In the early morning hours of June 28th, 1975, daylight was breaking on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, and Dino Butler discovered they’d been hiking in the wrong direction. Instead of finding themselves in Manderson, a nearby community home to numerous allies, they were in Pine Ridge village, the command center for the largest manhunt in American history. Hear how a handful of unsung local heroes risked it all to rescue the fugitives from the belly of the beast.
GOOD INDIAN GUIDES
Season Two, Episode Three
Which bullets killed the Indian? Was it BIA bullets or FBI bullets?
I don’t know.
That's Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Kendall Cummings fielding the media’s questions at the site of the Pine Ridge shootout on June 26th, 1975. The Indian they’re referring to is Joe Killsright Stuntz, one of the three victims of the firefight along with FBI Special Agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler.
Can you explain how these people were able to escape with this large of a law enforcement contingent around them? How did that happen physically? Did they go to the woods?
I think that perhaps I don’t know but it’s perhaps they knew the assault was coming, and they moved out through the woods and there was an area in the line apparently that wasn’t covered and they were able to move up the hills and it would have been rather difficult to stop them at that point. Attempts apparently were made.
They retreated toward the troops?
No, there was a line on the south side which was rather thin and they went through a place which wasn’t covered.
They did retreat toward the troops through an opening in the troops line?
This was in the day time?
Yeah, it was getting late.
You’re listening to LEONARD—a podcast series about Leonard Peltier, one of America’s longest-serving political prisoners. I’m Rory Owen Delaney.
And I’m Andrew Fuller. We’ve spent the last three years 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.
In case you’re wondering why it’s been a while since our last show, I came down with COVID-19. Thanks to the Pfizer vaccine, I was never on my deathbed, but I was under the weather. I felt fatigue, had a bad taste in my mouth, and lost my voice.
After a couple weeks my voice returned, but something was still off. When we came into the studio to record this episode almost a month after I had tested negative, we had to cancel the session because my voice was cracking up.
George Clooney actually offered to sub for Andrew, but I wanted to keep this podcast indie so I politely declined and waited for Mr. Fuller’s glorious return.
All joking aside, please take my example as a precautionary tale. Just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t get COVID. I was lucky. My symptoms were manageable. But you never know so remember, stay safe out there.
This is Season 2, Episode 3, Good Indian Guides. In this installment we pick up Leonard’s escape from Oglala where we left it in Season 1, answering some of the questions voiced by reporters back in the summer of ‘75.
In Season 1, Episodes 3 & 4, “Treaties, Goons, and G-Men Part 1 & 2” we detailed the first half of Leonard’s getaway.
How within an hour of the first shots being fired at around noon on June 26th the roads in and out of Oglala were blocked by BIA, FBI, State Police, and Goon checkpoints.
Leonard Peltier, Dino Butler, Bob Robideau, Jean Roach and the rest of the AIMsters were surrounded and heavily outnumbered. Their chances at survival seemed slim, especially since many of the Indians had come to Oglala from other reservations and didn’t know the terrain well enough to improvise an escape.
But the Spirits were with them that day.
Here’s filmmaker and journalist Kevin McKiernan, who was reporting on the scene for NPR from under his truck at a BIA checkpoint while bullets whizzed overhead.
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. 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.” And this guy was just flummoxed. 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 so Edgar Bear Runner went in there and he didn't come out, it seemed to me, for 45 or 50 minutes. And it was during that time that all the people in Tent City were able to make their escape.
EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
I went in there knowing that I wasn't going to get a hold of anybody, you know. I was 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. Way over yonder.
That’s Edgar Bear Runner admitting to stalling proceedings. And while he stalled, Leonard, Bob, Dino, Jean and seven other campers followed a creek line to a backroad checkpoint.
The normally quiet country road was heavy with traffic that afternoon as groups of Feds and GOONs traveled back and forth in search of the AIMsters.
But the creek passed under the backroad through a culvert. And so could the AIMsters. If they could squeeze through the narrow opening.
So the campers crawled on their hands and knees through the drainage pipe. On the other side was their one chance at escape.
All they had to do was sprint across an open field and up a hill without getting picked off by government snipers. And against all odds, that’s exactly what they did.
At the top of the hill some boulders granted them a respite from incoming bullets, but they were hardly better off. The Feds were closing in fast.
The situation looked doomed. Until, like something out of a movie, two locals spirited them away on horseback.
[Horseback riding sound effects]
When the FBI finally raided the Jumping Bulls just after 5:30 pm and found the ranch empty and abandoned, they unloaded in an epic tantrum, systematically destroying the family’s belongings and property.
Edgar Bear Runner recalled the destruction when he took us there in 2019.
Edgar Bear Runner
When they assaulted the house. There's nobody in there. Five thousand rounds into the house, tear gas, and man, you know who they was mad at when they come up empty? They were pissed off at me.
The property was so devastated that Grandma Jumping Bull, who had just celebrated her golden anniversary -- 50 years of marriage -- had to be hospitalized for a nervous breakdown.
The FBI were on the warpath. Two of their colleagues had been killed. And the suspects had gotten away.
It was a bad look. The FBI always gets their man. Particularly when their man is vastly outnumbered and surrounded in broad daylight. And especially when that man is a ragtag group of Indian activists, three of whom were under sixteen years of age.
Myself, I was only 14, and I didn't really realize what extent what was going on as one of the government's largest manhunts, you know, that they've ever had.
That’s Jean Roach from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe. She was the youngest member of the getaway party on June 26th, 1975. She speaks about the events of that summer with a remarkable nonchalance and sense of humor.
Jean’s going to help us understand how the AIMsters wound up back in Pine Ridge village, the command center for the largest manhunt in American history, and escaped the FBI a second time.
For additional context we’ll be recreating Michael Apted’s interviews with Leonard Peltier, Dino Butler, Kamook Nichols, and Lou and Billy Bean from the documentary “Incident at Oglala” from the film transcripts the late director gifted us in Season 1, Episode 8.
But first, let’s return to the moments just before the AIMsters’ dashed up the hill on the other side of that infamous culvert.
This is how Dino Butler recalled the scene for Michael Apted 21 years ago.
There was a culvert under the road, and we come to that place, and we didn’t know it was there, you know. I mean, it’s not like we went out and knew this whole area in case we had to escape someday, you know. We just figured it would never come to that, you know.
But as it turned out we come to this place, you know, and we started crawling though there, and I remember it was real small. Some of the younger guys kind of got claustrophobia in there, you know, and they were getting pretty shook up in there. “Come on, hurry up! Let’s go! Come on! Come on!”
And then after we got out on the other side like that, I think Leonard, Bob, and me were in front. Us three crawled out, and we told the rest of them to stay in there. You know, we didn’t want nobody else to come out until we knew it was safe to come out.
We was right alongside the road then, and there was trees, a couple of trees growing there. And it was the time of the year when the trees, the leaves are just all in blossom, you know, and you can’t even see the limbs because there are so many leaves.
Me and Leonard climbed up this tree so we could see the cars going by, and we could see the cops in there, and they’d be looking over this way, and we’d be right on the other side of ‘em, just a few feet from ‘em, and they couldn’t even see us, you know.
And I remember this plane kept flying around like that.
[PLANE SOUND EFFECT]
So, Leonard says, “We can’t start running up that hill until the plane’s gone, because if the plane sees ‘em running up the hill, they’re going to report it right away, and we won’t ever make it up the hill, we won’t have enough time, you know.”
And Leonard says, “Well, you know, let’s pray that the plane runs out of gas.” So me and him started praying and we prayed for that plane to run out of gas, and right after we got done praying, the plane made one more circle and took off for Pine Ridge.
And then we crawled back down out of the tree and we called everybody out. Said, “Okay, come on. You women, women take off first.” And I remember Bob took off, he went straight up the hill like that, and he got up to the bottom of the hill like that, and he waited, and the women and children followed him, and they went around that corner. And me and Leonard came last. We were trying to cover the back trail.
Finally when that plane left, they said go ahead and start running. So we had like about maybe a mile, maybe a half of mile, I don't know measurement, but nothing but grass, no trees, nothing. And the same time when you’re running they were shooting at us all over. I mean, I know I froze for a while cause they were coming so close, I could see it as I was running, just threw myself down and I just kind of laid down there for a while and then I looked up and I could see Dino Butler going around and he's like, "Come on!" You know, and so I don't know how I got myself up and I just started running again. Everybody else was already around the corner, you know. [Laughter]
The last time I dropped down, I just kept cocking the gun and shooting. I turned around and told everybody, “Get up there, get up there!”
It was a miracle you got out.
This is a recreation of Michael Apted’s interview with Leonard in Fort Leavenworth Federal Prison on May 2nd, 1991.
Emmy Award winner Peter Coyote dramatizes his recollections of that mad scramble up the hill.
So, then I turned around and started running up there again, but halfway in between the distance I’m really tired, right? All of a sudden I hear horns tooting, I hear people screaming, and -- and I just fall back. I’m laying down on the ground, right? And I looked over there and there was about a hundred people out there, or more in their cars. And they’re all tooting their horns, going like this.
[SOUND OF CARS HONKING]
You know, they all came out there to support and prevent any type of massacre from going on, right?
It wasn’t just Edgar Bear Runner who was worried about a bloodbath that day. The whole community was on high alert.
85 years earlier, the Wounded Knee Massacre had occurred just a few miles down the road. On December 29th, 1890, 250 men, women and children were mowed down in ditches as they fled from the gatling guns of the 7th Cavalry.
And nobody in Oglala wanted to see a repeat of that tragedy -- on any scale. So they made sure the government knew they were being watched. With their car horns.
Lynn had a little scope, right? And now she’s looking towards my right. She says, “Look at all those army guys down there, Leonard!”
At the top of the hill, Dino, Jean and the rest of the campers caught their breath, while Leonard ventured farther up with Lynn Funston, another teenager in the AIM camp.
So I took her scope and started looking through it. And I says, “Man, I wonder who those guys are!” And she says “There are more over to the right.”
And so I looked over to the right, and I says, “Yeah.” And they were all coming in military fashion -- formation, right?
And I says, “That can’t be SWAT teams, they’re supposed to be dressed in black, right?” And I was looking in the scope, and it was a small scope. It wasn’t a very powerful scope, so I couldn’t -- still couldn’t see very good with that, right? Couldn’t make out the features and stuff like that.
And I said, “Wow!” I says, “Man!” I says, “There’s a lot of military. There’s a lot of army out there!” So I popped a couple of rounds out there, must have come pretty close to them, ‘cause they all hit the ground, right?
And I heard ‘em, the echoes. Now we’re on top of the hill, and you can hear echoes real -- real -- real good. And they were, “You all right?” “Yeah!” and stuff like this, right?
So about that time I heard some noise behind me, right? And I turned around like this, and I looked there, and here’s a whole bunch of BIA cops and everybody, right? They’re twenty yards right behind us, for Christ sakes!
So me and Lynn, basically what we did, Michael, was we fought our way off that hill. Me and this 15 year old girl. All she had was a twenty-two pistol. Right?
While Leonard and Lynn were off on their own, Dino, Jean and the rest of the campers took stock of their situation. Dino Butler again.
After we got up there, we felt pretty safe then, you know, ‘cause we was way up high and they were way down below us, you know. We stayed up there for about an hour I guess, on the hill there. Fixing things up. Nilak, she lost her moccasins -- they got stuck in the mud and they pulled off her feet, you know. So I had a leather vest, I remember, and I was going to fix her some moccasins to wear out of there, you know.
Nilak being Nilak Butler, Dino’s wife.
We couldn’t find Leonard and Lynn, so we walked up this canyon a little ways, about -- five minutes or so, and there was another canyon took off to the left like that, so we went over there to shield our horses, you know, so we wouldn’t be seen. Because we was figuring on that plane coming back. It was starting to get dark by then.
So we started there about a minute or so, and pretty soon we heard Leonard and Lynn coming up, and we whistled at ‘em, and they came over there.
And that’s when we run into two Indian guys on horseback. They said that they were just trying to make it up the hill, but they received so much fire, right, they were coming up to warn us, get us off of there.
And I asked ‘em, I said, “What are you guys doing here?” They said, “Well, hey, this is our people too. This is our fight too, you know. We’re Oglalas, you know, 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.” You know.
They said, “Well, we’ve made that choice, to come and die with you guys if that’s what it is. But we’re not going to die. We’re going to get out of here, right?”
I told him, I says, “Look, you’ve got to lead us out of here.” But I says, “We can’t just go across there, we got to get out the back way.” And Ted said, “Well, I know this whole area real good.” And -- “just follow” you know “come on, let’s go. I’ll take ya’s. I’ll get ya’s out.”
Ted is Ted Lame, an Oglala Lakota. He and Kenny Loud Hawk were the two men on horseback who rode to the rescue of the AIMsters as the sun was setting on June 26th in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
They took us back South until dark time and then we double tracked back and they knew like there's another culvert past the cemetery about a mile or two, you know, where Joe Stunts is buried at, there's a big culvert and you can walk through it. The one that we're in the first time everybody had to crawl. But when we walked through that culvert, I think even the horses could have went through, I can't remember, but I know they were still on horseback.
Jean didn’t know where they were going then, but Ted was taking them to his uncle’s.
The old man’s was way out there, which was another two, three miles something like that. We got across the highway, went under the bridge, and went across the creek from there. A lot of hilly terrain. And we was pretty tired by the time we got to the old man’s place.
We knocked on the door, and he just opened up the door, and he says, “I’m glad you’re here.” He says “Come on in. Bring your friends, they’re welcome.” And this old man, he was, I don’t know, 78 years old. And it was just like he was expecting us. Something like that. I guess he was listening to it on the radio. He had a little bitty radio like that, and he heard about it there.
25 additional FBI agents have been brought in to aid in the search for some 16 Indians who engaged in a gun battle Thursday, killing two FBI agents. 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 although no warrants have yet been issued.
But the AIMsters couldn’t rest long at the old man’s. The Feds were doing door to door searches.
Just before we was leaving, he had a little bag of ginger snaps, that’s all he had left to eat, he says “Here,” he says, “you probably need this more than me.”
So we went there and 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 told us how to take an old fire trail way to Manderson ‘cause that's like an AIM community. And someone knew people there.
But the good Indian guides got lost!
We got lost out there. I think we were out there, I don't know, two or three nights. In the daytime we'd hide out, you know.
And we walked around in the hills over there for a couple of days. We thought we was over at Manderson. And we were hungry and we were tired and we were thirsty, you know.
And then that one morning we're coming up, we've seen these lights, we kept walking towards the lights, and it ended up being Pine Ridge. You could see the airport. That's how we knew what it was.
We ended up in Pine Ridge, and come over that hill, looked out there, I seen all that traffic, I mean, there’s police cars twenty four hours a day in the streets, three, four together, always staying together. We could see all that big mobilization.
And it was getting daylight and we were in a very vulnerable area, that if it got daylight and we got seen up there, that was -- we were going to get spotted, right?
This was bad. Frying pan to the fire bad. This was like if Frodo and the Hobbits reckoned they were in the Shire only to crest a ridge and see Mordor and an army of Orcs.
Hold up. Frodo was going to Mordor to burn the ring. It’s more like if Dorothy thought she was in Emerald City and ended up at the Witch’s Castle with the flying monkeys.
Potato. Po-ta-to. The point is this was not good. And the Aimsters had to think fast.
After the break, the getaway continues.
ERICK DEUTSCH BREAK
Daylight was breaking. And Leonard, Dino, Jean and the other AIMsters were in a vulnerable position. Pine Ridge village was the belly of the beast. It was only a matter of time before they were spotted by law enforcement.
But by another stroke of luck, Leonard recognized a house nearby where they had patrolled recently after a night of Goon violence.
So I happened to know that that was Morris Wounded’s place, right? We had went there a short while before that. Their home was shot up, right?
I said, “Look there’s a little wooded area right there. You guys stay right there. I’m going to go up to that house, take a chance, that’s all we can do. We were too, you know, Nilak didn’t have any shoes and her feet were bleeding.
And we didn’t have any hiking shoes or good equipment, we all had everyday street clothes, you know. I mean boots and stuff. They wore out by then and everybody’s getting blisters. So everybody was kind of getting in terrible shape, right, plus we needed a good meal.
It was the only place we could think of. Morris lived about two or three hundred yards from where we were at, so that’s the only person could think of that would, you know, we could safely get to.
So I went up to the door, I think Dino came with me. I’m pretty sure it was.
So me and Leonard walked over there, and knocked on the door. Mattie hollered, “Who is it?”
That’s Mattie Wounded, Morris’s wife.
“It’s Leonard and Dino.” “Oh!” She said, and she threw open the door like that and she said, “Get in here, what are you guys doing out there? Where’s the rest of you?” “They’re down by the creek.” “Well, go get them and bring them right in here right now. You guys must be hungry,” she said.
I said, “Look, we need a place to stay. We have feet that hurt,” and “you know, we need some -- need some help. Will you help us?” Morris says, “Yes, yes. We’ll help ya’s.” And I says, “You know, it’s very, very dangerous. We don’t know what’s going on.”
We still didn’t know what was happening now, Michael. We don’t know if it’s a full-fledged war going on -- because there was -- there is reports, documentations of them being shot from different areas and stuff. Right? Gunfire from different areas. Little firefights.
Anyway, we told him, we said, “Look, we don’t know what’s happening. Have you heard anything?” He said, “Well, just a little bit, what we hear on our news, and you know, people are scared to move right now.”
“There are cops all over the place,” he says, “And, you know, we’re just -- we don’t really know what’s going on yet, you know. Just the reports two agents and an Indian got killed. And we knew that you guys was out there some place, but we didn’t know where. We didn’t know if anybody’s helping ya’s or what.” Right?
So what they did was they fixed us some food. And we sat there, and we ate. And you know, everybody took turns, and we’re all standing by the windows, looking. There’s a bedroom in there, they give us their bedroom and told us go ahead and go to sleep in there, and we told the girls to get in there. They cleaned their feet and cleaned up a little bit, told them to get in there and go to sleep, right, the younger kids.
But it was really scary because we're standing and you could see them doing these house to house searches, right? A whole van load of FBI’s going down to that next house. You could see them and we're like, "Uh oh.” They're going to come here next is my thought. And you could see them doing whatever and people are praying and other guys are like, you know, it's going to be another shootout is what I figured.
I told Morris and them I says oh man the cops are out there! And everybody was going oh man -- what are we going to do? We got our weapons outside, you know! And I said, “Just stay calm, stay calm, you guys.” I said, “What’re you going to do, Morris?” He says, “Well, we’re going to help ya’s, just, you know, that’s why you’re here. We’ll go talk to them. You guys just stay put and don’t say nothing.”
So Morris went out there and talked to them and his wife stood behind him and I could see I was watching ‘em through the windows, right? And Morris is going, “No, I don’t see anybody, and no, I ain’t heard nobody, and yes, if I hear anything, I’ll tell ya’s.” And the old lady’s saying, “You guys get off my property. You guys get out of here.” You know. So they -- they left. So we all went, phew!
So we lucked out there again. [Laughter]
But one of the stories that we heard is like whenever we were out in the hills hiding, that people were praying and having ceremonies, you know, and what they were saying is that those guys, the FBI would not camp out. They came back here to Pine Ridge to spend the night or whatever. And when they were out there, they were seeing things like spirits and they were freaking out. While they were having a ceremony, people were praying and the spirits were like fooling them. So they didn't want to stay out there. It was real spiritual because like every night we had lightning circling us and storms, but we never got rained on.
So how were the local people treating you when you were on the run?
They treated us really good. I mean, it was -- it really surprised me how they came together.
Dino Butler talking to Michael Apted again.
It seemed to make what happened that day, it just seemed to make the people here, in this area, on this reservation stronger. You know, it just brought out the resistance in them, you know, to-- to-- to resist -- them killing us. You know, they wanted to do something to help keep -- keep that from happening. And they -- they hid us, they fed us, whatever we wanted. If they could get it, they would get it for us. They took care of us. They -- they related to what happened I guess. And they wanted to help us. They wanted to make sure that we were safe. You know, they went out of their way, they took a lot of chances, some of these people did. You know, and that could have gotten them thrown in jail too, if not killed.
After the close call at the Wounded’s, Leonard and Dino hatched a new plan.
So I told Morris, I said, “Look, you got to go out and talk to some of the people and tell them they got to get us out of here. We gotta -- we gotta -- we gotta leave. Go see Billy and Lou Bean,” right?
If Lou Bean’s name sounds familiar, it’s because Lou was one of the female elders who advised Dennis Banks to leave Wounded Knee the night before the May 8th federal stand down to avoid any possible assasination attempt. Lenny Foster mentioned her in Season 2, Episode 2, “The Great Escape.”
Lou was a key member of OSCRO, the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization, and one of only three women to negotiate with the Feds at Wounded Knee.
During the occupation her brother Buddy Lamont was killed by a government sniper. It was Buddy’s death that inspired Chief Frank Fools Crow to call off the whole thing in the interest of saving lives.
And it was Lou Bean and her brother Billy who fetched Edgar Bear Runner on June 26th enabling him to intervene as a mediator.
Here’s how Billy Bean remembered it for Michael Apted. Again, none of this featured in the final edit of the film, so we cast actors to bring the story to life.
We were at home, fooling around here, and we decided to go drive around. And so we’s driving around, and we drove out to Oglala. Out there. And drove around for a while. Pretty soon we met Kamook and she says, “Don’t go in there,” she said, “They’re having a firefight over there.”
Kamook, also known as Darlene Nichols, was Dennis Banks’ wife at the time. In the summer of ‘75, Kamook and Dennis lived in a log cabin on the Jumping Bull’s property while Banks commuted to Custer to stand trial for his role in the 1973 Custer Courthouse Riots.
On June 26th, Dennis was in court when the shooting started. Kamook, meanwhile, was back on the Res. Her daughter’s asthma had flared up that morning, so she had taken her to the doctor in Pine Ridge village. But a long line greeted them at Indian Health Services, so Kamook went to her mom’s house. From there she would take her daughter to Gordon, Nebraska to see a doctor.
But Mom was taking college classes in Oglala. So Kamook went looking for her. That’s when she noticed something strange. Here’s what Kamook told Michael Apted about that day.
I seen all these cars coming, all these cop cars, and there were rifles sticking out the window, I mean, cars and cars kept coming by, and these rifles were sticking out, and they were packed with cops. So I was wondering what was going on. And when I came up on top of the hill where we lived at Jumping Bulls’, and I looked over in this field, and in this field were these cop cars lined up. And they had the doors open, cops were crouched behind there, and they had their rifles pointed toward our house.
And I turned in. And the weeds were real high all over there. And I started driving toward our house. And when I was driving toward our house, these arms came out of the weeds, just going, like, go back. You know. I was almost right up to our house, and these arms were waving at us to turn around. So I turned around. Then I didn’t know what to think. Because everything was fine when I had left. I mean, nothing was going on. Dennis had left for court. Cecilia and Harry had gone into town, they went to do laundry. And they were going to the cattle market or something.
Cecilia and Harry being Grandma and Grandpa Jumping Bull.
So I didn’t know what to think. And I went back out on the highway. And as soon as I hit the highway, you could hear all this firefighting from way down the road. I got back onto the main road, and I turned off. You could still hear it, just constant, nonstop.
And then Lou was coming, my Aunt Lou. And I told her something’s wrong, I said “There’s shooting going on, there’s cops all over.” And she was just going out to visit me. She was on her way to my house.
The Beans hung out in the area after encountering Kamook. Here’s Lou Bean.
We stood out there and watched. We didn’t try to do anything. And then my sister said “Go to Porcupine. Go get Edgar Bear Runner.” So that’s when we went to Porcupine and we got him to try to stop them from shooting before somebody gets killed. Because it was getting towards evening. And you could just hear them shooting down on that creek. So we went and we got him, and he went in there, and came out, he just shook his head. ‘Cause at the time everybody was gone.
The day after we went back out there, it was at night, you know, because somebody said they was out on the river. And we was going to go out there. But, gee, there were so many cops out there you couldn’t move around, you know.
And they watched us, too. All the time. You know, the cops, when we’d move.
We’d barely get going down a road and one of them would stop us, you know. And follow us around.
So what happened on the second night?
The second night, no, it was the second day. We was -- we was here at the house, and-- and-- Geraldine came up. She said, “Those guys need help out there. They’re out at Cheyenne Creek. At Wounded’s. So, we got in the car, and we gassed it up, we went out there, and sure enough, they were there, you know.
Their arrival spooked Leonard, who mistook the Beans’ car for a law enforcement vehicle.
And I woke everybody up, and I said, “Oh man, they’re back, man. They’re back!” You know, so -- now we’re kind of all suspicious, but we didn’t want to move, right? We’re in this one room. All of a sudden we heard a knock, but Lou was kind of horsing around, right? So we’re all standing there looking, and finally she said, “Leonard, it’s me!” And I went, “Oh, man!” [LAUGH]
Billy Bean again.
Leonard was glad to see us. He was happy. He hugged us and everything. He was glad we was there, you know. And so were the rest of ‘em.
Were they nervous or frightened?
Well, at first they weren’t -- they weren’t really frightened or anything. But they -- they wanted to get moved, you know, they wanted out of there. Because the FBI was getting pretty close to that place.
There was an airplane or a helicopter, or something was out there, and it had a spotlight on it. It wasn’t too far away, and they were shining, you know, you could see them shining around. So she said in Indian to move ‘em and move ‘em right now, she said, “We got to get them out of here,” she said, “Or they might kill them.”
The “she” here is Mattie, Morris’s wife.
So that’s when I told him, I said, “Let’s go now.” Because where they were, it was a bad situation, ‘cause you had hills on each side of you. And if they found ‘em in there, they just could have surrounded them right there, if they knew they were there. And they would have got ‘em.
So, Lou, why did you do it? Why did you take this great risk?
Because they needed help, you know. They were -- I don’t know, I had more faith in them than I did the people here in Pine Ridge, and they needed help, so we took ‘em. They were hungry and tired. And they needed help, and I knew Leonard.
I liked him, ‘cause he was always helping people, you know. He’d help my mom, and he stayed with her for a while there. He’d just sit and visit with her ‘cause she still hurt, ‘cause Buddy was gone. And it -- it helped her, you know, a lot. Until he had to leave. And she missed him, and she cried.
So Billy, why did you do it?
Well, nobody else wanted to do it, really. Everybody was scared to do that, you know. And they had to have somebody get ‘em out of here. And it just fell on being us, I guess. We knew Leonard probably better than most of the people around here.
Nobody else would do it. So the Beans risked their lives to ferry Leonard and 11 fugitives wanted in connection with the murder of two FBI agents to safety.
We loaded up all the girls in our car. Leonard wanted us to go through the hills, but they had too many planes around. They see a car going out into the pastures, they’ll send somebody right out after you. So I said, “Well, we’ll just take ‘em through town,” you know. And right down by the police station there, there was FBI agents up the butt!
The cops were all over the back roads, and the Marshals, they were like through East Ridge, they were all over there. And we just thought that would be the safest way to go, was through town, ‘cause who’d be looking for them on the main highway, you know? ‘Cause they’d probably figure, well, they’ll take the back roads. You know, since they’re Indians, they’ll probably do something like that. So we just went down the road.
Was it frightening?
Well, the first trip wasn’t -- wasn’t so bad. But it was daylight, you know, and we could pretty well see where all the cops and stuff were. They were all bunched up. Getting ready for the night patrol, I guess. Or whatever they were going to do. But anyway, we just took ‘em, took the girls right on out, you know.
And we came back. We went out and picked up Leonard and the boys then. That’s when it was frightening. [LAUGH] Because it was -- it was getting dark then, you know. A ways out of town, and a cop picked us up out there, stayed right behind us.
I told Leonard, I said, “That cop’s right on us.”
We’re laying down in the back seat, right? We got all our weapons in the trunk and stuff like this, right, and the two of them are sitting in front.
Some cop cars come pulling up behind them, real close, you know, read the license plate number and everything like this. So I’m telling them, I says, “Well, stay calm. Stay calm! What’s happening Bill? What’s happening?” He says, “They’re just” -- he says, “They’re just behind me,” he says, “They’re not doing anything.” I says, “Stay real calm, brother. Stay real calm.” I said, “If they think you’re drinking or anything or swerve any kind of ways, they’re going to pull you over.”
But I just kept watching that cop car behind us, because we had a mirror. And I did a lot of praying, too! ‘Cause it was scary. I mean, I was thinking, you know, we could have died. I was thinking, what if something happened to us, you know. Who would take care of my kids. But then nobody else wanted to haul ‘em, so we just hauled ‘em. ‘Cause they needed help. They needed to get out of there ‘cause if they ever caught ‘em they would have killed ‘em you know.
So we just held it in there. Lou started praying. And she had some tobacco ties above the visor. She started praying, and when you pray real hard with your tobacco ties, whatever you’re praying for, you throw it out -- throw it, burn it, or whatever. Well, this incident she could only throw it out the window. So she threw that tobacco tie out the little wing of the car window, right? And as soon as she did that, seen the car lights go back, you know, from laying down there in the back seat.
Did you think you’d ever survive it?
I never thought I would -- I thought we were going to be -- I thought we’d all get killed eventually. You know. I never -- I never believed in my mind I was going to survive it.
The AIMsters’ improbable escape parallels an episode involving the Nez Perce Indians some 88 years earlier.
Just as Leonard and the Oglalas defended the treaty rights granted by the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, the Nez Perce sought to protect the 7.5 million acres of land afforded to them under the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla.
But just like in South Dakota, the discovery of gold changed everything. By 1860 Idaho was flooded with miners and the city of Lewiston was illegally established as a supply depot.
Rather than kick out the invading white settlers, the American government presented new terms to the Indians. And in 1869, a group of Nez Perce, most of whom were Christian, signed away 90% of their reservation. The tribe traditionals opposed the changes to their treaty, and just like in Pine Ridge, many were murdered in land disputes with white farmers and ranchers.
In June 1877, tensions boiled over when the United States Army tried to forcibly move the remaining Nez Perce to a 750,000 acre reservation in Idaho.
But the Indians resisted and headed north to seek sanctuary with Sitting Bull, who had fled to Canada with a band of Lakotas following the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.
For 1,170 miles, the Nez Perce were pursued by the US Army who engaged them in a series of battles and skirmishes that culminated in Montana just 40 miles from the Canadian border.
While a few managed to elude the Army and escape to Sitting Bull's camp in Canada, a majority of the Nez Perce were taken prisoner and sent by train to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Leonard Peltier would ultimately be imprisoned over 100 years later.
It was a remarkable chain of events that led the Nez Perce on their 1,000 mile getaway. And it was a remarkable chain of events that allowed Leonard and the rest of the AIMsters to slip through the government noose that fateful summer in 1975.
Billy Bean underlined one such moment of serendipity to director Michael Apted.
But we just got a car, you know. Just the day before the shootout, we went up and we traded for a car and it had “in transit” tags on it, and I don’t think they knew who we were at the time, so we were pretty lucky about that. If they did know it was our car, they probably would have stopped us, you know.
The spirits were definitely on their side. And so was the Oglala community. Edgar Bear Runner risked his life to save his fellow treaty defenders. So did Ted Lame, Kenny Loud Hawk, Morris and Mattie Wounded, and of course, Lou and Billy Bean, to name just a few.
So you were driving along with the most wanted men in America in the back of your car?
Um-hmm. We got to Wounded Knee junction. I went straight, and the cop turned, and he went towards Wounded Knee. And after that there was no problem at all getting in there. We went in the back way into Porcupine and left them out there.
Their destination in Porcupine...
The ancestral home of the Bear Runners.
Here’s Edgar Bear Runner.
EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
This is the land where my mother and father authorized, or allowed Peltier and all them. They didn't know. My mom and dad didn't even know hardly any of them. Bob Robideau, Dino Butler and all that, but they had a heart. They had a heart and they said they can stay out here at this house.
EDGAR BEAR RUNNER
Sometimes you got to do the right thing, to save, save your brother.
This episode is dedicated to the memory of Edgar Bear Runner, who died earlier this year.
News and Notes:
144 years after the Nez Perce were driven from their homeland by the US Army, they have reclaimed part of their original territory.
In December 2020 the Nez Perce tribe purchased 148 acres of property in Joseph, Oregon, including an ancient and sacred camping ground where many of their ancestors are buried.
The formal land blessing was delayed until July 29th due to concerns about Covid-19.
Am’sáaxpa, it’s the place of the Boulders.
Nez Perce Vice-Chairman Shannon Wheeler.
People have inhabited the Wallowa Valley for thousands of years and were removed in 1877 after the discovery of gold on our reservation.
So today is a blessing of the land and prayers for our ancestors and for our future ancestors that are yet to come. That blessing is very important for the future generations and especially for our ancestors to be able to hear our voices and feel our moccasins on the ground again and hear the songs that are gonna be sang today.
You know, there will probably be a lot of tears of sorrow but tears of joy as well. And we would hope that our ancestors will feel the tears of joy and their tears will turn to joy because they see our people coming back to the land that we belong to. Our people know that we sprang from this land and we’re tied to the land in that manner and the land is also tied to us in the same way.”
This podcast is produced, written, and edited on Tongva land by Rory-Owen Delaney and Andrew Fuller.
Kevin McKiernan serves as our consulting producer.
Thanks to our cast: Peter Coyote, Courage the Actor, Ed Robinson, Guarina Lopez-Davis, Eugene Brave Rock, and OhitikahWay Beautiful Bald Eagle.
Thanks to Maya Meinert and Emily Deutsch, 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 Carol Gokee and Jean Roach for their tireless work leading the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.
And thanks, most of all, to Leonard Peltier.
Sign Off: 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!