Giant of the Western Trail

Book cover: 'Giant of the Western Trail'
Rev. Michael McHugh, S.J.
Neumann Press
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
181 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Pierre-Jean De Smet (1801-1873) was a beloved missionary in the American West who brought the Gospels and the Catholic Faith to many Indians as well as fighting for peace and justice for the Indians and those suffering from the Civil War. A substantial figure in American history, many may remember from the Little House Books that the city in South Dakota that the Ingalls settled in was named after this renowned priest.

This is a readable interesting story which provides many interesting details about Indian life, the cause of the struggles with the Indians, and the role of Catholics in American history. It really shows a much more favorable side to the Indians than we see in many books as we understand their initial trust of white man and how that trust was betrayed over and over again. (Naturally the details vary from tribe to tribe.) Fr. de Smet founded missions among many of the Indian tribes and played influential roles in a number of important peace councils - particularly his encounters with the legendary Sitting Bull.

One reason I think this book is particularly important is that it shows how progressive Catholic teaching is and was on matters relating to the Indians and their rights. Kind of interesting from a book written in the 1950s! Highly recommended. Most appropriate for grades 5-8.

A great book to read alongside this is Brave Buffalo Fighter by John D. Fitzgerald (Bethlehem Books). It brings the same era to life through the eyes of children on a wagon train.

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