Concluded during the nearly 100-year period from the Revolutionary War to the aftermath of the Civil War, some 368 treaties would define the relationship between the United States and Native Americans for centuries to come. The treaties were based on the fundamental idea that each tribe was an independent nation, with their own right to self-determination and self-rule. But as white settlers began moving onto Native American lands, this idea came into conflict with the relentless pace of westward expansion—resulting in many broken promises on the part of the U.S. government.
And breaking treaties was not the worst of it. Just one example.
At daybreak on the morning of January 23, 1870, Baker ordered his men to surround the camp in preparation for attack. As the darkness faded, Baker’s scout, Joe Kipp, recognized that the painted designs on the buffalo-skin lodges were those of a peaceful band of Blackfeet led by Heavy Runner. Mountain Chief and Owl Child, Kipp quickly realized, must have gotten wind of the approaching soldiers and moved their winter camp elsewhere. Kipp rushed to tell Baker that they had the wrong group, but Baker reportedly replied, “That makes no difference, one band or another of them; they are all Piegans [Blackfeet] and we will attack them.” Baker then ordered a sergeant to shoot Kipp if he tried to warn the sleeping camp of Blackfeet and gave the command to attack.
Baker’s soldiers began blindly firing into the village, catching the peaceful Native Americans utterly unaware and defenseless. By the time the brutal attack was over, Baker and his men had, by the best estimate, murdered 37 men, 90 women, and 50 children. Knocking down lodges with frightened survivors inside, the soldiers set them on fire, burnt some of the Blackfeet alive, and then burned the band’s meager supplies of food for the winter. Baker initially captured about 140 women and children as prisoners to take back to Fort Ellis, but when he discovered many were ill with smallpox, he abandoned them to face the deadly winter without food or shelter.