Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Happened in the Year...Montana 1870

Montana is rich with history, some of which applies to my books and some I've simply come across and inspired to learn more. I'll be sharing bits of that history with my new regular series of posts, What Happened in the Year...Some of the history is beautiful and endearing, some is heart-wrenching and defies reason. I'm not a historian, though I have a great love and respect for history and those who came before us.

The Marias Massacre

Montana 1870

©Chuck Haney. Image used with permission.
On January 23, 1870 Colonel Eugene Baker, a known alcoholic, with 200 soldiers attacked a peaceful Blackfeet village, in retaliation for the murder of a white man by other Indians, and killed 173 men, women, and children of the Piegan Blackfoot people. The massacre took place in freezing temperatures on the Marias River, a few miles southeast of the present day town of Shelby.

Taking place during the Indian Wars, the battle is known as both the Marias Massacre and Baker Massacre. Colonel Baker attacked the wrong camp. The original targets of Baker's raid had been warned and were able to escape into Canada. The others were simply there. Heavy Runner, chief of the Piegan band, had enjoyed friendly relations with the white men. When an Army scout by the name of Joe Kipp shouted that this was the wrong camp, he was threatened into silence. Another scout, Joe Cobell, then fired the first shot, killing Heavy Runner and the massacre ensued.

In addition to the approximate number of dead, approximately 140 women and children were captured. Reports indicate only one cavalryman was killed after falling off his horse. A Blackfoot scout counted 217 corpses after the massacre; the number 173 given by the army was counted by drunken army personnel.

The Blackfeet, who were too weak (suffered greatly from smallpox), did not retaliate and in 1888 those left alive were placed on a 3,000 square-mile Indian Reservation in north-west Montana (Sweetgrass Hills Treaty). 

The incident was every bit as significant as others such as the Sand Creek and Washita Massacres, though it has had little mention in books and journals of the past. During the 2010 annual commemoration, the Blackfeet National Color Guard presented the flags of the Blackfeet Nation and gave a 21-gun salute to the victims.

I would recommend reading Bear Head's, a survivor of the massacre, account of the Baker Massacre (1915).

The above barely touches on what took place that day. For further reading, I recommend the sources listed below. I have not yet been able to obtain any books outlining the true history of this event, but I am still looking. There is one I came across, Tell Baker to strike them hard;: Incident on the Marias, 23 Jan. 1870, but as of yet have not been able to obtain a copy. I've also come across two books that supposedly touch on the subject, but are not dedicated to it. I have found some great videos about the massacre and recommend viewing them at the links below.



Do you know something I missed? I am not a historian and I know others could do greater justice to certain events than I. If a reader ever feels there is a discrepancy or has something more to add, your comments are always welcome.

Image Source: Chuck Haney, Montana Photographer

-Chuck Haney's photography books at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&sort=relevancerank&search-alias=books&ie=UTF8&field-author=Chuck%20Haney.

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