Category: History (Page 1 of 6)

Johnny W. Lindsey, KIA 19 January 1968

Johnny Warner Lindsey was killed in battle in South Vietnam in the Sa Thay district, 10 kilometers west of Dak To on 19 January 1968.

Johnny was my 2nd cousin (my father’s cousin) in a very tightly knit family in rural western Kentucky. My Dad, Staff Sergeant Oscar Hoover Linzy, had just returned from Vietnam in early 1967. My father was especially close to Johnny’s parents, his Uncle Warner and Aunt Hazel, who had helped him through some difficult times in his early years. Uncle Warner’s part of the family spelled our family name differently for reasons that I am still not entirely sure of, but there have always been family stories that their’s was the correct spelling and ours the result of a phonetic spelling on some deed in our pioneer past. 

Johnny was a member of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. From October 1967 through January 1969, the 4th Infantry conducted Operation MacArthur in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands near the the point where Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam came together. The purpose of Operation MacArthur was to keep the area clear of ambushes and secure the main supply roads that ran through the area. Being so close to the Ho Chi Minh trail, there was constant infiltration into the area from the north. At the end of 1967, 4th Infantry intelligence began noticing a build up of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units in the area where only Viet Cong (VC) units had previously operated. The 4th Infantry operations beginning in mid-January 1968 in the 3-12 Infantry’s sector were designed to clear the area between Ben Het and Dak To of potential ambushes.

Bravo Company’s role in the 3-12 Infantry’s operation was to search and clear the ridge line northwest of Fire Support Base #25 with the primary objective being the hill at grid reference YB 874295, known as the “Peanut.” A little after noon on 19 January 1968, Bravo Company was moving toward the Peanut when they were attacked by a NVA company. The fire was intense from multiple directions and was joined by NVA mortar and rifle grenade fire. Bravo Company was caught in an ambush itself. Johnny Lindsey was killed by multiple fragmentation wounds early in the battle. Bravo attempted to recover the wounded and dead and call in close range artillery, but the NVA blocked their withdrawal route. Eventually relieved by Charlie and Delta Companies, Bravo had 1 killed (PFC Johnny Warner Lindsey), 28 wounded, and 6 missing that day. Reports are conflicted, but it seems like 5 of the missing in action were found dead over the next few days and weeks in the area of the Peanut.

The area between Dak To and Ben Het around the hill called “Peanut” remained heavily contested throughout the rest of January and February 1968. 3-12 Infantry was in constant contact with the enemy during this time, but never was moved from the area by the NVA, much like the rest of the northern swathe of South Vietnam. Unknown to the 4th Infantry, the buildup of NVA in their area of operations in mid January 1968 was happening all along the northern part of South Vietnam. The buildup was in preparation for the combined NVA and VC offensive that came to be known as the Tet Offensive. Although Tet was a complete failure for the North Vietnamese’s operational objectives, American media reporting of it in the USA made it seem as if the USA was losing the war. Tet became the greatest strategic victory for the North Vietnamese due almost entirely to the American news media’s inaccurate reporting. As a result, American public opinion turned decisively against the war after Tet. The USA began its long, painful disengagement from Vietnam from 1969 to April 1975.

Johnny was 22 years old on the day he was killed. He was loved dearly by his family, especially his parents, Warner N. Lindsey and Hazel M. (Mitchell) Lindsey. He is buried with his parents in the Dycusburg cemetery in Crittenden County, Kentucky. Johnny Warner Lindsey‘s name can be found on Panel 34E, Line 79 on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Johnny Warner Lindsey
Johnny Warner Lindsey

Operation Vittles

0n 12 May 1949, the Berlin Blockade ended.

At the end of WWII, the Allies and the Soviets partitioned Germany and Berlin into zones, but Berlin itself was wholly within the greater Soviet zone that would soon become East Germany (DDR). The allies supplied their western zones primarily by land (rail, canal, & road) through a corridor from what would become West Germany (FRG).

The Berlin Airlift

On 24 June 1948, the Soviets, upset at the Allies’ actions in West Berlin, blockaded the land routes. The Allies decided to airlift in all of W. Berlin’s needs. The new U.S. Air Force (1947) took the lead and launched “Operation Vittles,” better known as the Berlin Airlift. The work was non-stop; hard on people and aircraft, but it succeeded. The Soviets backed down on 12 May 1949.

OPERATION VITTLES started on 26 June 1948 and ended on 30 Sep 1949. USAF aircraft delivered more than 1.5 m. tons of coal, food, other supplies, & more than 60K passengers. C-47 Skytrains and C-54 Skymasters did most of the work.

Staff Sergeant Oscar Hoover Linzy

The photo is of SSG Oscar H. Linzy (my Dad) sporting his Berlin Airlift Operation Vittles ribbon (middle, bottom). Dad had previously served in the U.S. Army Air Forces, but stayed in the Army when the USAF separated. Army personnel were still a significant part of the USAF in skills and training well into the early 1950s.

Oscar H. Linzy - Berlin Airlift

Curtiss C-46 Crash 6 May 1945

On 6 May 1945 at approximately 6:40PM, an US Army Air Forces aircraft crashed on Long Man Hill near Wilmington, Sussex in southern England. All four crew members were killed. With two days remaining in the war in Europe, this was not the only USAAF crash that day. It was not the only one in Europe. It was not even the only one in England. The fact was that aircraft were crashing and being shot down at a rate that is hard for us to fathom these days. WWII took a horrendous toll on a generation of young airmen.

Seventy-five years later, we pause to remember a specific crew of many that died on this day in 1945. 

1st Lieutenant Sidney “Jack” Gibson, pilot

2nd Lieutenant Victor L. Young, co-pilot

Staff Sergeant Daniel M. Campbell, crew

Staff Sergeant James F. Maloney, crew

314th Troop Carrier Squadron Curtiss C-46 Commandos at Barkston Heath, England, circa April 1945

They were members of the 314th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 349th Troop Carrier Group and were station at Advanced Landing Ground A-73 near Roye in northern France. They had only arrived in Europe in March 1945 and the unit had only become operational on 30 April 1945. Since all of the big airborne drops of WWII had already occurred, troop carrier units were mainly being used to ferry equipment, material, and wounded to and from France and England. On this particular mission, the Curtiss C-46D (like the one pictured above from the 314th), tail # 44-77861, was flying a load of lumber and mail from the depot known as “Eccles” near Attleborough, Norfolk in England to the Advance Landing Ground A-61 near Beauvais in northern France. 

The pilot was rated for instrument flying, but was apparently trying to stay under a layer of cloud that obscured the top of Long Man hill. The aircraft struck the hill approximately 500 feet from the top and disintegrated on impact. One more aircraft and four more souls lost to the war to free Europe from Nazi control.

The remains of three of the crew were sent back to their homes for burial. 1st Lieutenant Sidney “Jack” Gibson was buried in Newkirk, Kay County, Oklahoma, USA. 2nd Lieutenant Victor L. Young was buried in Muskegon, Muskegon County, Michigan, USA, and Staff Sergeant Daniel Marshall Campbell was buried in Lincolnton, Lincoln County, North Carolina, USA. Staff Sergeant James F. Maloney of Westchester County, New York was buried at the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, Coton, Cambridgeshire, England. His cross is the image above.

The 314th Air Refueling Squadron, 940th Operations Group, 940th Air Refueling Wing of Beale Air Force Base, California remembers the 314th Troop Carrier Squadron crew of 44-77861 on this 75th anniversary of 6 May 1945. May they rest in peace and be remembered for their sacrifice.

The Fetterman Massacre of 1866

On 21 December 1866, the US Army suffered its worst defeat in the western Indian Wars up to that time (Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn ten years later would surpass it). Captain  William Fetterman (often referred to by his highest Civil War rank of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel), an officer at Fort Phil Kearney, was given the mission to relieve a wood cutting party who had been attacked by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud.

Background

Even during the USA Civil War, American settlers continued to pour into the American west. The settlers went wherever the latest information told them was a “boom” area. In 1864-65, the boom area was in present day western Montana where gold had been found, mainly around Virginia City. The Bozeman Trail was a widened American Indian hunting trail that cut through the heart of Sioux hunting grounds. The area had been confirmed as Sioux tribal land by the Laramie Treaty of 1848. However, immigrants to the west were not known for putting much stock in Indian treaties when gold was in their eyes. A large train of 2,000 settlers had made the trek along the Bozemen in 1864 which electrified the immigrant news network. Soon many more would follow. Unsurprisingly, the Sioux began to attack the parties. News of the dangerousness of the trail spread, settler numbers dropped, which led to calls for protection by USA forces. Construction on Fort Phil Kearny began the summer of 1866, but without enough numbers to truly protect the settlers on the trail. In fact, there were barely enough troops to protect the fort and its activities itself.

The Fetterman Massacre of 1866

Sioux leaders, most prominently Red Cloud and Crazy Horse (also involved in Custer’s Defeat), began attacking hay and wood cutting parties out of the fort almost from its inception. The fort had established a communications procedure for reporting an attack, so that these provisioning parties could call for help. The Sioux learned that they could attack these parties and create havoc at will. As the frustration built with the soldiers of the fort, the command began to talk of taking the initiative to teach the Sioux a lesson. Enter William J. Fetterman. Traditional history states that Fetterman was out to make a name for himself and had bragged, “With 80 men, I could ride through the entire Sioux nation.” This seems a little suspect given that his upcoming impromptu command had exactly 80 men. However, the general demeanor would not have been unheard of with an officer that had attained senior rank in the Civil War and wanted to improve his chances of regaining that rank in a much smaller Regular Army. George Armstrong Custer and Nelson Miles were two other examples of this phenomena.

December 1866 in northern Wyoming was bitterly cold and wood cutting parties had had a hard time keeping up with the demand for firewood, so Sioux raiding parties had ample opportunities. The Sioux had attacked several of these parties and began to learn that the frustration was building and that enlarged parties were eager to give chase. On 21 December, Crazy Horse used this tactic to lure Fetterman’s relief party of 80 men (53 infantry and civilian on foot and 27 mounted cavalry) out of the fort with an attack on a wood cutting detail.  In fact, the attack on the wood-cutters was a diversion. As Fetterman maneuvered his 80 man unit with the cavalry in the vanguard to attack the Sioux from the flank, the Indians were seemingly fleeing the area into a valley. Contrary to orders from his commander, Colonel Henry B. Carrington, Fetterman gave chase. What happened exactly is not known to the white man’s history, but what was clear from the battle scene was that Fetterman’s unit was led into an ambush. All 81 were killed. The Fetterman Massacre of 1866 entered into lore.

Or…

Or at least, that is the traditional story. A more recent analysis has developed a competing theory that it was not Fetterman who was impetuous, but a junior leader of the party, Lieutenant George W. Drummond. Drummond led a party of 27 cavalrymen from the U.S. 2d Cavalry Regiment (Battlefield Biker’s old regiment). It is quite possible that Drummond’s unit, being on horseback, got too far in front of Fetterman and was ambushed. As Fetterman eclipsed the ridge and found the cavalry decisively engaged, he had little choice, but to ignore Carrington’s orders and try to relieve Drummond’s force. The Sioux had set the perfect trap and destroyed both detachments in order which would explain the battlefield scene found by another relief force that resisted the temptation to enter the valley immediately. The stories are complicated by Drummond’s widow, who later married Carrington, who wrote about the disaster to absolve her husband and Carrington of blame. Captain William J. Fetterman might have been the fall guy for Drummond.

Aftermath

Whatever, the facts of the actual battle, the Fetterman Massacre of 1866, also known as the Fetterman Fight, would prove to put the nail in the coffin of the Army’s attempt to protect the Bozeman Trail. A new Laramie Treaty of 1868 would re-affirm the Sioux ownership of the area and Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned two years after being estblished. The Fetterman Fight was part of what was called Red Cloud’s War and ended up being one of the Plains Indians few unmitigated wins, although the area would become engulfed in war again a decade later.

Fetterman Massacre of 1866 Motorcycle Ride

The Bozeman Trail avoided the mountains, but that is no fun on a motorcycle. My ride recommendation is to go see Fort Phil Kearny, the Fettman Fight site, and the Wagon Box Fight site, then take the Cloud Peak Skyway from Buffalo to Ten Sleep through the Bighorn National Forest and onwards through the Bighorn and Greybull River valleys to Cody, Wyoming. Wonderful country.

The plaque on the Fetterman Massacre Monument

The plaque on the Fetterman Massacre Monument

Guthrum Chased King Alfred the Great into the Marshes 5 Jan 878

Photo Credit: Odejea [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Beginnings of an English Monarchy

King Alfred the Great of Wessex (Present day western England) was the youngest son of five of King Athelwulf, but did not become king at Athelwulf’s death. The throne went  through most of his older brothers who promptly died, leaving Alfred. After a series of devastating Viking raids from the north of the English isle, Alfred knew that he was too weak to fight off the Vikings that were on his territory in the 870s, so he made a series of treaties, sealed with large quantities of Danegeld, with the Vikings that they promptly broke. Guthrum, the Danish Viking, knew that the Christian Alfred would be celebrating Epiphany on the 12th night (5/6 January) in 878, so Guthrum struck at Chippenham with the hopes of capturing Alfred as well as taking the important town of Chippenham.

King Alfred the Great on the Run

The attack so soon after a peace treaty surprised the English and drove many to France where they arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some say Alfred was in Chippenham that night and fled with his people. Others say he was in Dorchester. Either way,  Guthrum chased King Alfred the Great into the marshes of the Somerset Levels. There Alfred began his guerrilla days fighting out of the marshes and bogs near Athelney. Only a few warriors were with Alfred, but he soon began recruiting local militias throughout modern day Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. By building a resistance force from the ground up, Alfred was able to remain the only major kingdom in modern day England to successfully hold out against the onslaught of the Vikings. This success and eventual victory in southern England is what established the legend of Alfred the Great in Anglo-Saxon history.

Guthrum Chased King Alfred the Great Motorcycle Ride

If you have a full day, try the long circular ride from Chippenham to Box and down to Athelney on the A4, then back up to Melksham and Devizes on the A365 and back to Chippenham on the A342. Good biking roads all. The route to Box and Athelney is a likely route that Alfred could have taken out of Chippenham.If you are in the area of Athelney, also check out this ride around the Battle of Langport from the Battlefield Biker English Civil War series. When near Devizes, you can also zip up to Roundway Down to see the site of the English Civil War battlefield of that name from the Battlefield Biker series.

Battle of Wolf Mountain 8 January 1877

Background

After the disaster of the Battle of Little Bighorn where George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry was nearly wiped out and Custer was killed, the U.S. Army tried desperately to get the Indians back onto the reservations and secure concessions. The Army Indian fighters of the upper American plains went hell for leather in harrying American Indian leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. However, the harsh winter of 1876-1877 made it hard for the US Army to conduct the pursuit. General George Crook called an end to the campaigning season until the weather eased. However, the aggressive, but vain General Nelson “Bear Coat” Miles wanted none of Crook’s waiting and launched new offensives over Christmas 1876 and into early 1877 in search of Crazy Horse’s Oglala Sioux. The Indians had felt they were secure for the winter, because the Army did not normally pursue them in the think of the northern plains’ winter.

Sioux and Cheyenne Join Forces

The Sioux were in decent shape, but some of their Cheyenne allies who joined them were ragged from lack of provisions and the weather. Most of the Cheyenne wanted to re-enter the reservation to secure provisions. However, others, including most of the Sioux, did not want to concede the Black Hills in return for the provisions. These fractures in the coalition caused many discussions  amongst the Indians in search of consensus throughout December 1876. In the mean time, Miles was wading through the deep snow in search of Crazy Horse’s trail. The situation for the Sioux was growing tense with Miles stalking them. On 7 January 1877, Crazy Horse found and attacked Miles’ column on the Tongue River, but the Indians were rebuffed and Miles took a Cheyenne contingent prisoner.  Thereafter, Miles encountered repeated raids to free the prisoners, so he decided to set up a defensive position near Wolf Mountain. Simultaneously, the Sioux and Cheyenne moved their villages further north along the Tongue River to get away from Miles.

The Battle of Wolf Mountain

On the morning of 8 January 1877 the battle commenced in a blizzard with Crazy Horse attacking from various angles, but he did not find a crease to exploit. As the weather cleared a bit, Miles was able to get range with his artillery which prompted an advance on Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse had no choice, but to retreat to save his force. The numbers lost by both sides were small and the battle may have gone down as a draw. However, the larger point was made on the Indians by the Battle of Wolf Mountain, also known as the Battle of the Butte. They were not safe from US forces in their own areas, even in the dead of winter. Total capitulation was to follow shortly. Miles was not liked by much of anyone, but his successes were rewarded and he eventually became the Commanding General of the US Army in 1895.

Battle of Wolf Mountain Motorcycle Ride

For a good long run all around the area of Miles’ and Crazy Horse’s actions in the Tongue River area, try this ride from Sheridan, WY to Decker, MT to Birney, MT to Ashland, MT to Busby, MT, and finishing at the Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield, which I highly recommend. This is a long run for bikes with smaller gas tanks with few fuel points. Make sure you top up in Sheridan, WY before making this run. Some of it is gravel road too, so be careful out there. The Battle of Wolf Mountain Battlefield is approximately 4 miles southwest of Birney, MT. It is under the private ownership of the Quarter Circle U Ranch. The Battlefield Biker’s fellow riders are a polite and respectful bunch, so please ask for permission before entering private lands.

New York Herald Story on Events Leading to Civil War

This article from the New York Herald of 11 January 1861 gives a feel for what it must have felt like to see the terrible events leading to Civil War in America unfolding to display the bloody outbreak of war. This article focuses on the gravity of the situation when federal troops aboard the The Star of the West were denied landing at Ft Sumter.

Events Leading to Civil War

As this article makes clear, President James Buchanan‘s administration (4 Mar 1857 – 4Mar 1861) was left for hopeless in settling the quarrels between north and south. All hope was pinned on the incoming administration of Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Seward. What I find interesting is the last paragraph of the Herald article.

“As the present administration can do no more toward pacification — the Executive having exhausted its constitutional powers, as Mr. Buchanan states in his message — it is the new administration which must accomplish this grand result, by fairly and boldly settling the differences between the southern States, who are contending for their constitutional rights, and that party at the North which, for the sake of a mere abstraction, is disposed to deny them.”

Don’t forget this is a New York newspaper making a point that the south thinks it is fighting for constitutional principles, even if those principles are tied to the abhorrent issue of slavery. I think that we, as modern Americans,  have turned the crisis of the Union into a simple dichotomy of all of the north felt one way and all of the south felt another. The American Civil War was much more complicated than is often presented. Why is this important? If we as a people cannot understand how complicated a topic was at the time of our darkest hour, how can we learn the lessons of it? Even if we arrive at the correct conclusions, understanding how we came to those conclusions is important. I hope we never need to face circumstances like those again, but wouldn’t it be good that if we have to, we know how we dealt with those of the past?

Events Leading to Civil War Motorcycle Ride

Try the ride from Myrtle Beach, SC to Ft Sumter National Park along US Highway 17/701 which takes in the length of Francis Marion (the legendary “Swamp Fox” of the Revolutionary War) National Forest.

The Crittenden Compromise Fails in Senate 16 January 1861

Background

John Jordan Crittenden, one of Kentucky’s most prolific politicians, attempted to broker a compromise to save the Union in the U.S. Senate and avoid civil war. The Crittenden Compromise failed on 16 January 1861 and virtually guaranteed civil war. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed the southern states and new states south of the 36’30” latitude to continue slavery, whilst the northern states and new states north of that line couldn’t. The Compromise of 1850 changed this and allowed the new territories’ residents to vote on the issue regardless if south of the 36’30”.

The Crittenden Compromise

Crittenden tried to mitigate the Compromise of 1850 in favor of the South. However, the Crittenden Compromise was a step too far in reverse for the Republican party which had formed specifically to oppose the expansion of slavery.
Crittenden was especially torn over the issue, as he had one son (Thomas L. Crittenden) and a nephew (Thomas Turpin Crittenden) who fought for the North and one son who fought for the South (George B. Crittenden). In the end, the gulf was just too wide for even a despairing father to stop. J.J. Crittenden died in the middle of the Civil War.

The Crittenden Compromise Motorcycle Ride

If you find yourself traversing western Kentucky on I-24, get off near Eddyville, KY and try the backroads through Crittenden County, Kentucky, named after J.J. Crittenden. It also gives me a good reason to recommend another ferry, and you know the Battlefield Biker likes to put the Red Rover on a ferry. Try the free (well, the KY taxpayer is paying) Cave-in-Rock ferry over the Ohio. This is the Battlefield Biker’s ancestral homeland and they are the back roads that Battlefield Biker learned to ride on as a young boy. Enjoy a little slice of rural Kentucky. From Eddyvile, you are not too far from Fort Donelson either, if you are looking for another local ride.

Photo Credit: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

British and Kentucky Riflemen Battle of Frenchtown 22 Jan 1813

Since its shameful fall in August 1812 with scarcely a shot fired in defense, the Americans wanted Detroit back. So embarrassed by it, a winter campaign was conceived to win it back. William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe, was selected to take back the area and further the American goals in the War of 1812. Harrison’s second in command was General James Winchester. The two split their forces to move on Detroit.

On 18 January 1813, Winchester’s lead elements entered Frenchtown (near modern day Monroe, Michigan) and took it in a short battle with a handful of British Regulars and a couple of hundred of local Indians. The American soldiers were militia that had recently been recruited in Kentucky and marched north with severe privation. The Kentuckians found great stores of food and gorged themselves for several days. Unfortunately, their officers had not ordered them to fortify the area for a counter-attack.

Battle of Frenchtown

A mixed force of British, under Colonel Henry Procter, and Shawnee, under Chief Tecumseh, counter-attacked on 22 January 1813. There followed a fierce battle that would go down as one of the biggest ground battles in the War of 1812. The British and Indians attacked across the American front. The American right flank was enveloped and surrendered, including Winchester. The left flank, however was holding well along a fence in the west of the area. The Kentuckians there were not surprised to see a British truce party arrive, but they were surprised to hear that it was the Kentuckian’s surrender they were after. Winchester had sent word that they should give up. The Kentuckians did surrender, but only with the assurance that the captured would be protected from the Indians.

The British then quickly unoccupied the area of operations for they feared that Harrison’s column would soon descend on Frenchtown. They left the prisoners with Tecumseh’s force. Some, but not all, of the Kentucky prisoners left with the Indians were massacred. The remainder were taken to Detroit for ransom. The Raisin River Massacre became a rallying point for remainder of the war in the old northwest. The event had a solidifying effect on the frontiersman for the war that was not there previously. Future Kentucky units rushed north yelling, “Remember the Raisin!” The area was re-captured by Kentucky cavalry units in September 1813.

Trivia; Although born in Ohio, George Armstrong Custer lived in Monroe as a boy and married a local girl. No doubt, young Custer would have heard the story of the massacre in his local school.

Battle of Frenchtown Motorcycle Ride

Check out the Raisin River Battlefield National Park. Then go from the Raisin River Battlefield Visitor’s Center and follow the Raisin River out to Raisinville, Dundee and back to Monroe to the Sterling State Park.

Marias River Massacre 23 January 1870

Background

At the confluence of the Two Medicine and Cut Bank Rivers is where the Marias River begins and flows east for approximately 60 miles to Lake Elwell, then on for another 80 miles where it meets the Missouri River near Loma, Montana. Somewhere along this stretch of river (possibly here), there lies an ancient American Indian site where Major Eugene Baker of the U.S. Army took his mixed detachment from the 2nd US Cavalry and the 13th Infantry to surround an encampment of Piegan Indians on 22 January 1870. What happened next is clear, but why is not so clear.

A Tragic, Familiar Story

The area had seen an altercation between two hotheads, one white, Malcolm Clarke, and one Indian, Owl Child. Clarke beat Owl Child, who he claimed had stolen his horses. Owl Child retaliated by killing Clarke. As so happened in those days, this caused cries for the army to make sure another white was not killed by another Indian, so Major Baker was sent to teach the Indians a lesson. Baker’s detachment left Fort Shaw on 15 January 1870 and rode north to find a group of Indians known as the Piegans. Baker found an encampment at a big bend on the Marias River and surrounded it in the winter’s night of 22/23 January 1870. There is some debate as to whether Baker knew it was the camp he was looking for or another one.

The Marias River Massacre

On the morning of the incident, also known as the Baker Massacre and the Piegan Massacre, Chief Heavy Runner tried to stop the attack by showing papers that he claimed gave him and his people clear passage in the area. Regardless, Baker issued the order to fire on the camp and many women, children and elderly were killed, the camp was burned and the survivors set afoot in the Montana winter without provisions.

Some said Baker knew that it as the wrong encampment. Some said he didn’t care. Some said he was a drunken commander and didn’t know what was happening. None of the PR options were good and the Army made it worse by ignoring, at the least, but probably covering up the massacre. As so often happened in these cases in the U.S. Army, a young soldier steps up where his superiors have fallen down and tells the truth. Lieutenant William Pease, acting as a Blackfoot agent, reported the massacre to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Ely Samuel Parker. Parker, a Civil War veteran, confidante to U.S. Grant and an Iroquois Indian whose Indian name was Donehogawa, demanded a investigation, but the outcome was prevarication as the U.S. Army closed ranks with General William Tecumseh Sherman saying he would prefer to believe his soldiers.

In the end, no official recognition of the Marias River Massacre was forthcoming and only time has brought a gradual acceptance of the fact of this massacre. Author Dee Brown, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, puts the casualties at 33 men, 90 women and 50 children. Stan Gibson has investigated the topic deeply. He and Jack Hayne are working on a book on the topic.

If you are teaching this topic to 7-12th grade students, there is a good looking lesson plan that uses the Montana: Stories of the Land textbook by Holmes, Krys, Susan C. Dailey, and David Walter. Helena, Mont: Montana Historical Society Press, 2008. You can find the relevant chapter 7 online.

Marias River Massacre Motorcycle Ride

This is a long ride starting and ending at Browning, Montana at the Museum of the Plains Indians. The ride passes through the origin of the Marias River and also runs about 5 miles north and parallel to the Marias for a good while on the beautiful U.S. Highway 2. This is a good description of the things to see along this route, including a Cold War missile Silo. As always, good Battlefield Biking requires the courtesy to ask for permission to travel on private roads. Be polite and ensure the rest of us can enjoy the ride too.

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