Sunday, January 27, 2013

Week Two: Book Reading, and Maps

            This week has been an exciting week indeed. I continued to read the assigned book, Father Peter John De Smet: Jesuit in the West, but when I read this week I kept written track of all the people he came in contact with. This made the reading go a little slower than before but gave me a very good picture of the people and places where he was traveling. Along the way I recognized a name I had seen last semester in a Western Frontier history course. The name was John Bidwell. I remember he was the one who found the California trail and had all kinds of problems along the way. De Smet was on this particular trip for the first half of the journey. So, De Smet actually met Bidwell. I found this very interesting.
            There was also another interesting thing I came across in the reading. According to the book the Flathead Indians claimed that one of their youth, a twelve-year-old child, had been blessed with a vision of the Virgin Mary. This made me wonder if there is any record of this in the Vatican.   
            When discussing my findings with the professor I am assisting, the subject of maps came up. He told me there was a few maps that hadn’t been published before that he had seen that were very interesting. I told the professor of my background in maps due to my time in the intelligence field in the Marine Corps. He then received permission from the archivist to show me  digital versions of the maps. They were all very well made, but were all detailed in French. The level of detail of all three maps amazed me, but one in particular caught my eye. It had a split in a major river, which I had thought looked familiar. I then looked online at some topographical maps of the area I thought was being depicted and was able to determine that I was correct. I then took a map of the area, and traced both to a distinct bend that was depicted in De Smet's, as well as the modern map. I then was able to obtain aerial photography of the area depicted by De Smet as a Native American camp. There along the river, in the place depicted on De Smet's map was a break in the rockface with an area covered in grass on flat ground. This could very easily be where this particular Native American camp was. It was an amazing experience to start to put pieces of a puzzle like this together. I am looking forward to working with these maps even more as my research continues.      

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Week one: Book Reading

            On New Year’s Day this year I was pleasantly surprised to have an email from a professor I had studied under during the previous semester. He asked if I wanted to be part of a research project centered on a Jesuit priest by the name of Jean –Pierre De Smet. I jumped at the chance to work with a favorite professor doing research. An added bonus is that this project will count as an internship and I will receive three credits for my work toward my graduation requirements. The work will be broken up over the fourteen weeks of the semester. The first six weeks will mainly be looking at the background of De Smet as well as creating a timeline of his life and travels. The last seven weeks of the project, I suspect, will be the most exciting. I will be putting together a map to document his travels. 
My first assignment is to read the book, Father Peter John De Smet: Jesuit in the West by Robert C. Carriker. This book is a real enjoyable read. It helps that I took a class last semester that was based on the expansion of the Americans westward. Because of that class, most of the names in the book are familiar, as well as some of the Fort locations mentioned in De Smet’s travels.
I never realized the dangers that faced a missionary on the American frontier, so by reading about De Smet’s experiences I’m learning even more about the American Western Frontier. So far De Smet seems like he was someone who was born to do this kind of missionary work. He loves the adventure as well as ministering to the native people. He goes out of his way to make connections with as many tribes as possible, and braves the hostile western environment, including particularly bad weather. I have to admit I find myself intrigued by this man, and I am sure it will only get more and more interesting as I find out more about this mans life.