On This Day: In 1870 the Marias Massacre (also known as the Baker Massacre) occurred. It is a little-known massacre of Piegan Blackfeet Indians by the United States Army which took place in Montana. The Marias Massacre occurred in the context of massive white American westward expansion. The Army received a scouting report that a group of Piegans, led by Mountain Chief, was camped along the Marias River. They attacked the site at Willow Rounds, but Mountain Chief had been warned and left the area, so the Army instead ended up attacking the camp of Chief Heavy Runner, who had enjoyed friendly relations with the white men. Although the Army scouts had reportedly warned that they were about to attack the wrong camp, they proceeded anyway. As the men of the camp were mostly out hunting, the raid was a massacre of mostly women and children. A hasty count by the Army showed 173 dead (mostly women and children) with 140 women and children captured, while only one cavalryman died, after falling off his horse and breaking his leg.
Many blamed (and still blame) Major Eugene M. Baker, a known alcoholic, for the massacre and failure to capture Mountain Chief’s men, and, of course, for the massacre that he failed to report on paper. However, in the subsequent controversy, General Sheridan expressed his confidence in Baker’s leadership, and managed to prevent an official investigation into the incident. Conflict between the settlers and the Blackfeet declined after this incident. The Blackfeet Nation, already badly weakened by smallpox, did not have the numbers or support this late in the Indian Wars to respond. This massacre created a major struggle for the black foot
Thanks to Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources for raising awareness of the anniversary of this massacre. May the dead rest in peace and may our respective nations heal.