Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Marias (Bear Creek) Massacre

January 23, 2020, marks the 150th commemoration of the Marias Massacre, one of the most tragic events in Montana history. On the bitterly cold morning in 1870, U.S. Army troops under the command of Major Eugene Baker attacked the sleeping camp of Piikuni Chief Heavy Runner, killing almost 200 people. The murdered included Heavy Runner, who was shot after presenting papers that testified that he was “a friend to the whites.” Many other victims of the attack were sick with small pox; most were women, children, and the elderly—almost all of the able-bodied men were out hunting. Following the brutal slaughter, the soldiers then burned the Indians’ tipis and other possessions and took their horses, decreasing the likelihood that those who survived the attack would be able to survive the harsh winter weather. Initially, the Montana press hailed Baker as a hero, but gradually reports by both Indians and non-Indians called into question his version of events, exposing the true atrocities that took place on the Marias River—called Bear Creek by the Blackfeet—150 years ago.

Learn more about Marias Massacre

Download “The Pikuni and the U.S. Army’s Piegan Expedition: Competing Narratives of the 1870 Massacre on the Marias River,” by Rodger Henderson, Montana The Magazine of Western History (Spring 2018): 48-70.

Download discussion questions created to accompany the article.

Download the primary-source based lesson plan "Blood on the Marias: Understanding Different Points of View Related to the Baker Massacre of 1870".

Find more excerpts from primary sources relating to the massacre on the site "Witness to Carnage".

Learn about efforts to rename Yellowstone National Park’s Mount Doane, named for Lieutenant Augustus Doane, who served under Baker and boasted about his role in the massacre.