Historic St. Mary's
Mission & Museum
est. 1841

Historic Brand of St. Mary's Mission - Cross on a Hill
406-777-5734
stmary@cybernet1.com
P.O. Box 211
315 Charlo Street
Stevensville, MT 59870

2016 Founders Day

Local Boy Scouts playing the National Anthem
Photo courtesy of Bitterroot Star
Presenting the colors at Founders Day
American Legion Honor Guard presenting the colors.

175th Anniversay Commemoration

September 24, 2016 marked the 175th anniversary of the date missionaries from St. Louis arrived in the Bitterroot Valley in response to repeated requests by Salish (Selis) tribal leaders. The site of that historic meeting became Stevensville, the first pioneer settlement in what was to become the state of Montana.

Stevensville and the Salish commemorated the date, in conjunction with the annual Montana Historical Society Conference, with a reenactment of the Salish welcoming the "Black Robes", demonstrations, dedication of the Salish encampment, exhibits and other special activities.

Portrayal of the Salish welcoming the "Black Robes"
Salish welcoming the "Black Robes"
The Historic Chapel at St. Mary's Mission complex
The Historic Chapel at St. Mary's Mission

Friendships & Relationships

Sharing tea and conversation during the Founders Day program were Rachel
Arlee Bowers, the great granddaughter of Mary Ann Combs and Francie
Sullivan, the daughter of Margaret Sullivan.


Mary Ann Pierre was born in 1882 in Stevensville. She was nine years old in October 1891, when American soldiers arrived to "escort" the Salish people out of the Bitterroot region to the Jocko Indian Reservation. With her family and three hundred members of her tribe, Mary Ann tearfully left the homeland where her people had lived for millennia. The Salish left behind farms, log homes, and St. Mary's Mission; evidence of all they had done to adjust to an Anglo-American lifestyle. While working for Indian Agent, Peter Ronan, Mary Ann married Louis Topsseh Combs. Eighty years after the removal of her people Mary Ann returned to the Bitterroot to rekindle her people's historical and cultural connections to their homeland.

Mary Ann and Stevensville resident Margaret Sullivan met in the Mission Valley and formed a close friendship. When Mary Ann returned to the Bitterroot Valley she stayed in the Sullivan home and the two women visited over a cup of tea. Margaret listened closely to Mary Ann's family history and her memories of the trauma for her tribe and the forced removal to the Jocko Reservation. Mary Ann gave Margaret several handmade items that Margaret later gifted to St. Mary's Mission.

As the last of the "children of the Bitter Root" Salish Indians to be born in the ancestral homeland, Mary Ann passed away in 1978.

Sharing Tea and Conversation
Salish Indian Mary Ann Combs
Mary Ann Combs
Margaret Sullivan
Margaret Sullivan

The Salish Encampment

Chris Weatherly, who along with his wife Mariana made the sign, shakes hands with Lucy Vanderburg. The sign contains a quote from Louise Vanderburg, Lucy's mother.
Thanks to an Indian Education for All  grant a replica of a Salish Encampment was developed  in 2009 on the grounds at Historic St. Mary's.

The plain tipis are representative of the Salish Lodges as the Tribe did not add designs or paintings on the hides and later, canvas coverings.

The Encampment contains native plants grown in a dry environment that would be typical of their natural habitat.  Some of the plants, including the Bitterroot plants, came from the Flathead Reservation Tribal greenhouse in Ronan, Montana.  The Encampment bushes and plants are maintained by a volunteer Master Gardener.

Sign dedicating the Salish Encampment
Encampment and native plantings
Two of the four lodges in the Encampment with native plantings in full bloom.

 Guests