The Blackwater Massacre was an infamous and violent gunfight involving the Van der Linde gang, the Blackwater Police Department, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and supposedly the famous gunslinger Landon Ricketts, which took place in the town of Blackwater in May 1899 during a robbery on a nearby ferry. By 1911, the massacre had gained wide publicity due to the number of men killed, the death of a young and defenseless female civilian, the fact that it took place in such a highly populated and modernized town, and that it was the largest heist in recent years.
According to accounts of the incident, the ferry was carrying $150,000 of bank money. Dutch van der Linde saw an opportunity and decided to rob the boat. He was also encouraged to pursue it by Micah Bell. Despite the absence of two senior members of the gang, Arthur Morgan and Hosea Matthews, who had their own lead, the remainder of the outlaw gang proceeded with the robbery. According to Javier Escuella, the heist got off to a good start, with the gang accessing the money fairly easily. However, Pinkertons soon swarmed the area, along with the police, forcing the outlaws into an unwinnable gunfight. While the following events are somewhat ambiguous and never made clear, it is known that at some point during the heist, Dutch shot a young woman named Heidi McCourt in the head.
The gunfight proved to be devastating for the Van der Linde gang. John Marston, Mac Callander, Davey Callander and Jenny Kirk were all shot, the latter two fatally. Sean MacGuire was knocked out in unknown circumstances and later taken captive by Ike Skelding's bounty hunters. With the situation becoming dire, the outlaws decided that they would have to flee. The gang could not escape with the stolen money and instead stashed it in an undisclosed location in the town known only to Dutch and Hosea. After regrouping, the gang began packing up and then headed north into a blizzard in the mountains of Ambarino, successfully losing their pursuers in the process.
Following the shootout, the area around Blackwater was put into lock down, with Pinkerton patrols positioned all over the town itself and the nearby Great Plains, which would remain in place for a significant portion of the year. While the Pinkertons and local law enforcement couldn't confirm if the gang got away with the money, it didn't stop local residents tearing apart gardens and backyards trying to find it. It's thought that the town took a long time to get over the incident, with a bartender in 1907 commenting on how the townsfolk said that Blackwater would never recover.
The Van der Linde gang itself was hit hard, having to escape north into the mountains of Ambarino, eventually settling in an abandoned town called Colter. Morale among the members was extremely low following the massacre, with Arthur and Hosea in particular blaming Micah for persuading Dutch to go ahead with something so reckless. The massacre also resulted in a number of casualties:
- John Marston was shot in the arm during the massacre, although it appears to have been a fairly minor injury as he was sent out scouting shortly afterwards when the gang had reached Ambarino.
- Charles Smith burned his hand, and while unable to properly use a bow was still well enough to manage the gang's horses and otherwise help with camp work in Colter.
- Davey Callander sustained what proved to be a fatal gunshot wound to the gut during the massacre, but survived long enough to accompany the rest of the gang in heading north. He passed away shortly after the gang reached Colter, and was subsequently buried there.
- Mac Callander was also shot and was unable to leave with the escaping gang. He was found by Agent Milton shortly afterwards, who described Mac as “pretty shot up”. The detective questioned Mac, and later killed him in what he sarcastically described as a “mercy killing” sometime later.
- Jenny Kirk was mortally wounded and died shortly after the gang’s escape, passing away some time before Davey. She was buried just north of Colter.
- Sean MacGuire wasn't injured, but was captured by bounty hunters led by Ike Skelding shortly after the events of the massacre, who intended to transfer him to a federal prison. Sean was also tortured at some point, but refused to reveal anything. He was later rescued by his fellow gang members.
Despite not gaining recognition for his involvement until some time after the event, Landon Ricketts' eventual status as one of the survivors of the infamous massacre has made him popular and has given him a legendary reputation throughout West Elizabeth and beyond. Willie Oats could also be a survivor, judging from various quotes.
- The extraordinarily large number of Pinkertons and the speed at which they appeared has prompted claims that the ferry robbery may have been a set-up. In the mission "Outlaws from the West", Dutch may say in optional dialogue: "That many men? Oh, they knew we were coming."
- Dialogue by Javier Escuella in his conversation with Arthur Morgan in the second mission of Chapter I explicitly states that the following gang members were present on the ferry or in its direct vicinity during the heist: Dutch Van der Linde, Micah Bell, Davey Callender, Mac Callander, Javier Escuella, Sean MacGuire and John Marston. Javier furthermore states: "By the time you boys showed up on the other side of town, we were only just holding on", indicating that Arthur Morgan and other gang members bailed out the gang members who were cornered on or near the ferry by Pinkertons and other lawmen by attacking them from behind.
- Campfire dialogue between Lenny Summers and Sean MacGuire strongly suggests that Lenny was not present during the ferry robbery: Lenny states that he imagines that it was Davey Callander's fault "things went so bad in Blackwater", to which Sean replies that he can't remember, 'cause he was knocked unconscious immediately after things "kicked off", prompting Lenny's question what kicked them off.
- Charles Smith tells Arthur Morgan during "The Aftermath of Genesis" that he "still" does not know "what happened on that boat" which makes it seem very likely that he also was not part of the crew that robbed the ferry.
- In camp, John Marston may give an account of what happened in the massacre. He states: "Sometimes, I start thinking about that girl. Well... Javier knew we saw and it weren’t pretty", suggesting that he may be mentally scarred by the incident. He also says that Micah encouraged Dutch to kill Heidi McCourt, and that Dutch later justified the event by saying that it was necessary in order for the gang to survive.
- One potential victim of the massacre is Maybelle Fordham, Archer Fordham's mother. Dialogue from the Red Dead Redemption game files states, "I hear that Bureau fella's never been the same since his mother got shot in the massacre". Maybelle appears to have survived being shot during the massacre, but she died not long afterwards on July 24, 1900 and was buried at Blackwater Cemetery.
- In Red Dead Redemption, during the stranger side-mission "I Know You", the massacre is mentioned by the Strange Man during a conversation with John. Despite giving a vivid account of Heidi McCourt's death, John does not appear to remember her. This would appear to retcon what John says about her in Redemption 2, where he suggests that he can’t get the image of it out of his head, although the time gap of twelve years might explain this. This is backed up when in the same conversation, the Strange Man makes a point that John had forgotten her.
- It is indirectly implied that the Strange Man may have been present during the massacre. This is apparently evidenced by the gruesome and detailed first hand account he gives of Heidi McCourt's death. Recalling details that even John Marston himself could not remember.
- Landon Ricketts' involvement with the massacre is never made clear. While a newspaper in Red Dead Redemption directly names him as a survivor, nothing in Red Dead Redemption 2 mentions or even alludes to his involvement with the events that transpired.
- Later, when the Van der Linde gang decided to rob the Lemoyne National Bank in Saint Denis, which also included a sudden arrival of large number of Pinkerton agents, and an all-out shootout between both parties, Bill Williamson described it as "worse than Blackwater".