At dawn on January 23, 1870, Major Eugene Baker deployed the four hundred men under his command in a skirmish line atop the bluffs overlooking the Big Bend in the Marias River, where below them lay a slumbering Piegan winter camp. Hardened by a four-day march through unbearably frigid weather, the Second U.S. Cavalry had come that day to avenge the murder of Malcolm Clarke, a former fur trader who had been struck down by his wife’s cousin, a renegade Piegan warrior. Among the inflamed Montana citizens who had joined the army campaign were Clarke’s own two sons. In the ensuing carnage—described by one of Baker’s lieutenants as “the greatest slaughter of Indians ever made by U.S. troops”—the Clarke siblings participated in the butchery of their own blood relatives.
Historian Andrew R. Graybill places the Marias Massacre, as horrific as the more infamous slaughters at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, within a larger three-generational family saga of the Clarke family itself. By turns gripping and heartbreaking, their unknown story illuminates the complex history of native-white intermarriage in the American West, with particular attention to the mixed-blood children of such unions, “peoples-in-between” who struggled to negotiate the shifting grounds of race in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.