American West: Fact, Fiction, Film

How the new Americans affected the native americans

James Welch, in his superb book about the Battle of the Little Big Horn entitled Killing Custer, uses Chapter One to explain what happened in a massacre of innocent Pikuni including mostly women and children in 1870. Raised in the Blackfeet community in Browning Montana, James wrote a number of excellent books which drew upon his native American Heritage. His father was Pikuni, also referred to as Piegan, while his mother was Gros Ventre. The Pikuni are one branch of the Blackfeet, the others being the Blood and the Northern Blackfeet. Today the homelands of the Blood and the Northern Blackfeet are located in Canada, while the Pikuni are based in Montana. Sadly James died in 2003 aged 62.

The illustration is a photo of a roadside marker kindly provided by Jon Axline. As I argue in my text, I think the part which states "The strike was in retaliation for the killing of Malcolm Clarke" is misleading. In my view it would be more accurate to insert "The US Army claimed " before this sentence. The Army, like the White population generally, tended to mask their violence behind unwarranted claims of retaliatory action. Since Clarke was married to a Piegan woman, Cut Off Head Woman the reason for his killing is much more consistent with it being as the result of a family quarrel. In other words Clarke was not killed because he was White but because of a disagreement at a family gathering. To argue that the attack on the Pikuni village was retaliatory is to accept the Army's spurious justification of it. The Army used his death as an excuse to employ their tactics of attacking villages in winter which they claimed had been successful. As I argue in my article about the Marias River Massacre their claim that this policy was successful was not true, such attacks were not only immoral terror tactics but they achieved little. It was an example of the "spin "they put on it in order not to lose face. I am currently researching the Washita attack 1868 which I see as also falling into this category, although subsequently terror tactics were "successful" in the Red River War 1874-5.

Marias River Massacre or Baker Massacre?At first I went for the former, purely because James Welch did and that was good enough for me. I discovered that Paul Hutton called it the Piegan Massacre but this seems to highlight the people it was inflicted upon, so that seems to be unfair, I think they call it transference. Coming across more and more "Baker" Massacres, like the roadside marker in the picture, for example, I was drawn towards this for a title. But then I reverted to my original choice when I considered that firstly, the use of Baker's name seems to attach blame to him personally when he was acting on behalf of the Army, despite what apologists might argue. And anyway, other events are usually named, at least in our culture, after where they took place: Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, and Washita River spring to mind. This led me to question the motives, not of those who unthinkingly call it the "Baker Massacre" but those who originally came up with idea, whoever they may have been. So "Massacre at the Bend of the Marias River" it is!

native for the American West

The Massacre on the Bend
of the Marias River 1870

"There is a white element in this country, (with a) rowdy and lawless character...and the traffic in whiskey with the Indians in this territory is carried on to an alarming extent. This frequently causes altercations between whites and Indians resulting often in bloodshed...Nothing can be done to insure peace and order till there is a military force here strong enough to clear out the roughs and whiskey sellers in the country. "
General Sully, Superintendent of Indian Affairs August 3 1869( Quoted in Ewers,246)

"I despise the whites. They have taken our land. They have killed our buffalo, which will soon pass away. They have treated my nation like dogs. I shall no longer be responsible for my young men when they seek revenge."
Mountain Chief, Pikuni (Piegan)(quoted in Bennett, 23)

"Perhaps the largest difference between the Massacre on the Marias and the Battle of the Little Big Horn was that Baker was successful in carrying out the army's orders while Custer was not." James Welch, Killing Custer, 46


Montana Historical Highway Marker
records the tragic Massacre which took place nearby
image courtesy of Jon Axline, Montana Department of Transportation

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Massacre on the Bend of
the Marias River 1870

On 6 January 1870 Colonel Eugene Baker traveled from Fort Ellis to Fort Shaw with four companies of the 2nd Cavalry. Upon arrival the fort was sealed off, no-one was allowed to leave. This was precisely what had happened at Fort Lyon near Sand Creek six years earlier, when Colonel Chivington had led his troops into the notorious massacre of Black Kettle's Cheyenne. 13 days later Baker set off northwards towards the Marias River, having reinforced his troops with two companies of mounted infantry. They reached the Teton in sub zero temperatures, and thereafter moved under cover of darkness to try to remain undetected. The night march on the 20th took them to the mouth of the Muddy River, a tributary of the Teton, and the following night they made it to the dry fork on the Marias River where they hid all next day in a ravine. The nocturnal travel of the 22nd took them to the bend on the Marias, which they reached at 8am on the morning of 23 January.

The village before them contained few able bodied men since most were away hunting, and it was undergoing a crippling smallpox epidemic. The Pikunni inhabitants were preoccupied by caring for those infected with the deadly disease. On the morning of 23 January 1870 they awoke to hear the sound of voices in the woods on the bank leading up to the ridge. Bear Head recalled:

"A seizer chief up on the bank shouted something and at once all the seizers began shooting into the lodges. Chief Heavy Runner ran from his lodge towards the seizers on the bank. He was shouting to them and waving a paper writing that our agent had given him, 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 their lodges, shot down as they ran. Most terrible of all to hear was the crying of little babies at their mothers' breasts. The seizers ....... shot at the tops of lodges; cut the bindings of the poles so the whole lodge would collapse upon the fire and begin to burn. Within it my mother, my almost mothers and my almost sisters. Oh how pitiful were their screamings as they died, and I there, powerless to help them! (Early in the attack Bear Head was captured and restrained)" (1)

The death toll of 173 included only fifteen men between the ages of 12 and 37, the rest were as follows: eighteen men between 37 and 70, ninety women and fifty children. (2) "Soon all was silent in the camp, and the seizers advanced, began tearing down the lodges that stood still, shooting those within them who were still alive, and then trying to burn all that they tore down, burn the dead under the heaps of poles, lodge skins, and lodge furnishings; but they did not burn well." (3)

"Wailed wrinkly old Black Antelope:
' Why oh, why had it to be that all of our warriors, our hunters, had to go out for buffalo at this time. But for that, some of the seizers would also be lying here in death.' 'One was killed I saw him fall,' I said. 'Ah, only one seizer. And how many of us. Mostly women and children; newborn babies. Oh, how cruel, how terribly cruel are the white men,' old Curlew Woman wailed. 'Killed us off without reason for it; we who have done nothing against the whites,' said old Three Bears." (4) The Helena Daily Herald headline proclaimed, with a myopic distortion which recalled that of the Rocky Mountain News after Sand Creek: "The deed is done. The murder of Malcolm Clarke is avenged; the guilty Indians have been punished".(5)

During the Civil War the Blackfeet were neglected by government administrators. For 18 months they had no agent at all, and consequently no annuities reached them during 1863. After failing to reach Fort Benton on the Missouri because its waters were too low, agent Henry Reed considered a journey overland from Fort Union to be too hazardous because the Lakota were on the warpath. He returned to his home in Epworth Iowa which was over a thousand miles from his post. When Gad E Upson was finally appointed in October 1863 he was so unsuitable that an old Indian trader, William T Hamilton commented: "he knew as much about an Indian as I did about the inhabitants of Jupiter. (6) In 1865 Upson was sent to negotiate a treaty with the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre. In return for annuities they were to cede the land south of the Teton River so that it could be opened up to white settlement. Not only did Little Dog, the head chief of the Piegans sign the treaty but during the winter 1865 he generously saved a number of snowbound gold prospectors in the Sun River Valley by hunting antelope and giving them the meat.

Despite Low Dog's best efforts peace proved to be fragile owing to the racist aggression of a group of prospectors led by John Morgan, who killed four Piegan warriors and sparked off what the famous Jesuit Father De Smet referred to in June 1866 as " A fresh and furious war". Although this caused the Jesuits to withdraw from their mission in the Sun River Valley De Smet was quite clear that "again the whites have given the first provocation, "(7) The word which stands out here is "again".

By trying his best to negotiate and come to terms with the whites in what was to become a meaningless exercise since the "treaty" he agreed was never ratified, Low Dog incurred the wrath of his fellows. "So strong was Piegan animosity towards the whites that some of them regarded their peacemaking head chief (Little Dog) as a traitor and removed him from his position with finality" as he journeyed back to camp from Fort Benton having just returned twelve stolen horses. (8)

"White settlers' repeated requests for protection from Indian raids brought a portion of the US Army to the Blackfeet country as soon as soldiers could be spared for frontier duty after the close of the Civil war.....However the mere garrisoning of soldiers in their country did not halt Blackfoot depredations." (9)

Two treaties were negotiated in the 1860s (1865 and 1868) which were not ratified. Having signed the treaties chiefs could hardly be expected to understand the legal technicalities and quite reasonably thought they had been duped when they did not receive annuities as promised. Low Dog was killed for his involvement which turned out to be pointless. The Piegans resented the building of forts on their land. Even writing in 1958 John Ewers saw the non ratification of treaties as a "misunderstanding", but to me writing in 2010 it seems unacceptable, even ridiculous that commissioners were dispatched to negotiate treaties without actually having the authority to do so. It was totally predictable that the Blackfeet would see unratified treaties as the whites reneging on what had been mutually agreed. The white authorities were being too clever for their citizen's good and de facto were reneging on their representatives' agreement. Not unnaturally chiefs could not control their followers when their claims to have negotiated settlements were so discredited. (10)

A number of incidents took place in Fort Benton which inflamed the situation, so the Indian Agency was moved 75 miles to the north west to a location on the Teton River. (11) In perhapd the worst example Mountain Chief was abused on the main street and his brother, an old man, was shot dead together with a young boy in a retaliatory killing for two cattle herders being shot by Blackfeet warriors. (12)

Historians such as John Ewers, report that 25 young Piegan warriors killed the Buffalo hide trader Malcolm Clarke, on his ranch. At the time Alexander Culbertson explained this as being down to a "portion of the young rabble over which the chiefs have no control" (13) It is easy to fall into the trap of repeating this explanation for escalating hostilities, but as a result of research among the Blackfeet by Adolf Hungry Wolf it has emerged that the situation was much more complex than it might appear from contemporary accounts. It now appears that the motive behind accounts at the time was not sympathy for Clarke but a desire to seek justification to attack the Blackfeet. Called Four Bears by the Blackfeet, Clarke had married Cutting off Head Woman, a Piegan. The altercation which took place at his ranch was the result of a family quarrel which erupted during a gathering at his ranch when Piegan members of his wife's family were visiting. (14). Even more recently than the publication of these volumes by Adolf Hungry Wolf it has been claimed by Carol Murray, Director of the Blackfeet Tribal History Project in Montana, that Malcolm Clarke had raped one of the visiting Piegan women and that upon the resulting later birth of a blue eyed baby it had been killed. Murray's claim is based on oral accounts by older Piegan people who reluctantly told the researcher what happened. They were reluctant because, like their ancestors, they were frightened to make public statements, because of a believable inherent fear of the consequences, At a time when revelations of child sex abuse have become common enough to suggest that it has been a suppressed blight on people's lives down through the ages, Carol Murray's claims do have a ring of truth to them, however difficult they are to verify.(15) In Ben Bennett's less sensational version of events Clarke was killed by Owl Child in retaliation for his horses being stolen while Owl Child was visiting his cousin, Cutting off Head Woman. Whatever its exact nature, it is clear that a family argument led to Malcolm Clarke's death. Whites chose to present this as an interracial matter and a reason why Mountain Chief's band should be attacked. Mountain Chief, in stark contrast to the whites saw the matter as a personal rather than an inter-racial incident. "It does not concern us", he said. (16)

In conflicts on the plains between Indians and whites it was commonly claimed that chiefs had no control over their followers, thereby implying that white leaders did. But General Sully himself readily admitted that the "civil authorities" had no control over what he called the "roughs and whiskey traders". The claim is that young malcontents like Owl Child were not controlled by their chiefs such as Mountain Chief. But when Mountain Chief's old brother was shot on the main street of Fort Benton how much control was being exerted by white leaders? Retaliatory killings always beg the question who actually started it? The question becomes impossible to answer in a literal sense, but I am willing to trust the judgment of someone with no axe to grind who was there at the time: the Jesuit Father De Smet. As quoted above, Father De Smet was clear in attributing the outbreak of hostilities to the "whites" "again". (17)

"When Marshal Wiliam F Wheeler went before the grand jury in October (1869) he listed fifty six whites who had been murdered and more than one thousand horses stolen by the Blackfeet in the year 1869." (18) Of course he did not enumerate Piegan deaths or elaborate the circumstances in which hostilities had occurred. On 9 October GG Symes, judge of the Third Judicial District of the Territory of Montana, on behalf of the US Grand Jury, issued a warrant for the arrest of five Piegan men, including Owl Child.

Philip Sheridan's response was unequivocal: "Let me find out exactly where these Indians are going to spend the winter, and about the time of a good heavy snow I will send out a party and try to strike them." Writing in 1958 Ewers saw this murderous strategy as having been carried out successfully against what Ewers described as "the hostile redmen on the Southern plains" (18) He might have be right if he was referring to the Red River War but this took place later, in 1874-5, although even here the encirclement campaign would inevitably end in civilian loss of life, hostile or otherwise. However Ewers must have been referring to earlier events during the 1860s. If he meant Custer at the Washita River it is difficult to see how this was "devastatingly effective" as Ewers suggests since Custer beat a hasty retreat to save his skin and those of his men, except for the unfortunate detachment of 18 soldiers under Major Elliott who Custer abandoned to their fate. The term "devastatingly effective" could hardly be used about any of the army's frontier engagements up to 1869 so I must confess I do not know what Ewers is talking about. (19) Paul Hutton also mentions what he also calls a battle at the Washita, together with another at Soldier Spring, yet Colonel W.S. Nye dismissed the latter as a minor engagement involving minimal casualties on both sides:

"The Battle of Soldier Spring was a smaller affair than the attack made by Custer on Black Kettle's village. Only about two hundred soldiers, and perhaps an equal number of Indians (including Kiowas) were engaged. It was singularly bloodless, considering its duration and the amount of ammunition expended; the troops and the Indians each lost but one man killed, with a few wounded on each side. (21)

Colonel W.S. Nye went on to reproduce the success for the "Campaign" which was claimed at the time by the army leaders.

"Yet the fight was not without significance. It was a successful part of General Sheridan's plan to converge on the Indians from several directions. It showed the hostiles that they were not safe from the troops, no matter which way they might turn. It caused the surrender of a number, including Mow-way, who might otherwise have remained out and defied the government for several years. Nevertheless it was so overshadowed by the Battle of the Washita, which occurred three weeks before, that it has become lost in the annals of history, and is mentioned in only one place-Sheridan's memoirs-and there only briefly. (22)

Nye singled out the surrender of Mow Way, as indicating significance, even though the effect of this Comanche chief's surrender was minimal. Having surrendered at Fort Bascom, Mow Way was transferred to Fort Leavenworth where he was sent under guard to Fort Sill. To the Fort Sill commander's surprise he arrived on his own, the guards having got drunk on the way, and he was soon released in June 1869. Such was the "significance" of what happened at Soldier Spring. Paul Hutton repeats the effect of Soldier Spring despite its insignificance and carries on the misrepresentation of what happened at the Washita as if it really was a battle and a victory as Sheridan and others claimed. It was much more comfortable politically for the Army to claim significance in carrying out a policy which proved little except the ruthlessness, and inhumanity of the Army leadership, not to mention their propensity to mislead. Unfortunately despite the evidence to the contrary many historians and others writing about these events are still referring to them as battles and victories, repeating what General Sheridan claimed erroneously at the time in order to enhance his reputation. Far from being battles or victories the only way these events could be perceived as successful was in the destruction of Indian homes, supplies and possessions, including hundreds of ponies at the Washita and several tons of dried buffalo meat at Soldier Spring. In other words the army's execution of its policy was successful in terrorising the "savages".

Sheridan's bellicose official policy of attacking villages which would obviously contain women and children was endorsed on November 4th 1869 by Sherman, who was in overall command of the army. Sheridan was in command of the Division of Missouri. This vast stretch of land extended from Chicago in east to the Rockies in the west, and from the Canadian border in the north to the Rio Grande in the south.

"once events in Montana went awry he (Sheridan) bullheadedly compounded his errors by defending the actions of the soldiers in the field. As a result he alienated the humanitarian friends of the Indian, destroyed the army's chances of gaining control over Indian affairs and was himself the sobriquet of Indian hatred." (23)

Paul Hutton identifies two causes of the Indian Wars in Sheridan's public pronouncements: First the dispossession of lands to which Sheridan attached "no moral judgment". Second the failure of the reservation system to feed and clothe the Indians. (24) Like Custer Sheridan appeared to look upon the Indians benevolently in such theoretical statements. Also like Custer he was ruthless in attacking them in practice. Paul Hutton also points out that Sheridan saw himself as an agent of progress whereby civilization would expand to replace the savage barbarous Indians who barred the way. (25) What Hutton does not spell out however, is the inherent contradiction between Sheridan's public pronouncements on the one hand and his orders for action (and private statements) on the other. Sheridan had already shown how slippery he was by presenting the Washita attack as successful and as a "battle". Furthermore, Sheridan's motive for supporting Baker's action was hardly "bull headed" or, as Hutton later suggests "loyal to a fault". It was clearly out of self interest, for the attack was quite consistent with his professed policy and orders, which did not stipulate that the purpose of the expedition was to arrest Owl Child and the other four warrantees. The message was clear "strike a blow" at "the time of a heavy snow". (26)

The causes of the conflict with the Piegans were rooted, according to Hutton, in the Hudson Bay Company just across the border purchasing stolen horses and goods from young Indian warriors, the flourishing liquor and arms trade and the dissatisfaction of Indians with the smallpox outbreak of 1869, which they blamed on the whites. (27) Hutton might do well to read what General de Trobriand had to say about the cause: "If theft, deceit, murder and war have come....the fault is definitely that of the whites alone.....The redskins learned from them bad faith, then theft, then....murder." (28)

Sully's reputation as an Indian fighter was founded on his perceived success against the Seminole in the 1840s and against the Santee in Minnesota in the early 1860s. However Sheridan had no time for Sully since Sully had served under him in the 1868 campaign, and had had differences with Custer with whom Sheridan replaced Sully.

When Sheridan received conflicting reports as to the degree of the problem with the Piegan "outbreak", he sent General James A Hardie to investigate. Sully, in contrast to General de Trobriand, had argued in favour of attacking the Piegan villages. To Hardie, however, Sully now referred to the possible adverse effects on the trade of the North West Fur Company. This was an American owned trading company which had been set up to rival the Hudson Bay Company which was just across the Canadian border and which had links with the British. (29)

General de Trobriand, ordered Baker specifically to leave Heavy Runner's band alone, but despite mixed race scout Joe Kipps's (Raven Quiver to his Pikuni relatives) desperate warning to Baker that he was attacking the wrong village Baker chose to ignore the order and attack anyway. Baker claimed that of 173 dead 53 were women and children. The nature of the engagement was such that the army lost only one soldier, with another suffering a broken leg when he fell off his horse. Similar to Washita and Soldier Spring Indian homes and possessions were burned. Once the murderous attack had taken place Trobriand and Sheridan rallied to praise it as a great victory.

Vincent Colyer, the secretary to the Board of Indian Commissioners contacted the Indian agent at Fort Benton, named Lieutenant W A Pease, and General Sully. As a result of reports from Pease and Sully, both army officers it must be said, Colyer claimed that only 15 of the dead had been warriors and added that the village was defenseless because of the smallpox epidemic. (30) Colyer was reported in the New York Times as revealing the "sickening details of Colonel Baker's attack on the village of Piegans". Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist now working for native American rights declared Sheridan's hands to be "foul with Indian blood, shed by assassins who acted under his orders and received his approval." At a meeting of the Reform League Phillips identified three savages on the plains - "Colonel Baker, General Custer and at the head of it all General Sheridan." (31) Sheridan's irrational response was to perceive the army as being attacked by an unidentified "Indian Ring" and recount stories of atrocities committed by the Cheyenne in the southern plains which had nothing whatever to do with the Piegan, least of all the "friendly " band of Heavy Runner. His irrational attack caused Colyer to respond: that Sheridan "strikes out at me almost as wildly as he did against the poor Piegans, and with about as much justice." (32)

Paul Hutton observed that this response by Sheridan, although loyal to Baker, was ill judged since it served to undermine the political position of the army. Hutton goes on to point out that at this time Sheridan's officers were in total control of both Indian and military affairs in Montana, yet there was still no centralised management or planning. "Military authorities proved as incapable of working together as would military and civilian officials when authority over the Indians was taken away from the army." (43) Writing today it is difficult to comprehend the lack of communication within the army even without the personality clash between leaders like Sully and Trobriand and the individual responsibility left to commanders in the field like Baker. That this lack of communication was typical of the military at this time is basic in understanding why commanders seemed to make decisions in isolation. They seemed to because they did. Contrary to "common" sense, lack of communication bedevilled the army's pursuit of the Nez Perce, for example, and even more famously prevented concerted action by Custer and Crook and others in the Little Big Horn campaign. Even the author of a recently published work on the Custer Fight did not understand this to the detriment of his "analysis".

While Paul Hutton's article does not make this mistake, astonishingly he does seem to seek to diminish the blame on the military for attacking a benign, defenseless village with an explanation based on the interests of two scouts who were guiding Baker. Hutton seems to try to lighten the blame on the commander by suggesting that Cobell opened the firing, in an attempt to stop an attack on Mountain Chief's village because Cobell was married to Mountain Chief's sister. Yet Hutton does not produce evidence that Baker made any attempt to halt it. That is simply because Baker was committed to attack, despite Joe Kipp's warning that the village was that of Heavy Runner. Hutton points out irrelevantly that Joe Kipps's Pikuni wife was in Heavy Runner's village. Hutton's idea is a red herring anyway, for Baker was actually in charge, so he was responsible, regardless of what his scouts told him, did or what their motives were in trying to protect their own families.

More seriously, Hutton wants to reduce the culpability of Sheridan, using emotional language like "loyal to a fault", suggesting that Sheridan was showing support for Baker when in all likelihood Sheridan was only supporting Baker out of self interest since he perceived a need for the army to present a united front. Having himself presented the events at the Washita and Soldier Spring as successful Hutton misses the obvious point that once the attack was made by Baker it also had to be seen as a success, as part of a successful policy. Sheridan was merely misrepresenting what had happened to make sure that his previously unsuccessful policy of attacking civilian targets was perceived as being once again successful. He was merely repeating what he had already done, not out of any loyalty to Baker but to try to ensure that his policy was not discredited. Paul Hutton goes on to compound the mistake by even using the same language as those like Sheridan in the nineteenth century when he refers to the Indians as follows: It was, says Hutton, "exceedingly difficult to punish hostile Indians while protecting friendly Indians". If Hutton was writing dispassionately the notion of protection should not arise. The idea that bands like Heavy Runner's needed "protection" is preposterous: "protection" from what or whom? This is the kind of emotive language used by those such as Sheridan to justify attacking innocent and defenseless bands of Indians, including civilians. As for the notion of attacking "hostile" Indians Hutton is a knowledgeable enough historian not to have fallen into the trap of accepting the notion of those such as Sheridan who wanted to be able to attack defenseless villages when they were laid up for winter. They also sought to justify it by arguing in effect that all Indians were responsible for the actions of a few, hardly the basis of the US penal code. Or, as in some cases like those in the Red River War and those leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn, they argued against all reason that any Indian not on the reservation was by definition "hostile". The cover up is also worsened by the fact that any attack of Mountain Chief's camp would not have been preceded by an attempt to identify the "culprits" who had killed Malcolm Clarke, which ostensibly was the reason that such an attack would have been made. As Ewers clearly states, Mountain Chief's band "was believed to be harbouring the culprits" (33) This, in itself, did not justify an indiscriminate attack, despite what the army said at the time and too many historians and commentators have trotted out ever since.

Sheridan was quite clear in his order:

"If the lives and property of the citizens of Montana can best be protected by striking Mountain Chief's band tell Baker to strike them hard." (34)

When this message was relayed by Trobriand to Baker his message was equally clear about making sure that Heavy Runner's band were not attacked. Unfortunately owing to incompetence, drunkenness, bad luck or a bit of them all, the "wrong" village was attacked, but if the "right" village had been subjected to same kind of assault then the same carnage would almost certainly have resulted, or at the very least would have been seen as acceptable by the Army, something which many historians and commentators through time have ignored.

Presumably Sheridan would have dismissed the New York Times' comment (26 February 1870) in a rant, despite the fact that it would equally have applied to an attack on Mountain Chief's village, Heavy Runner's village, a "friendly" village, a "hostile" village or any other kind of village:

"The question is whether a wholesale slaughter of women and children was needed for the vindication of our arms". (35) To which it could well have added a further question: whether terrorising families of Indians in their winter quarters with the object of burning their homes, destroying their food and capturing or killing their ponies was justified. "this system of warfare ...cannot be justified before the civilization of the age or in the sight of God or man" stated Daniel Vorhees, Congressman for Indiana. Another congressman stated "there is no warrant in the laws of God or man for destroying women and children merely because their husbands and fathers may be marauders.(36) Many have claimed that the Massacre on the bend of the Marias River was indeed successful in as much as

"Never again did the Blackfoot (sic) face the United States Army in battle". (37)

But then the same thing could be said about the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne after the Battle of the Little Big Horn. I wracked my brains to think of when the Blackfeet had faced "the United States Army in battle" previously and then checked Ewers book and that of Dee Brown. So far I have not come up with a single instance, so like much of US historians' interpretations of the incident this is irrelevant. Many of these historians identify so much with the US Army that they fail to emphasize the lack of accountability the Army enjoyed, the degree to which the Army covered up its transgressions and that the Army policy was basically morally wrong. That the incident was recognized at the time by some as unacceptable makes it equally unacceptable and shocking that these historians today are unwilling to condemn the US military for its savagery in the past. Not only this, but they make statements which imply that the Marias River Massacre was in some way a necessary evil. A more accurate comment on the incident is this one which I received from Jon Axline, Historian, Montana Department of Transportation, who was one of only three non Blackfeet who attended the ceremony at which a roadside marker was positioned by the nearest Highway. "The massacre is still a festering wound among (the Blackfeet,.....the) memory of the Baker Massacre is still very much alive with them and the tribe today is definitely a product of what happened in 1870. " (38)

1 James Willard Schultz, Keith C. Seele,Blackfeet and Buffalo: Memories of Life Among the Indians, 1981, 301
2 Adolf Hungry Wolf, The Blackfoot Papers Volume 1 Pikunni History and Culture, 2006, 50
3 Bear Head, in Schultz, 301
4 Bear Head, in Schultz, 302
5 Ben Bennettt, Death, Too, For the Heavy Runner, 1982, 105
6 John C Ewers, The Blackfeet: raiders on the northwestern plains, 1958, 236
7 Ewers, 242
8 Ewers, 242
9 Ewers, 244
10 Ewers,245
11 Ewers, 245
12 Ewers, 246
13 Ewers, 247
14 Adolf Hungry Wolf 49-50
15 see
16 Bennett, 37
17 Ewers, 242
18 Ewers, 247
19 Ewers,247
20 Ewers, 247
21 Colonel W.S. Nye Carbine & Lance, The Story of Old Fort Sill, 1937
22 Nye 23 Paul Hutton, Montana, the Magazine of Western History The Piegan Massacre , Army Politics and the Transfer Debate vol 32 no.2 Spring 1982, 33
24 Paul Hutton, 34
25 Paul Hutton, 35
26 The Army's Policy and its presentation were similar at the Washita in 1868.
27 Paul Hutton, 36
28 Bennettt, 55
29 Paul Hutton, 36,38
30 Paul Hutton, 39
31 Paul Hutton, 41
32 Paul Hutton, Phil Sheridan and his Army, 1985, 195
33 Paul Hutton, 43
34 Ewers, 249
35 Ewers, 251
36 Welch, Killing Custer, 34
37 Ewers, 252
38 Jon Axline, Historian, Montana Department of Transportation,December 2010

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Chris Smallbone December2010

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