I was pleased you wrote about the little-known Baker Massacre (or, as some call it, the Marias Massacre) in the December 2014 Editor’s Letter. While researching for my third Western novel, Hunt for a Bride, I first came upon information about this horrific atrocity and decided to place it in my book, but from a different perspective. Since one of my characters, Doc Whitfield, is half-Blackfoot, I wanted my readers to feel both the pain and the shame of this act. When Doc visits the site after the massacre, he finds a close friend, a medicine woman, among the victims. She played a key role in my second book, The Hunted Return, so my readers now had someone they had admired and loved suddenly killed, and in a most terrible way. It was my way of trying to bring home just how terrible this massacre was by having them know one of the victims. Emails from several readers expressed their surprise when they went on Wikipedia and found out it was true. I’m delighted there is now a memorial at the site.
Jeff R. Spalsbury
‘The January 1870 Baker Massacre, the subject of Jerry Keenan’s article “Blood on the Snow,” in the December 2014 Wild West, led directly to another massacre later that year, again involving the Southern Piegans, but this time they were on the winning side’
Another 1870 Massacre
The January 1870 Baker Massacre, the subject of Jerry Keenan’s article “Blood on the Snow,” in the December 2014 Wild West, led directly to another massacre later that year, again involving the Southern Piegans, but this time they were on the winning side (see my article in the February 2002 issue of Wild West). Mountain Chief’s band, the real object of Baker’s winter campaign, as Keenan states, escaped to Canada, where they joined his cousins the Northern Piegans. The following October the Crees and Assiniboines, hereditary enemies of the Blackfeet, believing the Piegans had been decimated by smallpox and were weak, attacked but were repulsed by the Piegans, reinforced by Mountain Chief’s refugees and their new repeating rifles. The Crees fled across the Oldman River, and the Piegan Jerry Potts, who would become a guide for the North-West Mounted Police, stated, “It was a turkey shoot—you could close your eyes, fire your gun and kill a Cree.” By unconfirmed estimates more than 200 Crees and Assiniboines died, while the Piegan casualties were fewer than a dozen, all killed in the initial attack. Modern Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, still has its Indian Battle Park in the Oldman River coulee.
My apologies for a late response, but at 90 that is normal. I’ve been a reader of Wild West for more years than I can remember, and though the articles about First Nation people are my favorites, I do enjoy ones about the white people. I’ve always (nearly always) found them to be well written and accurate. But I must take exception to the December 2014 Editor’s Letter “Montana’s Forgotten Massacre.” You question if Wounded Knee can be called a Massacre, since 25 soldiers died and 33 were wounded. In all the accounts I’ve read, and they are many, Big Foot’s people, about 350, were surrounded by 500 or more soldiers and several Hotchkiss guns. From my own experience, 21 years in uniform, I have found when a foe is surrounded, you have a good chance of hitting your own people on the other side, hence “friendly fire,” and most historians seem to think many of the soldier casualties were from that cause. That puts the outcome as a massacre. As you might have guessed, I am First Nation—Anishinaabe (Ojibwe-Odawa).
Sergeant Colin MacKenzie
British Army (Ret.)
aka Growling Bear
Major Editing Credit
Congratulations on another outstanding issue of Wild West. Of special interest in the December 2014 issue was the essay by Jerry Keenan on the 1870 massacre of the Blackfeet village on the Marias River in Montana Territory by units of the U.S. 2nd Cavalry. Jon Guttman’s review of Fights on the Little Horn, however, overlooks the exemplary contribution of my British colleague Gordon Richard, who edited and abridged the extensive work of the late Gordon Harper (originally over 2 million words) and who wrote the provocative, if not definitive, chapter on the fate of the five 7th Cavalry companies under Lt. Col. George Custer’s immediate command at the Little Bighorn. The publication of this exhaustive research was possible because of Richard’s effort.
Harper’s book will clearly appeal to serious students of the battle for its perceptive remarks based exclusively on primary sources. It presents the best explanation of Captain Frederick W. Benteen’s scout to the left, not only of the apparent chronology of events but also the order to Benteen and his compliance with it. Harper has also resolved the apparent longstanding confusion and contradictions pertaining to the attack order to Major Marcus A. Reno by concluding that Reno, in fact, received two separate instructions at two different locations.
This endeavor again illustrates the premise that the exclusive use and critical analysis of primary sources is necessary for students of this controversial subject to write an accurate rendition that places this story in proper historical context. “He believed,” Tori Harper writes of her father’s efforts, “that too much of the legend of the battle was just that—secondary interpretation founded on other secondary interpretation that had grown into common acceptance that would not withstand close scrutiny.” Fights on the Little Horn is the most important recent analytical contribution on the subject.
C. Lee Noyes