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Fear not. I’m not writing here about Custer’s Last Stand. For one thing, this isn’t the June issue. For another, that Montana Territory clash is far from forgotten, thanks to Elizabeth Custer; George Custer’s friends and enemies; Crows on the nearby reservation; Lakotas and Cheyennes everywhere; a few Arapahos; illustrators, artists, book publishers, filmmakers, television producers and cartoonists; historians; editors; and the National Park Service. And finally, while a large-scale slaughter of human beings clearly took place on June 25–26, 1876, that bloody incident on the Little Bighorn (or Greasy Grass) was a battle, not a massacre, since encamped Indian warriors fought back and routed the attacking cavalry regiment.

It was six years earlier that Montana’s forgotten massacre occurred, on the Marias River about 12 miles southeast of present-day Shelby. On that occasion the soldiers who attacked an Indian camp did the slaughtering. Among the 173 victims (one scout present counted 217 dead Indians) were noncombatants—women, children and elderly men. The Army claimed to have killed 120 warriors. If the camp was indeed filled with that many able-bodied men (one disputed report claimed only 15 of the dead Indians were men of fighting age), they didn’t do much fighting back, as only one soldier died. There was good reason, though, as many in the camp were suffering from—and indeed dying from—a “white man’s disease,” namely smallpox. The victims of the Marias Massacre were Piegan Blackfeet, a people better known today for having had a deadly run-in with Captain Meriwether Lewis in July 1806 (also along the Marias River) and for having made mountain man John Colter run for his life in 1809. The Blackfeet Nation, unlike most of the rest of the world, has not forgotten the January 23, 1870, massacre on the Marias. Since 1987 Blackfeet Community College students and faculty, along with Blackfeet tribal members, have held an annual commemoration at the site, and they erected a memorial there in 2010.

The tragedies at Wounded Knee, in Dakota Territory, and Sand Creek, in Colorado Territory, remain far better known to Americans. But the Marias Massacre—also known as the Baker Massacre, as Major Eugene M. Baker of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry led the punitive expedition—was more egregious. Wounded Knee happened after Indian police killed Sitting Bull and with the Sioux Ghost Dance ritual going strong. Trouble was expected. When soldiers tried to disarm Big Foot’s warriors, a medicine man encouraged warriors to resist, and shooting broke out (an Indian may have fired first). Some 200 Lakotas died, but so did 25 soldiers, with 33 wounded. One-sided for sure, but Wounded Knee arguably can be termed a battle or a fight rather than a massacre. At Sand Creek 150 years ago Colonel John M. Chivington’s attack on Black Kettle’s village claimed the lives of some 130 Cheyennes and Arapahos, while the Colorado Volunteers suffered 24 dead and 52 wounded. The fighting lasted from dawn until 3 p.m., so the Indians did put up a stand, though of course that does not justify soldier mutilation of Indian bodies. “The Marias Massacre,” Andrew Graybill writes in his 2013 book The Red and the White, “easily belongs in any conversation about the worst atrocities committed by American military forces against native peoples, from Sand Creek in 1864 to Wounded Knee in 1890.”

Major Baker, like Colonel Chivington, set out to kill Indians and succeeded, no matter if they were the right Indians. Baker sought revenge against Mountain Chief’s Piegan band, members of which had earlier killed white trader Malcolm Clarke, but the major settled for striking the camp of Heavy Runner, who held a document of safe passage. In the wake of their attacks Chivington and Baker received praise from those Westerners and officers who believed extermination the only answer to the Indian problem. Severe criticism and controversy also came their way. Today Chivington is generally viewed as a villain, while Baker has remained in history’s shadows. But Baker’s harsh action on the Marias River does not suffer by comparison with that of Chivington at Sand Creek. That is to say, both actions were insufferable.