Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet, SJ is one of the most remarkable among the great missionary figures of the Society of Jesus. Born in Belgium in 1801, he emigrated to the United States in 1821 to enter the Jesuit novitiate and was ordained in Missouri in 1837.
His first missionary tour was in 1838 when he founded St. Joseph's Mission at Council Bluffs for the Potawatomies, the first of his many peace missions. His life work started in 1840 when he set out for the territory of the Flatheads in the far Northwest - some Rocky Mountain Indians had sent a series of delegations to St. Louis to ask for 'black robes' to instruct them in the Faith. In 1841 Fr. De Smet established St. Mary's Mission on the Bitter Root River in Montana and three years later on the Willamette River in Oregon he opened the most important of a chain of missions covering the Northwest. In 1846 he made peace between the Blackfeet and the Crows.
Visiting and working with many tribes, Fr. De Smet repeatedly crossed and recrossed the North American Continent, travelling by paddle steamer, raft and canoe, dog sled and showshoe, on horseback and in wagons, and for the greater part on foot. Attacked by a grizzly bear, he wrestled with it to the death. His growing influence among the Native American peoples and their leaders induced the United States government to solicit his help in its dealings with them, and the rest of his life was devoted to promoting their cause in American and in Europe.
Fr. De Smet assisted at the great Indian Council of 1851 near Fort Laramie, and in 1886, after entering alone into the Sioux camp of warriors led by Sitting Bull, his enthusiastic reception led to a treaty of peace signed by all the chiefs. In his work for the tribes Fr. De Smet crossed the Atlantic nineteen times, visiting popes, kings and presidents in almost every country of Europe.
Wherever he went, whatever Fr. De Smet did and much of what he saw were carefully recorded in letters to his superiors and to his personal friends. In this book George Bishop draws extensively on these original letters, so that much of the narrative is actually presented in Fr. De Smet's own words, bringing a fresh and vivid immediacy to an already gripping and fascinating story.