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Stevensville, Montana: Saint Mary’s Mission and Museum

About Saint Mary’s Mission and Museum:

This area. called the Bitterroot Valley, was the traditional homeland of the Inland Salish Indians. The Lewis and Clark expedition happened to encounter the Salish in 1805 at Ross’ Hole in the southern Bitterroot Valley. The tribe proved to be friendly and provided the expedition with food and supplies, plus guides through the rough mountainous terrain.

Each year, the Salish and the Nez Perce Tribes joined together to cross the Continental Divide for the buffalo hunts.

A dozen Iroquois Indians came into the valley with the Hudson’s Bay Company and introduced Christianity to the local tribes. Between 1831 and 1839 four separate delegations of Salish and Nez Perce Indians traveled to St. Louis to petition for “Black Robes”, as the Jesuits were called, to live among them. Belgian born Father Pierre DeSmet, S.J., along with five missionaries were sent in response to the requests.

On September 24, 1841, St. Mary’s Mission was founded, which established the first church and pioneer settlement, 48 years before Montana attained statehood.

The Missionaries introduced farming and animal husbandry along with Christian teachings.

Italian Father Anthony Ravalli, S.J. arrived in 1845. He was eager to embrace his assignment to serve among the Indian Tribes of the Rocky Mountain region. The beloved priest was Montana’s first physician, surgeon and pharmacist with additional skills of architect, artist, sculptor and engineer

The Salish embraced Christian values, many of which coincided with their own: generosity, community, obedience, burying their dead, and respect for family. However, the tribe did not understand the European social, political, and economic ideals that challenged their native views, and instead wished for the Christian power and protection to fit the tribe’s needs.

A larger church was under construction in 1846. Before it’s completion, problems with the Salish’s traditional enemies, the Blackfoot, forced what was intended to be a temporary closure of the Mission. A man named John Owen bought the land and building for $250.00 in November 1850.  The conditional Bill of Sale specified that  should the Jesuits return within two years the mills and fields would revert to them. When they were unable to return by the designated time, the Jesuits sent word to burn the church to save it from desecration. The former mission site became Fort Owen, a trading post.

A visit to the museum, located near Saint Mary’s Peak in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, will take you back in time to the early beginnings of the State of Montana. The Mission was founded in 1841 by a Jesuit priest, Father Pierre De Smet. The town was originally called Saint Mary’s, but the name was later changed to Stevensville.

Guided tours are available, and the Mission includes: Father Ravalli’s Cabin and Pharmacy, Chief Victor’s Cabin – Salish Museum, St. Mary’s Chapel, Residence and  a dining room, The Dove Cote.

There is also a gift shop and picnic area.

Historic St. Mary’s, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The goal of the organization is to preserve, restore, maintain and promote the Mission Complex founded in 1841 under the leadership of Father Pierre Jean De Smet, S.J. It is administered by a nine Volunteer-Member Board and operated by an Executive Director. Volunteers serve as tour guides, grounds keepers and clerical workers The Shrine is normally open May through September, so be sure to check their website below for dates.

Photos courtesy Saint Mary’s Misssion, Stevensville, Montana

Traveling to St. Mary’s Mission & Museum in Stevensville, Montana:

Address: West end of 4th Street – Stevensville, MT

GPS coordinates: 46° 30′ 33.5484” N, 114° 5′ 52.7064” W

Tel: +1 (406) 777-5734

Click here for the official website of Saint Mary’s Mission and Museum.

Click here to find hotels and B&B’s in Stevensville, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor

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