Historians analyze and record past events engrossed in adventure, exploration and discovery with interpretation being dependent upon the descriptions provided by the writer. History by nature is extremely poignant with an overwhelming passion for survival. Some of the most emotional times in our American history occurred in the midst of the white man 'winning' the West, the American frontier.
On this day, January 23, within the annals of America's history lies a wrong, declared wrong, but never righted. A massacre. A celebration and cover-up. Yet, there were survivors! At the time, it was brutal, gut-wrenching, totally without remorse simply because the people involved were American Indians. Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time...here lies an event representing the epitome of this statement, which became known as Marias Massacre since it took place along the banks of the Marias River in Montana. It became known as the greatest slaughter of Native American Indians ever made by U. S. Troops.
Those who should have been punished:
Owl Child retaliated, killed Clark, wounded his son, raped his wife, then, joined a band of rebellious Indians led by Mountain Chief.
The horror of this day lies in the massacre of the wrong band of Indians while those guilty escaped into Canada. It was the dead of winter with temperatures reaching 43 degrees below zero. Upon approaching a band of Indians, Major Eugene Baker declared he did not care whether or not it was the rebellious band of Indians he had been searching for, thereby ordering his men to attack a sleeping camp of peaceful Blackfeet. That set the stage for the worst Indian massacre in Montana history. Women, children and old men camped on the Marias River were murdered - 33 Indian men (only 15 were of fighting age, 18 were old men) 90 women and 55 children and babies. Weakened by small pox, they were undefended, as the able-bodied men had gone out to hunt buffalo.
“When the soldiers reached the camp of Heavy Runner, this chief went toward them as if to tell them who he was and explain his mission there, but they opened fire … (T)hose who were killed were the Chief and such Indians as could not hunt, being the old men, women and children. … Only one shot was fired by any of the Indians. …
“After the firing was over, the soldiers gathered up the bedding, clothing and subsistence, and piled them up with a lot of wood and set fire to the pile and burned everything up. … I myself counted 217 bodies.”
—Joseph Kipp, the Army’s half-Mandan, half-white guide
“(A)t once all of the seizers began shooting into the lodges. Chief Heavy Runner ran from his lodge toward the seizers on the (river) bank. He was shouting to them and waving a paper … a writing saying that he was a good and peaceful man, a friend of the whites. He had run but a few steps when he fell, his body pierced with bullets.
“Inside the lodges men were yelling, terribly frightened women and children screaming, screaming from wounds, from pain as they died. I saw a few men and women escaping from the lodges, shot down as they ran. … I sat before the ruin of my lodge and felt sick. I wished the seizers had killed me, too.
— Bear Head, a Piegan survivor
|Maj. Eugene Baker, center, ninth from left leaning on railing, poses with Army officers at Fort Ellis in this 1870 photograph. Lt. Gus Doane is fourth from left.|
Read about the massacre, the celebration and cover-up, and the survivors. Click HERE!
Leave with a better understanding of the Blackfeet as a heroic, tenacious people with a strong will to survive even during the most horrific of events!
Site of the Marias Massacre, photo by Dean Hellinger
photo, courtesy Discover Lews & Clark