National Catholic Register, Joseph Pronechen: It was Christmas Eve, 1841, in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Montana was still decades from statehood. The Salish Indians in that locality had welcomed missionaries only in September.
Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, the well-known Jesuit missionary, had arrived with two fellow priests to found a mission among the Salish, also then called the Flatheads, who were eager to learn the Catholic faith and be baptized. They had heard of the “Black Robes” from some Iroquois adopted into their tribe and sent members to St. Louis to request Black Robes to teach them.
On that Christmas Eve, in the little village named St. Mary’s by the missionaries, one 11-year-old Indian boy wanted to be baptized, too, but could not — try as he might, he could not learn the prayers or catechism. Full story is here.