Scott Parker: Book exposes massacre of Blackfeet village in 1870

A historic marker describes the Baker Massacre of January 23, 1870. Photo by Jimmy Emerson via Flickr

Columnist Scott Parker offers a review of Blood on the Marias: The Baker Massacre, a new book by historian Paul R. Wylie that looks into the massacre of a Piegan village in Montana on January 23, 1870:
With “Blood on the Marias,” Bozeman historian Paul R. Wylie has written the first book devoted to the Baker Massacre. In his preface he writes, “Over my now lengthening years, my own eyes have witnessed some terrible things. These have been sad personal events, but nothing makes me sadder than to think about the killings of the innocent Indian people that January 23 on the Marias River in 1870.”

Once the book proper begins, these sympathies are supplanted from the prose by facts and citations. But that little taste in the preface is enough to infuse the rest of the book with the author’s presence, allowing the restrained and sober scholarship to achieve greater poignancy.

But Wylie’s greatest contribution here is his digging into the root causes of the massacre, starting from Lewis and Clark’s first encounter with the Piegans and tracing the political buildup to Baker’s march from Fort Ellis, and not settling for a simplistic bad-actor interpretation. Baker’s drunkenness during the attack (and much of his life besides) was a factor, so were Sheridan’s aggression and General Sherman’s war policies, and so were the private agendas of some of the key players – but it takes all of these plus the larger context and history to understand the event in question.

Get the Story:
Scott Parker: ‘Greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. Troops’ (The Bozeman Daily Chronicle 3/25)

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