Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

On January 23, 1870, soldiers commanded by Colonel Eugene Baker killed 173 Blackfeet Indians in a surprise attack on Heavy Runner’s camp on the Marias River.  The strike was in retaliation for the killing of Malcolm Clarke at his ranch, near Helena, in 1869.  A man of peace, Heavy Runner had no quarrel with the US Army.  His people did not participate in Clarke’s killing nor were tey hiding the perpetrators of the crime.  Waving his good conduct papers and medals, Heavy Runner was the first casualty of the Baker Massacre that cold January morning.  With most of the men away hunting in the Sweet Grass Hills, the soldiers fired into the lodges where women, children, and elderly slept.  The soldiers took more than 100 prisoners, but once they  realized many were infected by small pox, released them with no food, clothing or shelter in subzero weather.  Many refugees froze or starved to death seeking shelter in nearby camps or at FortBenton.  Ironically, the soldiers were in pursuit of a hostile band led by Mountain Chief, who was camped several miles downstream at the time of the attack.  The Baker Massacre  profoundly impacted the Blackfeet people and is very much alive in tribal memory. 

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