About Stevensville, Montana

Religious Faith has always been an important aspect of the history of the town of Stevensville, Montana  Officially recognized as the first permanent settlement in the state, Jesuit missionaries traveled west at the request of the Bitterroot Salish tribe forty-eight years before Montana became a state.  They had learned of the "Black Robes" from Iroquois tribesmen who worked the fur trade along with the early Mountain Men who explored the valleys and mountains of what became Montana.  Intrigued by the faith the Iroquois spoke of, as well as the fact that the Blackrobed Jesuits were known to teach about agricultural improvements, and bring medicine, the Salish people sent four warriors to St. Louis in 1831 with the specific instruction to seek out their old friend William Clark, who had passed through their lands on the Voyage of Discovery in 1805, and to beseech him to convince the Blackrobes to dwell among them.  Although two of the men died on the arduous journey, they succeeded in getting the promise of Catholic Bishop Rosati to send them missionaries -- when funds were available.  That promise proved elusive, and the Salish sent emissaries again in 1935 and 1837.  Finally, during the treaty negotiations at Council Bluff, the Salish and their Iroquois allies encountered Father Jean-Pierre DeSmet, SJ, who promised to come among them the following year.

In September of 1841, Father DeSmet arrived in the Bitterroot Valley and erected a mission chapel which he named St. Mary's.  He was soon joined by Father Antonio Ravalli, MD, who would travel extensively among the Native Americans, curing their illnesses and sharing his faith with them.

In 1850, the Jesuits were joined by Major John Owen, who built a "fort" in order to trade with the Salish and white settlers who had settled among them.  Three years later, General Issac Ingles Stevens was ordered to Fort Owen to assume governorship of the Northwest Territory.  Much to his surprise, the Fort proved to be a Trading Post, but the new governor adapted to reality and St.Mary's/Fort Owen's became the first territorial capitol in Montana and remained so until 1858.

When General Stevens was killed during the Civil War, President Lincoln authorized the changing of the name St. Mary's to Stevensville in his honor.

Sadly, in 1891, fifty years after the white missionaries came among them, the Bitterroot Salish were forcibly removed from the Valley, and sent north to the Flathead Reservation.

Stevi, as it is affectionately known, has been the home of such notables as George McGovern, who owned a bookshop there, Congressmen Lee Metcalf and Washington MacCormick, musician Huey Lewis, and today is the home of 2000 of the friendliest people you will meet in Montana.  Come and visit us!

Salish Tribe being forced from the Valley 1891

Chief Charlo of the Bitterroot Salish

Father Jean-Pierre DeSmet, SJ

Saint Mary's Catholic Mission, 1871