LEONARD: Political Prisoner

Treaties, Goons, and G-Men (Part 2)

July 30, 2020 Man Bites Dog Films Season 1 Episode 4
LEONARD: Political Prisoner
Treaties, Goons, and G-Men (Part 2)
Show Notes Transcript

Edgar Bear Runner, the newly elected President of the Porcupine District of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, was just 25 on the morning of June 26, 1975. When shots rang out on the Jumping Bull ranch between the FBI and members of the American Indian Movement, Edgar visited a Lakota medicine man, said a prayer, and went in to help negotiate a truce. But he also had an ulterior motive: to help buy time for the AIMsters to escape.


Episode 4: Treaties, Goons, and G-Men (Part 2)


LEONARD PELTIER
The Oglalas came and made a presentation to the American Indian Movement and told about the terrorism that was going on, the homes that were being shot up, the people that were dying. How much fear they had. These were older ladies who made these presentations.


VO
This is Leonard Peltier, speaking to filmmaker Michael Apted back in 1991 for the documentary, Incident at Oglala


LEONARD PELTIER
It was real. It wasn’t just something they were imagining. They needed some help from the American Indian Movement. But one of the things we’ve got to do, we can’t just go around here claiming to be the American Indian Movement members who are concerned about people and everything else. We got to really start doing stuff. Building community gardens, chopping wood, hauling water. Whatever they needed done, I said, ‘That’s your responsibility.’ That’s what a warrior’s responsibility is. It’s not just prancing around with a gun in their hand and showing everybody they’re tough. In our society, that’s not a warrior’s role.


VO
You’re listening to LEONARD: a new podcast series about Leonard Peltier, the longest-serving political prisoner in American history.  I’m Andrew Fuller. 

And I’m Rory-Owen Delaney. We’ve spent the last year working to share Leonard’s story with a new generation of people: who he is, how he ended up behind bars, and why we believe he deserves to go free.  

And at long last, in this episode, we’re visiting the site of the Pine Ridge shootout. And we’ll be hearing directly from some of the people who were there that day. Including Leonard Peltier himself. 


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
So we're getting very close… See that house over there with the red roof?


VO
This is our guide, Edgar Bear Runner, a Lakota Tribal historian, and a former President of the Porcupine District of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Edgar is the son of Oscar Bear Runner, a WWII veteran and respected elder who took part in the armed occupation of Wounded Knee, SD in 1973.

Two years later, on June 26, 1975, when the firefight broke out on the Jumping Bull ranch between two undercover FBI agents and members of the American Indian Movement, Edgar was there. But before he takes us to the ranch, we probably need to do a quick recap. 

There are so many moving pieces in this story that we’ve found it’s good to regain our footing from time to time and just review the events that led up to the shootout on Pine Ridge.

In 1968, indigenous activists in Minneapolis, fed up with centuries of oppression and abuse, founded AIM: the American Indian Movement.

Soon chapters of the organization spread nationwide. And in 1969, a coalition of protest groups including AIM members, calling itself Indians of All Tribes, seized the island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay and held it for nearly 2 years.

In 1970, inspired by the success of the Alcatraz action, a group called United Native Americans marched in and occupied the Mount Rushmore National Monument. The very existence of the mountain-sized memorial, as Edgar Bear Runner explained in episode 2 of this podcast, is a direct violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty that established the Great Sioux Nation. But even more importantly, Mount Rushmore defaces Paha Sapa: the Black Hills; the most sacred land in the Lakota universe.

In 1971, after the Alcatraz occupation had ended, leader Richard Oakes was murdered by a white supremacist named Michael Morgan. And in 1972, a jury found Morgan not guilty—saying he’d shot Oakes in self defense, even though Oakes wasn’t armed.  

Enraged by Morgan’s acquittal, a caravan of protestors embarked on the Trail of Broken Treaties, a cross-country protest that launched from California and landed in Washington DC the week before Richard Nixon’s reelection.

When the Nixon administration refused to meet with the activists, demonstrators took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. -- and refused to leave for 6 days.

1972 was also the year Dick Wilson was first elected Tribal Council Chairman of Pine Ridge. Almost as soon as he got into office, evidence mounted that he was embezzling money to enrich his friends and fund his militia: the Guardians of the Oglala Nation; the GOON squad. 

And so, traditional members of the Tribal Council brought impeachment charges against Wilson in February of 1973. And several hundred Lakota, joined by members of AIM, marched on Pine Ridge in protest, demanding Wilson's resignation.

But Wilson presided over his own hearing and, perhaps unsurprisingly, secured an acquittal. So the activists seized the village of Wounded Knee, the same site where, in 1890, US Army soldiers killed more than 300 unarmed Lakota -- half of whom were women and children.

As we heard in detail in part 1 of this episode, the US Government had backed Wilson's election in part because Wilson was willing to hand over the Sheep Mountain gunnery range uranium reserves—1 full 8th of the Pine Ridge Reservation. 

On top of that, AIM had embarrassed the White House repeatedly with high-profile occupations of public property. So when AIM took Wounded Knee, Dick Wilson called on the Feds, and the US Marshals and the FBI rolled onto Pine Ridge in tanks.

After a 71-day siege that left two activists dead but ended in a stalemate, the Feds put their knee on AIM's neck, arresting nearly 600 members and sympathizers on trumped-up charges.

More than ninety percent of the charges were later dismissed, but the prosecutorial bullying succeeded in tying up the movement in years of costly court trials.

And as we also heard in part 1 of this episode, for the next two years, Dick Wilson's GOON squad sought revenge for Wounded Knee and carried out their "Reign of Terror"—killing at least 64 AIM members and supporters between 1973 & 1975. 

They burned down houses. They ran people over with cars. They poisoned people. Stabbed people. Ambushed people with shotguns. Kidnapped people in the middle of the night and executed them.  

So if you were an AIM member camping out on Pine Ridge in 1975, you knew it was just a matter of time before they came for you.


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
The shootout incident in Oglala conspired incident created by the federal government, to serve as a distortion. To take our minds away from the real land issues, uh, dispossession issues, uh, the illegal acquisition of and transfer of land from the tribe, our assets to the federal government…


VO
This is Edgar Bear Runner again.


EDGAR
... I'm not making this up.  The Pine Ridge reservation released a mineral studies report pertaining to the 133,000 acres of prime tribal land that... was noted to have a great amount of oil, gas, hot water, uranium, yellow cake uranium... that land is so valuable, the United States wanted it. And the United States just couldn't get it like that. And so the United States, in order to get it, they had to create a situation. They created an incident that would take, uh, that would,overshadow the corruption and the illegal land transfer. so Leonard Peltier, the incident at Oglala, was created to, serve as a smokescreen to cover up, wrongful acts, the misdeeds of the federal government.


ROBERT REDFORD
On June 26, 1975 two FBI agents assigned to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Jack Coler and Ronald Williams were investigating the whereabouts of a young Indian Jimmy Eagle who was wanted for the theft of a pair of cowboy boots.


VO
That’s Robert Redford, narrating the opening of Michael Apted’s documentary, Incident at Oglala. We played excerpts of the film in episode 1, and it’s worth revisiting here, quickly, to set the scene for the story we’re about to hear. The next voice is Norman Zigrossi, the Former Assistant FBI Regional Head in South Dakota.


ZIGROSSI
They had a warrant for Eagle and so they turned around and started following the vehicle which we believe led them into the Jumping Bull complex. 


VO
Back in June, 1975, journalist Kevin McKiernan reported for NPR from Pine Ridge, and he spoke with a government official in the days after the shootout who echoed Zigrossi’s explanation for why agents Coler and Williams' entered the Jumping Bull compound: to arrest a teenager named Jimmy Eagle for, as you just heard, stealing a pair of cowboy boots.


GOV'T OFFICIAL
What they were doing at the time they were killed: They were going in to see if Jimmy Eagle was anywhere in the area. And if he was they were going to arrest him.


VO
But there are two problems with this story. The first is factual. After the agents' bodies were later recovered from the Jumping Bull compound, it turned out there hadn’t been a warrant for Jimmy Eagle after all. The second is contextual.

Indian reservations are sovereign, at least on paper. But under the Major Crimes Act passed in 1885, the Federal Government has jurisdiction to investigate specified felonies, such as murder, manslaughter, rape, assault with intent to kill, arson, burglary, and larceny.

Theoretically, the taking of cowboy boots could be prosecuted as larceny, although probably only as a misdemeanor. It certainly pales in comparison to the dozens of uninvestigated murders of AIM supporters that took place on Pine Ridge between 1973 and 1975.

Case in point: Less than a month before the Jumping Bull incident, Edith Eagle Hawk, her four-month-old daughter, and her three-year-old grandson were murdered when Albert Coomes and Mark Clifford -- two well-known GOONs -- ran her car off the highway.

As of June 26, 1975, Mark Clifford, an accomplice in that triple homicide, hadn't even been questioned by the FBI -- let alone arrested.

And that's why people like Edgar Bear Runner have a hard time believing the FBI cared about a missing pair of cowboy boots.

It was an open secret that AIM members were camping out at Jumping Bull. And the FBI knew AIM co-founder Dennis Banks, who was on trial for his role in the Custer Courthouse riots, was commuting daily between the courtroom and Oglala. Because they’d been surveilling the ranch for weeks. 

And they seemed eager for an excuse to visit. Here's Edgar again:

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
COINTELPRO had to find a way to justify creating a cover-up...


VO
Edgar’s referring, here, to the FBI's Covert Intelligence Program. Between 1956 and 1971, the domestic spying program surveilled just about everyone the Federal Government considered a threat. The Black Panthers. Malcolm X. Martin Luther King, Jr. Corky Gonzales and the Chicano Movement. And multiple leaders of the American Indian Movement.


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
Leonard Peltier... he was the fall guy... they had to find one person to be responsible for this shit. Land invasion, land dispossession, the wrong criminal investigation at the wrong place...


VO
Edgar Bear Runner has never publicly shared his recollections of June 26, 1975-- until now. 


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
...on May 28, 1975, I turned 25 years old. And to run for public office in tribal government you have to be 25 years. So, I ran for office and was elected. I became the district president for Porcupine. I used this official capacity to intervene in the... Oglala incident.


VO
Edgar wasn't living at the AIM camp on the Jumping Bull ranch. He lived in Porcupine, the Pine Ridge district adjacent to Oglala. But word spreads fast on the reservation. And not long after shots were fired on the compound, Edgar was there.


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
Porcupine is 25 miles from Pine Ridge. I talked to medicine man, he prayed and gave me a pipe. So I walked in the Oglala compound with the,white man call it peace pipe, you know, uh, but we call it the sacred pipe. Uh, so I took that in Oglala praying that, uh, the Almighty would help me to, to provide freedom to, all those people that were in there.

VO
When Edgar showed up at the scene, no one had clear information, yet, about what exactly was happening on the Jumping Bull ranch. All anyone knew for sure was that there was an American Indian Movement camp on the compound, that two FBI agents had entered the property that morning, that shots had been fired, and that the agents were no longer responding on their radios.  


KENDALL CUMMING
I was out on the perimeter and a young Indian by the name of Edgar, I think it was Edgar Bear Runner, came to me and indicated to me that he had been in touch with our area office and said that he felt that the shooting should cease and there should be negotiations. 


VO
This is Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent, Kendall Cumming, speaking with NPR's Kevin McKiernan on the site of the shootout in the immediate aftermath of the firefight.


KENDALL CUMMING
At that time the situation was rather tense because no one knew that the agents were dead at that time. It was thought they might be alive and wounded and they were very much concerned with them lying out there in the sun, suffering, so the possibility of an assault was imminent.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
So Edgar Bear Runner shows up.


VO
And this is Kevin McKiernan, who was a house guest of the Jumping Bull family the night before the shootout, talking with us last year while we were collecting interviews for this podcast. We’ll be hearing his perspective on the events of June 26, 1975 in detail next episode.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
This is the key part of what happened in Oglala that day was, there was a visiting superintendent from the Southwest. I think he was from New Mexico. His name was Cummings, and he was just there on a rotation for a couple of weeks until they could get the real superintendent who would be from there. And so he was the man in charge, the number one. And Edgar Bear Runner came up to him, and he said, look, I'm the duly elected representative from this area. And you have to let me go in. I'll try to negotiate for them to surrender. For them to come out.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
And, um, this, this guy was just flummoxed, this Cummings superintendent, acting superintendent Cummings said, okay, you can go in there, I'll give you about 10 minutes and you can go in there and negotiate the surrender. And, and, okay. So then he put out the order for every, for a cease fire and everybody stopped shooting.


KENDALL CUMMING
I mentioned this to Mr. Bear Runner and suggested he go down and talk to them about an immediate ceasefire so we could get out the agents. 


VO
Kendall Cumming again.


KENDALL CUMMING
He went down, I don’t know who he talked to, if he talked to anyone. He came back after going down to the area by the houses and indicated that the men were dead. He thought they were dead and so there was no rush. That there would be plenty of time, and there should be negotiations, and he talked about what would happen if there was an assault, and large groups of people would come in from other places this type of thing.


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
When the day of the shootout when I became an official authorized mediator, I came down here as a tribal public official to quell a massive bloodshed here on this Jumping Bull facility. 


VO
After the break, Edgar takes us to Jumping Bull ranch.

[Break]


To help Leonard, you can. You can also purchase his artwork at whoisleonardpeltier.info. All proceeds go to fund his legal defense. So check out his stuff. He’s incredibly talented.  


You can help on social media by tweeting messages of support for Leonard’s clemency to @POTUS and @realdonaldtrump -- as well as to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. We know the President loves Twitter, so tweet, tweet, tweet. Let’s keep Leonard in his timeline and mentions!


[Music beat]


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
You can park somewhere right here and walk. Right by that tree is a big bank the other way. The shootout happened down there. Are you up Marlee? C’mon.

VO
Edgar has led us onto the Jumping Bull ranch. The compound is all but abandoned, now. In the aftermath of the firefight, the FBI raided all the buildings on the property. And the damage they did was never repaired.

The morning of the FBI raid, Harry and Cecilia Jumping Bull weren't on the ranch. By the time they were allowed to return, their home had been destroyed.

Here's Kevin McKiernan back in 1975 speaking with Cecilia Jumping Bull in the days after the siege.

KEVIN MCKIERNAN
Mrs. Jumping Bull, you say that many things were destroyed in your house during the search which followed the shootout on Thursday between the FBI agents and those in and around the house. Can you tell me about that?


MRS. JUMPING BULL
I want to say something to the government, that the government don’t have respect for me. So that’s why I’m really worried about that because he don’t even care for me.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
He meaning the government?


MRS. JUMPING BULL
Yes, I mean the gov’t.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
You mentioned that there were two pictures. And you showed me one of them. The two pictures showed, they were in frames behind glass, and showed the pictures of your two nephews who died in the Armed Services and your son who died in the Armed Services.


MRS. JUMPING BULL
Yes, yes. Three pictures. They are killed in the war. Those three boys got killed in the war.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
Which of the pictures has the bullet hole through it from the shooting that took place a few days ago at your house?


MRS. JUMPING BULL
Those two are my nephews. And one of the picture that got a bullet hole is that’s my sister’s boy got killed in action in the Korea War in ... 1950. And one of my nephew got killed in France in 1944 in September, so I want return those flags to the gov’t.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
These are the flags which were given to you by the gov’t when your son died?


MRS. JUMPING BULL
Yes, because the gov’t don’t have respect for me, so now I don’t want to keep those. The United States flag and those -- plus the Purple Hearts she says -- plus the Purple Hearts and Gold star -- she wants to return them -- I want to return them to the gov’t. I want to send them to President Ford. I feel sorry because the government shoot me for three days ago. Damage all my house and property and I don’t know why he done that for me because I don’t do any wrong. I don’t do anything wrong to the gov’t and the law.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
Mrs. Jumping Bull was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown the day following this interview. Her son Calvin told me the family had no plans to return to their home.


VO
As we walk through the chest-high clover on the Jumping Bull’s land, we asked Edgar to take us back to the morning of June 26, 1975. After he'd arrived from Porcupine, armed only with his Sacred Pipe, Edgar convinced the FBI and BIA agents on the scene to allow him to enter the property alone so he could begin negotiations with the AIM members who remained trapped on the compound.


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
They had me marked on the forehead. I shouldn't turn around drop and they could kill me on the spot. So I had my my pipe in hand and I went down there and in the process of going down I seen the car over there and then when I walked by them was two guys laying there. There was one car there and two guys they had moccasins and fringes on the bottom. And the FBI said no we had FBI agents in the suit-and-tie. That was bullshit.


VO
In other words, the FBI agents looked like two of Dick Wilson’s GOONs.


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
I came to this location and when I came to the bluff at the end of the hill I was summoned I was summoned by SWAT teams down along here by the creek bed.


EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
And the agents asked, Are they breathing? I said hold on. I look and I've seen the flies coming in and out of their mouth and the dried blood and waiting for their backs to go up, nothing like that. No I said they're not alive. If these are the agents they're not alive. They're both dead so then when I went back out here I've made my second trip in because the B.I.A. superintendent wanted to know, he wanted to verify that those two that I seen were agents and they were dead. And so I brought him back. Him and I just walked straight down in there. they told him, hollered at the BIA superintendent the agents don't touch the car. Don't touch the body. Don't touch anything.

EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
And this time the BIA superintendent said they're both dead so that that prevented the rush, the rush to come in and save them and end up killing all the people that were here.


VO
Edgar was at Jumping Bull expressly to negotiate between AIM and the Federal Government. But Edgar didn't believe that the FBI would uphold their end of the bargain -- even if he could convince AIM to put down their weapons and surrender peacefully.


EDGAR
I went in there knowing that I wasn't going to get a hold of anybody, you know, just killing time letting that Sun go so when I walked out of Oglala the bottom of the Sun was on top of the ridge way over there you know way over yonder.


VO
Edgar was really there, he maintains, to slow down the proceedings—and to give the AIM members time to escape.


NEWS REEL
25 additional FBI agents have been brought in to aid in the search of some 16 Indians who engaged in a gun battle Thursday, killing two FBI agents. 


VO
This audio is from the NPR broadcast of Kevin McKiernan’s reporting from Oglala.


NEWS REEL
There are now nearly 150 agents searching the sprawling hills of the reservation. The investigation has now also spread outside the reservation into several states. Spokesmen for the FBI says they have a pretty good sense of the identity of the 16, although no warrants have yet been issued.

VO
One of the people the FBI was searching for was a young woman named Jean Roach, who was just 14 at the time.  Jean lives in Rapid City, now, but we ended up meeting her at the annual powwow in Pine Ridge village where she was selling turquoise jewelry.


JEAN ROACH
My name is Jean Roach. I'm from the Cheyenne river Sioux tribe. I had been raised in Rapid City, South Dakota. Uh, first time I came here to the reservation I was probably about 14. I was sent over here cause I couldn't behave myself in the city. My mom was best friends with Leonard. We knew some of the people here. They were establishing, um, what actually was going on is the Oglala community was tired of the GOON squad mentality. People were being killed and shot at. And when people had ceremonies they were being attacked, shot at. So they developed like a security, more or less like the Merry Maids of security. So there was a bunch of us that came back from the AIM conference. 

VO
AIM hosts an annual conference, and in 1975 they held it in Farmington, New Mexico. Farmington is located in the southwest "four corners" region, near the conjunction of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Most of the region belongs to the Hopi, Ute, Zuni & Navajo nations.

In the spring of 1974, three Navajo boys were killed by white teenagers out "Indian rolling": a term for driving around looking for natives to harass, assault -- or in this case, execute.

Instead of going to prison, though, the perpetrators were sent to reform school.

Jean traveled to New Mexico that year to show solidarity with the families of the murdered children. But violence against Indians was a plague everywhere. And nowhere was it worse than on Pine Ridge.

So after the conference, Jean headed up to South Dakota to live in Oglala at the AIM camp on the Jumping Bull compound.

Back then, Jean was a pretty typical teenager. Curious. Strong-headed. Rebellious. And  her mom, who was close friends with Leonard, hoped a summer at the AIM camp would help her connect with her culture—and teach her some discipline. 

JEAN ROACH
We're helping the grandma and grandpa at Jumping Bull, where we were staying at. Some of the guys were going to the Sundance and we had sweat lodges and we had just put in a garden.

VO
Life on the compound could be idyllic. But much of the reservation in those days, as we heard in part 1 of this episode, resembled a war zone.


JEAN ROACH
And so people that were even… friends with AIM or anything like that, then they would be targeted or anybody that considered traditional or even people that were practicing their traditional ways were targets. We had the whole Reign of Terror, which was like 1975 is when the Oglala shootout happened. '73 was when Wounded Knee happened. So in that time there and continually, but that time was really bad. You couldn't even walk on the street. Everybody lived by the law of the gun.


VO
In the early '90s, when Michael Apted was working on his film, Incident at Oglala, he interviewed Leonard Peltier at length about the shootout. But besides the clips that he used in the documentary, the remaining footage is inaccessible -- locked in a storage unit somewhere, or simply thrown away.

He did, however, have all the audio transcribed. We don't have Leonard's voice. But we do have his memories on paper. So Peter Coyote—who has advocated for Leonard’s release for decades—has done us the enormous favor of helping bring Leonard’s words to life.

If Peter’s voice sounds familiar, it’s because he narrated Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s documentaries The Vietnam War, Country Music, The National Parks, The Dustbowl, The Roosevelts… 

Oh, and he decided to change his last name after a mescaline trip where he realized the coyote was his spirit animal.

He’s awesome. We know he’s honored to support Leonard by participating in this podcast. And we’re honored to have his help.

Last thing: Leonard is still perfectly capable of telling us his story, in his own voice. But the Bureau of Prisons in Washington continues to block us—and other journalists—from visiting him or interviewing him by phone.

Back in 1991, Apted asked Leonard to walk him through what happened at Jumping Bull on June 26, 1975. 

So here’s what Leonard said, read by Peter Coyote:

LEONARD PELTIER
I was down in camp. We had that teepee there and a couple of tents right by a creek. And that morning when I heard the shooting, I was still in the tent.


VO
Earlier on the morning of June 26, one of Dick Wilson’s GOONs had been upstream on the creek shooting fish with an assault rifle.


LEONARD PELTIER
It was disturbing a lot of people. They knew he was a Dick Wilson supporter, right? So I went up there to him and I asked him what he was doing and he said he was shooting fish. Anyway, we heard this shooting again. At first, you know, nobody got excited.  Nobody said: "What the hell was that?" I said, "Man you know it's probably that guy up there shooting fish again, trying to terrorize everybody, right?"


VO
But soon it was clear that it wasn't just one shooter. Multiple guns were going off. And people in the camp began to panic.


LEONARD PELTIER
There was a lot of hysterics. Everyone was saying, "Hey, we're under attack."


VO
Leonard's first concern was that the members of the Jumping Bull family, including infant children, might be caught in the crossfire.


LEONARD PELTIER
So I grabbed a piece and I said to Bob Robideau, "Look, we gotta get those women and children outta that place man, you know? There's little babies there. I thought the old folks were there…


VO
Cecilia and Harry Jumping Bull had left the property that morning to go to a cattle auction nearby. But Leonard didn't know that at the time.


JEAN ROACH
He told us, I'm sorry you kids are all here. You know, if you want, you know, you have a choice here, we're going out this way and you can turn yourself in and go up on top of the hill. 


VO
This is Jean Roach again.


JEAN ROACH
And my brother did that 'cause he was only 11. He didn't have a choice, him. So you gotta, you know you have no choice. You got to go up there. But, so he went up. And as soon as he got on top of the hill, you could hear nothing but gunshots. So we didn't know until like that evening if he was shot or not, you know?


JEAN ROACH
Yeah, we didn't know until like midnight and I can't remember how we found out that my brother was still alive because, you know, last thing we knew he went up the Hill and got shot…


LEONARD PELTIER
I come running into the area and man, I heard all this shooting going on, and I felt bullets going over my head. 


VO
Leonard again.


LEONARD PELTIER
I heard some ZING going by, so I hit the ground. Man! What the hell's going on? I couldn't really see anything from where I was laying, though, right? And I got up, I was over by the tree line, and I was going to make a dash for that, for the house, right? Because I wanted to make sure Grandma -- I was really concerned about Grandma Jumping Bull. I figured that they probably were terrorized.  


LEONARD PELTIER
I was happy they weren't there when I got up there... And I did some firing back. You know, I'm not going to lie and say I didn't, you know? I was being shot at. I was.


LEONARD PELTIER
There was still a lot of firing going on from the other BIA police and other agents that were there. There was still a lot of gunfire going on. It was -- it didn't just stop then. I mean -- those BIA police and stuff were still shooting. I know their cars, I could see their cars out there, so I mean, I knew they were there…


LEONARD PELTIER
So everybody said, "What are we going to do?" I said, "Well, the only thing that we can do is get the hell out of here," you know? I said, "Let's just drive right out of here. Drive right across the road." You know, get across the road, just jump the vehicle and hit the bush. If we have to, we shoot our way out. Everybody just stick their gun out the windows and start shooting, right?


LEONARD PELTIER
And they panicked about that idea. They said, "No, no, no, no, we can't do that. There's too many cops over there. You know, it's suicide."


VO
The Feds had the property completely surrounded. And the AIM members were outnumbered 10-to-1. So as dusk fell, it seemed like just a matter of time before the agents sieged the compound.

Complicating matters was the fact that none of the AIM members really knew the terrain. Leonard was an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. He grew up in North Dakota. Jean was from Rapid City. Dino Butler and Bob Robideau were both born in Portland and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

But by some wild stroke of luck, one of the kids in the AIM party discovered a culvert -- a drainage pipe -- where the stream flowing through the Jumping Bull compound crossed under Highway 18.

The culvert wasn't big. You had to crawl through it on your belly for more than 50 yards. But it was literally an escape tunnel.

The only problem was, it passed directly beneath a Bureau of Indian Affairs checkpoint.

And on the other side was an open field.

But Leonard, Jean Roach, Dino Butler, Bob Robideau, and the rest of the crew wriggled into the culvert.

Mike Anderson, though, one of the boys who'd chosen not to surrender himself, started to panic.

Leonard recalls trying to talk Mike down.

LEONARD PELTIER
"Be cool, man!" I says, "You ain't got that much more longer.”

"Man,” he says, “I just want to get out of here! I don't want to be trapped in here!" 

I says, "Hey, we're not going to let you be trapped in there. Don't panic!" 

But he says, "I'm leaving! I'm going out the other way!" 

I said, "Man, don't do that!" 

"I'm going, I'm going!" he says. And he started crawling backwards, right?

I said, "Man, hold it, hold it right there. Don't go out, don't go back further." And I told everybody -- Dino and Bob and the rest of 'em -- I says, "Man, we gotta get out of here, this guy's panicking." I said, "We can't wait. We got to go." I told the women, I said, "You guys take the lead, go. Just go," I says. "We'll meet up there." You know, "we'll be right behind ya."

So they all took off, and then sure enough the plane spotted us.


VO
While they’d been lying in the culvert they could hear an FBI surveillance plane circling overhead. 


LEONARD PELTIER
But then he left! Right? He must have run out of gas! So we started running up the hill.


VO
On the northeast side of Highway 18 was a large, tree-topped hill. If they could get there, they felt, they'd be safe. But getting there was treacherous.

Here's Jean Roach again.


JEAN ROACH
Finally when that plane left them and they said go ahead and start running. So we had like about maybe, maybe a mile, maybe a half of mile, uh, I don't know measurement, but nothing but grass, no trees, nothing. We had to run to this rock to get around behind in the same time when your journey and they were shooting at us all over.


LEONARD PELTIER
I waited till everybody took off, and then I ran, caught up to everybody, and I seen everybody just running, but they're not turning around, watching their backs or nothing. So I started hollering, I started screaming, "We're receiving a lot of fire from the rear now!" I mean, we can hear, there's massive gunfire going on. So I said, "Man, what are you guys doing? You guys are going to get killed! Turn around and fire back, for Christ sakes!"


LEONARD PELTIER
So anyway... the first part of the group made it to the top. I was the last one up the hill, and I kept feeling the bullets going by me. Norman Brown had the canteen shot off his hip. Fortunate they were so far away, but they were doing some real good sniping. Pretty good shooting from that distance, right?


VO
By the time Leonard reached the top of the rise, there were still hours of daylight left.

None of the AIM camp members were local to the area. And they didn't know the terrain well enough to seek out another escape route. So despite their strategic position at the top of the hill, the Feds had them cornered again.


And that’s when, like something out of a vision, two men rode up on horseback.


JEAN ROACH
So while we're sitting up there just seeing what the hell is going on, you know, and there's two guys come up on horseback. 


VO
Jean Roach again.


JEAN ROACH
It was real funny cause we're just sitting there y'know... Well, Hey, how's it going? All casual, you know there's like a joking matter, but it really wasn't, but it was like you guys okay, y'know? But it was just so casual the way they came up. How are you guys doing today?


LEONARD PELTIER
And I-- I asked 'em, first, I said, "What are you guys doing here?" 


VO
Leonard again.


LEONARD PELTIER
They said, "Well, hey, this is our people, too. This is our fight, too, you know. We're Oglalas. We're defenders of the 1868 treaty, so we have a right to be here." 

And I said, "Well, yeah, that's good. I'm not criticizing you for it, but you know, this is a heavy situation going on here. We don't know if we're going to make it out of here, we might all be dead before the night's over." 

And they said, "Well, we've made that choice, to come and die with you guys if that's what it is. But we're, you know, we're not going to die, we're going to get out of here, right?"


VO
As night fell, while a few AIM members held the hill with rifle fire, the two Oglala horsemen spirited the others away, two at a time. Within an hour, Leonard and the rest of the crew had been evacuated to the safehouse of an elder who lived nearby. And because they'd escaped on horseback, the FBI search dogs couldn't immediately follow their scent.


JEAN ROACH
We went to this old grandpa's house, maybe about, I don't know, real late, two or three in the morning. And the way he answered the door always, you know, kind of, I always remember that it goes, "Oh, come in." All of us come in there's about, I think 11 of us, you know, "Hi, how are you guys doing?" No questions, nothing, you know. "You guys want something to eat or, you know." But we couldn't stay there because at the time the Feds were doing door to door searches, you know, they were just like outrageous, breaking every law there was in the very beginning to the end, you know.


VO
The AIM members rested for a little while at the elder’s house, and he shared with them what knowledge he could about navigating the land.

And before dawn began to break, Leonard, Jean, Dino, Bob and the rest of the fugitives slipped back into the night.


JEAN ROACH
We made a place somewhere in the hillside and hid ourselves, you know, from the helicopters, whatever. The technology isn't like today, we would have been dead. But we stayed there all day during the daylight and he…


VO
The HE Jean references here is the elder who'd given them refuge the night before.


JEAN ROACH
He told us how to take an old fire trail. Way out there and walk, you know, to Manderson cause that's like an AIM community.


VO
But the next night they picked up the wrong trail and got turned around. Instead of finding Manderson, they'd doubled back into the village of Pine Ridge -- which the FBI was using as its main operating base on the reservation.

In the next episode we’ll be hearing directly from filmmaker and journalist Kevin McKiernan. Back in June, 1975, freelancing for The New York Times, McKiernan traveled out to Pine Ridge to interview AIM leader Dennis Banks. Banks was on trial for his role in the Custer Courthouse Riots, and was staying at the AIM camp on the Jumping Bull compound. McKiernan happened to sleep over as a guest of the Jumping Bulls the night of June 25. And the next morning, June 26, 1975, he was sitting in the back of the courtroom in Custer when word reached him that shots had been fired back on the ranch. 

So he jumped in his truck and drove into the center of the action.


KEVIN MCKIERNAN
These federal cars continue to race up and down the roads, over the ridges, the rolling plains. Outside of that it’s quiet. But from where I am I can see these little Indian children playing by these tar paper shacks. Horses continue to play in the meadows all around. There appears to be some problem already between the BIA and the FBI and the US Marshals. Some problem as to who has command here. THis was one of the problems with Wounded Knee, and WK is only a few miles from here. It’s the same problem on Indian reservations of jurisdiction and the hierarchy of gov’t command off the reservation, when it comes on the reservation, simply has always been a boondoggle. There’s more firing.


[Credits]


This podcast is produced, written, and edited by Rory-Owen Delaney, James Kaelan and Andrew Fuller. And it was recorded on Tongva land in what is now considered Los Angeles.

Thanks to Maya Meinert, Emily Deutsch, and Blessing Yen for helping support us while we do what, we hope, is important work. Thanks to Bobby Halvorson for the original music we’re using throughout this series.

And thanks to Mike Casentini at the Network Studios for his engineering assistance, and to Peter Lauridsen and Sycamore Sound for their audio mixing. Thanks to Michael Apted for the reporting he did for his film, Incident at Oglala, and for giving us access to his interview transcripts. 

Thanks to Kevin McKiernan for giving us permission to use the audio from his reporting on Pine Ridge in 1975, and as always, for helping us fact-check this episode. We’re also excited to officially welcome him aboard as a consulting producer.

Thanks to Paulette at the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. Thanks to Kathy Peltier, Anne Begay, and Rigo 23 for encouraging us to tell this story.

Thanks to Jean Roach for sharing her memories of the shootout. Thanks to Edgar Bear Runner for guiding us through his land and his history. Thanks to Peter Coyote for literally giving Leonard a voice when all we had were his words on paper.

And thanks, most of all, to Leonard Peltier.

To get involved and help Leonard, sign the new clemency petition at freeleonardpeltier.com. For more information, go to whoisleonardpeltier.info or find us on social media. @leonard_pod on Twitter and Instagram, or facebook.com/leonardpodcast.

This podcast is a production of Man Bites Dog Films LLC. Free Leonard Peltier!