June 24, 2005
Daniel, Wyoming is about 15 miles west of Pinedale in a broad valley where Horse Creek enters the Green River. It stands at an elevation of 7192 feet and has a population of 110, none of whom were out and about this morning when I drove through it on my way to the Father De Smet monument. The area was the site of many of the Green River Rendezvous, annual meetings during the 1830s and 1840s of fur trappers, Indians, and mountain men who met for days or weeks at a time to trade information and supplies as well as to swap stories and renew old acquaintances. The rendezvous appear to have been well-organized and well-attended, a remarkable feat given the primitive communications of the time and the remote locations of the festivals.
Just before I got to the town I pulled in at a historic site marker that honors Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spaulding, missionaries who were said to be the first white women in Wyoming. In 1836 they conducted religious services at the rendezvous that took place on that spot. The cottonwood grove was cool and quiet (it was 48° when I got up) and I spent quite a lot of time there. Then I drove farther south to find the Daniel Cemetery and the De Smet monument.
Father Pierre-Jean De Smet was a Belgian Jesuit who became a missionary to the native people in what is now Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. In 1840 he was appointed as missionary to the Flathead Indians in what is now Wyoming. (That phrase, “what is now,” is in a lot of materials that explain the history of this region. In the early nineteenth century there were no municipal boundaries. It was just open country out under the big sky.) On July 5, 1840, he ascended the high sagebrush plateau and celebrated the first Catholic Mass in what would become Wyoming, in the presence of 2,000 Indians, trappers, and traders. The area became known as the Prairie de la Messe, and a monument to the event was erected in 1925.
The guidebook advised that ascending the plateau to the monument would be over dirt roads across private lands and would have to be accomplished slowly. It was worth every bump and rattle. The road was hard to discern but directional arrows kept me focused. At what seemed like the top of the world I came to the De Smet monument, the memorial marker for Pinkney Sublette, buried here by an act of Congress, and the still-active cemetery for the inhabitants of the town of Daniel.
The view over the valley and out to the mountains was the most magnificent sight I had seen in a week of magnificent sights. The colors of the sky and the clouds and the grass and the river, snaking below through a postcard-perfect farm, were so brilliant that I was by turns afraid to look at the scene lest the awe I felt tear me apart, and afraid to look away lest the scene vanish as a mirage. I stayed there for a very long time, did some writing, some thinking, not a small amount of praying.
I learned later that the property I was standing on, Seven Mile Ranch, is for sale, 190 acres for under a million dollars.
Alas, however, not far enough under.
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