The 1870 Marias Massacre
in Montana

by Stan Gibson & Jack Hayne

Authors' note:
[The words you will read here are from fifteen fallible human beings. They are testifying, often intensely, about an obscure horror they experienced 128 years ago, the infamous Marias (or Baker) Massacre of January 23rd, 1870, in northern Montana. There is also one literary account of the event from a Blackfoot writer, James Welch, who has distilled his family's recollections of this same ancestral tragedy. (Some scholars may raise their eyebrows at such "evidence" -- but almost all historians of the American West have closed their eyes to what happened on that long-ago Sunday anyway.) We hope you'll listen to the testimony carefully, and conduct your own cross-examinations. That won't be an easy or pleasant task, especially for Native North Americans. The witnesses have widely different motives and viewpoints, of course, and they seldom agree completely with one another. Some may be: (a) lying; (b) mistaken; (c) exaggerating; (d) covering up; (e) self-interested -- or telling the exact truth, if there is such a thing. If and when you arrive at a verdict, we would like to hear from you. Meanwhile, think of this as a "voir dire," or an "examination for discovery," or imagine that you've been appointed as a "special prosecutor." In all instances below where we have inserted comments, they are highlighted in "blue." Links to endnotes are also interspersed throughout...these, too, will appear in blue.]

Major Eugene Baker, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Fort Ellis, MT

[His career was in decline by 1870, but Eugene Baker had ranked 12th in his West Point class and had a distinguished Civil War record under Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and "Little Phil" Sheridan. Baker was hand-picked by Sheridan, late in 1869, to head a military strike force against some Piegan hostiles in northern Montana. For whatever reasons, he attacked a friendly and almost defenseless winter village; his misadventure was defended by his superiors, and very little is generally known about the detailed circumstances of what happened. The major was 33 at the time; he died at the age of 48 of liver cirrhosis.]

"[I have the honor] to submit the following report of a scout made by me against the hostile Piegan and Blood Indians.... I expected to be able to reach the Big Bend [on Jan. 22, 1870], having understood from the guide [Joe Kipp] that was where the Indians were encamped. We were obliged to camp in a ravine, on the Dry Fork of the Marias, till the night of the 22nd, when we broke camp and marched to the Marias River, arriving there on the morning of the 23rd....

"We succeeded, about 8 o'clock, in surprising the camp of Bear Chief and Big Horn [hostiles]. We killed one hundred and seventy-three Indians, captured over one hundred women and children, and over three hundred horses.

"I ordered Lieutenant Doane to remain in this camp and destroy all the property, while I marched down the river after the camp of Mountain Chief [the target specified in his orders].... I found a camp of seven lodges that had been abandoned in great haste, leaving everything. The Indians had scattered in every direction, so that it was impossible to pursue them. The lodges were burned the next morning [Jan. 24th]....

"We arrived back at Fort Shaw [near Great Falls, MT] on the 29th of January, and the cavalry command left for Fort Ellis on the 31st, arriving there on the 6th of February, having made a march of about six hundred miles in one month, and this in the coldest weather that has been known in Montana for years....

"Too much credit cannot be given to the officers and men of the command for their conduct during the whole expedition.

"The result of the expedition is one hundred and seventy-three Indians killed, over one hundred prisoners, women and children ... allowed to go free, forty-four lodges with all their supplies and stores destroyed, and three hundred horses captured.

"Our casualties were one man killed [Pvt. McKay], and one man with a broken leg from a fall of his horse."

[Baker was tardy with the above report, sending it to headquarters twenty-six days after the engagement, twelve days after arriving back at Fort Ellis. The General of the U.S. Army in Washington, William Tecumseh Sherman, as a result of a public and congressional furore, demanded an accurate analysis of the body-count to counteract claims by the Blackfoot Indian Agent, Lt. W. B. Pease, and the Superintendent of Montana Indians, Gen. Alfred Sully, that most of the victims had been old people or women and children in the camp of the friendly chief, Heavy Runner. Baker sent the following, two months to the day after the event.]

"... [After having made every effort] to get the judgment of the officers of the command, I am satisfied that the following numbers approximate as nearly to the exact truth as any estimate can possibly be made....

"The number killed was one hundred and seventy-three. Of those there were one hundred and twenty able men, fifty-three women and children.... Of captives, afterward released, there were of women and children one hundred and forty.

"I believe that every effort was made by officers and men to save the non-combatants, and that such women and children as were killed were killed accidentally.

"The reports published in the Eastern papers, purporting to come from General Alfred Sully, are wholly and maliciously false, and if he has authorized them he knew them to be false; if he has given authority to these slanders, I can only suppose it is that attention may be drawn away from the manifest irregularities and inefficiency that mark the conduct of Indian affairs under his direction in this Territory. It seems incredible that the false assertions of two officers, General Alfred Sully and Lieutenant Pease, neither of whom have made any effort to inform themselves in the matter, should outweigh the reports of those who were engaged in the fight, and who feel that they have nothing to palliate or concede in their conduct.

[ Lt. Pease had met with Piegans a week after the massacre and reported that only fifteen of the dead in the peaceable Heavy Runner camp had been of fighting age; the rest were elderly or women and children. His report was endorsed by General Sully and sent to Washington; it caused an intense public outcry.]

"All the officers of this command ask at the hands of the authorities is a full and complete investigation of the campaign, and less than this cannot, in justice, be conceded to them."

[ There has never been a public, nor any other kind of formal, investigation. Without having Baker's second report in hand, General Sherman silenced most protests with a press release: "[I prefer to believe] that the majority of those killed in Mountain Chief's camp were warriors, that the firing ceased the moment resistance was at an end, that quarter was given to all who asked for it; and that a hundred women and children were allowed to go free to join the other bands of the same tribe camped nearby, rather than the absurd report that there were only thirteen warriors killed and that all the balance were women and children, more or less afflicted with smallpox."]

Lieutenant Gus Doane, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Fort Ellis, MT

[ Doane, in command of Baker's F Company, provided the following account for a history of the 2nd Cavalry by an officer. It was published five years after the massacre.]

"On the 23rd of January, 1870, at daybreak, the expedition against the Piegan Indians struck one lodge [Gray Wolf's] on the Marias River. The Indians belonging to this lodge having been captured without any firing, F Company was sent forward by Major Baker along the trail of the Indians down the river. After following the trail at a gallop about four miles, two Indians were met on foot, with two squaws mounted on ponies. These were captured without resistance, and given in charge of Sergeant O'Kelly, who disarmed and secured them.

"The trail here ran parallel with the Marias River, which was hidden from view in a deep ravine of Bad Lands. First Sergeant Anderson was then sent out alone to the edge of the bluff to look along the river, lest we should pass some village without seeing it.

"While so engaged, the company came in sight of a large drove of ponies herding on the edge of the bluffs, and presently smoke from the Indian villages appeared just below. Sergeant Williams was detached with six men to cut out and drive away the herd, which he did very gallantly and judiciously, and at a considerable risk, as it was within range of the village, and, besides, the ground was full of ravines dangerous to ride over. In fact, the horse of one of the troopers fell into one of these narrow cuts, breaking three of his legs, and was killed in consequence.

"At the same time Sergeant Moore was sent with several men to report to the First Sergeant, with instructions to charge down the bluffs above the village, cross the stream and deploy on that side, while the company would come in below and between the Indians and the herds of ponies. This was executed to the letter; and as the company came down the bluffs on the trail, the First Sergeant was seen crossing the river above the village. He deployed his men properly and at a run, and in two minutes the Indians were completely surrounded.

"The other companies came up in a few minutes, and commenced firing, which was continued for about an hour. During this time the First Sergeant kept his line effectively, having with him Sergeant Moore and about twelve (12) men. They were in great danger, as the dismounted companies were firing in their direction constantly, and they were obliged to maintain an exposed position in order to cut off the Indians who endeavored to break through their lines. Not an Indian got through, though several were followed high up on the slope of the opposite Bad Lands, and killed with revolvers. The First Sergeant especially conducted himself with the utmost bravery and good judgment. He did everything any officer would have done under the circumstances, and in a most creditable manner.

"While the firing was going on, Sergeant Wise, with a couple of men, drove off, under fire, several small herds of ponies which were on the other side of the river, doing it quickly and with discretion.

"Corporal Etheridge distinguished himself in killing Indians, taking great risks by standing in front of the lodges and firing into the doors. I saw him three times drop Indians who had presented within a few feet of him, with the arrows drawn to an aim. He was a splendid shot and killed several.

"Sergeant Howell displayed good judgment in destroying the lodges and in caring for the wounded squaws and children.

"Sergeant O'Kelly was on guard that night, and is entitled to great credit for his energy and alertness, the camp being full of wounded, the sentinels firing at intervals all through the night, which was made hideous by the groans of the wounded, the howling of dogs, fire breaking out in the woods, and the stampeding of the pony herd in a tremendous windstorm."

[ In addition to Doane's military-style summary of the action, he was quoted on two other occasions. As the troops were nearing their home base at the beginning of February, a settler asked the lieutenant whether the Indians would now remain quiet. "[Well, I can't say], but there are certainly one hundred and seventy-three very good arguments in favor of their remaining quiet, lying out on the Marias!" And nineteen years later Doane, well aware of more famous massacres in that era, assessed the strike against the Piegans as "[The greatest slaughter] of Indians ever made by U.S. troops."]

Captain Lewis Thompson, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Ft. Ellis, MT

[ Thompson's statements were made for the same regimental history as Doane's, but the captain's testimony is questionable, in details and in general -- according to his company's muster roll, he seems to have been on detached service elsewhere when the strike against Heavy Runner's camp occurred. Nevertheless, his contribution is entitled "Personal Recollections of the Piegan Expedition of 1870."]

"[For several years] previous to 1870 the Piegan and Blood Indians had ravaged the sparse settlements in northern Montana and it was determined to punish them. Lt. General [Philip] Sheridan confided this duty to Bvt. Lt. Colonel E. M. Baker, 2nd Cavalry, who was placed in command at Fort Ellis and directed to organize an expedition. These Indians' usual winter camps were on the Marias River....

"The strengthened command broke camp on the 19th of January and ... went by night marches toward the Big Bend of the Marias where the camps of Bear Chief and Big Horn [hostiles] were known to be....

"The weather throughout the entire marching has been extremely cold. At Fort Shaw the thermometer marked its extreme capacity of 44 degrees below zero. There is no record of troops in campaign being exposed to more severe cold without suffering or death....

"On the night of the 22nd, Colonel Baker found reason to distrust the guides, and ordered them to the rear, depending upon himself for direction of the march, which was over trackless snow....

"The night ... was perfectly clear and the moon almost at the full. At daybreak they had reached the Marias and came suddenly upon an Indian lodge which was surrounded and the occupants captured. From them it was learned that the village was about 8 miles down the river. Soon a broad trail was found and the cavalry started with new vigor, sure that the enemy was close at hand.

"In a little while the smoke from the village was seen and the companies charged, some cutting off the herd of ponies, some crossing the river on the ice, and all completely surrounding the camp.

"As L Company [Thompson's command unit] charged, an Indian sentry fired and killed Pvt. McKay. This was the only casualty among the troops. The attack was too sudden and determined to admit of any united effort on the part of the Indians, a standard of confusion of the constant solid firing from the repeating carbines of the cavalry. Only a few escaped. The woods and streams were full of the dead, and in a few minutes Colonel Baker directed firing to cease. He was master of the field.

"Leaving Lt. Doane with F Company to destroy the camp, collect the horses, and ascertain the number of the dead and prisoners, the force moved down the Marias, hoping to surprise Mountain Chief's camp several miles below. They found the lodges abandoned by Mountain Chief, who had fled with his band. These lodges were all burned, and the troops rushed up the river....

"The result of the expedition was: of troops killed, 1 man; Piegans killed, 173; prisoners captured, 140; ponies captured, 315 -- and perfect quietness secured in that country from then until now. The prisoners were released and returned to the Blood tribe, to whom they were related. In counting the dead, a number of women and children were found, not an unusual event when towns are destroyed, yet sad enough. 'Things like that we know must be / After a famous victory....'

"The accidental killing of noncombatants during the onslaught was condemned as the deliberate, cruel murder of women and children. By any code which society ever instituted to protect its citizens and punish outlaws, these Indians are guilty of death, as if their crimes were forgotten in the face of their terrible punishment. Punishment, terrible as it was, was not more cruel than the peace role of this government under which the Indians have so long suffered.

"General Sheridan ... issued the following General Order: 'The Lieutenant General commanding the Military District takes pleasure in announcing to his command the complete success of a detachment of the 2nd Cavalry and the 13th Infantry under the command of Bvt. Colonel E. M. Baker ... against a band of Piegan Indians in Montana. These Indians, whose proximity to the British line has furnished them an easy and safe protection against attack, have hitherto murdered in solo with comparative impunity in defiance and contempt of the authority of the government. After having been repeatedly warned, they have at last received a carefully prepared and well-merited blow in the middle of winter with the thermometer below zero, and when experiences led them to believe they could not be reached, the blow fell. 173 Indians were killed, 300 horses were captured, and the village and property of the band totally destroyed. The Lieutenant General cannot commend too highly the spirited conduct of the troops and their Commander. The difficulties and hardships they experienced in the inclemency of the weather, and as one of the results of this severe but necessary and well-merited punishment of these Indians, he congratulates the citizens of Montana upon the prospects of peace and security.'"

Private John Ponsford, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Fort Ellis, MT

[Ponsford was 22 at the time of the massacre. His handwritten notes were written around 1910, forty years later, when he was a prosperous liquor-and-tobacco entrepreneur in Bozeman, MT. He died of kidney disease in 1912 and his long eulogy in a local newspaper omits mention of his participation in the Baker strike. His understanding was [that] the expedition was ordered "to hunt up the Piegans and 'strike them hard.'"]

"[Travelling from Fort Shaw] was done in the night, the soldiers laying off during the day, putting in the time keeping warm or sleeping, in any way they could without fires or tents & only their saddle blankets. The weather was considerable zero & the snow from 1 to 2 feet on the level. It was 20 below zero on leaving Fort Ellis, and continued until Fort Shaw was reached, and on the day before Christmas until the day after it was 40 below.

"The guides were Kipp and Clarke, men who had good reason to see the Indians punished. We arrived one morning before daylight at the Marias River & thought we had arrived at [Mountain Chief's] camp & orders were given to fight on foot & the dismounted troops rushed to the teepees -- to find that [Gray Wolf's camp] contained only a few small pox patients, who told that the main camp was ten miles below.

"We arrived at the main camp in about an hour & rushed between the camp and the horse herd & commenced action.

"The squaws and papooses were allowed to come into our lines, and we had quite a number, about three teepees packed full.

"After we had disposed of the Indians in this camp, 'Heavy Runner's' camp it was called, the command with the exception of F Company proceeded down the Marias River to try and capture or fight Mountain Chief's band, who were reported to be fifteen miles from Heavy Runner's camp. The Indians had hastily departed, leaving their teepees & nearly everything but their horses.

"So the next morning the command returned to Heavy Runner's old camp & joined F Troop. Heavy Runner's Indians had about 3,000 horses which we brought to Fort Shaw ... all but about 800 out of the 3,000 were claimed by white people as having been stolen from them. The 800 were sold at auction for an average of about eight dollars each.

"The Indians who made their escape, including Mountain Chief's band, never stopped until they got to the British possessions.

"About 185 bucks were killed. The camp had three half-breed traders in it with supplies of Canadian tobacco and whiskey -- they were killed.

"Where the fight took place, buffalo could be seen by the thousands on the plains towards Canada, but they stampeded north before the firing quit. The weather was 20 below zero on leaving Fort Ellis, and continued until Fort Shaw was reached, and on the day before Christmas until the day after, it was 40 below." The Piegans received such a lesson that since that time they have murdered no people in the U.S. & have stolen no horses...."

Corporal Dan Starr, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, Fort Ellis, MT

[Starr's story is relayed here as it was heard by Thomas B. Marquis, a western historical writer.]

"[Major Eugene M. Baker] ... took his cavalry to Fort Shaw.... A band of armed civilian volunteer avengers, or adventurers, annexed themselves to the expedition....

"Baker was known as a hard-hearted man. He was of middle age [33, actually] , was big, powerful, hardy, full-bearded, carried his strong body in erect, soldierly manner. He was a hard drinker, and he was tolerant of alcoholic excesses among his soldiers. In fact, his rough and common ways, his familiar mingling with all subordinates, did much toward bringing them into forgetfulness about some of the reprehensible traits of his character....

"Throughout the January storms of northern Montana the government's fighters travelled ... northeastward from Fort Shaw. The guide, Joseph Kipp, knew of a camp in the region, on the Marias River.

"In the early morning of January 23rd, the camp was discovered. Quietude was prevalent, the Indians were all asleep. It was known that some white men traders had been there a few days preceding, so it was conjectured there had been much Indian drunkenness, which now was being followed by the usual consequent dullness.

"Baker had made known the paramount feature of his military policy when he announced as a motto, ' Nits make lice. ' This was the customary way of indicating that children were not to be spared. With this general-extermination idea impressed upon the troops, the camp was quickly surrounded.... "

[Marquis comments: "Publications tell of five or six white men having been killed. Starr talked of only one, a certain 'Susie,' who had been a Fort Ellis soldier, but who was then along as a civilian. He was hit exactly in mid-forehead. A few other white men [i.e., civilians] were wounded." Corporal Starr also corroborated the following story which was told to Marquis by one of the "armed volunteers" accompanying the Baker expedition, Tom LeForge, nineteen in 1870, who claimed that he had the toe-ends of his left foot sheared off by a Piegan bullet. ]

" Eight warriors were taken prisoner . While accompanying the soldiers they made attempts at escape, as was natural. One night, after the re-capture of two of them who had tried to slip away, the Officer of the Guard lost his temper. He issued an order: ' Kill them -- every damned one of them!' The soldier guards began to get their guns ready. 'No, don't use your guns,' the officer intervened. ' Get axes and kill them one at a time. ' The eight prisoners were being kept in various tents, and were inveigled out, one at a time, and disposed of in accordance with the order given. The next morning the captives were reported as having been 'killed while trying to escape.' The report was not questioned. The true case was well understood, but nobody talked openly about it."

[Marquis adds: "Dan Starr told me the particulars of this bloody incident. He was one of the guard that night, so he was one of the axe-murderers. He never indicated to me that he felt any prickings of conscience on account of his action in the affair. In fact, all through that region in those times the killing of an Indian, under any circumstances and in any manner, was regarded as an act so commendable as to approach the status of a stern duty. It was learned later that the Indians whipped out were the band following Mountain Chief's, a group who were keeping themselves apart from the hostiles and who were recognized as friendly to the whites. The discovery of this ... brought upon the military forces a storm of condemnation.... The affair was fully established as an inexcusable massacre.... The blame was settled upon the guide ... a whiskey trader among the Indians."]

Tom LeForge

"[The first notable happening] ... was when a Piegan slashed his way out from a teepee and let loose an arrow that gashed my hand as it whizzed past.

"I found a young squaw hidden in the brush, nursing her baby. She jumped up, in great fear. She made signs ... saying, ' Wait until my baby gets its fill from my breast. Then you may kill me. But let the baby live, I give it to you. ' She held the infant out toward me. I ignored her, turned aside and went away. A little while later I again passed that thicket. There I saw the dead bodies of both the mother and child."

[Marquis: "Some weeks later it became apparent that a guide used his position to settle a grudge against [Heavy Runner's] band for the loss of some horses. He threatened reprisal and his opportunity came when he helped lead the soldiers to them, saying they were hostiles.]

Horace Clarke

[Clarke's testimony is especially startling. His father, the well-known white trader Malcolm Clarke, had been murdered by Piegan renegades, one of them related to his Piegan wife, Cutting-Off-Head-Woman, just five months earlier. Horace and his brother Nathan accompanied the Baker expedition, seeking vengeance. Horace was about fifteen at the time, and recovering from a near-fatal wound (on the night his father was killed, a bullet entered his right nostril and exited by his left ear). There are three sources for his recollections: a sworn deposition to the Indian Claims Commission in 1920; a lengthy interview with David Hilger of the Montana Historical Society in 1924; and articles and interview notes by Martha Plassmann in the 1920s and '30s. The affidavit first...]

"... [I, H. J. Clarke], was in the Baker fight and personally knew Heavy Runner, a good Indian and a friend of the white people. His camp was practically wiped out.... Those who were not killed were left homeless and penniless. Thirteen hundred head of horses and several thousand buffalo robes were taken from the people.

"It is an undeniable fact that Col. Baker was drunk and did not know what he was doing.

"The hostile camp was Mountain Chief's, and that was the camp we meant to strike, but owing to too much excitement and confusion and misinformation, the Heavy Runner camp were the sufferers and the victims of circumstances."

[[David Hilger's notes] of his interview with Horace Clarke are telegraphic in style; most of them are paraphrased in what follows, except for directly quoted passages.]

Horace told Mr. Hilger that the temperature on the day of the massacre was forty below zero. He had heard, a few days before the strike, that Piegans and Bloods had followed the buffalo south from Canada and were in their customary Marias River winter quarters. Toward the end of the Hilger interview, Horace mentioned that civilian camp followers tried to steal robes and furs from the Heavy Runner camp after the massacre, but soldiers recovered and burned the loot, including about a thousand robes.

[Horace to Mrs. Plassmann, partly paraphrased...]

"[Colonel Baker sent me] with Joe Kipp and Joe Cobell to reconnoiter while the troops were approaching the site of the camp where Mountain Chief had been located when Joe Kipp first saw the camp [a week or so earlier]. But Mountain Chief had been warned by Jerry Potts about the soldiers coming and moved downstream. "

"It was scarcely daylight, and John Middle Calf, in his excitement at seeing the soldiers, told us that Mountain Chief had moved about nine miles below on the river -- that was the wrong camp, and the poor fellow was near being killed by the soldiers later.

"The young men were on a hunt. Heavy Runner came forward to meet us, holding up his medals and his papers.... He was shot.

"I was present at this fight. I wanted my father's murderers. I did what I could to save life, but one could do little with soldiers after they had tasted blood.

"Heavy Runner was a wealthy and good man. He was also a friend of the whites."

[[Mrs. Plassmann was appalled], especially by the alleged drunkenness of officers and men during the strike, perhaps because she had witnessed Major Baker on a spree at the Overland Hotel in Fort Benton a few years after the massacre. After interviewing Horace, she did some checking with others and had the following to say]:

"The soldiers' officers were in no condition to issue orders.... The cold might have had something to do with it, but the whole affair is a hideous blot on our army record.... The thermometer ranged near forty below, almost unendurable, but one of the company told me that officers and men 'tried to keep their spirits up by taking spirits down' and, at the end of the journey they scarcely knew what they were doing. Horace told me that Joe Kipp tried his best to convince Baker of his, Kipp's mistake, but that 'officer and gentleman' had been too long in conference with John Barleycorn to heed the warning.... On good authority, both officers and men are reported to have been considerably the worse for liquor.... They had marched a weary distance to kill Indians, and now they meant to do it.... So they charged into the village, shooting left and right, and cutting down any within reach ... slaughtering by wholesale men, women, and little children ... a thorough job of it.... It was a preventable tragedy ... directly due to a scout's error and the condition of Major Baker.... Officers and men had 'a wee drap' too much, and unfitted themselves to act intelligently."

[Another Montana investigator, Wayne Aldrich, wrote a widely disseminated newspaper article in 1923 for the Montana Newspaper Association which supports Mrs. Plassman's accusations.]

"Major Baker, it was said, was too drunk to even direct the movements of his troops.... The commanding officer was not in a condition even to decide to go after Mountain Chief's group."
[[Baker's service record] lists several sick leaves after the Civil War, mostly because of his alcoholism. Two years after the Marias Massacre, he was too drunk to command and his troops were almost wiped out at Pryor's Creek, Montana, when attacked by several hundred Sioux. He was court-martialed the following year (1873) for arresting one of his own officers while he, Baker, was drunk; he was sentenced to dishonorable discharge, but General Sherman changed the sentence to six months at half-pay. In 1875, a Mrs. Mary Barr formally charged Baker with conspiring in her daughter's "fake marriage to a worthless soldier." The Army delayed action so long that she decided to ask for the return of her deposition in order to commence a civil suit. (There is no mention of the Marias Massacre in Baker's official record.)]

Alf Hamilton, Indian Trader

"[In the winter of 1869-70] John J. Healy and myself built a trading post on St. Mary's River a short distance from where it empties into the Belly River, in Alberta, Canada [the infamous Fort Whoop-Up].

"During that winter, I think it was the latter part of March, 1870, a party of Piegan Indians, numbering about one hundred, came to our place to trade buffalo robes. This was after the Baker Massacre on the Marias River in Montana.

"I learned from our interpreter, Joseph Spearson, that some of these Indians had escaped from the soldiers on the Marias. I saw one Indian, called Wolf Leader, who was unable to talk because he had been shot through the jaw. Our interpreter told me that this Indian was shot by the soldiers during the massacre.

"These Indians told me, through our interpreter, about the massacre, and how their chief, Heavy Runner, and some of his family, had been killed by the soldiers ... upwards of three hundred Indians, young and old, killed by the soldiers at that time.

"... The soldiers took all of Heavy Runner's horses, and also all of the horses of Indians that had been in that camp. I knew that Heavy Runner had several hundred head previous to that time.... An Indian would not be considered a chief then unless he had several hundred horses, and ... Heavy Runner was one of the head chiefs of the Piegan Indians."

Joe Kipp

[At the time of the massacre, Kipp was a $75-a-month scout-interpreter for the U.S. Army at Fort Shaw, MT. A week or so before the attack, he had located the Marias River camp of the designated target, Mountain Chief. Kipp was half-Mandan Indian, the son of the white trader James Kipp. It was his understanding that Heavy Runner had been enlisted to help the Army capture of Peter Owl Child and others in Mountain Chief's camp. Later, Kipp married one of Heavy Runner's daughters, Martha, and adopted her children, who had been left fatherless by the soldiers. He had a colorful career in Canada and Montana, being known as "The Merchant Prince of the High Missouri." He testified under oath to the Indian Claims Commission in February, 1913, forty-three years after the massacre.]

"...[Heavy Runner] ... had a camp something like six or seven miles from the camp of Pete Owl Child.

"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.... At the time Heavy Runner was shot and killed, I was distant from him probably fifty or sixty yards. [The killing range of the Army's "buffalo guns" -- .50-70 caliber Springfields mostly -- was well above 500 yards.]

"I myself counted two hundred and seventeen dead bodies after the firing.... Some of the soldiers came to Heavy Runner's body and went through his pockets, taking letters of recommendation, etcetera. At that time the manner of burial among the Indians was to place the dead bodies in trees. The soldiers, however, on reading the papers taken from the dead body of Chief Heavy Runner, dug a grave and he was buried in the ground.

"The able-bodied Indians at that time were out hunting, and those who were killed were the Chief and such Indians as could not hunt, being the old men, women and children. The Indians did not return the fire of the soldiers. Only one shot was fired by any of the Indians....

"That shot was fired after the general firing had ceased, when one of the soldiers [Pvt. Walton McKay, F Company, a 24-year-old Canadian, killed in the action.] rode through the camp and shot everything and every person that was alive if he saw they had been injured. This soldier opened the flap of one of the tents and after shooting inside started to ride away. An Indian inside the tent drew his gun on this soldier and shot him in the back of the head or neck and knocked him from his horse. This was the only shot fired by any of the Indians.

"The soldiers then rounded up something like five thousand head of horses belonging to the Indians, among which were some four or five hundred belonging to Chief Heavy Runner, and drove these horses off.

"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."

Piegan Survivors

[Sworn affidavits presented to the Indian Claims Commission, mostly in 1913-1915.]

Mrs. Frank Monroe

"[My father's family] was among the first to pitch camp with on the Marias River. We came down on the north side of the river to Heavy Runner's camp. Before we had camp pitched, most of the party went out after buffalo, and after the camp was pitched another part started out on the hunt.

"The next morning a party of soldiers came. When they came in sight, some one called out in the camp for Chief Heavy Runner to take his papers and medal and go out and meet the soldiers.

"When Heavy Runner went out to meet the soldiers there was great excitement in the camp. Then there was much firing by the soldiers, and I heard someone call out that Heavy Runner had been shot and killed as he was crossing the river to meet the soldiers.

"Then the soldiers began firing into the camp. After the firing was over, the soldiers went through the camp and picked out what robes and blankets they wanted for themselves, and the rest was all got together and burned. Also, all of the lodges and some of the wounded people were burned up. [[One company muster roll] notes that there were forty wounded Indians.]

"My mother was wounded in the hand by a bullet. She, with a few others including myself, sneaked away after the firing was over and made our way to a camp further up the river. As we were going away, we saw the soldiers rounding up the horses belonging to the camp."

Buffalo Trail Woman

[She was 22 at the time of the attack. The notary's third-person wording has been changed to first-person statements.]

"[I was present] at the Baker Massacre. The firing lasted for quite a spell. Some of those in the lodge where I was were killed. My husband, Good Stab, also known as Yellow Owl, realized what was taking place and prepared for war. He went to his mother's lodge, some distance away, and was shot and killed there.

"I myself was wounded on the back and on my left ear. The scars are to this day plainly shown. And I saw how others in our lodge were shot, including an old man who dug a trench near the fire pit, a kind of fort. Our lodge was pitched a considerable distance from the others. Later, the soldiers marched to our lodge and fired upon it. The old man got into his trench and covered himself with buffalo skin trimmings.

"Later I saw the soldiers gather all of the belongings of the camp and set them on fire. But before this was done, the scout or interpreter for the soldiers came to where I, and other wounded were. He told us to get our things and they would move us to two lodges that were spared from fire or capture -- for hospital purposes, because the rest of the camp furnishings were going to be burned.

"The soldiers surrounded the lodge where I had been and fired upon it, killing everyone except those who escaped by chance. But the soldiers did care for some wounded ones by sheltering them in the two lodges and giving them some food -- but these were mostly women and children. I also noticed that the soldiers gathered all the horses and drove them away.

"After the soldiers had left, a Gros Ventre [Indian] woman who was married with the Blackfeet came to where I was looking for my daughter, whom I thought had escaped. I answered the Gros Ventre woman and she came into the lodge where I was. Then she and I made a tour, searching for my little girl and her husband. She found him mortally wounded in his mother's lodge. As she was peeping into the lodge, talking to her husband, he asked her for a drink of water, but a soldier came along and pushed her to one side. He saw the husband was still alive, opened fire upon him, and shot him dead.

"Later, the interpreter told me to escape, and said that I had no business to be out among the men.

[Nothing in official reports or journalistic accounts mentions sexual abuse of Piegan women at the Marias Massacre, but Fred M. Hans sounds a disturbing note in his historical account called The Great Sioux Nation: "[On the 5th day of May, 1864], Major Downing of the first Colorado cavalry, with his force moved against a band of about one hundred of the Cheyenne tribe of Sioux.... [Downing said] 'About daylight I succeeded in surprising the Cheyenne village at Cedar Bluffs, in a small valley, sixty miles north of South Platte River. We commenced shooting. I ordered the men to commence killing them. They lost twenty-six killed and thirty wounded. My own loss was one killed and one wounded. I burnt up their lodges and everything I could get hold of. The women and one hundred ponies, captured, were distributed among the boys for the reason they had been marching almost constantly day and night for nearly three weeks.' This was done, the officer said, 'because it was usual.'"]
I did escape, and after I had gotten to safety I observed a great deal of smoke going up ... which proved to be the burning of the exterminated camp.... The soldiers left the camp, taking all of the horses away with them.

"What I have said is, to the best of my recollection, what happened."

Good Bear Woman (Mrs. No Chief)

[She was about 29 when the attack occurred. She declared herself to be a survivor of the massacre and said that she had "a personal knowledge of the occasion." Wording has been changed from third- to first-person.]

"[In the morning], about sunrise, forty-six years ago, I saw the soldiers come over the hill. As they reached the shore of the Marias River, they split into two ... one went to the right, while the other went to the left, surrounding the camp....

"I noticed Chief Heavy Runner, the leader of the camp, come out of his lodge and go to meet the commanding officer. He handed him some papers, which the commanding officer read, then he tore them up and threw them away. As Heavy Runner turned about face, soldiers fired upon him and killed him.

"After the chief was killed, all of the Indians who had turned out to see what was going to take place, saw the shooting and they went into their lodges.... I heard a bugle, and the shooting immediately followed -- shooting the camp from all directions.

"After the first volley of shots, the shooting ceased for a while. The soldiers marched to the opposite side of the Marias, apparently after more ammunition. [A standard Army ammunition belt held some 35 rounds. About 200 soldiers were firing (every fifth man a horse-holder), so each "volley" might have consisted of some 7,000 rounds, fired from about 100 yards' distance from the lodges.]

"After the fourth volley, I and three others managed to escape through the brush and across the river on the ice. At night, I and others managed to reach other camps further up on the Marias, which the soldiers hadn't molested. After we made our escape good, we went to a high point from where we observed the soldiers tearing the lodges down and setting them on fire. Then the soldiers gathered all the horses and left the scene with them."

[Efforts of Heavy Runner's heirs, especially Dick Kipp, William Upham, and Mrs. Emma Miller, to obtain government compensation for the chief's 500 confiscated horses were supported in the early 1900s by Montana's superintendent of Indians, Arthur McFatridge. He wrote a series of letters, accompanied by affidavits, to the Commisioner of Indian Affairs, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Secretary of War, in Washington, D.C. Senator Henry Ashurst and others attempted to get a Senate bill passed, for $75,000 (about $150 per lost horse), but it failed repeatedly. At the Cabinet level, Secretaries of War Henry Breckinridge and Franklin K. Lane said that "it would be practically impossible to produce dependable evidence at this time to outweigh the reports of the military authorities" about the confiscation of horses or, as Breckinridge put it, to the "alleged death" of Chief Heavy Runner. This despite the findings by Arthur McFatridge that "a very sad mistake had been made by the soldiers," and that compensation was merited.]

Black Bear Woman

[She was a sister of the hostile Mountain Chief and not in the Heavy Runner camp when it was attacked. She later became Mary Cobell, the wife of an Italian who was hired as a scout by the Baker expedition. Her description of what happened on Jan. 23, 1870, has been passed down the generations in her family.]

"[Heavy Runner's band] had a winter camp at a place called Bear Paw Coulee, beside the Bear [Marias] River. Most of the warriors left camp on a hunt. They didn't worry about defending the place because Heavy Runner had a paper from the government saying that the band was friendly and at peace with the whites.

"The soldiers came early in the morning and surrounded the camp. When Heavy Runner went toward them with his peace paper, he was shot and killed before he got to them. Then all the soldiers began firing down at the lodges from the ridges above the camp.

"They shot everybody -- women and babies, old men and boys. A few got away, but some of them died from their wounds and others froze to death because they left everything behind them to escape with their lives. An awful lot of Piegans were killed. Only one soldier died, and it was his own fault -- he was poking around the camp, and a dying Indian shot him from inside a teepee.

"The colonel [Baker] knew it was a friendly camp, because the soldiers had captured a young boy [Bear Head] who had been out at the horse herd. One of the Army's scouts, Joe Kipp, could speak Blackfoot, and he found out from the boy that the troops were surrounding Heavy Runner's friendly camp. Joe Kipp told the colonel, but that didn't make any difference -- the colonel said he wanted to make sure.

"When Joe Cobell [Black Bear Woman's late husband] saw Heavy Runner carrying his peace paper, he shot the chief. That got the rest of the soldiers to start shooting too. Later, Joe Cobell boasted to his daughter's husband, Joe Connelly, that he shot Heavy Runner because the chief had taken some Cobell horses and wouldn't give them back -- and the Army wouldn't help because they didn't want to get in bad with friendly Piegans. This was Joe's way of getting even -- and getting hold of more horses than he had lost [he reported losing six] . When I tried to get some of the horses back from the Army, Joe got mad at me.

"Joe told Butch Henkel [another son-in-law] about it. 'Over 200 in the camp were killed, many women and kids and old people, because most of the warriors were away. It sure taught them a good lesson -- and I got their horses!' This caused a lot of bad feelings. Butch didn't like Joe much after that. And everybody knew that most of the horses were Heavy Runner's. Most of the animals had no Army or whiteman brands, and I recognized many of the camp's buffalo-runners.

"I heard later that the colonel was supposed to be punished for doing all that killing. But then I also heard that he had been sent to Washington to be a big shot. Maybe that was his punishment."

[[In 1931] the Montana writer Marguerite Marmont interviewed Joe Connelly, married to Joe Cobell's daughter Angeline, and Connelly confirmed what Black Bear Woman had said about Joe Cobell's role in the death of Heavy Runner. Connelly said: "When the soldiers came in sight of the camp, an old Indian came out waving a little piece of paper to show that he was friendly. Cobell said that he knew that if that Indian got to Baker, there would be no fighting. He fired, and the Indian settled down upon the ground. Then the firing began. The camp ... was charged. Cobell was a wily old fellow, a sure shot. His wife and family belonged to Mountain Chief's family. I always thought he was trying to save Mountain Chief."]

Spear Woman

[She was a daughter of Heavy Runner who married a white man, Hiram Upham, after surviving the massacre. She told her story to her daughter, Mrs. George Croff, who died in 1929 in Great Falls, MT, and it was published by an anonymous (and rather florid) writer for the Billings, MT, Gazette in 1932.]

"[Just at dawn] we were aroused by barking dogs. Then someone came with word for my father, Heavy Runner, that the soldiers were coming. All was excitement and fright in the camp. But Heavy Runner told everyone to be quiet, that there was nothing to fear. He said he would show the whites his 'name paper.'

"He walked quietly toward the soldiers with his hands uplifted. In one of them was the paper which he had been told was a pledge of safety, held where it could be seen. A shot pierced his heart and he fell, clutching the paper to his breast.

"The soldiers then began firing at everyone. Everywhere was confusion, everyone looked for cover. All the warriors and able-bodied men had left some days before on a hunt; only some old and sick men were there.,

"I rushed into another tent where there were some sick and dying people. I hid under a back rest on one of the beds. While there, I saw a knife cut a hole in the teepee and then a soldier thrust himself through the opening. He fired at every moving body. When he figured no one was alive, he left. I was small and quiet, so he didn't notice me.

"I stayed behind the back rest for quite a while. I could hear lots of shooting, and there were screams and crying all around. Finally the noise died down a bit, and the shooting stopped, although the smell of powder was everywhere. At last I peeked out, and the soldiers had gone.

"I found an old uncle of mine, and the two of us then found my mother with three more of her children -- they had somehow managed to escape. Mother decided to try to make it on foot to Fort Benton [about 90 miles southeast] , even though we didn't have a horse, practically nothing to eat, and it was very cold. She had to do something. To stay in that camp was to die. So we started off, following a horse trail in deep snow. We were lucky enough to find some soldiers' rations which they had thrown away close to camp, and these kept most of us alive.

"It took several days of painful walking before we got to the outskirts of Fort Benton. Before we got there, we were scared by some noise up ahead. Mother was brave enough to leave us and creep toward the sounds. By the time she got back, the baby we were minding had died.

"When we got to a hill overlooking Benton, mother was too exhausted and scared to go on, so we found a bit of shelter and holed up, hoping to spot some passing Indians who might look after us. We were lucky -- some Piegans came by before long and took us with them.

"We were told that Baker was so drunk during the attack on our camp that he didn't know what was going on, and made no effort to be in command of his seizers. When he found out that Mountain Chief's camp was downstream, he went there but did nothing until the next morning, and by then it was too late."

Bear Head

[There are two accounts by Bear Head, one a deposition to the Indian Claims Commission in 1915, and the second a narrative included in J. W. Schultz's popular history entitled Blackfeet and Buffalo (1935). The affidavit, which comes first, has been changed from third- to first-person narrative.]

"[I was present at the so-called] Baker Massacre and was a member of the camp which was attacked at that time. Our camp was on the Marias River; Heavy Runner was the chief of this camp.

"Most all of the able-bodied men were out on the hunt, leaving only the women and old people in the camp.

"Myself and about ten other boys were sent out to round up the camp horses in the morning. After we had got the horses all rounded up, we cut the bunch in two, the better to handle them.... When we got them in sight of the camp from the top of a ridge, we saw many riders and wagons approaching at quite a little distance. There was a coulee between them and us, and, as they came nearer, we made out that they were soldiers.

"A part of them left the main body and came toward us.... All of the boys became frightened, and all of them except myself made off.... I alone stayed with the horses. When the soldiers came up to me, one of them pointed his gun at me and made as if to shoot but, evidently seeing that I was a boy, did not. I called out 'How' to him, to which he responded 'How,' and kept on going -- but the next soldier caught my horse by the rein and led it along with me still on the horse's back. The other soldiers scattered out and surrounded both of the herds, and kept them moving in the direction of the camp.

"By this time we could see the main body of the soldiers approaching the camp and getting off their horses, which some of them held while the rest scattered into line.

"We could plainly hear the sound of their guns and see the smoke as they began firing into the camp.

"When the party who had me with them came up to the ones who were firing into the camp, I tried to get off my horse and go into the camp, but they held me back and made signs to me to stay where I was or they would kill me.

"One man said, in Blackfoot, 'Is this Mountain Chief's camp?' I told him, 'No, his camp is further down. This is Heavy Runner's camp.' He replied, 'That is strange -- we have two Indians with us who told us that this is Mountain Chief's camp.' So I said, 'Let's go over to them.' We went, and they were two Blood Indians with their wives, being guarded by a soldier. One of the Bloods said to me, 'How did you escape being killed?' 'I was with the horses,' I replied, 'and the soldiers brought me here with them.' I knew that these two Blood Indians had misdirected the soldiers to Heavy Runner's camp instead of Mountain Chief's. I heard one of them say to the other, 'I told you that if we took them to Mountain Chief's camp they would turn us loose, but you said if we took them to the first camp we knew of, that we would be allowed to go the sooner.' One of the Blood women spoke up and said, 'We were to take them to Mountain Chief's camp, and they told us that when they got through that they would give us what horses and other stuff there was left, as our pay.'

"After the soldiers made their camp, the one who was guarding me gave me a cup to go to the river for water. As I went to where there was a hole cut in the ice, I saw the body of Black Eagle lying on the ice, and just above him lay the body of Chief Heavy Runner.

"The soldier gave me some food and made signs that I was to go away with them. Later, the soldiers had eaten their evening meal and were lounging around their fires and talking. At the fire next to the one where I was, the four Blood Indians were talking among themselves. As they were a little distance from me and my back was to them, I could only hear snatches of their conversation, but one I heard say, 'They are shackling us, and we will have to take them to Mountain Chief's camp after all.' I didn't pay much attention, but soon I heard a sound, as if someone was cutting up meat with an axe, and I heard a grunt. I looked around and could see by the firelight one of the Bloods lying on the ground with his head split open as with an axe, and the other Blood was running away as fast as he could run. The soldier who was guarding me made signs to me to run away, which I did as fast as I could.

"I went to our lodge, which was also Heavy Runner's. It had not been burned. This was where the soldiers had taken wounded Indians. All of the lodges except this one and the other had been burned, and all of the robes and stores of the camp, and everything else which belonged to the camp, had been burned.

"The soldiers camped there for a couple of days and when they moved away they took with them all of the horses which, as I said before, was a great herd and to my belief would have reached from here [the notary's office in Browning, MT] to the depot, about one and seven-eighths miles...."

[In 1935, Bear Head gave a second account, this one to the writer J. W. Schultz . By this time, sixty-five years had elapsed since the massacre -- and "Lard Oil Jim" Schultz's flourishes are noticeable.]

"As the winter of 1869-'70 wore on, the buffalo herds drifted farther and farther away from the mountains, and we had to follow them or starve. We moved down to the mouth of the Two Medicine River; then in middle-winter-moon [January] we moved down on Bear [Marias] River and camped in a bottom that Mountain Chief's band had just left, they going a little way farther down the river....

"The buffalo herds remained so far from the river that we had to go for a two or three days' hunt in order to get meat for our helpless ones.... I told my mother that we would join the next party of hunters to go out. We still had dried meat to last us for some days.

"In the morning I found my horses in the timber well above camp.... Suddenly I ran into a multitude of white men: seizers. I was so astonished, frightened, that I could not move. One of the seizers came and grasped my arm, spoke to me, tapped his lips with his fingers. I was not to speak or shout. He was a chief, this seizer, had strips of yellow metal on his shoulders, had a big knife, a five-shots pistol. He made me advance with him; all the seizers were advancing. We came to the edge of the camp; close before us were the lodges. Off to our right were many more seizers looking down upon them. It was a cold day. The people were all in their lodges, many still in their beds. None knew that the seizers had come.

"A seizer chief up on the bank shouted something, and at once all of the seizers began shooting into the lodges. Chief Heavy Runner ran from his lodge toward 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....

"The seizers all advanced upon the lodges, my seizer still firmly holding my arm. They shot at the tops of the lodges, cut the bindings of the poles so the whole lodge would collapse upon the fire and begin to burn -- burn and smother those within. I saw my own lodge go down and burn. Within it were my mother, my almost-mothers [aunts] , my almost-sisters [cousins] . Oh, how pitiful their screamings as they died....

"At last my seizer released my arm and went about with his men, looking at the smoking piles, talking, pointing, laughing -- all of them. Finally, the seizers rounded up all of our horses, drove them to the valley a little way, and made camp. I sat before the ruin of my lodge and felt sick. I wished that the seizers had killed me, too. In the center of the fallen lodge, where the poles had fallen upon the fire, it had burned a little, then died out. I could not pull up the lodge-skin and look under it. I could not bear to see them lying there, shot or smothered to death.

"From the timber, from the brush round about, a few old men, a few women and children, came stealing out and joined me.... I said, 'One seizer was killed. I saw him fall.' Old Three Bears said, 'We had warning of this -- that white trader told us the whites were going to revenge the killing of Four Bears [Malcolm Clarke] by Owl Child....'

"That night the white seizers did not closely watch the hundreds of horses they had taken from us. We managed to get back about half of the great herd....

"Then the white killers had gone, turned back whence they came. As best we could, we buried our dead -- a terrible grieving task it was -- and counted them: fifteen men, ninety women, fifty children. Forty-four lodges and lodge furnishings destroyed, and hundreds of our horses stolen. Haiya! Haiya!"

James Welch, Blackfoot Writer

[The following excerpts, from Jim Welch's award-winning novel entitled Fools Crow , are based on accounts of the massacre in which his family lost ancestors, and told to Mr. Welch as he grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. The following scenes are from Chapter 35 of the novel.]

"[The seizers sneaked] up on us [White Crane Woman's companion] while we were still asleep. There was only a little light, just enough to see by, and they shot us in our lodges. Pretty soon, our people were running in all directions and still they shot us. Many of us are killed. We managed to slip away, down to the river, and run away below the cutbank. But one of the greased shooters [bullets] found White Crane Woman's leg.... The shooters were still buzzing until finally we were beyond hearing.... They killed Heavy Runner in our camp on the Big Bend below Medicine Rock."

"First there was the smoke, only slightly darker than the gray air. It rose from behind a bluff where the river curved to the south. The sun was behind it, and it looked orange and sharp-edged.... It had a smell not of smoke but of burnt things, and the smell was heavy in the air.... Soon, around the bluff, we saw the remains of the camp. There were no fires visible but the smoke was darker and thicker. It rose from many places until it became a cloud above the south bank of the river.... I [Fools Crow, the protagonist] began to pick out the blackened lumps that emitted the smoke. Between the lumps, the snow was still white. Then a small wind blew the smoke toward me and the snow became yellow and dirty and the smell hit my nostrils, the smell of burnt skin. I could almost taste it.... The black lumps were lodges that had been burned. A dog lay in the snow a few paces away. Most of his hair had been burned off and his tongue was black against the white teeth.... Something else was lying in a patch of blackened, melted snow ... an infant, and its head was black and hairless. Specks of black ash lay in its wide eyes.... I began to pick out the other bodies. Most of them had been thrown onto the burning lodges but they were not all black like the infant. There were scraps of clothing that hadn't burned. There was skin and hair and eyes. There were teeth and bones and arms and legs. One old woman lay on top on one of the smoking lumps, only the underside of her skin dress burned. Her feet were bare ... purple welts on her legs where she had slashed herself a long time ago in mourning a lost one."

"I [Bear Head] left camp before first light to get my horses ... to do some hunting this day, and I needed pack animals.... I saw some movement on a low ridge. It was still dark down here but there was a faint light in the sky behind the ridge. At first I thought it was a pack of little-wolves [coyotes] up there, thinking to look for scraps around the camp. But then one of the shapes stood and I knew it for a man. I became frightened and began to run toward camp, leaving my horses where they stood. But just before entering that stand of spear-leaves [cottonwoods] , I saw the dark shapes before me. There was a man behind each tree. Then all at once came the thunder and fire of the big guns. I froze against a tree. All I could do was listen and pray that the thunder would end, but it went on and on until it was light enough to see the cloud of blue smoke from the guns. It hung in the trees and drifted toward me. I could taste it in my mouth.... I could see hundreds of fire flashes through the smoke.... I began to run around the seizers in the trees. They were so intent on their work that they did not look around. Finally I was on the lower side, near the river, and I saw my people.... Besides my mother, I had three near-mothers and four sisters and a brother. Now they are all gone from me. I do not know where they have gone -- they did not have time to prepare themselves....

"Curlew Woman says Heavy Runner was among the first to fall. He had a piece of paper that was signed by a seizer chief. It said that he and his people were friends to the Napikwans [whites] . But they shot him many times. By the time I could see the camp, there were only a few running, trying to escape. They were all cut down by the greased shooters. There were several lodges already on fire. Some of the seizers were aiming at the lodge bindings. Many of the lodge covers fell into the fires within and started burning. Then there was no more movement and I heard a seizer chief shout and the shooting stopped. By that time there was too much smoke in the air, dark smoke from the burning lodges, blue smoke from the shooting. The seizers waited awhile, then they came down from the ridge and out of the trees.... They walked among the lodges, at first quietly; then they became bolder and began to laugh and talk. Whenever they saw a movement from under one of the lodge covers they shot until it moved no more. They rounded up the bodies and threw them onto the fires. Those lodges that stood untouched by fire were ragged with bullet holes. The seizers cut the bindings and set these lodges on fire. They took what they valued and threw all the rest onto the fires. They drove off all our horses...."

[These accounts are by-products of research for a work-in-progress about the Marias Massacre of 1870, tentatively entitled "Missing Parts : Notes on a Massacre," by Stan Gibson of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, and Jack Hayne of Dupuyer, Montana.]


"I have the honor...": National Archives, House Exec. Doc. 269, pp. 16-17.
"After having made every effort...": Ibid., p. 73.
"On the 23rd of January...": Rodenbaugh. From Everglade to Canyon... (N.Y.: Van Nostrand, 1875), p. 552.
"I prefer to believe...": National Archives, House Exec. Doc. 269, p. 72.
"Well, I can't say...": Deer Lodge, MT, New North-West, Feb. 25, 1870.
"The greatest slaughter...": Bonney. Battle Drums & Geysers... (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1970), p. 22.
"For several years...": Rodenbaugh, op. cit., Chapter 39.
"Travelling from Fort Shaw...": Helena, MT. Montana Historical Society Archives: Manuscript Collection.
"Major Eugene M. Baker...": Marquis. Custer, Cavalry, & Crows... (Bellvue, Neb.: Old Army Press, 1975), pp. 31-34.
"The first notable happening...": Marquis. Ibid.
"I, H. J. Clarke...": MHS Archives.
"David Hilger's notes...": Ibid.
"Colonel Baker sent me...": Plassmann interview notes, courtesy of G. L. Pouliot private collection.
"Mrs. Plassmann was appalled...": MHS Archives, MC 78, Boxes 2, 4, 5,6.
"Baker's service record...": Nat. Archives. 376 ACP 1886; Bonney. op. cit, pp. 39-41.
"In the winter of 1869-70...": MHS Archives: Indian Claims Commission documents.
"...Heavy Runner...": Ibid.
"My father's family...": Ibid.
"One company muster roll...": Nat. Archives: Rec. Grp. 94, A.G.O., 2nd Cav. Muster Rolls, Co. H (Dec. 1869-Feb. 1870).
"I was present...": MHS Archives: Indian Claims Commission documents.
"In the morning...": Ibid.
"On the 5th day of May, 1864...": Hans. The Great Sioux Nation (Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, Inc.,1907), p. 491.
"Heavy Runner's band...": Courtesy of H. Welch private family history (Gardnerville, Nev.).
"In 1931...": Marmont interview notes, courtesy of G. L. Pouliot private collection.
"Just at dawn...": Billings, MT, Gazette, Apr. 3, 1932.
"I was present at the so-called...": MHS Archives: Ind. Claims Comm.; Schultz. Blackfeet & Buffalo, (Norman, OK: U. of Ok. Press, 1962), pp. 298-305.
"The seizers sneaked...": James T. Welch. Fools Crow (N.Y.: Viking Penguin, 1986), pp. 376-386 (excerpts).

An Uncelebrated Anniversary

Washita - Chapter One

Washita - Chapter Two

Washita - Chapter Two

Washita - Chapter Three

Washita - Conclusion

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