Pierre-Jean de Smet map collection

Throughout the nineteenth century, Jesuit missionaries labored tirelessly in their activities among Native American in the Northwestern and Midwestern United States. During their encounters with various Native American tribes, Jesuits shared their customs, learned new traditions, and produced numerous dictionaries, grammars and prayer books in an attempt to merge the culture of the United States with that of the Native Americans.

Peter J. De Smet (1801-1873) was a Belgian Jesuit who came to Missouri in 1823. Beginning in 1838, De Smet began to travel across the western United States, then considered the wilderness of the expanding country. He journeyed the territories of the future states of Iowa, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, and South Dakota and visited Native American settlements. As he traveled, he created an extensive collection of maps, some officially for the United States government, some for the use of Jesuit missionaries who would preach to the settlements he encountered, and some for himself or close friends.

The De Smetiana Map Series depict a variety of locations in the upper Midwestern United States, such as the Yellowstone River, the upper Missouri River, and Spokane River among other locations. The maps also show river courses, Native American settlements, United States military installations, and other landmarks in the American West. While the maps may be imprecise in their measurement of distance, they provide valuable insight into the relationships between the land, the Native Americans, and the expanding presence of the United States in nineteenth century North America.

The De Smetiana Map Series consists of 41 individual maps categorized as 38 maps. Nineteen of these maps are available for viewing online through the Pierre-Jean De Smet Map collection on our Digital Collections and Resources site.