(Excerpts from the book are in black, blockquotes from the book are in maroon, endnotes from the book are in small italic, and explanatory notes [not in the book] are in blue.)
“Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers too plainly proves a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.” — Thomas Jefferson.
“The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters…” — J. Edgar Hoover memo establishing the “black nationalist – hate groups” cointelpro, 1967.
“…prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups…prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability…Prevent the rise of a black ‘messiah’ who would unity and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcomb X [sic] might have been such a ‘messiah;’ he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elija Muhammed [sic] all aspire to this position. Elija Muhammed is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white, liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism. Carmichael has the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way.” [emphasis in original] — J. Edgar Hoover memo, early 1968, elaborating on his instructions for the “black nationalist – hate groups” cointelpro.
“It has always been the same. They always have two plans, a peace plan and a war plan. Our grandfathers told us this. If they don’t get their way with the peace plan, then they bring the soldiers. It’s no different today.” — Noble Red Man (Matthew King), Oglala Lakota Elder, 1980.
[NOTE — These are the last several paragraphs of Chapter 8, summing up the coverage of FBI “informers, infiltrators, and agents provocateurs,” of whom Douglass Durham was one of the most damaging and effective. Durham gained Dennis Bank’s friendship and trust, became his personal bodyguard, AIM’s security director, became privy to the innermost workings of the AIM organization, and was designated coordinator of Banks and Russell Means’ defense committee in the “Wounded Knee Leadership Trial.” With access to AIM (American Indian Movement) and WKLDOC (Wounded Knee Legal Defense/Offense Committee) bank accounts, he is estimated to have stolen as much as $100,000 from these accounts. He is also implicated in turning members against other members through bad-jacketing, spreading of rumors, and, directly or indirectly, in the murder of various AIM activists.]
One Aim member concludes that:
“I can’t think of any one person who did more damage to AIM than Doug Durham. The kind of pressure the feds were putting on the leadership after Wounded Knee was already causing problems. Some people were beginning to unwrap, Russ and Dennis were continuously tied up in trials, so there wasn’t a lot they could do about it. Durham just absolutely destroyed the trust inside the organization when he turned out to be a pig…especially when it turned out that there were others as well. Nobody could be sure how far it went…This wasn’t a joke. The feds were trying to put people in prison on totally bogus charges, remember. And this was for heavy time, like 90 years, or 150 years or more than 200 years in a couple of cases. And people were getting killed right and left. So, nobody could afford to be real trusting, if you catch my drift. They were really trying to do us in…The game had become as serious as it gets. The thing with Harvey Major proved that, and the thing with Anna Mae [Aquash], no doubt. And then there was Skyhorse and Mohawk, and the thing with Jancita Eagle Deer, and it just kept comin’ down. All of that was Doug Durham. And that’s not even to mention all the lies and misrepresentations he put out as an ‘official AIM spokesman,’ or the speeches he made for the Birchers, or that bullshit he said to Congress, which got AIM labeled as a ‘terrorist organization.’”
“You could say that a lot of the spirit went out of the movement around what Durham did. Oh, it wasn’t just him. The FBI was doin’ a lot of other stuff which contributed too. And AIM made its own mistakes. But Dennis [Banks] was never the same after he got taken in. And a whole lot of that early feeling, the openness of AIM disappeared. It got to be small groups who already knew each other real well, who couldn’t give up the resistance, but who were thinking more in terms of survival than anything else. That’s what AIM was by 1975. And that’s what happened at Oglala in the summer of ’75 [see Chapter 9]; some feds finally ran into one of these groups which they’d forced into being, and they finally got back what they’d been puttin’ out. They took it on the chin for what Doug Durham and the whole damned FBI had been doing to people.”
Finally, an elder of the Colorado AIM chapter, Vivian Locust (an Oglala), frames the matter at another, perhaps more important level:
“That Durham, he showed us what we were really dealing with. We was trying to act like human beings, reaching out to other human beings, the way Indians always do. But that Durham, he didn’t act like no human being. And I’m not sure what to say he did act like. No conscience. No guilt. No remorse. No human emotion at all. I’d say he acted like a snake, but that’s not fair to snakes. Snakes aren’t that cold. He was more like some kind of machine, a robot…and then we figured out there was a lot more just like him: that [SA David] Price was one, and that [SA William] Wood was another. And there was that [SA Norman] Zigrossi, and [SAC Joseph] Trimbach, and on and on. None of ’em acted human at all. We Indians don’t have any way to cope with people like this.”
“That firefight at Oglala, it ruined things for all of us. The feds set it up, then used it as an excuse for all kinds of violence against us that they couldn’t have gotten away with otherwise. They broke a lot of people’s spirit after that, and the results are still coming down.”
— Rick Williams, (AIM Member), Oglala/Cheyenne.
By the early summer of 1975, Wilsonite violence had proven so sustained and pervasive that the ION (NOTE: Independent Oglala Nation, the grassroots organization supporting AIM on Pine Ridge 1973-1976) traditionals were requesting that AIM provide armed security for their homes, persons and communities. The FBI, in a memo prepared during the first week of June, noted this trend and pointed out that, as a result, “there are pockets of Indian population which consist almost exclusively of American Indian Movement…members and their supporters on the Reservation.” The accuracy of this observation is corroborated by AIM member Nilak Butler, at the time a resident of the Tent City, near the village of Oglala, one of AIM’s more important defensive centers. She recalls that the concentration had occurred because, “Oglala was so violent at that time, [that] we were asked to be like a peace-keeping force.” Roselyn Jumping Bull, the middle-aged proprietor of “Jumping Bull Compound” — the property on which the Tent City was located — concurs with both Butler and the Bureau:
“We asked…AIM boys to come help us. The boys said ‘OK. We’ll come to help you all we can’…Our [own, non-AIM] boys can’t even do nothing. They can’t even speak up for themselves ’cause they’re so scared of Dick Wilson and his goons.”
The Bureau, having put its finger squarely on this bit of reality, nonetheless abandoned truthfulness in its summary, stating: “It is significant that in some of these AIM centers the residents have built bunkers which would literally require military assault forces if it were necessary to overcome resistance emanating from the bunkers.” With regard to the Jumping Bull property in particular, the memo goes on:
“According to the Agents it had been determined that the Indians were prepared to use these ‘bunkers’ as a defensive position and it was believed they were constructed in such a fashion as to defend against a frontal assault. To successfully overcome automatic or semi-automatic fire from such ‘bunkers’ it appeared as though heavy equipment such as an armored personnel carrier would be required…The ‘bunkers’ in question were observed from a moving automobile for approximately two minutes. The Agents recommended no attempt be made to obtain a closer view as the people residing in the area were AIM members and were known to be unfriendly to the FBI.”
This wholly fictional notion of AIM’s having constructed fixed fortifications on the Jumping Bull land would, by the end of the month, figure prominently in an FBI disinformation effort (see Chapter 10). In the meantime, however, the camp served as a symbol of the challenge to federal control still being mounted by the AIM/ION amalgam after two solid years of escalating Bureau-fostered repression. Further, the removal of armed defensive enclaves was beyond the capabilities of the GOON squads (Guardians of the Oglala Nation — Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson’s personal “security” force, used to physically punish his opponents, especially AIM leaders). The point had been reached where a large-scale intervention by the FBI itself was needed to bring about the final destruction of AIM and allied traditionals. Agents in the area were being “psyched up” for the coming battle.
The only substantial questions which confronted Bureau strategists were simply how, where and when to provoke a confrontation of sufficient magnitude to warrant another massive application of federal force to Pine Ridge. The answers were shortly forthcoming.
[NOTE: For information about the previous “massive application of federal force to Pine Ridge,” see Chapter 5, “The Pine Ridge Battleground,” which covers the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee.]
The Cowboy Boot Caper
On June 25, 1975, “some time after 4 p.m.”, SAs Ronald Williams and Jack Coler accompanied by BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] police officers Robert Ecoffey (an Oglala GOON) and Glenn Little Bird (Nez Perce and a suspected GOON) drove into the Jumping Bull Compound. They claimed to have a warrant for the arrest of a young Oglala AIM supporter named Jimmy Eagle (age nineteen, a grandson of ION leader Gladys Bissonette) who, along with three other reservation youths, was being sought on charges of “kidnapping, aggravated assault and aggravated robbery.” In actuality,
“What [is difficult] to explain [is] the triviality of the offense for which a federal warrant had been issued…On June 23, Jimmy Eagle and the other three youths sought — Teddy Pourier, Hobart Horse, and Herman Thunder Hawk — had been drinking at Pourier’s house with two young white ranch hands whom they had known for most of their lives. A friendly party turned into a free-for-all, in the course of which Horse got into a wrestling match with one of the whites while Eagle removed a pair of cowboy boots from the feet of the other…if the victim had been Indian, it is very unlikely that charges would have been filed at all. The white youths registered a complaint, which was probably justified; what perplexed the Indians was why warrants were issued without investigation, and why a BIA patrolman was not sent out on this errand, which was a matter for tribal court, and why a petty misdemeanor had been transformed overnight into two felonies. For want of a better explanation, one must suppose that a felony was needed to give [FBI] agents jurisdiction on the reservation. The press…were led to believe that a kidnapping (a capital crime) had occurred, when in fact this allegation had no substance whatsoever, and was dropped quickly without explanation. In fact, the whole episode was so inconsequential that all but Eagle were eventually released on unsecured bonds, or in the custody of others, and Eagle himself was tried only on the robbery charge and then acquitted.”
Thus, with scores of unsolved murders clogging the investigative docket of the FBI on Pine Ridge — and the head of the Bureau’s Rapid City office, George O’Clock, pleading “lack of manpower” in pursuing these investigations — two agents had been dispatched to chase down a teenager who, at most, was guilty of stealing a pair of used cowboy boots. The absurdity of this is compounded by the fact that neither of the agents was even in possession of the warrant they were supposedly trying to serve.
In any event, SAs Coler and Williams and their BIA police counterparts, having first performed a warrantless search on the home of Wanda Siers, the residence closest to Highway 18 within the Jumping Bull property…were informed by AIM member Dusty Nelson (an Oglala, aka John Star Yellow Wood) that Jimmy Eagle was not present and had not been seen in the vicinity for several days. From the Siers cabin, “the agents could see a number of Indians watching in silence from the compound, perhaps two hundred yards away…and apparently decided against going any closer.” Their preliminary reconnaissance completed, all four law enforcement personnel departed.
Shortly thereafter, Coler and Williams confronted three young AIM members — Norman Charles (Navajo), Mike “Baby AIM” Anderson (Navajo), and Wilford “Wish” Draper (Navajo) — who were walking back to the Tent City along Highway 18 after having gone to Oglala to shower. Arbitrarily, as none of the three was accused of criminal activity or remotely resembled “fugitive” Jimmy Eagle, all three boys were ordered into the FBI car and taken to BIA police headquarters in Pine Ridge village. Although quickly released, they were first interrogated, not so much about Jimmy Eagle’s possible presence in the Tent City or elsewhere on the Jumping Bull property, as about who else was in residence there. As Peter Matthiessen succinctly points out, it is not difficult to discern why it is widely believed on Pine Ridge that the whole “cowboy boot caper” was contrived by the Bureau as an expedient to gathering tactical intelligence and establishing a prior justification for an already decided-upon confrontation.
Between 11 and 11:45 a.m. on June 26, 1975, SAs Coler and Williams returned to the Jumping Bull Compound. They drove past the Siers cabin and proceeded along a lane down a slope leading toward Tent City, positioned at the bottom across a meadow at the edge of the timber surrounding White Clay Creek. According to a 302 Report [standard reports filed regularly by FBI agents] filed by SA Gerard Waring, who monitored Coler’s and Williams’ radio communications, the pair of agents were following a “red and white vehicle” in which there seemed “to be some Indians” who “appear[ed] to have rifles.”
For reasons which remain quite unclear, the agents stopped their cars at the bottom of the incline and began to fire at an undetermined number of Indians ahead of them. According to Peter Matthiessen, Angie Long Visitor, a young Oglala who lived in the “green house” at the Jumping Bull Compound, later recollected:
“Two strange cars were parked in the pasture west of the compound and below, down toward the horse corral, at the edge of the creek woods. One of the two white men — she assumed they were lawmen because of the radio aerials and good condition of the cars — was removing a gun case from the trunk of [his] car; the other was kneeling and shooting in her direction with a handgun.”
Persons in the AIM encampment, believing themselves to be under attack by GOONs or members of a white vigilante group, [ENDNOTE #16: As Mathiessen, op. cit., (Peter Mathiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Viking Press, New York, 1984) observes at p. 186, both agents were dressed casually. Jack Coler was wearing a “green shirt and white T-shirt, red-belted tan jeans, white socks, [and] tan moccasins.” Ron Williams was wearing a white sport shirt, “blue-checkered slacks, black socks, and red-brown loafers.” This attire, in combination with their unmarked cars might well have made them initially appear to be civilian gunmen rather than FBI agents] returned fire. As AIM member Darelle “Dino” Butler (Tuni) remembers it, “I was in the tipi with my wife [Nilak]. We were just getting up, and I heard firing up there. Norman Brown came down and said, ‘There is shooting up there, we got to get up there.’ So I grabbed my gun and told my wife to take Jean [Bordeaux, a 14-year-old Oglala who was staying with the Butlers] and the other girl out of there.” Years later, Butler also recounted how, “them agents could still have got away without any trouble…the agents could have gone back out that way, but they didn’t.” AIM member Bob Robideau (Chippewa) concurs:
“What we couldn’t understand was why them two men stayed right where they were, down in that field; they couldn’t have picked a worse place in the first place. The least they could have done was backed them cars down into the woods — that would’ve been easy. Or at least run for the corrals, where there was a little cover. They didn’t even try to take cover; the most they did was kneel down alongside their car. The rest of the time they just stood there, right out in the open.”
A clue to understanding such peculiar behavior may be found in a radio transmission made by SA Williams almost as soon as the shooting had begun, requesting someone to “get to the high ground” and provide “covering fire” for him and Coler. Exactly who Williams thought would be in a position to accomplish such a feat in the remote locale of the firefight was quickly clarified.
“Almost immediately, someone yelled that two more cars were coming in off Highway 18, one of them a green-and-white BIA patrol car [manned by Fred Two Bulls, an Oglala and a known GOON], and [Norman] Brown ran across to the log cabin to divert the attention of these cars with his .22. Apparently, [Mike] Anderson and [AIM member] Norman Charles were also firing at those cars. At a distance of nearly two hundred yards, the young Indians succeeded in shooting out one tire on each of them, and the cars backed up in a wild zigzagging retreat along [the lane] toward Highway 18, before one of them got stuck in a muddy ditch. After a long-range exchange with a big white man [SA J. Gary Adams] who jumped out of his car and started shooting, Brown returned [to the hill overlooking Williams and Coler].”
As Nilak Butler recalls, when the firing gained in intensity she asked others:
“[W]ell, what’s going on? They said, oh, they’re having a firefight over there. And they said it might be police officials [as opposed to GOONs], and they said they were taking off. All of this happened really fast; it probably takes longer to tell about it than it actually happened. So we [she, Jean Bordeaux and several children] took off; we were running into this one area where we knew there was a bridge to get to the main road and try to get the kids out of there, and by the time we hit the main road, there was already a roadblock on it, and a lot of people there. And I was so surprised because it seemed like the shooting had just barely started and already they had roadblocks up…and at this time we saw helicopters, and I remember thinking, what the hell is this?”
Meanwhile, AIM member Edgar Bear Runner (Oglala), who lived near Oglala, observed that “paramilitary forces had been surrounding the Oglala region all that morning,” and had set out on foot to warn the residents of the Tent City that “something ominous was taking place” prior to the beginning of the firefight. At about the same time that the shooting began around the Jumping Bull Compound, Bear Runner was about three-quarters of a mile away. Here, he encountered “Dick Wilson and about 20 GOONs and BIA police” setting up a roadblock. Detouring through a field to get around this obstacle, he came upon a “force of 150 white men — state troopers, U.S. marshals, SWAT teams” at a distance of approximately one-quarter mile from the scene of what the police were already calling “the shoot-out.” This corresponds very well with the recollection of Dino Butler that, very early in the fighting:
“[T]he Long Visitors were already on their way out, and I told them which way to go; they were hurrying toward the road…Later they said that a car came along right away and picked them up, and that just down the road toward Pine Ridge [Highway 18], there was a big van parked, and someone was handing out weapons to white lawmen. So that was happening within fifteen minutes [after the firing began].”
It being physically impossible that the various police agencies involved could simply have responded to Coler’s and Williams’ distress calls, transmitted from a very isolated location, with such strength and speed, it becomes obvious that large numbers of police and GOONs had been prepositioned in the immediate vicinity before the two agents approached the Tent City. This would explain the odd belligerence with which the two “lone” lawmen treated a far larger number of supposedly armed and dangerous opponents, and the cavalier behavior they exhibited once the Indians began to return fire. It appears that their mission, using the spurious warrant for Jimmy Eagle as a cover, was to provoke a shooting altercation which overwhelming numbers of their police and GOON colleagues would then finish. AIM was to be the loser, not only of the immediate “shoot-out,” but in the longer term as the Bureau escalated the tactics employed against the organization and increased the number of agents assigned to Pine Ridge. As both Dino Butler and Bob Robideau put it, Coler and Williams acted as they did because “they thought that people were coming in there quick to back them up.”
Planning for the operation, however, seems to have been based largely on Coler’s and Williams’ reconnaissance of the compound the day before and the subsequent interrogation of Mike Anderson, Norman Charles and Wish Draper. On the morning of the 26th, the agents probably expected to encounter only the three boys, Norman Brown, Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, Dino Butler, and Dusty Nelson, as well as several unarmed women and children in the AIM camp. However, the actions of the agents on the 25th had alerted AIM members and supporters in the Oglala area that something was seriously amiss. As a consequence, a large number of them — SA David Price has estimated that there were at least thirty — had gravitated to the Jumping Bull property by mid-morning of the fatal day. In addition to the eight fighters who were anticipated to be present when Coler and Williams arrived, the Bureau shortly identified David Sky (Oglala), Sam Loud Hawk (Oglala), Kenny Loud Hawk (Oglala), June Little (Oglala), Bruce “Beau” Little (Oglala), Jerry Mousseau (Oglala), Hobart Horse (Oglala), Cris Westerman (Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota), Richard Little (Oglala), Frank Black Horse (aka: Richard Tall Bull and Frank DeLuca, an Italian from Cleveland who was adopted by a Pine Ridge family), Jimmy Eagle, Leon Eagle (Oglala), Herman Thunder Hawk (Oglala), Melvin Lee Houston (Oglala-Chippewa), Dave Hill (Russell Means’ cohort during the Custer courthouse confrontation and resulting trial; see Chapter 5), and Joe Stuntz Killsright (Coeur D’Alene) as being among those it believed had participated in the firefight.
The reality, of course, was that Coler and Williams were vastly outgunned from the moment they commenced firing, although it is doubtful they realized it at the outset. Further, AIM and its supporters had sufficient firepower available to turn back the initial attempts at reinforcement, sealing the two agents — Custer-like — in their self-made trap. At about the same time that SA Adams and BIA police officer Two Bulls were driven back from their attempt to enter the Jumping Bull Compound, Coler was hit by a rifle bullet fired at long range; the round, a .44 magnum, first struck the open door of his car and splayed before nearly severing the agent’s right arm near the shoulder. The wound, which was probably fatal, put Coler out of action, leaving Williams truly alone. At this point, the initial cockiness he had displayed deserted him, and the FBI radio log records his desperate transmission, “If someone could get on top of the ridge and give us cover, we might still be able to get out of here.” Moments later, his radio communications degenerated to the point of repeating over and over again: “Come on guys. Come on guys.” His transmissions are reported to have ended abruptly with the mumbled statement, “I’m hit,” a moan and then silence. According to the Rapid City FBI office, there were no further transmissions by either agent “after approximately 12:10 p.m.”
Coler and Williams were simply abandoned once Adams and Two Bulls retreated. The tactical commander of the BIA SWAT forces prepositioned near Oglala that day, Marvin Stoldt (an Oglala and a known GOON), later stated in an interview with a WKLDOC investigator that:
“[T]hey [the SWAT team] were to serve as a backup unit to the two FBI agents, that the FBI agents were aware of the explosive atmosphere which existed at the time and in fact were pre-warned [sic] about the same. Mr. Stoldt expressed his belief that the FBI was testing the situation at Pine Ridge…That they had heard the distress call (radio) come over the air from the two FBI agents, that they (SWAT team) were unable to assist the two FBI agents because of the heavy gunfire.”
What is most striking about this is not that Stoldt, a relative bit player, might have decided not to risk his neck on behalf of two FBI agents, but that both SA Adams and BIA police/GOON leader Delmar Eastman must have approved the decision to abort the backup effort at the first sign of serious resistance. Rather than attempting to use the perhaps 200 heavily armed men at their disposal to force their way to their embattled comrades barely 200 yards away, they opted to hang back along the main road and engage for “about forty minutes” in “a long-range and sporadic exchange between the cabins [in the Jumping Bull Compound] and the cluster of official cars out on Highway 18.”
Meanwhile, reinforcements to the police poured into the area (by dusk, there were more than 250 on the scene) and, as Bob Robideau later wrote, “By noon our defensive positions were completely surrounded by FBI agents, some of whom were SWAT-trained, BIA police, BIA SWAT teams, state law enforcement, and non-law enforcement who were comprised of local white farmers and goons.” Nonetheless, using the cover of brush along White Clay Creek, AIM and ION people were beginning to slip away at a rapid rate. SA David Price, who’d blown the engine of his car while en route, received a ride from WKLDOC researcher Joanna LeDeaux when she happened by. Upon their arrival near the Jumping Bull property at about 12:30 p.m., LeDeaux volunteered to go into the Tent City and attempt to arrange a ceasefire. According to the 302 Report of SA Adams for June 26, she was gone “about an hour” and then returned, stating to BIA Superintendent Kendall Cummings that “no negotiation was possible.” Before Adams or other agents could question her, LeDeaux drove away. At about the same time that LeDeaux returned to Highway 18 (1:30 p.m.) another contingent of South Dakota highway patrolmen showed up, followed immediately by a Fall River County “sheriff’s posse” headed by South Dakota Attorney General William “Wild Bill” Janklow and his assistant William Delaney. [ENDNOTE #35: Janklow was in Hot Springs that day, trying Dennis Banks in the Custer Courthouse case. Upon receiving news of the firefight, he raised a “posse” which was ready to go on such short notice that it lends additional credence to the notion that forces had been pre-positioned for this purpose. The whole group then made the approximate 30 minute (high speed) drive to Oglala. Clearly, not a minute was wasted in bringing these vigilantes to bear. A June 26, 1975 Rapid City FBI office Radio Log entry (transcribed 7/16/75; transcriber’s initials, “m.j.r.”) mentions the arrival of the Janklow group and that they were “armed with M-16’s.”]
What LeDeaux had discovered was that both Coler and Williams had been dead for some time and that the remaining people within the AIM positions had thinned to a sort of rear guard covering the retreat of others. By 2 p.m., even this much reduced group had divided itself, leaving two or three people to “pin down” the huge police force with random pot shots while the others evacuated along the creek. [ENDNOTE #36: At p. 161, Matthiessen, op. cit., (Matthiessen, Peter, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Viking Press, New York, 1984) names the final rear guard as being composed of Joe Sturtz Killsright and Norman Charles, who were covering the retreat of Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau and Dino Butler. Together, these five would have been the initial rear guard group encountered by LeDeaux.] Although, as Robideau noted, various groups of agents, police and GOONs had worked themselves around the Jumping Bull property — “flankering,” as SA Dean Hughes (head of the FBI SWAT team) was to put it — it was not until 4:20 p.m. that another effort was made to move to Coler’s and Williams’ assistance. Even then, the FBI’s “probe” of the AIM positions came in the form of sending Edgar Bear Runner — with hands raised all the way, lest he be gunned down by a brave Bureau sniper — in to find out what was going on. When Bear Runner returned to Highway 18 approximately a half-hour later, he informed BIA superintendent Cummings that both agents appeared to be dead, and the Jumping Bull property seemed deserted. Bear Runner and Cummings were then “allowed” to walk back in — both with their hands raised — in order to verify that the agents were indeed dead.
At 5:50 p.m., according to SA Hughes’ 302 Report, he finally “gave the order to assault the houses.” In his testimony at the Cedar Rapids trial of Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, Hughes states that while he was “running zigzag fashion,” he “heard a lot of fire from the group that [SA David] Price had that was assaulting the green house.” He goes on that, moments later he “walked over and observed this dead Indian male…I believe he had a bullet hole in the upper part of his head, although I’m not positive about that. The foremost thing I observed, he was wearing an FBI SWAT jacket which I recognized, and it had the letters ‘FBI’ on the left breast pocket.” The assault group proceeded to shoot up and teargas all the structures within the Jumping Bull Compound, but failed to turn up any more Indians.
The dead Indian was Joe Stuntz Killsright, apparently among the last remnant of AIM’s rear guard. According to the FBI’s autopsy report (echoed by Hughes from the witness stand in Cedar Rapids, although he professed to be “not positive” if it were true), Killsright had been killed by a single, long-range rifle shot to the forehead. However, South Dakota Assistant Attorney General Delaney who — as a prominent member of a vigilante group — was among the first to view the body, stated on June 28, 1975, that: “[T]he dead Indian was lying on his back, and when he was turned over, it appeared he had…received a burst in the back and there was blood coming from the back of his jacket.” NPR reporter (and Minneapolis Tribune stringer) Kevin McKiernan — who in a momentary, confused lapse in the FBI’s usual “security” against on-the-scene press coverage of its anti-AIM operations, was admitted to the Jumping Bull Compound — also contends the Bureau’s “bullet-in-the-forehead story is false.” McKiernan, who photographed the body from several angles (none of the photos reveals a facial wound) insists that, “The only blood I saw was coming down the jacket sleeve,” and suggests that the SWAT jacket may have been put on Killsright’s corpse to hide how he had died, “before outside observers were allowed into the area.” Finally, AIM member Mike Anderson later recounted how Norman Charles, Killsright’s team-mate in the rear guard action, told him shortly afterward that, as the pair was escaping from the FBI’s “final assault,” Killsright “had been hit and was bleeding too bad to take along.” [ENDNOTE #46: Matthiessen, op. cit., p. 199. Bruce Ellison is in possession of a full-face picture of Killsright’s body taken by an FBI photographer some time after McKiernan’s photos were taken; the FBI photo reveals the forehead shot which appears absent in the McKiernan pictures. In the FBI photo, Killsright’s head wound is remarkably clean, indicating it had either been cleaned of gore for the occasion, or that it had been administered after the victim had died and blood had drained from the body. No official medical estimation of the range at which the head shot was fired has ever been forthcoming, insofar as no autopsy was performed; Killsright’s body was handled by W. O. Brown, the FBI-retained Nebraska pathologist who performed suspect autopsies on Pedro Bissonette and Anna Mae Aquash (see Chapter 7).]
None of this squares with the official Bureau version of Killsright’s death at the hands of a long-range sniper. No FBI investigation into how Killsright died was ever undertaken, and no independent autopsy was ever performed. There is thus a more than passing possibility that SA David Price’s assault unit may have capped a day of FBI provocation, bungling and cowardice — ingredients which led to the deaths of two of its agents — with the summary execution of an AIM member. This combination of circumstances goes far toward explaining why, in the face of all facts, Bureau spokesmen began their vehement public insistence that the Indians had held off numerically superior forces for hours by “fighting from bunkers” and that its agents had been unwittingly ambushed while in the normal performance of their duties (see Chapter 10).
In any event, by 5:30 p.m. on June 26, “SAC Joseph Trimbach and a special sniper team from Minneapolis, as well as other [FBI] units from around the country” were flying into Rapid City, and “already, armored personnel carriers and high explosives were on the way to Pine Ridge for the second time in not much more than two years.” The Bureau, as Dino Butler puts it, was now prepared “to clear out the last pocket[s] of real resistance on the reservation.”
The Invasion of Pine Ridge
The morning after the Oglala firefight, the FBI moved onto Pine Ridge and the adjoining Rosebud Reservation in force. Approximately 200 agents, augmented by sizable complements of U.S. Marshals Service SOG personnel, BIA police, GOONs and non-Indian vigilantes, utilizing at least nine armored personnel carriers and several Bell (UH-1B) “Huey” helicopters, conducted massive operations in both locales. Numerous incidents of warrantless search (and seizure), breaking and entering, destruction of private property, physical intimidation, false arrest and other systematic deprivations of civil rights accompanied these Vietnam-style operations. As Jim Messerschmidt has pointed out, “assault teams, equipped with M-16s, helicopters, and tracking dogs carried out a series of raids on the reservation in the largest display of strength ever mustered by the Bureau.” Bruce Johansen and Roberto Maestes amplify this by observing that:
“The day after the shootout, Richard [G.] Held…arrived in South Dakota with a force of 170 armed agents [more than 40 had already been posted to the Pine Ridge area], who began a military style sweep across the reservation seeking suspects. The agents used M-16s, helicopters, tracking dogs, and armored personnel carriers to conduct a series of raids, during which many Lakota said the FBI broke into homes without warrants, physically abused innocent bystanders…”
William Muldrow, of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Rocky Mountain Regional Office, who was dispatched to Pine Ridge at the time (specifically to investigate FBI methods employed on the reservation) officially concurred with Johansen and Maestes:
“The FBI immediately launched a large-scale search for the suspected slayers which involved 100 to 200 combat-clad FBI agents, BIA policemen, SWAT teams, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and tracking dogs. An increasing volume of requests for information regarding the incident and numerous reports and complaints of threats, harassment, and search procedures conducted without due process of law by the FBI prompted my visit to the reservation to gather firsthand information.”
A later Civil Rights Commission report followed up by noting that:
“[T]he BIA and State Police [both of which operated on Pine Ridge during this period under direct control of the FBI] seemed to make a habit of search and seizure without due cause and/or warrant.”
The Bureau’s official designation for this conduct was the RESMURS (Reservation Murders) Investigation. However, “[t]he Reservation Murders Investigation was concerned only with the killings of the agents [Coler and Williams]; it did not concern itself with the dozens of murders committed in the past three years on the reservation, almost none of which had been investigated, much less solved.” Not unnaturally, the “FBI’s tactics caused a great deal of resentment among many traditional Indians, who had watched their friends and relatives killed without a hint of investigation by the FBI.”
Indicative of what was going on was the plight of the elderly Jumping Bulls, Harry and Cecelia (parents of Roselyn), who had returned from a trip to sell yearling calves in Gordon, Nebraska, at about 7 p.m. on the evening of June 26, to find their property literally crawling with FBI, police and GOONs. A feisty woman in her mid-seventies, Cecilia immediately confronted a “white officer lawman,” presumably from the FBI, wanting to know what they were doing on her property:
Law Officer: “Don’t you know two men [were] killed?”
Cecelia: “Is this one of them?” (Pointing to somebody laying there, in front of the Green [Long Visitor] House).
Law Officer: “No, down there.” (Pointing toward the west, towards the corrals…).
Cecelia: “What is that lying there?”
Law Officer: “That’s just an Indian.”
Cecelia: “Can I see it?”
Law Officer: “Yes.” (Calls to another officer to uncover his [Killsright’s] face).
(Cecelia walks over to the body and mourns.)
The elder Jumping Bulls, whose home had been teargassed and shot full of holes (family photos had also been shot at pointblank range), even after it became obvious that the building was harboring no AIM snipers, were summarily evicted. Seventy-nine-year-old Harry spent the next several days unsuccessfully attempting to obtain permission even to visit his home, while Cecelia began to show signs of a nervous breakdown. Finally, “[o]utraged that their respected elders should be forbidden access to their property, the traditional people of the White Clay District, more than two hundred strong, marched on the BIA roadblocks, which rapidly dissolved.” With that, the Bureau grudgingly “authorized” the Jumping Bulls to return.
On July 2, seventy-five-year-old Wallace Little, Sr.’s residence — near the Jumping Bull property — was surrounded by a dozen federal cars and SWAT vans containing approximately fifty battle-clad agents. Although Little protested that they had no right to be on his property and demanded to see a warrant, he was detained at gunpoint while “two agents ransacked his house.” On July 12, SA J. Gary Adams led a similar raid on AIM member Oscar Bear Runner’s home in Porcupine, by which time the FBI’s “[b]ursting into houses and threatening and scaring people had caused the death [by heart attack] of an old man named James Brings Yellow, in Oglala, and as these searches spread across Pine Ridge, the Indians signed a general petition demanding that the FBI leave the reservation.”
The breaking-and-entering, threats, harassment, and many other illegal procedures entirely alienated the Lakota, even Wilson supporters who might otherwise have helped;
“the Sioux Tribal Council chairmen, after a special meeting on July 12, demanded an immediate withdrawal of most of the FBI agents and U.S. marshals from Pine Ridge and other reservations; they suggested that Oglala tribal officials, Dick Wilson included, be removed from office if they failed to reinstate constitutional procedures, and they also asked [South Dakota] Governor Kneip to reprimand Attorney General Janklow for his inflammatory statements. For once, the BIA’s Indian governments were supporting all the Indian people they were supposed to represent.”
— Matthiessen, op. cit.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights quickly determined that the operations had assumed the characteristics of “an over-reaction which takes on aspects of a vendetta,” and its chairman, Arthur J. Flemming , in a letter of protest to U.S. Attorney General Levi, dated July 22, 1975, described RESMURS as a “full-scale military type invasion” of Pine Ridge. He continued:
“[The FBI’s presence in such force] has created a deep resentment on the part of many reservation residents who feel that such a procedure would not be tolerated in any non-Indian community in the United States. They point out that little has been done to solve numerous murders on the reservation, but when two white men are killed, ‘troops’ are brought in from all over the country at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Flemming’s letter might be seen as a followup of sorts to another, written by South Dakota Senator James Abourezk to President Gerald Ford on June 27, requesting that the chief executive intervene directly to forestall the invasion of Pine Ridge. Abourezk noted that he had entered a number of appeals to both the Justice Department and the FBI over the preceding two years, to the effect that they do something to curtail the mounting violence on the reservation, only to be met with a “bureaucratic” response and “no action.” The Senator concluded that, “[a]t the very least, they [the FBI] have an interest in keeping things stirred up.” Ford, of course, did nothing at all.
The Bureau was able to quash such objections through the ample utilization of propaganda, first through a series of press conferences in Rapid City to provide grossly inaccurate information as to what had actually happened to Coler and Williams (see Chapter 10), and then by release of equally fictional documents purporting to show that the Oglala firefight was merely the opening round of an incipient wave of “AIM violence.” An example of the latter reads as follows:
“[Area residents have been warned to] get all of their valuables and possessions and themselves out of the [Mt.] Rushmore area as soon as possible because there is going to be a lot of trouble…(deleted) said that AIM has a suicide squad which is extremely well trained in military and guerrilla tactics. The members of this squad are mostly Vietnam veterans, who are heavily armed and have displayed their weapons at AIM meetings in the past. (deleted) believes that there are about thirty members of this AIM suicide squad…AIM people have been telling the general Indian population that on the Fourth of July ‘the mountain will come down’…(deleted) is thoroughly familiar with the incident at Pine Ridge which resulted in the killings of the two FBI agents. He said that as (deleted) talked he could not help but feel that the two agents who were killed had accidently walked into the holding area for the suicide squad…(deleted) feels that ‘sniffer dogs’ trained to detect explosives should be brought to Mount Rushmore immediately.” [ENDNOTE #61: Memorandum from SAC Minneapolis (Richard G. Held) to Director, FBI, dated July2, 1975, and captioned THE THREAT TO DESTROY MOUNT RUSHMORE (DESTRUCTION OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY); the memo was apparently prepared in response to a July 1 statement by AIM spokesperson Ted Means that the organization would conduct a peaceful march to Mount Rushmore on July 4, in honor of “our brother who died near Oglala [Killsright].” Author Churchill was at Mt. Rushmore on the day in question; the most “militant” or “dangerous” act observed on the part of relatively few Indian people who gathered there was a tobacco ceremony. The federal security personnel in the area, on the other hand, proved both belligerent and menacing. For an establishment press account of what actually transpired at Mt. Rushmore, see Slaughter, Thomas E., “Banks says whites on trial,” Rapid City Journal, July 5, 1975. p. 3.]
Nothing happened at Mt. Rushmore on July 4 and there were no signs at all of the supposed AIM guerrilla campaign, although a group of Indians, tired of being buzzed by an FBI Huey dubbed “Hotel One,” shot the helicopter down in the hills north of Pine Ridge village; however the disinformation campaign was largely successful. The Church Committee, for instance, which was then concluding its investigation of the illegalities surrounding the Bureau’s formally designated COINTELPRO operations, had announced an intention to investigate the FBI’s anti-AIM campaign but suspended that effort on July 3:
“Attached is a letter from the Senate Select Committee (SSC), dated 6-23-75, addressed to [Attorney General] Edward S. Levi. This letter announces the SSC’s intent to conduct interviews relating to Douglass Durham, a former Bureau informant. The request obviously relates to our investigation at ‘Wounded Knee’ and our investigation of the American Indian Movement. This request was received 6-27-75, by Legal Division…On 6-27-75, Patrick Shea, staff member of the SSC, requested we hold in abeyance any action on the request in view of the killing of the Agents at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota.”
Once “postponed,” the investigation of the relationship between the FBI’s COINTELPRO methods and what was happening to AIM on Pine Ridge was never reopened.
[NOTE: Summing up the FBI’s resulting legal maneuvers, etc., and ending Chapter 9:]
“The way the FBIs worked this, offering money to poor people to tell lies about each other, offering to drop charges against people in exchange for testimony — false testimony — about other people, it was sick. They didn’t get many people to take ’em up on it, but all they needed was one or two. Then instead of trust, you had suspicion. Then, instead of a movement, you had individuals, or individual families, trying to look out for themselves, to protect each other no matter who else got hurt. It’s a normal human reaction to what the FBIs were doing to people. And, you know what? It never did the FBI no good in court, even though it sure messed up a lot of lives on this reservation. A lot of folks never have got back their self-respect after what the FBIs put ’em through. But, maybe that was their point, eh?”
— Theda Nelson, long-time Oglala resident and AIM member.
Like the invasion of Pine Ridge and the Oglala firefight itself, the FBI’s utilization of grand juries, subpoena power and related incarcerations during its RESMURS Investigation had little to do with law enforcement, pursuit of justice or the desire to punish the guilty. Rather, from beginning to end, the entire operation was simply a drive to break the spirit of a people, to break their will and ability to resist the imposition of unjust authority.