(MTN News-HELENA) The history of Montana and the nation is riddled with bloody clashes between Native Americans and European American settlers. Some get overshadowed by better known battles, such as Little Big Horn, while others are rarely noticed. MTN’s Mikenzie Frost opened the history books and learned more about a bloody massacre on the Marias River.
“One of the darkest days in Montana Territorial history, and really for the history of the west,” Montana Historical Society Tom Cook said.
Tom Cook is not describing the battle of Little Big Horn that took place in Montana roughly 60 years prior, rather the Baker massacre.
Cook added, “I think that it’s a story that needs to be told for Montana but really for all of the country.”
In 1870, the Piegan village Indians living along the Marias river, suffering from small pox, were surprised and killed by Major Eugene Baker and his troops. The official report say 173 people were killed in this massacre.
“The Native Americans who were there said it was probably maybe even double that amount to count the wounded,” said Cook.
Major Baker was ordered to kill a village of Natives known as the Renegade Indians under the leadership of Mountain Chief who killed settlers and stole more than 300 horses. So, Baker took the second US Cavalry looking for them and found the Piegan Village instead.
Cook commented, “His scouts, Native American Scouts, both them him that you’re on the wrong trail, this isn’t Mountain Chief.” Despite the warning. Major Baker struck anyway.
“Baker, who was said to be a drunk at the time, he had that reputation. His men tried to tell him this wasn’t the right place but his last words to the troop on the way was ‘STRIKE EM HARD,'” said Cook.
A new book, Blood on the Marias: The Baker Massacre, written by Paul Wylie, tells the story of the Piegan Indian village from early trading history through the massacre and beyond.
“It takes the aftermath as well, it’s the complete story,” said Cook.
Paule Wylie will be at the Montana Historical Society Thursday, February 25 from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. for a books signing. People can also purchase the book before it goes on sale to the general public on Friday.
Reporter: Mikenzie Frost