Race and Violence: A Conversation Comparing the Post-Civil War West and South

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. 

About William Thomas

William G. Thomas III is a professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities. He teaches digital humanities and digital history, 19th century U.S. history, the Civil War, and the history of slavery.
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2 Responses to Race and Violence: A Conversation Comparing the Post-Civil War West and South

  1. wvonmayer says:

    Do you know of any other books that are related to the Marias Massacre?
    I am doing a paper on that subject but have not had much luck finding materials


  2. ARGraybill says:

    As it happens, there is little good secondary literature on the Baker (Marias) Massacre, all the more surprising given the fact that the slaughter belongs in the same breath with those at Sand Creek (Colorado, 1864), Washita (Oklahoma, 1868), and Wounded Knee (South Dakota, 1890). I’m not entirely sure why it’s been overlooked, but it will get more attention in my book and in another just underway by a historian of the Blackfeet.

    For now, the best two sources are:

    Robert Ege, STRIKE THEM HARD (Bellevue, NE, 1970), and Ben Bennett, DEATH, TOO, FOR THE HEAVY RUNNER (Missoula, MT, 1982).

    Ege’s book is the standard account, and it’s very well researched (Ege even visited the supposed site of the massacre with a metal detector and turned up shell casings, etc.). But it’s also deeply sympathetic to the US Army, so it’s better for getting a grasp of the events rather than a good interpretation of why they occurred.

    Hope this helps.


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