Subversive Historian – 01/23/09

{The site of the bloodletting along the Marias River}

The Marias Massacre

One-hundred and twenty-nine years ago on this day in people’s history, the U.S. army massacred Piegan Blackfeet Indians along the Marias River in Montana. On January 23rd, 1870, cavalrymen led by Major Eugene Baker slaughtered more than 173 people of which women and children comprised the grand majority. Setting the massacre in motion, a dispute between a Piegan Blackfoot Indian and white expansionist trader Malcolm Clarke ended in a scuffle and a retaliatory murder. With Clarke lying dead, white expansionists clamored for revenge. After issuing an ultimatum, Major Baker commanded his cavalrymen in raiding a camp along the river in search of the Clarke’s killer who had fled and joined with another band. Despite warnings to the contrary that his men would be descending upon the wrong camp, Baker commanded the massacre.

Newspapers such as the New York Times actually denounced the killings, but Army General William Sherman silenced calls for a public inquiry into the matter. It’s truly no mystery why they conceal our history…


5 responses to “Subversive Historian – 01/23/09

  1. There is so much more to this story…
    I am Blackfeet and last month I travelled 800 miles from my home to be where this occured on January 23rd of this year.
    My nephews and I had originally planned to attend the annual tribal ceremony to honor our lost relatives but, because the rancher who leases the land (that was stolen from our tribe so many years ago) would not allow access for the Tribe, my nephews and I deliberately trespassed onto “his” land to honor our relatives. The ceremony was held upstream – a mile away.
    It was minus 10F and a very cold, bleak hike down into the riverbottom where the murders took place. We stood on the same bluffs where the soldiers took aim and killed so many of our old people, women and children. Many of the soldiers were reportedly drunk (according to several witnesses present: including Horace Clarke, son of the victim of the murder that prompted this whole tragedy)
    Their 33 year old ‘commander’ Eugene Baker, (who died in obscurity 15 years later of cirrohsis of the liver) was informed that he was preparing to strike the wrong camp just before the early morning attack by one of his Indian scouts, Joe Kipp…and ordered the him held: “Seargeant: If this man moves or cries out I want him shot”.
    The morning we made our pilgrimage it was clear and not nearly as cold as when Baker’s men released the ‘survivors’ to find their own way to safety…after having destroyed all their teepees, robes and food. Some of the people survived several days of subzero cold with no food and found their way to safety. Many more did not.
    That our goretex pants and goose down jackets… my nephews and I honored them with sage, sweetgrass and prayer.
    The fact that this site is not a national monument is a Travesty.
    As one of my nephews so incisively noted: “Uncle…Just imagine if it was the white guys who died! There would be a National Memorial, a historic National Cemetary, a Visitor Center and Interpretive Walk with uniformed Tour Guides…even an RV park.” (I think he must have visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield at some point…difference there was that Baker actually did his job. And that he lived. Hard to mythologize a still-living, raging alcoholic I guess).
    There have been efforts to have this place made into a national monument over the years.
    Time will tell.

  2. For more information and partipants statements on what occurred:

  3. Here is another link to a more ‘mainstream’ version…completely consistent with the link above.

  4. Hi Steve –

    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences as it relates to this history and for expanding on what I wrote. “Subversive Historian,” is a series of radio commentaries that I write, record and produce, and I have all but one minute to condense the complexities of particular episodes of history. Of course, the ultimate aim is to tip off interest for people to delve deeper so thanks again for helping in this regard.


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