23 April 2010

Saint Peter's Mission, An Historic Scenic Gem

St. Peter's Mission April 2010

Saint Peters Mission One of State’s Most Inspiring Spots. Picnic Place, Yes, but More Than That; Resting Place for Forefathers. Ruins of Old Church Call to Mind Marriage of Henry Plummer, Road Agent, There; Pioneers Sleep on Little Hillside.

By Ed Cooney, Managing Editor, Great Falls Leader

. . . It is a beautiful place, is St. Peters, pretty to picnic, with a clear, ice cold stream running through, and big trees for shade. Not to mention ruins of what once was the greatest mission of Montana, and a place where hundreds of Indian, and many white, children learned the elements of education, not to mention religion. There are left now but the crumbling ruins of what was once a mighty educational plant; the cottonwood trees planted more than half a century ago; the old log church with its tottering bell tower, its unchinked logs; and the graveyard on the hill just west with its headstones of marble, its headboards of rotting wood, and its unmarked graves that have lost all shape of mound and mingle with the even grass and sod of the side hill once more.

It was in the old church that Plummer--chief of the road agents of a time long ago. Plummer, who was sheriff of all Montana, then Idaho. Plummer who was hanged with near two score of his road agents by the Vigilantes in Virginia City in the long ago--came to wed. A gentle school teacher of Sun River was the bride of the mighty road agent, but she knew nothing of that side of his life as she stood by his side at the old altar in the old log church, while the copper bell in the old tower rang proudly, far beyond half a century ago.

But that is only one of them. The old log church is still in use, with its old and worn stations of the cross, its rail, its simple cross and cheap Child in the Manger wrought in composition of a time long ago, and covered with sparkles of snow and winter.

It is worth the visit, if only to see the tottering steeple with its big brass bell, and the unchinked logs with the white wash coating. It gives one a weird feeling, and brings a catch to the breath.

And on the peaceful little hill, meant for a graveyard of a bygone people, Bill wandered and mused. There was the grave of John D. ‘Whiskey’ Brown, and his wife Catherine, sleeping side by side for more than 30 years--and above them is a marble tombstone, erected a dozen years or more ago by an old time friend who had prospered . . .

There is the tombstone of J. J. Parrel, Eagle Rock station, and a score more of men whose names spelled civilization, in a day when there was no civilization. . . .

St. Peters, by the way, is the third mission in Montana, St. Marys of the Bitter Root being the first, St. Ignatius of the Flathead the second and St. Peter’s the third. It was located first in 1859 at Priest’s Butte, just this side of the town of Choteau in Teton county, moved the same year or the next to Fort Shaw on Sun River, that on March 3, 1860.

On Feb. 14, 1862 St. Peter’s Mission was located ‘six miles above the mouth of Sun River on the Missouri river,’ and the place was named ‘Flood,’ the same name it bears today, only the name now is only that of a railroad flag station. The exact location of the Mission would probably be the Longeway ranch of today. In 1866 the Mission was moved to its present location. At one time 500 children were being taught there, but that was long ago.

Several fires devastated the buildings, stone though they were, the 1,100 acres property was leased and the Ursuline Sisters, owners of the property, came to Great Falls and the Ursuline academy here is the result a long jump from the St. Peter’s Mission of 1859 at Priest’s Butte, or 1862 at Flood, six miles above where Great Falls now stands. Ed Cooney. [Source: Great Falls Leader Daily 28 Jul 1928, p. 7]


MrCachet said...

Wonderful story! I don't know when the Leader died, but I sold the paper on the Western Star between Cut Bank and Shelby in the late Fifties.

I have a number of old pieces of paper from Ft. Shaw, and now I'm curious enough to make the short trip West of Great Falls to see what the Mission looks like today.

Fort Benton Historian said...

Thanks. I think The Leader died in 1969--tv did in the evening newspaper. Come join us for the 150th Anniversary Mullan Road Conference 20-22 May, when, weather permitting, we will drive along the Mullan Road past Whiskey Brown's, detour over to St. Peter's Mission, then back to the Mullan Road on Birdtail Creek Road, past Eagle Rock, Birdtail Rock, and up to the Divide. See www.fortbenton.com/mullan

Brownkin said...

How nice. I grew up with some storys about the mission. From my grandmother. And her colorfull grandfather Wiskey Brown.

Fort Benton Historian said...

I'd love to hear the stories if you would share them. Whiskey Brown & his wife left a permanent "presence" in the area--there is a Hutterite Colony at the Brown's spring and stop on Mullan Road. My email is riverplains@mtintouch.net. Ken

Fort Benton Historian said...

Just got an email from Bryan Farrell, correcting the spelling of J. J. Farrell (incorrectly spelled Parrel). Bryan writes, "My Grand Father (Joseph James Farrell) and Grand Mother and aunt are buried there. J. J. Farrell was a teamster in the 1870s that hauled goods between Fort Benton and Helena. He had homesteaded property long side on the Old Mullan Trail near eagle rock and used the Eagle Rock Station as a home. he met Lavina Withfield, an art teacher at the mission.They married and had three children, John (my uncle), Richard (my father), and girl (my aunt). My father, uncle and aunt lived at the mission after my Grand Mother died shortly after giving birth to my aunt. My aunt only lived for a year or so. Bryan Farrell