhook Village. In 1851, he was asked by the chiefs of the three tribes to accompany them to Fort Laramie (in what is now Wyoming) for the negotiations of the Fort Laramie Treaty that set aside the lands for the native nations.

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