This podcast with Will Thomas and Andy Graybill explores a little-known episode in the Indian Wars–the Marias Massacre–and the wider issues surrounding race and violence in the West and South during Reconstruction. The U.S. Army attacked a camp of Blackfeet Indians on the Marias River in Montana in January 1870, killing over 173, including nearly 90 women and 50 children. The New York Times reacted with disgust, as did much of the Eastern press, and called the event a “slaughter.” Yet, many white Americans in the Western territories greeted the news enthusiastically. The murder of a prominent Montana trader, Malcolm Clark, in August, 1869, set these events in motion, and led to calls for the Army the hunt down Indian “marauders.” The Army, it turned out, attacked the wrong camp of Blackfeet, one afflicted with small pox and unconnected to Clark’s murder. We discuss what led to this event and explore its significance for Indian policy, the Army, and the West, and we compare the event with racial violence in the South.
Andy Graybill is the author of Policing the Great Plains: Rangers, Mounties, and the North American Frontier, 1875-1910 (University of Nebraska and University of Calgary Press, 2007) and is currently researching and writing a study of the Marias Massacre.