The historical monument to Fr. De Smet, which includes a bronze bust and four narrative plaques, was dedicated on the 172nd anniversary of the arrival of Fr. De Smetand the first Oregon Trail Emigrant Wagon Train to Soda Springs, and ultimately, to California.
Fr. De Smet was in Soda Springs on Aug. 10, 1841, on his way to southwestern Montana’s Bitterroot Valley to establish the first of his Rocky Mountain Missions with the Flathead Indians. He was joined by the Bidwell-Bartleson group, the first immigrant wagon train of what would become the Oregon Trail that led to present-day Oregon and California. They joined Fr. De Smetand several other Jesuits in present-day Kansas City, Mo., after learning that Fr. De Smet had hired reliable guide Thomas Fitzpatrick.
Don Wind, an organizer of the Soda Springs monument and commemoration, said Bidwell later wrote in his memoir that without Fr. De Smet and his guide, "not a one of us would have reached California."
Fr. De Smet had met with the Flathead Indians in the Bitterroot Valley the previous year after four delegations of Indians from 1831 to 1839 had asked church authorities to send them a "black robe." The Flathead had heard about Christianity from the Iroquois who had been exposed to Christian beliefs 200 years earlier in the Great Lakes region and who had accompanied fur traders out West.
Fr. De Smet's trip West in 1840 helped him decide whether the Jesuits had the means and the men to serve the native people. He returned to St. Louis, New Orleans and other cities to raise funds for and to recruit men to join him in the missions. [Missouri Province]